As someone, who despite his surname, was brought up in an English speaking home and educated at English speaking schools, I nonetheless thoroughly enjoy listening to the Afrikaans language on radio, on TV and reading it in magazines and newspapers.
This is quite simply because it is the most expressive language I know of the three in which I am reasonably fluent.
What makes Afrikaans so appealing to me is that over they years it has developed into a language very much influenced by other languages. I suppose because the majority of Afrikaans speaking people in South Africa are not white.
Just listening to Afrikaans being spoken on the streets of Cape Town is like being part of a cynically humorous and satirical piece of theatre that is unique in the world.
There have been some outstanding Afrikaans programmes on TV that have shown an appeal far and beyond the Afrikaans speaking community. And as always, the use of modern day colloquial Afrikaans inevitably raises the ire of the language purists.
Which gave rise to my putting pen to paper about 15 years ago in response to just such criticism and in support of Afrikaans programming, particularly those that made the language so incredibly expressive.
Dear Prof. Poggenpohl-Smit
Thank you for your letter bemoaning, as you put it, “the decline, nay assassination, nay indeed the bludgeoning out of existence of the Afrikaans language” by the producers of Vetkoek Paleis.
As chairman of the Ag Toe Nou Kerels, Hou Die Moedertaal Suiwer Asseblief Tog, I can fully appreciate that as a purist you must suffer all sorts of agonies when confronted by that litany of anglisismes, tortured syntax and grammatical gremlins at 8.30pm every Tuesday night on SABC 2 when Vetkoek Paleis comes on air.
I am intrigued if not fascinated to know why you and your committee watch every episode of this repeat series so diligently every week if the dialogue causes such linguistic heartache?
Frankly, if I felt as strongly about it as you fellows, I would, in the words of Frik Delport say Vetkoek Paleis se gat and switch over to China Central Television on DStv where you might not have the vaagste or any other kind of benul what on earth they’re talking about but at least you could rest assured that they are saying it in 100 octane suiwer-a-newborn-baby’s-bum, Chinese.
However, professor, lest you might be getting the impression that I am siding with you on this issue let me tell you quite categorically as some of the old Nat ministers used to say, that I not only believe that Vetkoek is outstanding television but I am completely enchanted with the treatment of the dialogue and would even go so far as to say that through the series, Willie Esterhuizen has established himself as not only the most talented scriptwriter on South African television but also as one of the best comic actors I’ve seen on the local scene for a long time.
And much as you might cringe as what he doing to the Afrikaans language, you had better believe just what Vetkoek Paleis is doing in terms of promoting Afrikaans kultuur. Ja nee boet, I kid you not.
I have been quite amazed if not actually gobsmacked at the number of non-Afrikaans people I know who watch Vetkoek.
Not only rooineks like me but quite a number of swartneks as well. Not too long ago, former SABC boss Zwelakhe Sisulu told me that Vetkoek was one of his favourite programmes.
You see professor, what Vetkoek does is to portray South Africa as it is and not as you might wish it to be.
Esterhuizen, who plays the part of Worsman the vetkoek chef, has shown a quite remarkable grasp of the new South Africa and particularly the desire by so many white middle class Afrikaners to adapt to the new order by at least walking the walk and talking the talk.
Just look at the decor of the Paleis itself. A fascinating combination of rugby kitsch and symbols of the new South Africa. Naas Botha’s World Cup rugby shorts, grass stains and all, next to the new flag and nearby the doors of the toilets not labelled Dames en Here but in what looks to me like full frontal Zulu.
Paleis owner Delport is the stereotype recently retrenched emerging Afrikaans entrepreneur who is determined to succeed despite being far more obsessed with the fortunes of the Blue Bulls than with things such as basic business skills.
Far too kindly to be domineering, he fights a continuous battle between inbred chauvinism and a very soft spot for his wife, Poppie.
She, in turn is the epitome of the new South African woman. Pardon me professor if I don’t go into details about what exactly constitutes the new South African woman because that would inevitably result in my gat being ignominiously skopped into touch.
Every character is so typical of our new society. Worsie’s mother, Boeboe, Aunty Poppie and even the Paleis customers one might only glimpse for a second.
And my favourite – the security guard who hasn’t the foggiest idea of what he is doing but just loves his uniform, his two-way radio and his gun.
Surely, professor, even you must have at least managed a smile when, after he’d heard about a bank robbery that had taken place miles away, rushed into the Paleis like a New York cop after the worst kind of perp and shouted, “Ok, staan stil… hands up… make my day… ag asseblief Oom Vetkoek, kan ek nie just a few warning shots fire nie?”
Hou moed prof, dis all in fun after all.
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