AFRIKANER nationalist academics played a huge role in the deliberate process to keep the Afrikaans language viewed as Dutch, said Professor Hein Willemse at the launch of the book, Die Afrikaans van die Kaapse Moslems (The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims), which took place at the Paarl Afrikaans Taal Museum, recently.
Willemse, head of literature in the Department of Afrikaans at University of Pretoria, based the book on research into early Afrikaans by the late Bo-Kaap historian, Dr Achmat Davids, and that formed the basis of his Master’s thesis, The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims, in which Davids challenged the views held by Afrikaner nationalists that Afrikaans was the language of white people only.
Willemse said that during the 1980s, Davids was asked to do research into the relationship between Boorhaanol Islam Masjid, the Afrikaans language and Bo-Kaap.
‘The request followed after the imam of the masjid started to deliver sermons in English which led to dissatisfaction amongst the congregation.
‘The older members of the congregation were used to the language of Arabic-Afrikaans.
‘While prayers were read in Arabic, the sermons were delivered in Afrikaans.
‘The delivery of sermons in English broke a tradition of more than 150 years and the imam was forced to revert to Arabic-Afrikaans,’ Willemse noted.
According to him, the tensions caused by the use of the language in the mosque was a result of the socio-political events and class, especially in the central and northern parts of the country, where the language of Afrikaans was seen as part of oppression.
He said that the then political situation in the country also led to political activists and Afrikaans-speaking activists distancing themselves from the language.
He said that the older generation had a clear understanding of the complexity of their history and language, and knew that the existence of Afrikaans in Bo-Kaap was not the cause of the then political unrest but that the language had been deeply embedded in the community for centuries.
‘They knew that the Afrikaans which they and their parents spoke, were formed from the mouths of people who came from all over, such as Europe, Africa and South East Asia,’ commented Willemse.
‘The people of the Bo-Kaap grew up with words such as, jamang, barakah, trammakasie, maningal, labarang, pwasa, maaf, slamat [toilet, blessing, thank you, die, Eid, fast, excuse me, congratulations], which were not recognised in the Afrikaans language but these words are indeed Afrikaans.’
The book includes texts written in the Arabic alphabet which, when spoken, sound like Afrikaans.
Willemse pointed out that the texts revealed the ‘oldest dialect of Afrikaans’ that was recorded in the old colonial slave quarter known as Bo-Kaap.
He said that the book also revealed that Afrikaans was not the history of only one group of people.
‘The slave community from South-East Asia made a great contribution to this language.
‘The imams of the Bo-Kaap, such as Abu Bakr Effendi and others, were writing Afrikaans in Arabic as early as in the 1820s,’ he noted.
Willemse said that Davids’s research proved that the imams used Afrikaans with great dignity.
He pointed out that Davids had criticised the single column at the Taal Monument, in Paarl, which described the Malays’ contribution to Afrikaans, as insignificant. It failed to give prominence to the fundamental contribution made to Afrikaans by slaves from South-East Asia.
Davids, he said, was of the view that the Afrikaans Taal Monument should have been situated in the mosque in the Bo-Kaap, not in Paarl.
Willemse described Bo-Kaap and District Six as an Afrikaans ‘hotspot’ with an influential diversity where the culture, language and religion of the people of the Cape were interbred and blended together.
He concluded that had Davids been alive today, he would have been in the forefront of protests against the gentrification of Bo-Kaap.