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Skrywersberaad-argief

Skrywersberaad




  Achmat Dangor
is die bedryfshoof van die Nelson Mandela Kinderfonds.
     Dangor is in 1948 in Johannesburg gebore. Sy lidmaatskap van die kultuurgroep Black Thoughts lei in 1973 tot ’n inperking van ses jaar. Hy doseer daarna skeppende skryfwerk aan die City University in New York. By sy terugkeer na Suid-Afrika werk hy, onder andere, vir Kagiso en as hoof van die Onafhanklike Ontwikkelingstrust.
     Uit sy pen verskyn Waiting for Leila (1982), Bulldozer (1983), Majiet (1986), The Z Town trilogy (1990), Private Voices (1992) en Kafka’s Curse (1997).

Dangor het die volgende nota saam met sy bydrae gestuur:
     “Please find my contribution attached. You may want to add a warning to the paper: It was written by a mind whose grasp of the written Afrikaans is rusty (and is deadly when it gets into the blood stream), unaided by a wordprocessor that just could not get the Afrikaans format right. So, daar is geen koppeltekens nie, no ’ on the n etc. The struggle described in the beginning was real, and made this deadline one of the most difficult I have ever had to achieve. You may just want to ask someone to do a simple spell check. Where do you get software for MS Word in Afrikaans?”
      LitNet se taalversorger het dus slegs die allernoodsaaklikste tegniese taalversorging ter wille van leesbaarheid op die skerm gedoen.

 

Language and the shaping of “otherness” — a personal testimony

Ek word genooi om deel te neem aan ’n skrywersberaad. Niks nuut nie. Skrywers steel gereeld tyd van die skryfwerk om te praat, ’n winduitlaat wat die brein en die siel verspoel en hernu. Natuurlik, die is ’n cyberberaad, ’n soort virtueel gesprek waarin jy nie jou mededeelnemers sien nie, jy kan nie hul “liggaamspreek” lees nie, jy weet nie eintlik of hulle na jou luister nie. Ek vrees hierdie nuwe teknologie so ’n bietjie. Maar die medium van hierdie debat is nie juis die uitdaging nie; die lÍ in die verwagting dat ek my bydrae in Afrikaans gaan lewer. Ek het Írens gesÍ, of geskryf, dat Afrikaans my moedertaal is. Ek het geen keuse nie, ek moet instem, jy verraai mos nie ’n konsep soos moedertaal nie.

Kafka's Kurse
Nou te koop
Nou sit ek hier by my skryftafel, komputer gereed, die leŽ screen net so intimiderend soos daardie leŽ blaai; skrywers het nou vir hulself ’n elektroniese nemesis verkry. Aand na aand worstel ek met die skielik vreemde proses: om in Afrikaans te dink, om denke in woorde te vertaal, presies en vloeiend, iets waarin ek trots kan neem. Vir die eerste keer in meer as 20 jaar. Dit was so natuurlik, so maklik, so vloeiend, daardie skryfproses, 25 jare gelede. Al wat nou uitkom, is ’n aarsel en twyfel van ’n taal. Selfs my komputer weier om saam te werk. Daar is geen Afrikaanse spelcheck nie, en die masjien se onvermoŽ om deeltekens bokant die “e” te plaas, word ’n meningstruikelblok, nie net ’n tekniese probleem nie. Dink net hoe onmoontlik dit sal wees om daai “hoerskool”-clichť te vermy! Die woord “poesie” moes ek ook verwyder, of anders moet ek verduidelik dat ek van die musiek van woorde praat en nie genitalia grafitti nie.

Ek soek na inspirasie. Ek bel my moeder, praat met haar in ons gewone Afrikaans, net om myself tot rus te stel. Ek kan die taal praat. Natuurlik is dit nie die taal van Totius nie, nie eers F W de Klerk se droŽ-dermtaal nie. Meer soos ’n ou Adam Small-gedig sonder die smart (my ouma, die Afrikaner, het altyd gesÍ “hou jou suurlemoene vir jou die konfyt”).

“Jy klank asof jy iets op my oefen, is jy oraaight?” vra my ma.
Ja, Ma, ek oefen, ek probeer my vergete moedertaal herwin.

Uiteindelik red ek my senuwees met ’n glas droŽ wit wyn. So naby aan die Afrikaans as wat ek kan kom. En dan lÍ ek in my bed en bevra myself: waarom neem ek hierdie kruise aan? “Takdier,” sou my ouma gesÍ het, die Afrikaanse meisie wat meer Muslim as die oorspronklikes geword het na haar “draaiery”. Sy het ook verstaan wat dit kos om jou taal op te gee. En nog erger, om dit probeer terug te kry. Ek onthou ’n storie wat in ons familie herhaal word. My ouma gaan sien haar familie, na 30 jaar, ’n soort van versoening. Blykbaar het ’n ander familielid ook met ’n mens van kleur getrou. Hoe gekleurd? Ons wonder nou nog. Maar wat van belang is, is dat Katryn nie die enige sondaar in die familie is nie. Toe sy terugkom, vra een van haar dogters haar: hoe het dit gegaan? “Ons kon mekaar nie verstaan nie,” antwoord sy.

Ek onthou ook die dag toe ek my besluit neem om nie weer in Afrikaans te skryf nie.

Augustus 1976, of was dit Julie? (Wat maak ’n maand se verskil in die begin van die einde?). Die Soweto-opstand het alreeds deur die land versprei. Swart protes, wit reaksie, soos een kenner gesÍ het. Klip en woord teen die roer en sjambok. TV het so onlangs hier in Suid-Afrika aangekom. Ons sien op daai klein boks hoe die polisie mense doodskiet, ons sien, in ons voorkamers, hoe swart jeugdiges bereid is om teen koeŽl-mag met “sypaaitjie-ammunisie” te staan. Dis ’n paar weke voordat die owerhede bewus raak van die impak van hierdie beelde, hier in die huise van gewone Suid-Afrikaners, terwyl hulle eet, terwyl hulle die normale dinge van normale mense doen. Skielik weet almal: alles in die witman se hemel is nie so rosy nie.

En toe tree die stryd my wÍreld binne. Ek was ingeperk, een van daai nuwe Pa Pelser-specials, ’n Mini, gemik na die buiteland: “Sien hoe menslik is ons teenoor die klomp Goddelose kommuniste”. Ek was nie onder huis-arres nie, maar kon nie vergaderings bywoon nie, enige iets publiseer of voorberei vir publikasie nie. Met ander woorde, dit was vir my verbode om te skryf. Drie jaar lank skryf ek in die geheim, versteek manuskripte met vriende, in die hond se hok, in die dak, onder my 2-jarige dogter se matras. Veilig in my heldewÍreld, ’n victim of apartheid, op pad na eer en erkenning. As ek my tyd wag, geduldig wees. Vra niks van die vyand, maar bly ook uit sy pad. Toe daag ’n vriend op by my huis, ’n Comrade van ons Swartbewustheiddae. Hy vra herberg, die polisie soek na hom. Hy het ook ’n skietwond.

Soos hulle in die movies sÍ: one thing led to another. My vriend benodig dringende mediese behandeling. ’n Dokter-comrade sien na hom, smokkel surgiese toebehore uit die hospitaal. Hy word gevang, en ’n paar dae later daag die polisie by my huis op. Dou voor dag, met die volle squad-car fanfare, skreeuende remme, weerklankende stemme, (net polisiemanne het sulke diep brulstemme), daardie klop op die voordeur wat jou hart laat stilstaan. My vriend is weggeneem (ons sien hom 24 jare later, een van die eerste ANC-lede om terug te keer na die land). Ek verdien ’n maand in solitary op John Vorster Plein. Toe hulle my vrylaat, gaan ek huis toe met voorbode. Ek weet in my hart dat onse lewe nooit weer dieselfde sal wees nie. Inderdaad, my vrou groet my met die nuus: “Hulle het alles gevind, alles weggeneem.”

Die manuskripte in die dak, onder uit my slapende babadogtertjie, sÍ my vrou. Snaaks, noudat ek daaraan dink: daardie huwelik het meer of min teen daardie tyd ook begin brokkel. En alles was in Afrikaans uitgevoer: die skreeuery die oggend toe hulle soos hell’s angels opdaag om ons op te tel, toe hulle my ondervra in John Vorster Plein, die dag toe hulle sÍ: jy kan loop (en loop moes ek, vanaf die stad na Newclare, ’n township op die Wes Rand). Wit en swart, baas en amperbaas, almal het Afrikaans gepraat, net Afrikaans.

Ek moes van voor af begin. ’n Roman, gedigte, my Afrikaanse vertaling van Leopold Sengor se “Nocturnes”, gedigte, stories, jare se geheimsinnige werk het verdwyn. Sommer net so. Ek wonder nou nog wat die polisie gedoen het met die berge materiaal wat hulle oor die jare gekonfiskeer het? Verbrand, in afvalpitte begrawe, of lÍ dit vergete in die donker kluiste van die ou sekuriteitsapparaat? Weet hulle dat woorde sterf soos kinders, stilweg, met groot oŽ, naÔef, en dat hul siele terugkom om jou te pla?

Die vloek van die woordegod op daardie polisiemanne: mag julle lewenslank ly aan slaaploosheid en die onrus van diep soggensure.

I was reduced to vengeful cursing, hoping the as yet vain hope that the liberation movement would live up to its name and start liberating us. Yes, it did launch me into renewed activism from which I was only able to free myself when those liberation movement leaders finally came home. But in 1976, I sat at my desk as I do now, thinking how strangely empty, how clinically neat and tidy my world had become. How barren. This may seem like an overly dramatic way of looking at a “calamity” that was befalling writers all over the country, and would continue to do so for at least another twenty years. But many did give up writing, many did take to direct political activity as an alternative, many went into exile, or simply sunk in life without words, liberated from the solitary, anti-social “living in many worlds” that writing imposes on us. Many others became the bitter polemicists that shaped the artistic and political agenda of the 1980’s.

In a sense I was lucky: my banning order proscribed my social life, imposing on me a solitary existence that meant little but the joys of my young daughter, books and my writing. I needed to start writing again in order to survive, mentally and emotionally. It is an affliction I still suffer today.

Ten years of writing had disappeared, not only the works in progress (two novels, poetry, short stories, etc) but my notes, the informal journals I had started keeping. I was starting from “scratch”. A daunting and an exciting thought. I had the opportunity to re-invent myself. But now the language in which this redefinition would take place would not be Afrikaans. I remember feeling so bitterly proud of the gesture I was making. The sense of solidarity, of being at one with those heroic students. In retrospect, perhaps there was another, more subliminal motive. Along with a lot of other banned people, I had published my work abroad, in magazines and collections, under pseudonyms. One thing became absolutely clear: there was no outlet for Afrikaans writing, not even if it was black and radical. The world’s appetite for South African writing was growing but it had — minimally — to have the appeal of an accessible language.

My first attempts were as frustrating as writing this paper has been. Dozens of false starts, reams of discarded writing. My banning order expired in October 1978, and a year later I published my first collection of poems, entitled Bulldozer. It was a compromise. The first half of the book is written in township Afrikaans, hard, relentless in its almost polemical assault on apartheid South Africa, all the bottled up, unexpended anger harboured for five long years. The second half reworks many of those same patois Afrikaans poems into English, a reinterpretation that seemed to soften the tone, paint the bitter clarity of the Afrikaans in shades of grey. My transition was beginning. In a way Afrikaans had chained me to the past, to discourses that always seemed to find some degree of understanding for what was motivating white Afrikaners. How could I stand up and say: this is the language of the oppressor, it must be rooted out, when it was my language of the everyday, the language in which I travelled, went shopping, loved, had petty arguments, the language in which I heard my mother talk to her children about the travails of bringing up a large brood of children in the unforgiving township environment?

Now free to function in the world of usurped “English”, taken by the colonised from the colonialists and put to beautiful, if bastard, use I felt freed from the love-hate relationship that I had with my mother tongue. I could accept: Afrikaans is that deep, historical entity, a precious heritage, but it need not be the mechanism through which I communicate with the world.

What has been the effect? Firstly, Afrikaans lurks like a subterranean stream in my writing, leaching into its earth a sodden intensity, an inclination towards exaggerated imagery that I find difficult to notice while I write. It takes a good editor to see the mutant metaphors, to observe and help straighten out the often convoluted sentence structure that this mongrel process creates. It has earned praise as well as condemnation. Rich to some, “gnarled”, I suppose, to others, especially to the lovers of post-modern minimalism. Until recently, my work was regarded as too inaccessible for international readers.

“I write therefore I am” is a somewhat arrogant elevation of the writer to some superior, special species of human being. But in a sense I cannot think of my humanity outside of my functioning as a writer. Just like surgeons or carpenters or accountants are influenced in what they are by what they do, I am, in many ways, what I write. Language is therefore a fundamental question. And living with a kind of linguistic schizophrenia is not easy. It is not just a case of being bilingual. Quite the opposite: it is being unilingual, but by using two languages at the same time. A coming together of two very different linguistic protocols, syntax templates, sounds and nuance, that is not exactly a fusion, and often is a confusion.

Take the very topical word rape. It is a somewhat vague and neutral description of a very brutal abuse of power (not only of the body, but also of the spirit). Somehow it does not convey what actually happens when a person is raped. I keep on thinking that the Afrikaans word “verkrag” is so more apt, noun becomes verb, concept transformed into action. So intrinsic, so barbaric in its unity of meaning. While addressing a meeting on child abuse recently, the Afrikaans “verkrag” came to mind, but while speaking my consciousness translated it into English. It came out as a lame and jarring “overpowerment”. Never mind the audience’s mystification and amusement. It brings home to me how the language of my childhood interferes whenever I am stressed or emotional.

And this brings me to the point that I was leading up to, digressively I guess, but then history is not a simple, linear progression from departure point to the next. Language not only shapes one’s place in society; it is one’s place in society. The quintessential hybrid is the person who speaks a quintessentially hybrid language. Are there any examples? Yes, the most obvious: Americans, (as in the USA). A nation of immigrants, divided by race, by economic class, religion and their own weird set of political loyalties. What keeps them together is their language, that uniquely brash, upstart, bastard language. It is the first thing that new immigrants pick up; the ability to blend in by adopting the nuance and tone of the way people speak. Forget about the regional accents, North versus South, East Coast-West Coast, it is American in the end.

Since this is a personal testimony, let me once more return to my own experience. My transition from Afrikaans to Anglikaans, ultimately to a form of blurred-at-the-edges English, has in many ways left me alienated from the mainstream of my country’s progression towards nationhood. We seem not to have learned from our past mistakes. We have once more (subtly now, with greater idealism) started to believe in concepts like “unity in diversity”, we have cabinet ministers talking about the need to respect “minority” cultures. We forget: ethnicity divides people, given half a chance it becomes an excuse for strife, for the pursuit of hegemonies. Link race and ethnicity to language and religion, and you have a deadly mixture. As the Fijians, the Sri Lankans, Albanians, Yugoslavs and so forth and so forth.

Divided people need a common “self-interest” to unite them, something intrinsic, something that everyone can own, use and develop, adapt and mutate. Language is the only “force” capable of achieving that miracle of the mind. In the South African context, is Afrikaans that language, is it isiZulu or isiSotho, is it any of the indigenous languages?

That may well be a poetic dream. It is not a realistic one. I think that every South African should be brave enough to throw his or her precious language into the cauldron of everyday usage, in literature, in commerce, in government. Let the “market forces” of language development determine which “strain” of consequent bastardisation emerges. It may well be English, it may well be a very distinct, Southern African English, and it may take a hundred years. It may well be that this does not happen and eventually we degenerate into a series of competing ethnic / linguistic zones, ripe for conflict, even war.

A pessimistic view? Only if we insist that “our language” deserves to survive, no matter what the cost.

Wat sÍ ek nou, is dit weer “away with Afrikaans”-tyd? Nee. Net dat Afrikaanssprekendes, in hul ywerigheid om taal (en as gevolg, kultuur) te beskerm nie hulself meer en meer marginaliseer nie. Is dit regtig iemand se lewensbegeerte om sy status as klein minderheid in ’n klein land vir ewig to behou? In hierdie eeu van globalisation sluit jy aan of sluimer jy uit. Dit geld vir taal, land, kultuur asook vir die individu.

Dalk sien ek die wÍreld van te nou ’n perspektief, of is dit te wyd? Jy sien, ek is alreeds daar: a hybrid, sielkundig en kultureel. Nou is ek op soek na ’n diaspora.

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