Afrikaans Is a Shared Language That Can Help Us Reach across the Divides

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Christo Owen van der Rheede

Mobilisation along ethnic lines in the Afrikaans community: is it the easy option or the right choice? I am asking this question because it is necessary to critically evaluate such initiatives, especially in view of what is happening now.

Social scientists postulate that any context characterised by social, economic and political instability provides fertile ground for spontaneous mobilisation of people or communities around common interests. Rationality vanishes like mist before the sun when people feel threatened and perceptions of marginalisation, disregard and inferiority are growing. In the meantime, the "we" versus "them" tension starts building, showing the first cracks in the underlying social unity. Moral accountability relating to the country's interest gives way to moral justification of group interests, without taking the long-term implications into consideration. The re-imagining and re-living of our national identity is threatened by the easy option of focusing on group identity.

A few critical questions need to be asked before one can judge whether the formation of ethnic movements is the easy option or the right choice. Such as whether proper consideration is given to the moral, structural or political implications of such an initiative, or is it merely driven by a false sense of ethnic alliance? And if the answer is yes, why did it not occur to anyone that this sense of ethnic alliance is an archetype of the colonial and apartheid era, a figment of yesteryear? Or is it so entrenched in the collective subconsciousness of all to whom this geknelde land is home that we easily jump on the bandwagon when, for whatever reason, a few individuals feel the need to revive the ethnic notions of the past?

When I was a child, I made the amazing discovery that brown, white and black figments exist in the imagination only - something which my father convinced us of from our early childhood days. As such, giving content to a brown figment is not in line with the moral obligation that the Constitution places on all of us: to strive towards non-racialism in a diverse context. Such a context requires of us to tread carefully - maintaining balance and ingenuity - to defuse the existing tension between striving towards non-racialism and the demands posed by diversity.

However, diversity, as the Constitution alludes, does not imply the regeneration of brown, white or black figments. On the contrary, it refers to our different languages, cultural and religious practices, sexual preferences, gender differences, historical advantage or disadvantage, disability and traditional systems. This diverse reality forms the basis of community development and serves as an important starting point for ongoing educational, economic, social, cultural and spiritual empowerment.

Successful empowerment has a context-specific approach, hence projects and programmes are mother-tongue based and have a particular cultural, traditional and religious character. …