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Monday, December 1, 1997 Published at 11:00 GMT

World: Africa

A new role for Afrikaans

Afrikaans: spoken by 7 million South Africans

Two years after losing political power, Afrikaners in South Africa are in cultural limbo, their role in the new South Africa is undefined.

Continued economic superiority is no longer guaranteed, and Afrikaners are examining their heritage in an attempt to reconstruct their society and its future.

Essentially, all that remains is their language - Afrikaans - which until the end of apartheid was the official language of government and education. Survival of the language is seen as the key to the survival of Afrikaners' culture in the new democratic state.

[ image: Springbok fans celebrating a win]
Springbok fans celebrating a win
Afrikaans, meaning "African" in Dutch, is now one of the 11 official languages in South Africa. According to the most recent census, Zulu and Xhosa, the indigenous African languages, are the most widely spoken, followed by Afrikaans.

Although 95% of the language's words and vocabulary are related to Dutch, Afrikaans is a product of three centuries of linguistic mingling. It has been influenced by the language of slaves from Malaya and Madagascar and by settlers from Europe as well as local languages.

Afrikaans became an important part of the identity of the Boers, the Dutch farmers who settled in South Africa. Stigmatized by the upper classes as ignorant and uneducated, the Boers fought back by refusing to speak English and by developing a nationalistic, Afrikaner-focused identity.

Although common to seven million people in South Africa and Namibia, the language is still associated with apartheid and oppression. Half its speakers are black, although many speak dialects rather than standard Afrikaans, which is spoken mainly by whites.

Afrikaners believe that the language still has a part to play in the cultural diversity that is supposed to underpin the new South Africa. To disassociate the language from its discredited past, the Afrikaners are beginning to take more interest in the language's multilingual roots and diversity of speakers and dialects.

Re-defining the role of Afrikaans is not just something that white Afrikaners feel strongly about. A generation of Afrikaans-speaking black South Africans are also pushing for continued use of the language on the radio and in print.

[ image: Pik Botha: proud to speak Afrikaans]
Pik Botha: proud to speak Afrikaans
Pik Botha, former Foreign Minister in South Africa, believes that Afrikaans is for everybody: "At last, irrespective of the past, we can talk. We can write poetry. We can sing. We can make music. We can make our contribution, as Afrikaans-speaking citizens of this country, to the beautiful rich variety and diversity of culture of this country."

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