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The Language of Identity: Kaaps Writing from South Africa

November 2021

Zanele Montle, iThemba'lethu, acrylic on canvas, 2020.

Our November 2021 issue presents Kaaps-language poetry and prose by South African writers. Developed in sixteenth-century colonial South Africa through contact between indigenous, Southeast Asian, and European populations, Kaaps was later appropriated by Afrikaner nationalists, who eliminated its “impure” elements to create the Afrikaans language. The resulting dismissal of Kaaps as street vernacular or a mere dialect of Afrikaans reflected the dominant culture’s oppression and negation of South Africa’s Coloured—or multiracial South African—population, to which many Kaaps speakers belong. The authors presented here link Kaaps language and identity to argue for the validation of both. Poet and spoken-word artist Khadija Tracey Heeger hails a complex ancestry. Nashville Blaauw makes a biblical plea for guidance, and Shirmoney Rhode calculates the risks of parenthood. In two family stories, Olivia M. Coetzee’s young woman learns the truth of her parentage, while Andre Trantraal’s stubborn boy defies his devout grandmother. Hip-hop artist SIEP contributes a stirring salute to the individual (we have the video, too). And Olivia M. Coetzee outlines the history of Kaaps and the speakers who wielded it as a force for cultural affirmation.

This Language Called Kaaps: An Introduction
By Olivia M. Coetzee
Language is more than just a method of communication. It is about the ability to lay down roots, to settle into an identity, to have a place in history, in the present, and in the future. Language is…
Children of the Xam
By Khadija Tracey Heeger
Watch Khadija Tracey Heeger read her poem “Children of the Xam” in the original Kaaps.Poet Khadija Tracey Heeger honors a rich and complex heritage.Between the vertebrae of the Langeberg…
Translated from Kaaps by Olivia M. Coetzee & Khadija Tracey Heeger
By Martin SIEP Muller
Watch the music video for “Affirm” performed by SIEP, in the original Kaaps.This rap performance by SIEP uplifts and speaks truth.I affirm the soul in each personI affirm the soul in each…
Translated from Kaaps by Andre Trantraal
The Wind Blows Where It Wishes and You Hear Its Sound
By Andre Trantraal
It should be patently obvious to anyone but the most resolutely blind that he is not aching with impatience to go to the house of the Lord.
Translated from Kaaps by the author
I Lift My Eyes Up
By Nashville Blaauw
Where moving out is mostly in a coffin
Translated from Kaaps by Andre Trantraal
scratch cards
By Shirmoney Rhode
and that which has no use will be discarded
Translated from Kaaps by Andre Trantraal
Snake’s Hill
By Olivia M. Coetzee
JB was the one to start that fire inside my head.
Translated from Kaaps by the author