Black S. Africans switch from Afrikaans to English

White Afrikaner intellectual and academicas are becoming increasingly concerned that more and more South African blacks are rejecting their Afrikaans langauge and turning to English.

This is true even among middle-class people of mixed race, the so-called Colored people, who are traditionally Afrikaans-speaking and who at one time liked to be regarded as "brown Afrikaners." Some do still, but many are switching to English.

A recent survey in a middle-class Colored suburb of Cape Town, for example, showed that as many as 40 percent of the residents now use English as their home language, whereas only a small fraction would have done so just a few years ago.

And black African radicals are increasingly dismissing Afrikaans out of hand. Black objections to Afrikaans being used in black schools was the prime cause of the demonstrations that led to the riots in many parts of the country in 1976.

There is little doubt that the reason for the swing away from Afrikaans is basically political. As a Colored church minister said during a television debate on the subject, more and more black people regard Afrikaans as the "language of the oppressor" and do not want to have anything to do with it.

Another Colored man, Franklin Sonn, the highly qualified director of a technical training college for Colored students, said during the same program: "I am proud of being an Afrikaans-speaking person, and I want to see the language flourish.

"But on the other hand, Afrikaans is the language of apartheid [the South African government's policy of enforced social, economic and political segregation] and of the police charge office [station]. . . . It is the language by which I have been excluded from the mainstream of South African life , so I find it hard to maintain my love for it."

He added that Afrikaans-speaking Colored parents taught their children English "to spare them from being hurt."

White Afrikaners are taking serious notice of this sort of criticism. The more liberal-minded hope that promises by Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha of a move away from "hurtful racial discrimination," leading to more relaxed race relations, will remove much of the political stigma now attached to Afrikaans.

Johan Combrink, a white Afrikaans professor from the University of Stellenbosch, says bitterly: "The biggest enemy of Afrikaans has been the Afrikaner himself. Our insistence on white exclusiveness has made it difficult for us to sell the language to the Colored people.

"We should have opened up our universities and cultural organizations to other races and other language groups years ago. At present, the Afrikaans-speaking proportion of the South African population is dwindling while the proportion of English-speakers is increasing."

A visitor to South Africa would find no difficulty in getting around the country without knowing a single word of Afrikaans. All official Afrikaans signs are duplicated in English, and almost all Afrikaans-speakers can also speak English more or less fluently.

Politically, though, Afrikaans is the language that represents power. All but one of the 20-man South African Cabinet are Afrikaners, and so is the majority of senior government officials.

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