With rap and poetry, Cape Town tries to bridge racial divides

November 24, 2016 4:33 AM EST

Rapper and poet Jitsvinger walks across a pedestrian overpass in the Woodstock area of Cape Town, South Africa, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Penney


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By Joe Penney

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A city surrounded by ocean and divided in two by the naked rock of Table Mountain, Cape Town's incredible natural beauty belies a past of hundreds of years of slavery and racial oppression.

Now a generation of artists, musicians, poets, and filmmakers is trying to overcome this legacy, and in South Africa, a country with 11 official languages, it is not just significant what they say, but how they say it.

Quintin Goliath, who goes by the stage name Jitsvinger, meaning 'The Dope One', is a rapper of mixed ethnic origin from Cape Town. He performs in Afrikaans, a language spoken by 7 million South Africans that is derived from Dutch and draws on Malay, Portuguese, English, Xhosa, Chinese and Khoi influences.

Goliath, who raps about topics including politics, identity and love, said Afrikaans was becoming more popular, especially among the young.

"Afrikaans has become more edgy and loose lately in the last decade and a half," he said. In the neighborhood Kimberley, up to six different languages are spoken in one sentence, he added.

"As a result, my vernacular can reach the broader collective consciousness and that's where the future lies for Afrikaans: inclusivity and the acceptance of one another's expression."

While some see the future of Afrikaans as promising, its past is contested. Afrikaans developed in the Cape Town region among slaves from West Africa, the indigenous Khoi and San tribes and Indonesia who adapted the Dutch spoken by slave owners and colonial settlers into a common language.

Today only around 40 percent of those who speak Afrikaans at home are white South Africans, according to the South Africa Race Relations Institute.

"Many today will still refer to the ‘white’ Afrikaans as beautiful, pure and proper but their version has a negative or lower form reflecting an internalized self-hatred left behind through slavery, colonialism and apartheid," Goliath said.

"There’s a lot of repair work needed within the broader Afrikaans community," he said.

Cape Town poet Jethro Louw also performs in Afrikaans. He is a descendant of indigenous Khoisan and Mozambican slaves and includes indigenous stories and myths of Cape Town in his poetry. He plays the musical bow, traditionally used for poetry, music, and communication.

"I try to popularize the First Nation Culture and its symbols such as the bow in the public domain," he said.

After Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans, English is the fourth-most spoken language in South Africa, but its role in public life is far more influential.

Bheki Pilot Biller is a 24-year-old film student from Limpopo who speaks Zulu and English, and chooses the latter in his work which focuses on social issues.

Pilot said Cape Town remains racially divided and that he had experienced job discrimination because he does not speak Afrikaans.

"I can't take this situation whereby for you to get a job you need to have a specific skin color. There are some opportunities where they note that you must know how to read and write Afrikaans fluently. What kind of job is that?"

It seems there are voices clamoring for a more inclusive South Africa in every community in Cape Town: At a recent concert, well-known rock musician Jeremy De Tolly, a white, native English speaker from Cape Town, said the country's white population should share their wealth with their fellow South Africans.

For a Wider Image photographic essay from Reuters, click: http://reut.rs/2fQBqkL

(Reporting by Joe Penney; Editing by Joe Brock and Raissa Kasolowsky)



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