Afrikaans media means so many different thing to different people. Melina Meletakos asks some media-savvy Afrikaners what they think.
Some say Afrikaans is a dying language but not if you’re asking Afrikaners. kykNEt did just that – asked questions.
“kykNET wanted to show that the Afrikaans language and culture isn’t just about Voortrekkers and doilies – it can be contemporary and approachable too,” says Romano Cardinal, the art director from Bester Burke Slingers who worked on the campaign.
The agency turned to Twitter to do this. They created the hashtag #disafrikaans and posed the question: “Wat is Afrikaans vir jou?” (What does Afrikaans mean to you?) Soon Afrikaners from all walks of life were tweeting about what made their culture special to them.
Bringing this campaign closer to home, The Media asked some of South Africa’s most celebrated Afrikaners what Afrikaans media means to them, and what distinguishes it from other media.
This is what they said:
Andries Bezuidenhout: academic, artist, poet and musician
I stopped reading Afrikaans newspapers a long time ago. I’m not interested in Joost van der Westhuizen or the pornographic content of much of the crime reporting. I read The Guardian and the New York Times online, and Business Day for local news. I don’t have a television. I must confess that I listen to ‘Monitor’ on RSG in the morning, which is really good at times, most probably because the Commissars don’t bother to listen in and don’t apply the kind of censorship you have elsewhere. I don’t choose media on the basis of language, I go for content that doesn’t insult the intelligence of audiences, which is not my experience with most Afrikaans media.
Dianne Broodryk: newscast editor and presenter at Jacaranda FM
Afrikaans is my freedom and my fear. It’s the first words I understood, the language I crawled in, discovered the world in, asked questions in, thought in, fell in love in, gave birth in. It’s also the language that tied me down to a stereotype: white, privileged, brandy-and-braai-bad-guy. The language doesn’t make the people: we make the language.
I cut my teeth as a broadcast journalist during an internship on the SABC radio bulletin desk. It was the final years of the ‘Taalpolisie’ – people who would read your copy over your shoulder and correct your mistakes as you typed. To this day, I cannot write with someone lingering over my shoulder. As a writer on the Afrikaans evening television news desk, I had several heated arguments with the executive producer’s strict application of the language rules. We once had an argument, as he over-ruled my use of the word ‘township’. I had to go with his long, patronising description of a place where only poor, black people lived.
Now, 15-odd years later, I find myself very worried about the quality of Afrikaans used in newsrooms. At the risk of sounding like the ‘Taalpolisie’, I sincerely believe we need a new wave of decent Afrikaans direction. The basic rule still is: If it sounds anglicised, there is bound to be a better word.
Chris Botha: group managing director at The MediaShop
Afrikaans is not a language. The language is merely a manifestation of a culture and an understanding that I come from something that runs far deeper. The reason I believe Afrikaans will never die is because it is not a language but a culture.
Like any other ‘non-English’ language, it ties you into a smaller sub-culture and group of which I am very proud. It is more expressive than any other existing language and has some amazing sounds! When spoken properly, it touches the soul.
I think Afrikaans gets a bad rap, in that it is still associated with being racist, old school and conservative. These are not what it is about at all. Remember, less than half of Afrikaans home-language speakers are actually white. I believe Afrikaans could do with an improvement in perception.
Toast Coetzer: travel journalist at Weg/Go! and frontman of The Buckfever Underground
I find it very exciting to work in Afrikaans media because it is so small. What you write can, for example, quickly be picked up by another newspaper, a talk show on radio, or an internet debate. Within half a morning, you can reach a big percentage of Afrikaans-speaking people engaging with these mediums – the line to your reader/listener/viewer is very short.
This ‘small pool’ can be hazardous for quality control, though. This remains Afrikaans media’s biggest challenge: to ensure that content is world-class and only incidentally in Afrikaans. Afrikaans-speakers must use their language, write it well, speak it well, publish good books, produce good radio and TV programmes, and create strong magazines and newspapers. That way, Afrikaans media can help ensure the future of Afrikaans – a language spoken by relatively few people – and guide it towards being exciting and engaging.
André de Wet: group head, copywriter at Draftfcb
Afrikaans media means that a brand actually made an effort – it took the time and spent the money to speak to me in my mother tongue. Some things are just better said in Afrikaans – take for instance the word ‘sommer’ as in ‘just sommer’. I don’t think there’s an English equivalent. Afrikaans is full of words like that.
It’s worrying how many bad direct translations we see nowadays. Ads directly translated from English are riddled with grammar mistakes. Afrikaans ads should be conceptualised and created in Afrikaans and not fed into an online translator.
Thinus Ferreira: TV critic, writer and journalist
The big danger inside Afrikaans media – as well as the strong Zulu media market that has a similarly loyal media consumer market – is that it sometimes takes readers, listeners and viewers for granted. Inferior music, TV programming, movies and publications are dished up, and media bosses are mistakenly under the impression that consumers will buy into it simply because it is in Afrikaans, or because it is in Zulu.
Those days are long gone. Consumers are loyal according to language, but it only goes so far. As the South African middle class evolves and as discretionary spending increases, media consumers who have a specific home language want quality media products and quality content that speaks to them and fulfils their information or entertainment needs. They, of course, want that in their preferred language, but if it doesn’t exist or the quality is bad, they’re not going to think twice about going to another language to get what they’re seeking and for which they are willing to pay.
James Kemp: acting news editor at Radio Pretoria
The Afrikaans community, like most other communities that speak a specific language, understands that the message a news medium tries to convey is better received if it is in people’s home language. To put together an Afrikaans news programme is not easy since a lot of companies, government departments and organisations simply don’t have Afrikaans spokespeople. The challenge is to provide our listeners with quality programmes and report the news in a manner that they understand and with which they feel comfortable.
Koos Kombuis: musician and writer
Afrikaans media has improved vastly since the days of apartheid. There is a diverse group of newspapers, magazines and online sources from which to get information in more than one dialect.
My only complaint is that the Afrikaans dailies like Die Burger are getting thinner every year. I know they’re trying to save paper but by the time I’ve finished reading it in the morning, my breakfast is usually only half eaten!
Herman Lategan: journalist, columnist and writer
The Afrikaans media, to me, means that I have a second soul, a second way of looking at life, at people through another window. I often get a more nuanced sense of the world as I discover layers of narratives, stories and ideas, which do not necessarily always reveal themselves in a monolingual English environment.
What makes it unique is obviously the raw energy of the language, the idiomatic expressions rooted in rural folklore, the incredibly cheeky words and the feeling that you are firmly with one foot in Africa, while the other dabbles on-and-off in Europe and the East.
It would be great if big businesses could spend much more money keeping print alive and also paying people who work on websites better salaries. The quality of journalism is fine; it’s the lack of funds that are hampering growth. It would also be better if there wasn’t this monolithic monopoly on the Afrikaans media, with Media24 and Naspers owning most of it. This is not a healthy situation as it can lead to a suffocating corporate culture and modus operandi, which is not ideal for creativity. But all in all, under the circumstances, Afrikaans journalists are tough survivors. They soldier on, and they’re doing a sterling job.
Terena le Roux: editor of Idees
Afrikaans is my mother tongue and Afrikaans media addresses me in the language in which I grew up, dream and swear. It is my default setting.
I believe it means the same to our Afrikaans readers. Most of them understand English and can also read, write and speak it. But if you want to get to their hearts and their core, do it in their own language.
Afrikaans is a passionate and unique language spoken in a far-off corner of the world by a passionate and often difficult group of people. Bad language, bad translations and foreign cultures dressed up as Afrikaans do not cut it for them. They want to you ‘get’ and respect their culture and their needs.
LiMari Louw: anchor at eNuus
The respected newspapers, magazines, television and radio programmes in the Afrikaans media have always been innovative, resourceful and creative. To be a respected medium, you have to keep current with an ever-changing political scene and language landscape as well as new technology, without ever losing track of your audience. I’m confident that the Afrikaans media has excelled in this, but we are constantly kept on our toes. There will always be a reader, listener or viewer who knows more than you do.
Michelle Nortje: digital editor at rooi rose
Afrikaans is one of the most beautiful languages in the world, not to mention unique and creative. “Ek gaan ’n uiltjie knip” is undoubtedly the best way to say “I’m taking a nap”. Afrikaans media is a place where writers, journalists and literary men and women get the opportunity to be a voice for all Afrikaners and share knowledge and insight in a powerful language.
Afrikaans media, especially magazines and newspapers, has the ability to describe an entire article in one catchy headline. Afrikaans media is unique in the sense that it can use wordplay like no other language and new words can be created every day.
Social media, especially Twitter and Pinterest, should be used more creatively to develop a broader platform for Afrikaans, and should not only be dominated by English.
Suzanne Paxton: presenter at RSG
I work mostly in the RSG news department and our challenge daily is to find experts willing to and knowing how to speak Afrikaans on a certain subject. Finding them sends you on a journey every day. We also sit day after day, finding words in English for which we don’t have an Afrikaans word, which means we debate on how it should be translated and what would be appropriate.
Afrikaans media means that I can receive the latest news in my own language. That makes it understandable and easy to process, which in turn would help me make informed decisions. Everyone should have access to media in their p mother tongue.
The stigma around Afrikaans and the people who use the language is something that needs to be addressed urgently. It is still classified as ‘the language of the oppressors’ as it was during the apartheid era. I don’t mean that we should forget what happened in the past, but we should use it as a way of building bridges between cultures and as a way to understand one another. But it goes both ways: if you want insight into someone’s culture, respect him or her and learn to speak their language.
Anina Peens: anchor at eNuus
The Afrikaans news media covers stories specifically related to the Afrikaans community. These news stories are not necessarily covered by the English newspapers, radio and television stations. This includes news on Afrikaans institutions such as the ATKV, Solidarity and the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut and Afrikaans arts festivals.
The media could be more inclusive when covering news aimed at the Afrikaans-speaking community.
News affecting the lives of all the Afrikaans speakers should be covered, and not only white Afrikaans-speaking South Africans.
Tiaan Ras: content director at Etiket
Afrikaans media satisfies my insatiable sense of curiosity in the language that ‘I am’. It satisfies my needs to be in the know, keep up to date, learn and be entertained – all in the linguistic nuances that you can only understand if Afrikaans is the language of your tongue and your heart. I suppose Afrikaans media keeps me in contact with my roots while it connects me to the rest of the globe.
But because I am not limited to consume only in Afrikaans, Afrikaans media also needs to be relevant. And I do think there are a great number of titles/channels that do provide extremely relevant content to their respective markets.
Working in a creative agency that does quite a bit of Afrikaans work, I feel Afrikaans media should be spearheading innovative, creative and original ways to market themselves in Afrikaans. There are exceptions like kykNET and Maroela Media, which create good Afrikaans campaigns, but generally Afrikaans media has been very quiet in this arena.
Helen Schöer: editor of Baba & Kleuter
Despite being one of the youngest languages in the world, Afrikaans is a fully developed mature language. If you wish to, you could study at an Afrikaans university to become a rocket scientist! Passionate Afrikaans speakers have welcomed innovation and originality, keeping the language vibrant and alive. The Afrikaans media is not a small segment of the bigger picture of South African media. In my opinion, it is the leader. Just look at the readership of the top women’s magazines. Afrikaans magazines rule that segment. The Afrikaans media beat the socks off the English media in their coverage of Nelson Mandela’s passing and funeral.
More collective effort needs to be put into convincing advertisers/media planners/agencies that communicating to Afrikaans consumers should not be considered a ‘nice to have’ addition to their marketing plans. It should always be a central part of any campaign. There is unfortunately still an old attitude that Afrikaans speakers are poor and dim-witted, while the census and our own research shows the opposite. Afrikaans consumers are plentiful, wealthy and discerning. Ignore them at your peril!
Herman Verwey: photographer at Media24
Growing up Afrikaans didn’t really mean anything to me. I thought that being Afrikaans was a burden and that it actually disadvantaged me in many ways. There were, and to a certain extent still are, a lot of negative connotations to Afrikaans and the history of the country.
I hated the fact that I spoke English with an Afrikaans accent and that my English wasn’t perfect all the time. I also just hated being associated with anything Afrikaans. A lot has changed while growing up and I’ve also changed the way I see things.
I don’t see myself as an Afrikaner at all, still not today. I’m a first-language Afrikaans-speaking South African. I think that music changed the way I see Afrikaans and Afrikaners. It showed me, and the world, that Afrikaners are more often than not creative, clever, liberal, rebellious and open-minded individuals, which is different to the stereotypical Afrikaner image.
It all started in the late 1990s and early 2000s with bands like Battery 9, Kobus, Fokofpolisiekar and the whole alternative Afrikaans music movement. It almost became cool to be Afrikaans.
This story was first published in the June 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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