Tsek, Don’t Correct Me!

Image Credit: 3media

Recently on a post via the Vannie Kaap Facebook page, a South African ex-pat felt the need to correct me on an Afrikaans word attached to a photo-meme I created. Taking into account that the ‘Vannie Kaap’ page is primarily focused on the lives of the Cape Coloured community, I made time in my busy schedule to respond to someone who took on the mantle of ‘Afrikaans defender’, by heroically highlighting my ‘supposed’ linguistic error. After a rather interesting online exchange, the entire incident led me to spend some time researching the origin of the language I grew up speaking, but yet never truly understood it’s rich heritage…..and no I am not talking about Afrikaans, but ‘Kaaps’.

Now if you’ve never heard the word ‘Kaaps’ before, then you’ll probably never understand why it’s so important for you -as a Coloured man or woman- never to allow anybody to correct you when you speak Afrikaans.

Of the nearly 7 million (13.5%) South Africans who see Afrikaans as their first language, a majority of them live in Cape Town. Within the Western Cape, 49.7% of this province consists of Afrikaans speakers; predominantly being of the Coloured community.

I have to confess though, that I grew up my whole life thinking that Afrikaans was originally the language of the Afrikaner and that my community developed a version from that. However, after just a few weeks of research and historical study, I found -to my surprise- that it’s actually the complete opposite! The Afrikaans that’s now the third most spoken official language, evolved from a language that was born out of the Coloured community; a language called ‘Kaaps’. What is even more surprising, is that ‘Kaaps’ didn’t actually die out, it’s the very original Afrikaans that we still speak today in the Cape Flats and other areas where Coloureds reside.

‘Kaaps’ was birthed in the 17th century among the eclectic mix of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar etc and of course the indigenous Khoisan. Being gatvol of the oppressive Dutch colonialists, the slaves decided to forge their own identity by forming a new Creole language. This one important act was basically a big united ‘voetsek’ to the slave masters.

Later (around 1875) the descendants of the Dutch (Afrikaners) -possibly as their own ‘voetsek’ to the British- formed a standardised dialect from the ‘Cape Dutch'(Kaaps) vernacular.

The downside to this was two-fold:
1) It swept the language’s origins under the carpet, an origin that is unequivocally rooted in the slave quarters. In so doing it made ‘Kaaps’ to appear like a slang and impure language.
2) Even though later there was an end to slavery, the new ‘formal’ style of the language was used as a domineering whip of racial discrimination. Afrikaans was now seen as the white man’s language, while Coloureds apparently spoke a broken or ‘kombuis’ version of Afrikaans.

To those who refuse to believe that Afrikaans came from the Cape Malays and the other slaves ruled by the Dutch; ask them to explain how certain words in the standardised Afrikaans, has it’s etymology in the Malay or Nama languages. The word ‘Piesang’ -for example- has no connection to the Dutch language at all; but the Malaysian word for ‘Piesang’ is ‘Pisang’. If the Afrikaans language is originally from the Afrikaner, then He/She would have to admit that they were born in Malaysia somehow. This is obviously not the case, but the reason there are to this day still Malay and Nama words in the Official Afrikaans language, is because there were Malay and Khoi slaves who were the creators of this language.

You see, when you think about it, when you REALLY sit down and historically think about it; Afrikaans was purposefully formed from Kaaps. So it is illogical and downright disrespectful for anyone to tell a Cape Coloured that his/her “version of Afrikaans” is wrong. It is also ironically irrational to ‘Toyi Toyi’ stating that you do not wish to speak the white man’s language; bra, your protest should actually say that you do not wish to speak the brown man’s language 🙂

Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that today’s white Afrikaner needs to be ashamed of Afrikaans. I am not denigrating Afrikaners for their culture in any way. I am not discriminating against the Afrikaners; in fact our house cleaner is a white afrikaner, so is our gardener…………….(Joke). I am merely stating that as proud as an Afrikaner is about his/her heritage, so too should a Cape Coloured be about theirs. So no, Afrikaans must not fall, but AfriKAAPS must rise; because ‘Kaaps’ has as much legitimacy to be recognised as the historically rich and original language that it is.

The standardisation into Afrikaans and the racist apartheid language laws instituted to demean the brown man’s heritage, did not however erase ‘Kaaps’ from the people who used this original form; seeing that we still use and evolve it today. So let’s boldly and proudly keep saying things like ‘Don’t koppel feelings’, ‘Don’t be Judgerag’, ‘Dala what you must’ and other phrases that continue to form in ‘Kaaps’. Let us boldly keep pronouncing ‘Jy’ as ‘Djy’ and ‘bie{kie}’ as ‘bie{tjie}’; and let us never apologise for it.

My fellow Coloured man and Coloured woman, never let anyone correct you when you speak Afrikaans; cause an attempt to shut down how you say it, is an attempt to shut down who you are.

(Image credit: body io / Census stats: 2011)

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  1. Yes, this is true. I did Afrikaans at UCT in the 1980s and the history clearly shows that Afrikaans has its roots as a bastard language, according to the references, from the sources you quoted. Coloured people were called Basters. English can also be considered a bastard language depending on who was in power in England at the time. Ja, né. People will be people. Kaapse Afrikaans is fluid like water off the tongue as apposed to gutteral suiwer Afrikaans. Ons is lekker bekke. But try as anyone might, therein lies a rich heritage that we can be proud of.

  2. try and get a hold of a documentary called afrikaaps by dylan valley, was part of a stage production that looked at the history of the language

  3. […] Afrikaans, which is the third most spoken official language in South Africa evolved from a language birthed in Cape Town by the ‘Coloured Community’. In the 17th Century the diverse collection of Cape Malay slaves began a language revolt against their Dutch slavemasters, by forming a new language called ‘Kaaps’. Today’s popular Afrikaans was in essence a hijacking of this original Creole language. Read more about it here. […]


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