Pay tribute to the cultures that created Afrikaans

The view from the top is great!

Paarl Language MonumentAfrikaans - a Language derived from Dutch, German, French and English

In South Africa we take languages seriously. There are 11 official local (Black) languages as well as English and Afrikaans. Afrikaans - you may ask? Not many people are familiar with this language when they think of the late Nelson Mandela and the “Long Walk to Freedom” that took place in South Africa. But most of the action involving tussles with our system of justice and especially the policemen took place in Afrikaans - the language of the system of Apartheid. The Republic of South Africa originally had only two official languages – English and Afrikaans.

Afrikaans is a fusion of English, Dutch, French and German. You could call this language a tribute to the European immigrants who formed the nucleus of a new civilisation that established itself down here on the southernmost tip of Africa. But for the people who spoke Afrikaans and inaugurated it as a new language/religion it was a whole lot more. It needed to be established and recognized by other nationalities as the super-driver of a new nation: The Republic of South Africa. That is why they made a monument to the Afrikaans language.

I know what you are thinking, but this is serious. Afrikaans is regarded as a language, not as some may call it, a throat disease. It actually has grammar, literature, poetry and music. Even today, after a rainbow makeover of South Africa, a few Afrikaans radio and TV channels have survived. They have to compete for the wireless limelight with 11 Black languages and a myriad of English channels. What chance has any language against the onslaught of BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channels?

The picnic site

We try to give every aspect of our rainbow nation a fair hearing. We cherish diversity and respect (put up with) freedom of expression. But only Afrikaans has a monument to remind us of its self-importance. It is built on top of a mountain that is strewn with huge dome-shaped granite outcrops that look like the bellies of pregnant women. Some would dare to say they resemble the Queen of Sheba’s breasts, but for the Calvinistic Afrikaner that may sound like blasphemy! Oh no, to them they resemble pearls. (Pearls of wisdom?) Paarl is the Afrikaans word for pearl - hence the Paarl Monument. The town in the Groot Drakenstein (Big dragon) valley below is also called Paarl for this reason.

The picnic area at the Paarl Monument is now open to all races

We were looking for a place to have a picnic with our guests and drove up to the rocky shrine - a phallic looking structure surrounded by wild olive trees and beautiful lawns. We paid a nominal entrance fee and parked on Holy ground. We were rewarded with picnic facilities and a spectacular view of the vineyards, mountains and valleys below. The benches and tables are made from the local grey granite. We dined with “people of colour” as they used to be called in the apartheid days. To us the Coloured and Black people are our friends and neighbours. But imagine what it was like then, when one area was exclusively for Europeans and your guests would have to sit in a separate area!

The Afrikaans Monument symbolically acknowledges other nations

The complex of grey concrete is the brainchild of the architect Jan van Wijk. The overall concept represents the three roots of the language that were derived from Africa, Europe and Asia. They were blended together by the gabble that resulted in a language aptly called Afrikaans. It could be understood by different races, but the greatest contribution was made by the Dutch language. Flemish is very similar to Afrikaans, so there isn’t anything really original about it after all! You can speak Afrikaans in Belgium and be well understood. But Belgium does not feature here. There seems to be an associated stigma attached to the height of each spire or mound that represents a nationality.

Starting at ground level, we have three dome-shaped mounds of concrete. These represent the African or Khoi languages: Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. (We are not sure why we now have 11 African languages to embrace as official languages. It seems important that nobody understands anybody. This also happened at the tower of Babel in Biblical times when man tried to build a tower to heaven and it was a confusion of tongues that saved the day. Obviously the highest of the towers at the Paarl monument represents the growth of Afrikaans. It achieved its erection in 1975. A smaller tower next to it represents the Republic of South Africa – the birth place and home of Afrikaans.

The domes

There is a fountain in the courtyard below, from which water flows at the base of these rocky edifices. But it is not the fountain of youth or of wisdom. The entrance to the inner region is called the bridge, but it does not hit the G-spot or seem to join anything together. The three columns on the left of the entrance are the European pillars of strength: German, French and English. The peg in the middle of the sweeping staircase is the grand monument to the Malay and Arabic people and oh yes, the Portuguese people. After all, Vasco Da Gama was the Portuguese seafarer who first landed on South African soil way back in 1472. The Dutch were the first to settle here in the Cape and set up a half way station in 1652. Jan Van Riebeeck was stationed here to provide fresh supplies of food and water to trading ships that sailed past on their way to the East.

Dutch French German pillarsThe Afrikaans and RSA pillars

The Union of South Africa and the dissolution of apartheid

It was only in 1994 that South Africa was united as a rainbow nation, thanks to the efforts of Nelson Mandela, our “Tata” or beloved father and his team of devoted followers. Now that he has left the building we are not sure if anybody, of any race will be able to fill his shoes or have a heart big enough to embrace the greater good. “Pro patria, non sibi” means for the country, not the self. But the onward direction seems to be: “Pro sibi, non patria” for the powers that be. (Some make false promises and live in vast palaces that deprive their voting force of homes, schools and hospitals. But everybody loves a tyrant they say.)

olive treesthe rock fixation

The average citizen of this country is now between a rock and a hard place, between the original tyranny of the “disunion” of South Africa and a gloomy rainbow nation. As an alternative we could all love one another and walk the talk of the Christian ideology that people pay lip service to. When in trouble we pray to God, the rock of ages. Meanwhile, Paarl Monument rocks, especially as a picnic spot and a peaceful place to wander around beneath the olive trees. Olives signify peace in any country in any language. These olive trees grow wild here and are the indigenous variety best known for the medicinal leaves they bear. The fruits are inedible hard little berries that fall to the ground. They are of no use – just like the fruits of political negotiations that lead to decay and entropy.

The origin of the names "Rock spider" and "Rooinek"

On a more humorous note, we had nicknames for English and Afrikaans people when we grew up as young children in a country that was dominated by racialist Afrikaners who hated the Englishmen as well as what they called “people of colour.” We received a Christian National Education, strictly for whites only. It really sucked! We were called “rooinekke” (red necks.) The British soldiers who fought here in the Boer war during the 19th century used to get sunburnt and their necks especially would get red. So we were branded as red necks and worse still as “kaffirboeties.” (Meaning: the brothers or friends of Blacks.) But few people know why we called our Afrikaans speaking bullies rock spiders. I think you do, after this little tour around the Paarl monument. The way they cling to this chunk of rock explains a lot. It is now a monument to their state of cruelty - a relic of the past best forgotten.

The Volksmond (mouth of the people) restaurant

The restaurant provides a selection of light meals and beverages. You can see the English and Afrikaans equivalents of the items they show on the sign below. Should you be hungry you can order some “koffie, koek and lekkernye”. (Coffee, cake and delicacies.) Enjoy the view! The valley below is a great place to explore the Wine Route. You can visit a number of Cape Dutch homesteads and taste wine, cheese and chocolates. Enjoy the food and wine of the Western Cape.

sign with english and Afrikaans

Don’t get me wrong - not all Afrikaners are tyrants and bullies. Some of my best friends are Afrikaans and in turn, do not hold me responsible for acts of cruelty that Englishmen performed on behalf of the British Empire - the ones who caught and sold our Black brothers and sisters as slaves and turned the Chinese people into opium addicts. The sun may never set over the British Empire. It may never rise over a world filled with loving people. But each one of us should never let the sun go down on our wrath. We can all learn to forgive and to forget and to love one another.