Today we celebrate the day in 1994 on which not only all South Africans, but also Afrikaans, were liberated. In honour of this and the Afrikaanse Taalmuseum en -monument’s (ATM’s) 45th anniversary, the chair, prof Elvis Saal, delivered the following address to the council.

The 45th celebrations of the ATM commenced on 6 February with the launch of its festival celebrations. We have put together an exciting birthday calendar that will culminate in a very elegant birthday ball on 10 October 2020, exactly 45 years after the monument was inaugurated.

Such celebrations pause one to reflect – to look back, but also to look ahead. We are all aware of the controversial history of the monument in particular. The museum, however, never attracted the same kind of controversy and occasional ridicule as that of the monument. The visible ‘verering’ (worshipping) of a language through a tangible structure, such as a monument, was uncommon at the time. The erection and inauguration of the monument was born in controversy and deepened the divisions in the Afrikaans language community. The monument was seen as a symbol of Afrikaner nationalism – a visible and constant reminder of apartheid ideology, and the pain, heartache, humiliation and alienation that fellow-black South Africans had to endure. We know the history and we are all knowledgeable about the deep divisions that were created in the Afrikaans community.

This is a past that we cannot rid ourselves from, but I believe that we should use it to remind ourselves to never go back to a place where we divide, rather than unite, where we cause pain, rather than to bring healing, where we push away people because of our (language) ideology, rather than to include, where diversity becomes a liability rather than an asset. The heritage landscape is so much different than 30 or 40 years ago: we are called upon to be agents of change, and we are called upon to show how we play an integral part in the social cohesion and nation-building project.

We cannot be the reason that this project fails. We have the responsibility to lead, we have the responsibility to demonstrate to South Africans how social cohesion can be achieved. We have the responsibility to demonstrate and live our Africaness.

And we can do this by beginning in our communities by claiming our African narrative; we are in Africa, not in Europe, so let us be unapologetic about our Afrikaans located in Africa. It is time to claim the African narrative of Afrikaans. When we tell people about Afrikaans, we tell them the story of Khoi-Afrikaans; it does not begin with Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. Afrikaans took shape in the mouths of the Khoekhoe since 1595.

Let us be bold and proclaim the alternative narrative of Afrikaans and bring this narrative into the mainstream discourses regarding Afrikaans. Our Afrikaans is the story of ‘brokwa’ – the Khoi word for ‘broodgoed’.  This is the story of how stigmatised forms such as ‘die’, ‘ons’ en ‘ek’ that were first used by the slaves and Khoekhoe entered Dutchified Afrikaans (known as Standard Afrikaans). So, when we tell the story of Afrikaans to visitors, to our own South Africans, we tell it without fear or prejudice from our African, our decolonial, worldview.

What does this mean for the museum and the monument? I challenge us all here to reinterpret, to rethink our narratives. Is it still necessary to begin with Europe, while language developments happened here on African soil? Why can’t we begin our narrative with the Khoekhoe and the slaves? Why can’t we claim our diversity and be proud of it? Why should our story of Afrikaans in Africa always be second to the European story of Afrikaans?

We need to, more than ever, put Afrika back in Afrikaans. More so, we need to tell our own stories of being Afrikaans in Africa – stories about our lived African experience in and through Afrikaans.

My message to council and management is: Claim your African narrative and claim it in Afrikaans. And let us continue to show the world that Afrikaans, that the ATM, is no more a symbol of ‘oppression’, ‘apartheid’ or ‘division’. The decolonialised ATM and Afrikaans has claimed a new narrative, an African narrative, and will remain an important role player within the heritage landscape for years to come.

Sjoekran. Trammakassie. I thank you.

Elvis Saal

Chairperson: Council of the ATM