/ 23 June 2004

Wa’dzay Gesê?

Late one night at this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees there was a telling moment in Rooi Rose‘s heavily branded Al Capone Club. As the predominantly middle-aged, predominantly white Afrikaans crowd lazed on the sofas and sat around tables drinking Klippies and smoking cigarettes, nodding a head and tapping a foot to the groovy, unobtrusive wallpaper sounds of latino house being spun by the DJ; the poet, journalist and all round stoute kind Toast Coetzer downed a shot of tequila, winced and approached the stage. He had just lost a small wager and his penalty was to recite one of his fiery poems, set to the latino house beat, in front of the hostile middle-aged crowd.

Toast got to the front, checked the mic and after nodding his head a few times to the beat, launched into a poem entitled Die Volk Is In Die Kak.

A few years earlier and that poem, in front of that crowd, would have caused a riot. This year, the crowd’s response was largely ambivalent. You could read the look on most faces, telegraphing thoughts like “hier gaan ons weer”. The message was clear, Die Volk had heard the rhetoric many, many times and already owned the t-shirt. And still the discomfort was palpable. In Oudtshoorn this year, just like every year, their was very little culture on display that marked the expression of the nearly 3,5-million black and coloured Afrikaans speaking South Africans that inhabit this country (Statistics SA: Census, 2001).

If you tune in the radio, or flip on the telly, you’ll find most of the Afrikaans medium channels and stations struggling to find an inclusive voice for all the nation’s 6 million odd Afrikaans speakers (Statistics SA: Census, 2001). The question is: how come? It’s been 10 years of freedom and still the dominant perception of the Afrikaner is a fat white farmer in a safari suit, despite the fact that there are more black and coloured Afrikaners than white ones (Statistics SA: Census, 2001).

Afrikaans is the world’s youngest language, born and bred in our turbulent history, representing the coming together of Africa and Europe, yet still suffering from the faux-ignominy of being the language of apartheid. A few racist zealots with a flawed political experiment have tainted an entire language that is rightly owned by all South Africans. The time is beyond ripe for an overhaul of what it means to be Afrikaans. But which media outlets are truly willing to turn the page?

Radio Sonder Grense (RSG) is the easiest place to start. Since their overhaul from unofficial mouthpiece of the NP Government pre ’94 to “Radio Without Borders” in the new dispensation, RSG has not done badly in transforming their listenership. The station has grown its black and coloured Afrikaans listenership considerably. In their latest Rams diary (2003b) RSG posts a 7-day listenership of 1,707,000, of which there is an almost equal split of men and women. 657,000 listeners are black and coloured while the biggest piece of pie, 1,047,000, are still white.

Tellingly, the majority of RSG’s listeners are aged 50+ with the second largest segment of listeners falling in the 35-49 age bracket. With the majority of RSG’s audience falling in the LSM 6-10 categories, they hauled in a fat R60,109,788 in ad revenue in 2003 alone (AIS/Adex: 2003). So it’s not like they’re about to take a risk alienating their largest constituency to drive the station headlong into the unknown of the black Afrikaans market. Especially since a lot of affluent black listeners are there already.

However, if your aim is to communicate with the integrated, overhauled, splinternuwe gereformeerde Afrikaans market you could do a lot worse than Jacaranda 94.2 FM. The real growth and profit in Afrikaans radio belongs to this regional, bi-lingual, adult contemporary station. Currently broadcasting in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Provinces, the 50/50 English/Afrikaans station enjoys a 7-day listenership of 2,42-million, 68% of whom are black (Rams 2003b). The station’s format is adult contemporary and they fulfil a 25% quota of local music. Most importantly, Jacaranda earned a whopping R182,767,852 in 2003 (AIS/Adex: 2003).

KFM, like Jacaranda, is a 50/50 adult contemporary station in the Western Cape with a large, integrated 7-day listenership of 1,155,000, and approximately 66% of that listenership is coloured and black. The station also managed a tidy little haul of ad revenue last year amounting to R129,723,505 (AIS/Adex:2003).

OFM is the poor cousin of the regional bi-lingual stations. Still, they raked in R17, 586, 826 in 2003 (AIS/Adex: 2003) with a small listenership of 443 000 centering around Bloemfontein and stretching into the Northern Cape and Orange Free State. The demographic split is less transformed than Jacaranda and KFM, with 58% white listeners, 23% coloured and 19% black.

However KFM, Jacaranda and OFM are not exactly single-minded in promoting South African music beyond their 25% quotas, and very little of that is Afrikaans music. You’re more likely to hear Phil Collins, Sting and Mango Groove than Koos Kombuis and Brasse Vannie Kaap.

Where you’re not likely to hear the latter is the Afrikaans Christian station Radiokansel/Radio Pulpit, which manages a 660,000 7-day listenership (Rams 2003b). One would be foolish to discount the buying power and loyalty of the Afrikaans faithful. Of course Afrikaans radio still encompasses the backward leaners and the untransformable, such as die bittereinders found on Radio Pretoria. With a 7-day listenership of 127,000 and a paltry ad revenue of R289,036 in 2003 (AIS/Adex:2003), the station, like the AWB and the Boeremag, is pretty close to skid row.

Afrikaans television is an interesting creature simply because there are now so few outlets. Unlike the heyday of apartheid, where Afrikaans television enjoyed the run of three channels, and everything from Starsky and Hutch to The Thunderbirds was dubbed into die taal, now the majority of the Afrikaans speaking population get their fix of taal televisie watching originally produced Afrikaans shows on SABC2, where the language has to share space with Tsonga, Venda and English.

Popular Afrikaans shows on the channel include 7de Laan, Geraas, Pasella, 50/50, Noot vir Noot and Die Nuus, nog met Riaan Cruywagen. But at the time of going to print Muvhango, the undefined language drama (using English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Sotho and lots of subtitles) was leading the Audience Ratings on SABC 2, while 7de Laan came in second and Die Nuus in third.

Since the paradigm shift, SABC2, like KFM and Jacaranda, has gone for a largely bilingual approach, which seems to work well with the overhauled image of the Afrikaner as someone more interested in an integrated South Africa and a global outlook.

SABC 2 seems to be doing alright for themselves too, attracting overall ad expenditure of R787,910,968 in 2003 – which is only 200 odd million shy of a billion (AIS/Adex:2003).

For those who can afford the satellite link up and the monthly DSTV fees, kykNET fills the void for pure Afrikaans content, but the station is marginalised by the preclusive costs of satellite and communicates only with a privileged, largely white Afrikaans audience of 804,000, of which 94% are white (Tams 2003b).

Still, this relatively small, fair-skinned satellite audience managed to attract a rough guesstimate of R72-million (speculative AIS/Adex: 2003), primarily because they all fall within the LSM categories 8-10. Niche and rich, exactly where the advertisers want to be, kykNET rose to prominence in ’94 as the SABC shifted its focus to represent the diverse range of South African languages, and many disgruntled Afrikaans viewers took refuge in the new channel.

“We know we can’t rely on nostalgia,” says kykNET channel head Theo Erasmus pragmatically. “We have to excel in our programming or people will watch English stations.”

And here he locks onto something that is evident in the new breed of Afrikaner, something that can be evidenced in the rise of popularity and profitability of bilingual 50/50 radio stations like Jacaranda. Afrikaners are increasingly willing to have the best of both worlds, quality local and international content, in any language they can understand.

Interestingly enough, the switch seems to run both ways in kykNET’s privileged sector. “The channel is aimed at all people who understand Afrikaans, not only those for whom it is a mother-tongue. More than 40 percent of our viewers are English,” says Erasmus.

Despite the struggle for identity, integration and representation gripping Afrikaans speaking South Africans and befuddling Afrikaans media outlets, the one absolute positive is the fact that Afrikaans media, no matter who it targets, relies heavily on original, locally produced material. Unlike us soutpiele, Afrikaans, like any other exclusively South African language, forces channels to support and foster local productions. This is as evident on television as it is in the success of Afrikaans music artists. Significantly, kykNET has recently pledged R46-million over the next two years to develop four new drama series.

In terms of Afrikaans media, the identity crisis is a necessary catharsis. Afrikaans culture has always managed to create platforms to express itself. Just like Toast standing on stage at the KKNK giving the middle-aged culture vultures and apartheid guilt escape artists hell. It is precisely these continued investments in Afrikaans expression, from the KKNK to kykNET, SABC 2 to the people who relentlessly churn out Steve Hofmeyr and Patricia Lewis albums, that drives the culture forward. What is necessary now is for platforms to be created for the marginalised 3,5 million black Afrikaners to express themselves, so that Afrikaans media begins to accurately reflect the true face of the Afrikaans culture in South Africa.