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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.

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