The emergence of Afrikaans as a language started as early as 1685. It was a version of Dutch being spoken in a new Dutch colony — South Africa.
In 1905, Gustav Preller was determined to establish Afrikaans as the “white man’s language” in South Africa. (Apartheid is the Afrikaans word for segregation.) In 1925, Afrikaans was recognized as an official language and was closely tied to apartheid.
So what happened to Afrikaans speakers (known as Afrikaners) when apartheid ended in 1991? Here are 10 things you didn’t know about post-apartheid Afrikaans culture.
Sources: Yale University,, , ,
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Afrikaans was a major topic during apartheid-ending negotiations
When formal negotiations started around 1991 to end apartheid, the Afrikaner nationalists were committed to the constitutional equality of English and Afrikaans. The ANC wanted English to be the only official language of South Africa for political and economic reasons. If the ANC conceded to another official language besides English by accepting Afrikaans as an official language, they could not justify to their constituents why the other indigenous African languages were not included.
2. South Africa now has 11 national languages; Afrikaans is one of them
Afrikaans, like all 11 national languages of South Africa, is protected by the constitution. The South African Constitution of 1996 says one has the right to use the language of his or her choice and practice his or her own culture. The official languages must be treated equally. However, the national and provincial governments may use a particular language based on preference and needs of the population as a whole, but the national government and each provincial government must use at least two official languages.
3. Afrikaans speakers are on the rise in South Africa
According to the 2011 census study, there are 6.85-million first-language Afrikaans speakers in South Africa versus 5.98 million a decade earlier. Afrikaans speakers have a higher employment rate than non-Afrikaans speakers, so it pays to speak the language.
4. Afrikaans speakers are mostly coloured
Afrikaans is not a “white” language as some may argue. The majority of Afrikaans speakers in South Africa are what the country considers coloured. The term coloured is contentious. Coloureds are people of mixed lineage with origins from Europe, Asia, and various Khoisan and Bantu tribes of Southern Africa.
5. Afrikaans-only schools still exist
In 1976, high school students in Soweto protested Afrikaans instruction, associating Afrikaans with apartheid. Black South Africans wanted English instruction and many still do. The Soweto Uprising that resulted from the protest resulted in the death of 176 students. It is considered a catalyst of the movement to end apartheid and signifies South African resistance to oppression. Almost 40 years later, there are still Afrikaans-only schools in South Africa, although statistics show that many Afrikaans-instruction schools have been or are being transitioned to English-instruction schools. The South African School Act states that schools may determine the language of instruction subject to the constitution. There are still areas in South Africa where there are no English-instruction schools.
6. Some students still want to be taught in Afrikaans, but more prefer to be taught in English
The South African Bill of Rights mandates that everyone may receive an education in the official language of their choice. English is the preferred language of learning for 64 percent of pupils.
7. South Africa has a university that promotes Afrikaans instruction
The University of Stellenbosch, located in the wine-producing region of Stellenbosch, is committed to preserving and sustaining Afrikaans as an academic language. While the university is said to have a multicultural atmosphere, students must be aware that some classes are taught only in Afrikaans depending on the composition of the class. Although the university ranks in the world’s top 500 schools, language policy is considered by some to be evidence of the university’s reputation of excellence built on the oppressive apartheid system. Afrikaans instruction deters many black South Africans, since Afrikaans is not their language of choice.
8. Afrikaans music is alive, well and resurging
The period after apartheid saw dramatic growth in the popularity of Afrikaans music. Possible reasons include this: perhaps the end of apartheid meant the end of the privileged Afrikaans culture and therefore the Afrikaans-speaking community looked to music to represent pride in the Afrikaans linguistic and cultural heritage. Afrikaans music is currently one of the most popular and highest-selling genres on the South African music scene.
9. Afrikaans is an important advertising tool
The size of the Afrikaans-speaking community means TV and media must offer Afrikaans programming. The South African Broadcasting Corporation was restructured in 1996 to suit the new democratic environment, and has been accused of favoring the ANC by cutting Afrikaans programming and broadcasting more programs in English. The Afrikaans-speaking community has criticized this.
10. Afrikaans is everywhere
There are an estimated 10 million Afrikaans-speaking people worldwide. Additionally, Afrikaans is taught around the world including Canada, U.S., Poland, the U.K. and Namibia.