History and languages

Road sign in three languages

Who are or what is a South African? You could categorise us by our home languages, on the basis of colour, by region, or by income bracket. But then that holds true for just about any country.

The original inhabitants of southern Africa were the Khoi people (Hottentots) and the San people (Bushmen). The Dutch settlers discovered them when they arrived in South Africa and called them strandlopers - beach walkers. The Dutch were first European settlers during the colonial era. Since they were predominantly male they soon mixed with the locals and the Coloured community are the descendants of those relationships. And still today Afrikaans is the mother tongue of both the Afrikaans people and the Coloured people.

Meanwhile the Nguni people had been migrated down along the east coast from the central  south eastern and  part of Africa. If you can speak Zulu, then most people from Malawi to Zimbabwe, through Swaziland, along the Natal coast and down to the Eastern Cape should understand you. In the Eastern Cape you can see how the features of the African people start to look more like the original Khoi as that is where they would have encountered each other.

A rather friendly local
A black South African and a Coloured South African are two entirely different people with separate culture and history. Likewise Afrikaans and English speaking white South Africans have distinctly separate histories. That is not to say we haven't been falling in love and mixing it all up over the years. I love our ever emerging hybrid culture.

The English arrived later and helped themselves to the land causing the Boer war. There are still some people who harbour a grudge toward England for their treatment during that war. Winston Churchill worked as a war correspondent during this time in South Africa. Another dark epoch was the Apartheid era. The effects of that time will linger for a lot longer than we would like. South Africans are a resilient lot and although we may fight amongst ourselves we unite smartly when the right time comes. Soccer World Cup was a sea of mixed faces all singing Shoshaloza. How to make an expat weep? Play them this clip - shoshaloza And the negative press about South Africa regarding the Dewani murder has gotten right up our noses South African view Shrien Dewani case

We hold the world record for the most official languages. Eleven in total. At the top of this post is a typical sign in SA. We all speak English, Afrikaans is usually represented and the regional African language would be displayed. In the Western Cape the local language is Xhosa.
Giraffe photo courtesy Andrew Cross

Labels: , , , , , , , ,