Recent manifestations of Afrikaner identity in language and music

Seminar date: 
25 May 2009
Speaker(s): Kees van der Waal (Stellenbosch University)

In cooperation with the department CA/OS.

There was intense interest in 2007 and 2008 from Afrikaner-watchers in the 'De la Rey-phenomenon', a popular and commercially very successful nostalgic song written by Sean Else about an honourable Anglo Boer War general, which was popularized by rock-singer Bok van Blerk and dramatized in a musical video. This was followed by the 'Ons vir Jou' musical that drew full houses in late 2008 in the Pretoria State Theatre, in which the story of De la Rey was dramatically rendered in epic and tragic format, clad in the popular form of a musical written by dramatist Deon Opperman and with further performances in 2009. Schools and universities that were formerly Afrikaans-medium are struggling to accommodate non-Afrikaans speakers, leading to parallel medium education in many cases, sometimes even after litigation. Although the language of instruction is an educational matter, Afrikaans is perceived by many as being under threat and this has led to emotional exchanges in the press and institutional settings where language policies are engineered. Questions are emerging about the mobilization of Afrikaners around ethnic identity and whether Antjie Krog is right when she links the De la Rey song and its extraordinary reception to issues of generational guilt and honour. Is the emotional interest in changes in language policy an indication of new forms of ethno-nationalism and how can these forms of ethnicity be understood in the new South Africa?

Post-apartheid manifestations and processes of Afrikaner identification show remarkable continuity with older ethnic forms and draw on cultural content from the past. Conditions in the new South Africa are, however, formative of the relations and identification processes that are emerging, for example the loss of political power, the state's insistence on demographic transformation and the challenges of the neoliberal context. This seminar will investigate a number of manifestations of Afrikaner identity in language and music using anthropological insights into ethnicity, including the recent work by Jean and John Comaroff on 'Ethnicity, Inc.' that looks at the incorporation and commodification of identity and culture.

Kees van der Waal was born in the Netherlands and grew up in South Africa. He studied anthropology at the Pretoria and Rand Afrikaans universities. His doctoral thesis was titled: 'The meaning of the informal sector: small-scale production in KwaNdebele and Venda'. He worked as a museum anthropologist in Pretoria and then taught at Pretoria, Rand Afrikaans and recently Stellenbosch University, where he is a professor in social anthropology. His research has mainly been done in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and focused on the following topics: the use of space in Venda, crafts in the informal sector, development intervention in a rural settlement, household dynamics and violence, and local law. He has also worked on the transformation in Afrikaans volkekunde (anthropology) and the various approaches to diversity at Stellenbosch University. His current research focuses on organizational interactions in the context of development interventions in the Dwars River Valley, outside Stellenbosch.