Most Afrikaans publications only aspire to 500 000 regular readers, but the offbeat and irreverent website Watkykjy is getting that every month without fail. Riaan Grobler finds out how.
Open watkykjy.co.za and you are greeted by a masthead featuring images of marijuana, whiskey, Julius Malema, the Ponte tower, Steve Hofmeyr seemingly giving you the finger and a pair of plastic Blue Bull’s testicles hanging from a BMW 530d, which, when you inverse the car’s model number, spells POES.
This is the “best Afrikaans blog and website in the universe”, the tagline boldly claims. And there may just be some truth to this.
The smorgasbord of irreverent images the first-time visitor is confronted with is symbolic of the content of Watkykjy (what are you looking at). It regularly features Zefspotters – a section where people submit pictures of tuned-up rides and low-brow activities of the so-called marabse (an ignoramus). Other features include a weekly news roundup – written in zef (common) Afrikaans with scathing commentary – sports news, gig guides, music videos and pretty much anything that is funny, interesting or happens to be trending on the internet.
At first glance, it seems like an inside joke between a select few. But with visits to the site well over 10 million (roughly twice the Afrikaner population), it has become a force to be reckoned with, a cultural compass and a powerful influence that has spawned the music careers of some of the most successful South African acts of all time, and destroyed those of others.
Webmaster Griffin started the site 12 years ago “while drunk on a deflated jumping castle inside my friend’s living room after a party” and it has since become a mouthpiece for cultural revolution among suburban Afrikaans Generation X-ers. What started as a joke now generates 500 000 views per month and symbolises the very essence of ‘zef’– the popular cultural phenomenon that is further embodied by the likes of zef rappers Die Antwoord and Jack Parow.
In fact, Watkykjy was the initial catalyst that saw Die Antwoord go viral internationally. Says Griffin: “The site was their first ‘record label’ but did everything for free because they are our friends and they were sleeping on the floor like bergies (homeless people).” In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the group’s frontman Ninja mentioned Watkykjy as a major influence, not only helping them launch their highly successful musical career, but also as an originator of zef culture. A song titled ‘Wat kyk jy?’ also features on their $O$ album.
“There was definitely inspiration from Watkykjy for what they do – this whole zef thing that we’ve been doing got stuck into what people do these days, be it music, parties or the way they talk,” says Griffin.
But what exactly is ‘zef culture’ and what is its sociological significance? Hannelie Marx and Viola Candice Milton did a study through Unisa in 2011 called ‘Bastardised whiteness: ‘zef’-culture, Die Antwoord and the reconfiguration of contemporary Afrikaans identities’. According to this study, “post-apartheid South Africa destabilised what it means to be white and Afrikaans in South Africa. The reconfiguration of white Afrikaans identities as mediated through ‘zef’-cultural artefacts is deliberate in that it speaks to the perceived sense of marginal experience of white Afrikaans youth in post-apartheid South Africa.” It further states that acts such as Die Antwoord, Fokofpolisiekar and sites like Watkykjy have opened up a “space for a generation increasingly fed up with politics and the burden of being white and Afrikaans in post-apartheid South Africa to come out and explore what it means to be white in a context where politics are obscured and whiteness is marked, but not in the traditional discourse of white privilege versus black suffering”.
So, in essence, it’s a social phenomenon where a generation of Afrikaners – mostly in their 30s – have embarked on finding their own cultural identity by disowning the values associated with their parents’ generation – staunch Calvinism, nationalism, a white-picket-fence existence that rested on collective values and morals. It is the last generation of people who attended apartheid schools, who experienced the transition to democracy as youngsters and who were the first victims of affirmative action, a prophetic punishment for the sins of [their] fathers.
But Griffin’s take on Watkykjy is not as academic. “It is a non-political, counter-revolutionary movement of psychotic, alcoholic Afrikaans cadres. Not really… It’s an edgy zef lifestyle and entertainment blog that happens to be in Afrikaans and we’ve been going strong for 12 years.
“We don’t really listen to people and do our own thing. I guess we hold up a mirror to people in South Africa and they identify with it, whether they like it or not. Also, there is something new on the site every day. It gives people at work something to distract themselves with, even if it is only for five minutes, and it makes expats miss South Africa even more.”
This originality has earned Watkykjy three South African Blog Awards and Griffin has since launched a number of spin-off projects, such as Interwebsradio. According to Griffin, it is “an online radio station where we play good music 24/7 without DJs with stupid personalities who ruin the music. The idea is to make the radio station super big by the end of this year”.
Some call Watkykjy irreverent and infantile, others think it’s brilliant. But whatever your take, it has become an iconic Afrikaans web presence and a cultural home to Afrikaners who don’t mind laughing at themselves. “We’re just having fun with the site and try not to overthink it. Whatever happens comes naturally,” says Griffin.
Perhaps this is a lesson that taalstryders (language campaigners) who are continuously at pains to save the Afrikaans language should take serious notice of. n
Riaan Grobler is a freelance journalist, editor and social networking addict.
Afrikaans on the Web
A website frequented by authors, academics, intellectuals and social commentators. It features book reviews, lifestyle and entertainment sections, academic papers, opinion blogs and web seminars.
An online magazine featuring news, books, movies, amateur poetry, jokes, art, cars, music, theatre and everything in between.
What started as an online fotoverhaal (picture story) has evolved into a creative platform for aspiring writers who can submit their poetry or short stories for peer review.
A reference site with thousands of links to Afrikaans websites, from guest houses and insurance providers to online casinos and magazines.
This story was first published in a special edition of ‘Die Media’, in June 2012, that explores Afrikaans media in SA.