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Poetic Afrikaans

Because we were brought up having a slight disdain for Afrikaans and Afrikaners, it was quite some time before I fully accepted that Afrikaners were my countrymen and that Afrikaans was a rather beautiful language.

In Standard 9, in 1983, Mrs van der Walt was our Afrikaans teacher at Jeppe High School for Girls – that draughty institution of Kensington about which I have had much that was scathing to say in the past. But Mrs van der Walt clearly loved her language and her face would light up as she described the meaning of the poems or stories she read, and when moved she would come close to tears, always taking the time to explain, or to draw from us, her audience, the same kind of appreciation for the words and meaning as she herself felt.

This was the first time the penny really dropped for me. Being a lover of language, theatre, drama, words and meanings as I was, I could hardly fail to succumb to the spell cast by writing such as this, for example:

“Finis
Nou maak ek self nie meer so baie saak nie
want jy’t bobbejaan na my gestuur met ’n briefie in sy bek

dit was geskryf op varkensblaar
dit was ’n bietjie dof
dit was om my en jou te nooi
na die Apies se bruilof

Jy het al die liedjies van my kindertyd weer in my laat sing
en in my hart die Jakkalse elke dag laat trou
Maar wat sal jy van my kan saamneem?
Miskien wanneer die lewe met jou kotiljons
en lekker wals op die Apies se bruilof
sal jy onthou dat jy vir my Aprilmaand was
– die wolke altyd bietjie voor die son –
en ek ten spyte van die reën kon lag
En jy sal lag

– Lina Spies

paarlMrs van der Walt would read a stanza to us, then leave the words floating in the air, asking us to consider them, their meaning; and in the way mercury might be held in a dream, we tried (and sometimes succeeded) in completely grasping what the words actually meant, not only in terms of the literal translation.

As the words wove their elegant way into my mind it was as though a door previously tightly shut began to creak open. Slowly and surely, lesson after lesson would open the door a little more and I would begin to glimpse the extraordinary power of a language I had all but ignored, if not sneered at, up until then.

I don’t know when I discovered Herman Charles Bosman but I know I have my parents to thank for that, and they would take us to see Patrick Mynhardt in his classic Oom Schalk Lourens role, raconteur, comic, dry as biltong and tough as leather with that silver current of high humour running through his every nuance. Amazing!

That was when I began to appreciate the story-telling abilities of the Afrikaner and my understanding broadened at a rapid rate thereafter, as I made sure I exposed myself in my early adult life to Afrikaans plays, experimental theatre, and Afrikaans music and so on.

Not sure why the Afrikaans people are looked on as coming from a cultural backwater or was it only me who ever looked at them like that?

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