South Africans are a wonderful bunch of people who speak a variety of languages between them. In the fashion of Englishes all over the world, the English spoken here borrows so freely from other South African languages that we merit a dictionary devoted to South African English. This form of English has been evolving since the arrival of the British military and administrators as early as 1795.
I was among only a handful of English-speaking pupils during my schooling and still tend to pepper my spoken English with words and expressions that had been so familiar during those formative years. Can they really be considered Afrikaans words, for example? Yes, but many words from this and other languages have become entrenched in the everyday English we use, for this is not any old English that we speak, but South African English.
Thus it is that we might seek muti (medicine) from a pharmacy to relieve the symptoms of some malady. If one of us experiences a sharp pain – such as a thorn in one’s foot – you are more than likely to hear the exclamation eina! This word effectively communicates how sore you are.
I frequently refer to flowers, animals, birds, insects and trees I have observed in the veld – a reference to the untamed open grassland, often studded with trees that we get in this country.
In order to explore the wilder, more out of the way places or to visit some of our fantastic national parks, we pack our camping katunda into our bakkie – that was before COVID-19 caused a blanket ban on travel.
Occasionally we come across large areas of erosion, called dongas.
Somehow the word ‘gulley’ doesn’t match the South African landscape.
Enjoying a braaivleis is an institution in this country. Since the lockdown began, our neighbourhood has been redolent with the aroma of braais. Having a barbecue or cook-out doesn’t cut it. ‘Braai’ encompasses more than merely cooking meat (occasionally also vegetables and even baking bread) over an open fire. It conjures up the ritual of preparation beforehand, waiting for the coals to be just the right temperature, the cooking process and the geselligheid that is part of the gathering for the meal.
Conviviality in the Eastern Cape extends to the way men greet their male friends, family, acquaintances and newcomers as ‘boet’ (originally an affectionate word for brother). As an aside, one would seldom describe a South African man as sporting a paunch: they tend to develop boeps!
A friend recently reminded me of a particularly poignant word that has been used a lot during the many weeks of COVID-19 related social isolation. ‘Sterkte’ conveys both sympathy and encouragement. It means much more than saying ‘be strong’ or ‘have courage’. It is a word that tells the recipient that I care for you; I empathise with your predicament; and I wish you well.
So, one of these days, when freedom of movement and association is allowed once more, I will enjoy packing our katunda into our bakkie; driving through the veld; over a nek or two; and to kuier with people who mean a lot to me. Doubtless we will steek a dop, enjoy a braai, laugh a lot and be gesellig whilst chewing biltong or eating wors. I will enjoy spending time with my boets and my ‘clean-sisters’.
Until then, sterkte to you all!