Reshaping Remembrance ~ Bantu: From Abantu To Ubuntu

To speak about ‘the other’ is not a matter of course. Just as ‘us’ usually carries a positive meaning, the affective value of ‘them’ is usually less optimistic. We experience this sharply when outsiders write or speak about us in a manner that hurts. Afrikaansspeakers are sensitive to the use of terms such as ‘Afrikaners’, ‘blankes’ (whites), ‘kleurlinge’ (coloureds) and ‘Boere’ (farmers). A racist video, made at the Reitz residence of the University of the Free State, recently caused quite a stir. The stereotyping in the media of white Afrikaans-speakers as racists was a painful experience to many who felt ‘ons is nie almal so nie’ (we are not all the same). Terms referring to people, especially terminology of social categories, are political instruments and not merely objective labels in the same class as the taxonomies of fishes or stars. The notion of ‘Bantu’ is a good example of the way in which a label for a social category follows social practice, in contrast to the assumption underlying the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (that practice follows language). Over time, a term such as this one accretes various meanings, some of which may be linked to strongly divergent emotions. The term ‘Bantu’ contains, similar to ‘Afrikaner’, positive and negative meanings in Afrikaans and in other languages in South Africa, depending on the historical moment, the social positionality and experience of the users.

‘Bantu’ as a term went through a number of important shifts in meaning. It originated as a linguistic term that denoted the kinship links between a large number of indigenous languages and this meaning was retained in the field of African languages. The term was subsequently also used to refer to the people that spoke these languages, e.g. in anthropology. The notion became naturalised in the everyday languages of South Africans and attained official status in government policy and legislation. In the second half of the 20th century the notion became entangled with the apartheid policy as it referred to black people and their inferior political position. It is this connotation that gave the term a strong negative emotional content among the opponents of apartheid. As the apartheid policy was increasingly debunked, the negative connotation grew and made the term itself unacceptable. Especially the freedom struggle and the global rejection of apartheid had an effect on the use of the term in South Africa. From the 1980s onwards the use of the term decreased and was ultimately replaced by ‘black’. Today, the term is seldom used outside its reference to African languages, although one can still hear it among conservative whites and coloureds.

My argument about the use of the term ‘Bantu’ is that the notion was created in a specific social context and that it evoked strong resistance due to its negative associations. As the resistance changed the context, the use of the term had to adapt and this process eventually led to the demise of the term, especially since people experienced it as oppressive and undemocratic. The term ‘Bantu’ is in this sense one of a lineage of terms that became unacceptable, starting with ‘Kaffir’, followed by ‘native’, then ‘Bantu’. More recently, ‘black’ and ‘African’ became the politically correct terms. The social and political use of the term ‘Bantu’ in South Africa is permanently tied to the divide-and-rule politics of both the British imperial and the Afrikaner regimes. The notion was therefore rejected, together with white supremacy. Concepts usually exist in sets and their meanings imply boundaries with contrasting ideas. The terms ‘blanke’ and ‘Afrikaner’ with their racial connotations developed as opposites to ‘Bantu’ and ‘non-white’ but also in relation to these terms. These terms may disappear in future if Afrikaans-speakers reject the racial element as negative baggage. The problem with any labelling of a social category is that it is an attempt to generalise by using a term that assumes a social classification. A term denoting a group or social category easily leads to negative stereotyping and essentialism. This means that one characteristic is taken to determine the identity of every member of the social category. In this essay I briefly look at the origin and development of the term ‘Bantu’ in order to explain its changing meanings with reference to the various contexts in which it existed. Ultimately, the question is: why did these shifts occur and what do they tell us? Read more

Bookmark and Share

Reshaping Remembrance ~ Thandi, Katrina, Meisie, Maria, ou-Johanna, Christina, ou-Lina, Jane And Cecilia

Dit was dus ons gesin; maar daar was ook nog ou Dulsie, van wie ek amper vergeet het, soos mens maar geneig is om van die bediendes te vergeet, alhoewel sy by ons was so lank soos wat ek kan onthou. […] daardie gedurige aanwesigheid waaraan ek skaars nog name of gesigte kan koppel. Dulsie in die huis […] so onthou ek my kinderjare.

[That was our family; but then there was also old Dulcie, whom I almost forgot to mention, as people tend to do with servants, although she was with us for as long as I can remember. […] that pervasive presence to which I can hardly put a name or a face. Dulcie in the house […] that is how I remember my childhood years.][i]

1.
Many women’s names were never used in the contact zones of South African kitchens. Together with their small caps and aprons, black women working in white South African households were often given new names that were easier for white people to pronounce than, for example, Noluvyo, Nokubonga or Nomahobe. These ama-Xhosa names mean Joy, Thank you God and Dove. Sometimes black parents took the initiative and named their children Beauty, Patience or Perseverance, in the hope that their daughters would meet with success in the white working environment. Sometimes employers themselves gave ‘well-known’ names to their servants, and I suspect that most of the names in the title of this chapter belonged to this category. All of these women, from Thandi to Cecilia Magadlela are women who have been important in my life for no other reason than that I was fortunate enough to belong to the class which employed these women as servants.

As Richard Elphick writes in Kraal and castle: Khoikoi and the founding of white South Africa,[ii] it was customary, right from the start, for young indigenous women to be trained to work as serving maids in white households at the Dutch settlement of the Cape. Once slavery began, they were increasingly replaced by women from East India who had greater culinary and household skills. The real name of one of the first South African women to work in a white household in the Cape was Krotoa (approximately 1642-1674). This Khoi-woman of the Goringhaiqua group was called Eva by Jan van Riebeeck and his wife. Thanks to the novels of Dalene Matthee and Dan Sleigh, among others, many post-apartheid South Africans know that, aside from being a maid servant, she was also Van Riebeeck’s most important interpreter who, through her marriage to a Danish ship’s doctor, also became the ancestor of quite a number of white families. No one could have anticipated that, three hundred and fifty years later, a maid bearing the same name would become a much loved cartoon character. However, this Eve would no longer be referred to as a childminder or ‘maid’, but as a ‘domestic maintenance assistant’ and would be given a ‘western’ first name – probably because of its combination with Madam, a play on Adam – but also a surname: Sisulu. In most of these sharp, witty Madam & Eve cartoons, she has the last word. All the characters in this cartoon have become icons in a changing South Africa where, although equality is still a distant dream, the way Eve triumphs is transformative despite the stereotypical roles that are played out. Read more

Bookmark and Share

Reshaping Remembrance ~ Rugby

1.
Only very few Afrikaner males have not been confronted with rugby at school, in some way or another. Interest in this sport is often carried over from father to son and it is particularly in this intimate process of transfer that commonalities are shared and that the game acquires one of its remembrance characteristics. This, however, is only one aspect of a much more dynamic and broader process that some commentators describe with a degree of irony as an elevated transcendental experience. Johann Symington, director of communication in the Dutch Reformed Church, describes rugby as far more than merely a national sport:
It is rather more like a religion with its own pantheon of gods and sacred traditions. It is true that players do not kneel or pray in the passageways of the stadiums, but the absolute dedication to the game and the team, the symbolic changing of clothing and the face painted to look like totem figures reveals something of the immanent religious status of the sport.[i]

In an extreme identification in 1970, Gert Yssel, a teacher and lay preacher in the then Western Transvaal, made the bizarre statement that God made the Springboks lose a test because young women in South Africa, according to him, wore indecent mini-dresses.[ii] Yssel’s logic with regard to cause and effect may have been suspect, but there can be no doubt about the central place that rugby occupied in his world as well as in his philosophy of life.

In the greater Afrikaner circles, the genealogy of the game goes beyond one or two generations and has a bearing on the identification of particular historical emotional values. At the time of the 75th anniversary of the South African Rugby Board, the renowned rugby administrator Danie Craven revealed something of the depth and intensity of the game’s remembrance matter in his official message. It was a ‘festive occasion’ of the game that ‘belonged to everyone’ and although there had been troubled times through the years, these had only strengthened rugby supporters so that they could enjoy the good times together. It had ‘bound them together historically’ as nothing else had ever done, and had created a feeling of ‘belonging’ that few people had the good fortune to enjoy.[iii]

To understand the remembrance dimensions of this sport, one needs to take note of the way in which rugby became popular with Afrikaners. The role of the University of Stellenbosch is in this regard one of the keys to understanding the connection. Since the late nineteenth century generations of young Afrikaner males turned to the ‘people’s university’ and it was within the context of the ‘people’ that the sons of the elite could revel in the game. When a number of young men in a state of hormonal aggression gathered within a demarcated space, the ideal breeding ground was created for a game such as rugby. But the game also formed part of the broader Afrikaner culture. Read more

Bookmark and Share

Reshaping Remembrance ~ The Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal

1.
For the average language user, a dictionary is something that you do not argue with, that you rely on with varying levels of success to regain lost knowledge, for help with crossword puzzles and that you sometimes, very successfully, use to press flowers or as a doorstop. But despite the nature of the use of a dictionary – whether it is in fulfilling its genuine purpose or not – the typical user sees the dictionary as an authoritative container of grammatical and other information that provides the holy truth. That’s why in spoken language people do not refer to ‘a dictionary’ but to ‘the dictionary’ – almost like The Bible. Not everybody is aware of the existence of a variety of dictionary types, each having to comply with its own typological criteria and help a specific target user group in a particular way to meet their specific needs in accordance with their research skills. One particular dictionary can’t be everything for everybody – that is something that dictionary users often have to be reminded of. The fact that each specific dictionary has a distinct role in the recording and reproduction of language is also seldom emphasised. Moreover, the fact that between the wealth of dictionaries there is one which can be seen as the crown jewel of the dictionary family is also not always recognised. This jewel is the comprehensive explanatory dictionary, and in Afrikaans this typological place is occupied by the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (Dictionary of the Afrikaans Language), commonly known as the WAT.

The WAT as comprehensive dictionary is a source of information – as supplement, as affirmation and often also as reminder. But as Afrikaans source of reminding it is not only the content of the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal that is relevant, but the history of this dictionary as well that calls one’s attention to numerous places of remembrance. As far as the content of the WAT is concerned, one must take note of the fact that a comprehensive dictionary typically consists of multiple volumes compiled over decades – for example, it took 148 years to complete the comprehensive Het Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (The Dictionary of the Dutch Language). The comprehensiveness of such a dictionary lies in its choice of items included for treatment, in the variety of data types that are treated in the dictionary as well as the nature and the extent of their treatment. The comprehensiveness with regard to the choice of words brings about the fact that such a dictionary includes a lot of words and phrases for treatment and in that way makes the user aware of various old and lesserknown language forms. The dictionary becomes a recollection of bygone and less ordinary language use; this is what the WAT is par excellence. In his reaction to a very negative discussion of his Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of 1961 in Life magazine, a discussion which, like many others, condemned this dictionary for not being prescriptive enough, the American lexicographer Philip Gove said the following:
The responsibility of a dictionary is to record language, not set its style. For us to attempt to prescribe language would be like Life reporting the news as its editors would prefer it to happen.
Read more

Bookmark and Share

Pioneering Women War Correspondents


“Pioneering Women War Correspondents” profiles six trailblazing women journalists, including Peggy Hull, Martha Gellhorn, Marguerite Higgins and Dickey Chapelle, who reported from the front lines. Author Penny Colman narrates. Produced by Milena Jovanovitch

Bookmark and Share

Martha Gellhorn ~ A Furious Footnote In History

Bas

Bas Senstius 1957 – 2015

In a man’s world she was one of the few women. Whereas her fellow journalists reported the war as if keeping score, she concentrated on the reality behind the statistics. She reported the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, Vietnam and Panama. What is it that drives her to these hotbeds ? An interview (conducted in 1991) with an angry old lady.

In 1983, and far into her seventies, Martha Gellhorn can contain her anger no longer. This time the destinations are Nicaragua and El Salvador. She still shudder at the memory.
‘In Central-America was the first time I’ve ever felt real fear. You couldn’t see or hear the danger approaching. Suddenly it was there.’ Back at home England’s Granta publishes a report of hers on an instance of torture. Described in minute detail from the victim’s own account, smuggled out to her under the greatest secrecy – via the Red Cross – by a representative of a human rights organization in San Salvador.
‘There are murders committed every day in El Salvador and it’s costing the American taxpayer enormous sums of money, for no reason. We support these murderers. This has to be stopped.’

Her war coverage, collected in the book The Face of War, and her own choice of her peacetime writings The View from the Ground, are the distillations of sixty years of anger and indignation at the state of affairs in the world in general and in her native United States in particular.
‘The reason I’ve been able to travel all over the world and talk to anybody I want, is that I appear to be harmless, unimportant. I don’t make notes, it’s just like talking to a stranger in the street. If you have a photographer with you or take notes, people notice straight away. They become aware of the situation and tense up, they become cautious, less natural. And, in any case, I wasn’t important enough to have a photographer along.’

In the television film Hemingway Martha Gellhorn is presented as a fanatical, blonde and ambitious journalist. Fanatical she has never been, blonde she has and if it’s ambitious to want to be heard, than she is ambitious. Before she met Hemingway, on holiday in Florida, she had already written a book about unemployment in America in the thirties, entitled The Trouble I’ve Seen. Later she published short stories, ten novels and account of the travels: Travels with Myself and Another.

She married Hemingway in 1940, but the marriage wasn’t to survive the Second World War.
‘I was married to that terrible man for four of five years and am punished daily for that. I don’t want to see his name in your article’, she decrees with a determined look in her eyes. At eighty-one Gellhorn still shows traces of being the beauty to whom Hemingway dedicated For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In the Spring of last year (1990) Bill Buford, Editor-in-Chief of Granta receives a telephone call from Martha Gellhorn. This time it’s Panama. Her report is rife with distrust of the official American version of events. Distrust also of the American and Panamanian authorities. Five thousand words, one for each of the estimated number of dead. The number of injured is unknown. ‘They remain unseen. The Panamanian authorities have admitted that in one night fifteen thousand families were made homeless.’ Read more

Bookmark and Share
image_pdfimage_print

  • About

    Rozenberg Quarterly aims to be a platform for academics, scientists, journalists, authors and artists, in order to offer background information and scholarly reflections that contribute to mutual understanding and dialogue in a seemingly divided world. By offering this platform, the Quarterly wants to be part of the public debate because we believe mutual understanding and the acceptance of diversity are vital conditions for universal progress. Read more...
  • Support

    Rozenberg Quarterly does not receive subsidies or grants of any kind, which is why your financial support in maintaining, expanding and keeping the site running is always welcome. You may donate any amount you wish and all donations go toward maintaining and expanding this website.

    10 euro donation:

    20 euro donation:

    Or donate any amount you like:

    Or:
    ABN AMRO Bank
    Rozenberg Publishers
    IBAN NL65 ABNA 0566 4783 23
    BIC ABNANL2A
    reference: Rozenberg Quarterly

    If you have any questions or would like more information, please see our About page or contact us: info@rozenbergquarterly.com
  • Like us on Facebook

  • Follow us on Twitter

  • Archives