My relationship with Afrikaans has always been a difficult one. It is the language my parents speak to their parents and I speak and write it as fluently as I do English. It is a colourful, descriptive language, but like much of the history of this country it has a side that leaves a bitter aftertaste.
It is “the language of the oppressor” to many South Africans and we simply cannot shake off its shadowy past when it was used by the white minority as a tool in the oppression of the majority of South Africans. And in this lies my conflict because this oppression is undeniable, but there is a part of me that celebrates the language, too.
It was born in the creation of a language that mixed Dutch, the Malay languages brought to South African shores on slave ships and indigenous African languages. Today, the majority of home language Afrikaans-speakers are coloured — like me — with heritage that traces back to all three of those original groups.
Yet instead of celebrating this, I’ve always been a little ashamed of its divisive history. That was until I got to see it in a different light, now broadcast on TV four nights a week with the first season of a kykNET original series, Suidooster.
Since first airing in November last year, the show has gained a loyal following of viewers who have latched on to its fresh — and very real — take on the language, who speaks it and how it is spoken.
It is the first Afrikaans soapie to be filmed in Cape Town and plays out in the fictional suburb of Ruiterbosch, with a focus on the lives of the October, Samsodien and Du Plooy families.
We’re used to the social hierarchy of shows like these — the rich white family that owns the big business and lives in the biggest house (remember the Edwards family in Egoli or 7de Laan’s Terreblanche family), whereas the coloured and black characters live in smaller dwellings, often accommo- dating extra family members.
But things are different in Ruiterbosch, where it seems writers have deliberately turned things on their head. The October family — the wealthiest on the show — is a coloured family that owns a lucrative real estate agency. Headed by patriarch Ian (Abduragmaan Adams) and his wife Bridgette (Denise Newman), the family business employs their children Nicole (Gerwen Simon) and Jerome (Danny Ross) as well as Rhafiek Samsodien (Irshaad Ally) and Tim du Plooy (Marco Spaumer).
Rhafiek’s father AB (Cedwyn Joel) owns the local pharmacy and his mother Mymoena (Jill Levenberg) is a stay- at-home mom. Tim’s father, Chris du Plooy (Marcel van Heerden) also works for Ian, and Tim’s cousin Stefan (Gideon Lombard) is a chef at the local coffee shop. Stefan’s wife, Michelle (Greta Pietersen), works for AB at the pharmacy.
Suidooster is the latest Afrikaans soapie to capture the experiences of South African families. But it does so without caricature, exaggerated accents or slapstick stereotypes. With excellent writing and well-rounded characters, the storylines are complex and interesting.
And they speak Afrikaans authentically, the way real people do — from the more formal “suiwer” (pure) Afrikaans to the mixed “kombuis Afrikaans” that is unique to the Cape.
The show has gained a loyal following, which was instrumental in getting producers to increase the number of airings a week from three to four — an announcement made as the show aired its 100th episode a few weeks ago.
In this time, Suidooster has managed to become a symbol for the importance of language and of representation in the media. For the first time on South African TV, a Muslim family is portrayed in their home — a move that in and of itself is a form of education for many viewers.
Without labouring the point, the show has been able to demystify Islam in a real family home context with a Cape Town twist. For example, many people may have heard of Eid, but the word labarang is mostly unheard of outside of Cape Town.
Stemming from Malay slaves and pronounced lah-bah-rung, the word is another name for Eid day. With the Suidooster episode that coincided with the end of Ramadan this year, the Samsodiens opened their home to friends and family for their annual labarang tea, giving South Africans from all over the country a glimpse into an authentic Eid celebration true to many homes in Cape Town.
Watching the show has become a daily ritual in our home, because for the first time there are characters on TV who look and sound like my family and our friends. It has shown how and why representation matters and that there is more to language than what we perceive it to be.
Suidooster airs on kykNET and kykNET and kie (DStv channels 144 and 145 respectively) at 6pm from Monday to Thursday.￼￼￼