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An intrinsic and committed part of the South African cultural landscape

(First published in The Media June 2014)

“ANC president Jacob Zuma spent the day on Thursday wooing the Afrikaans community, a move he insisted was not mere electioneering”. This was in April 2009 where he insisted that he was there to engage with the Afrikaner community: “Of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word” (M&G, April 2009).  It was apparently in 1707 that the word Afrikaner first came into play in the lexicon, where an unruly teen at a disturbance in Stellenbosch declared in Dutch that he was an Afrikaner and belonged here as a ‘burgher’ or citizen (Wikipedia). 

It is equally true today: 94% of people with Afrikaans as their mother tongue assert that they feel a sense of belonging in South Africa. They are as committed as all others are to the country with a commitment score of 7.6 out of 10 (English speakers are 7.4, African language speakers are 7.9). They are also on par with others in the country in believing South Africa is as “capable of achieving greatness as any country in the world” (86%). 

But despite the vast range of similarities with other language sectors in the country, many Afrikaans speakers have a sense that people like them are being discriminated against (59%) and coincides with their feeling that the government has forgotten about people like them (62%). Yet they appear to have made major moves away from an apartheid mentality in their belief in a multi-cultural society, and are above average in saying they have friends in other race groups (80%). They strongly endorse the view that “it is never OK to use words that other races find offensive” (93%). Their egalitarian views are as strong as those of all other language groups with 78% saying “I believe that all people are my brothers and sisters and equals regardless of their race, religion and political beliefs”. It is interesting though that they are below average at 27% in feeling white South Africans should still feel guilty about apartheid (English speakers even more so at 23% while African language speakers are far higher at 43%). 73% heartily dislike the past being blamed for all our problems.  In most cases the younger Afrikaans speakers are less likely than their older counterparts to feel they have been sidelined or forgotten.

The power of English as the lingua franca of the country is very evident in parents’ choice of language for their children’s education with most in the total population preferring English as the language of education. However, this is one of the instances where the Afrikaans sector diverges from the norm with big differences too between white and coloured Afrikaans speaking parents.  The latter are on par with population in their preference for English tuition (88%) while the figure is far lower for white Afrikaans parents (66%). Currently though the majority of Afrikaans children attend Afrikaans medium schools (76%).

In the media world, while Afrikaans has considerable traction for the Afrikaans speaker in their choice of newspapers and magazines, print products in English are also read extensively. The same is true for radio where Afrikaans predominates though English radio station preference is also considerable. For TV, however, the languages are virtually interchangeable - it appears it is programme specifics that drive preference rather than language. 

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Despite the oft-cited ‘packing for Perth’ syndrome, fully 86% of Afrikaans speakers articulate the view that “despite all the problems here I have no desire to leave”.  12% are seriously considering leaving the country to live or work overseas, with two thirds believing they will return. This is no different from other sectors of the population where the leaving and returning element tends to be younger people of all races who seek overseas experiences but return home. There is certainly some pessimism and several key concerns among the Afrikaans speaking community and sometimes a fair amount of disillusionment is evident. Nonetheless, with 82% endorsing the view that our social and cultural diversity is a major advantage for the country, it appears this is still a citizen sector that thrives in our multi-ethnic environment.

futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2013 which is based on a probability sample of 3,025 adults aged 15 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 21,6 million adults. If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www.futurefact.co.za