The Sounds of Young Afrikaners: A Search for Processes of Identification in Pretoria

By Maike Lolkema

November 17th 2012: 6.45 am: I park my car at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Bakkies (pick-up trucks) and old, white cars fill the fields and I see a few Oranje-Blanje-Blou flags – this was South Africa’s official flag between 1928 and 1994. Thirty thousand people are gathering in the amphitheatre at the Voortrekker Monument for the Pretoria Musiekfees (Pretoria Music Festival). They’ve brought tents, beach umbrellas, camping chairs, cool boxes, and banners and flyers from various Afrikaner institutions.

But this is more than just a music festival.

Celebrating Pretoria’s and Solidariteit’s birthdays (Solidariteit is the union that is organizing the event) is the main reason for the party, according to the flyer. But it soon becomes obvious that the day is all about an intended name change: Pretoria is going to become Tshwane. Among Afrikaners (and my research is focusing on Afrikaans-speaking whites), this is widely seen as just one of the many measures being taken in Pretoria to make the Afrikaners’ culture, history and language disappear. Pretoria is the centre of the Afrikaners’ world and the base from which I am conducting my almost six months of fieldwork.

The Pretoria Musiekfees is the perfect place for participant observation for my research on the processes concerning identities among youth with an Afrikaner background who were born after 1994. What does popular music tell us about these processes of identification? I am visiting music festivals, performances and music stores and talking to as many people as possible – from university professors to Solidariteit leaders and students, many students.

The eighteen singers alternate between songs and stories about Afrikaans and Pretoria. Fredi Nest says: ‘Dis lekker om te sing vir my eie mense!’ (It’s nice to sing for my people!); DJ Ossewa: ‘Ons bly in Pretoria, ons is trots!’ (We stay in Pretoria, we are proud!); and Steve Hofmeyr: ‘Ons het nie die mag nie, ons het die krag!’ (We don’t have political power, but we have strength!).

A notebook was the only thing I brought with me and while I am making notes, the man next to me asks if I would like to use one of his camping chairs. ‘Is jy van die Rekord?’ (Are you working for Die Rekord?) is his question. Die Rekord is a free Afrikaans newspaper that is highlighting all these initiatives. I had to disappoint him but was offered coffee, a cool drink and muffins by his daughter all the same. His name is Marius and he’s about 40 years old, lives in Pretoria and works in the construction sector. All this ‘political stuff’ doesn’t really matter to him he says, he has just come to hear Steve Hofmeyr. But when the announcer asks: ‘Do we want Pretoria to change its name?’, he, like many others, also shouts: ‘No!’. He has to work this afternoon but didn’t want to miss the music.

The links between popular music, processes of identification and politics in Pretoria today are complex, as this example shows.