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Feeste | Festivals > Artikels | Features > The Festival voor het Afrikaans: A jigsaw puzzle for Afrikaans

The Festival voor het Afrikaans: A jigsaw puzzle for Afrikaans

Christo van der Rheede - 2011-06-27

To assemble a jigsaw puzzle for Afrikaans reflecting all her nuances is a time-consuming and challenging task in South Africa and even abroad today. Many people refuse outright to be burdened with us, some for specific reasons.

Therefore it came as quite a surprise when Joris Cornelissen, a Dutch citizen with a keen interest in Afrikaans, told me three years ago about his intention to build a jigsaw puzzle for Afrikaans. And, of all things, in the form of an Afrikaans Arts Festival in the lowlands. The Festival voor het Afrikaans, as it is called, was recently held at the Tropentheater in Amsterdam.

My initial apprehension about the viability of such a festival abroad was quickly dispelled. During Joris’s visit to South Africa last year, those of us who helped him gain access to, inter alia, Afrikaans organisations, businesses, potential donors, artists and writers, realised the seriousness of his intention to make the festival a reality.

To him this visit was indeed a revelation. He not only met with a diverse group of people who had an interest in the Lowlands for certain cultural, educational and economic reasons, but also discovered what he would need to be able to build an Afrikaans jigsaw puzzle reflecting its various nuances – a jigsaw puzzle that would emphasise our constitutional values, show off the diversity of Afrikaans and showcase the creativity and quality of Afrikaans artists, while also taking an honest and sensitive look at Afrikaans and her past, as well as her current challenges at home and abroad.

Indeed an exciting jigsaw puzzle for the Festival voor het Afrikaans. And that is how many of us who attended the festival experienced it: welcoming, inclusive, stimulating, enjoyable and integrated. These values were reflected in everything that was showcased at the festival.

Musical items representing a variety of genres were rendered by artists such as Amanda Strijdom, Denise Jannah, Niël Rademan, D’Low, Chris Chameleon, Gert Vlok Nel and the maestro himself, David Kramer, were as South African as could be. For the South Africans from Worcester, Mitchell’s Plain, Lotus River and Gansbaai (to name but a few), who are currently working in the Lowlands, it was indeed the right medicine to ease their intense longing for home. To the Dutch themselves it was an unusual but exciting experience to see the diversity of Afrikaans music in action. And to us visiting from South Africa it was indeed a bonus. We do not often have the opportunity of seeing some of our foremost Afrikaans musicians together on one stage.

On offer were drama productions, such as Gideon van Eden’s Afrikaans is nie vir sissies nie and Dit sal die dag wees featuring Calvin Ngcaku and Themba Ndimande; papers presented by Breyten Breytenbach, Michael le Cordeur and Ena Jansen, among others; and contributions by writers Etienne van Heerden and EKM Dido dealing with the diversity of Afrikaans and South Africa’s socio-economic challenges. To many citizens from the Lowlands this was a revelation. Even young Africans living in the Netherlands who distributed the African magazine titled Zam during the festival listened with keen interest to an account of the history of Afrikaans. During discussions they acknowledged that it had helped a great deal to dispel their ignorance about Afrikaans and the Afrikaans-speaking community.

To the few Dutch politicians present, the festival gave a clear signal that the Afrikaans community, being South African to the core, regard their country and its people as their first priority. We welcome support from abroad, but do not take kindly to ethnically inspired, paternalistic interest groups speaking on behalf of the Afrikaans community for whatever reason. The Festival voor het Afrikaans is sufficient proof that we can creatively manage the assembly of the Afrikaans jigsaw puzzle and search for solutions to our country’s social and economic problems.

I have no doubt that there are still some missing pieces in the Afrikaans jigsaw puzzle. Building a community has always been a complex and, in the words of Neville Alexander, “voetjie-vir-voetjie” process. Therefore the search for the missing pieces needs to be a constructive and creative endeavour by all those who have some or other interest in Afrikaans. This indeed bodes well for an exciting and bright future for Afrikaans!

Christo van der Rheede
Chief Executive Officer
Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans