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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za

Menings | Opinion > Briewe | Letters > SpeakEasy

For Annie

De Waal Venter - 2008-07-29

Firstly, I'm very happy to see that there is a growing interest in SpeakEasy and that people are beginning to air their views here.

I don't want to comment directly on the English versus Afrikaans debate; I find it a little bewildering. I didn't realise that there were still people around who thought of people in the opposite language group as "enemies". It reminds me of when I was young and the mature and elderly Afrikaners around me referred to that "steeped in pure evil" publication, The Rand Daily Mail as "Die Anglo-Saksiese Pers". Anglo-Saksies, indeed!

I'd like to shine some light on the subject from a somewhat remote source. If we took a few steps back, say to late Neolithic times in North Africa, around Egypt, we see the beginnings of a pastoral civilisation springing up on the banks of the Nile. The first Pharaoh Mena united Upper and Lower Egypt and founded the First Dynasty. At the same time the Minoan civilisation saw the light in Crete.

What on earth does this have to do with the attitudes of present day South Africans? you may ask. Please bear with me for a little longer and I'll more or less get to the point.

Well, the Minoan civilisation flourished for thousands of years alongside the Egyptian one. There was regular trade between them. The Minoans were great seafarers and the Egyptians hated the open sea. What struck me was that the Minoan civilisation was strong enough to hold its own against the astounding cultural might of the Egyptians. Minoan artists took over ideas in, for instance, pottery design from Egypt, but adapted them and made them their very own. Nowadays it is widely accepted that the Minoan civilisation is the true root of the glorious Hellenic culture that is still one of the mainstays of our own civilisation. Human nature hasn't changed over the thousands of centuries since the dawn of civilisation.

Our much-loved song "My Sarie Marais" is an American tune called "Ellie Rhee" dating from the American Civil War. The Afrikaans words were possibly created as early as the First Anglo-Boer War, around 1880.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that different cultures can enrich one another, that cultures aren't necessarily inimical to one another, that cultures can strengthen themselves by being exposed to other cultures.

Here in South Africa we have English and Afrikaans cultures with roots so close that from a short distance they look almost identical. Fortunately we have the black cultures here as well, with rather a bigger difference. I'm looking forward to much fruitful interaction with the rich resources of the black cultures. This has scarcely begun, but I think we'll see the gates begin to open wider and wider as the black South Africans grow more confident of the merits of their culture.