Cape Flats Dictionary

What is Kaaps?

Cape Afrikaans, or Kaaps, developed in a multilingual context in the 17th century Dutch colony on the Cape. Members of the enslaved people wanted to invent a language of their own that is different yet similar to Dutch, the language of the colonists. Initially, Cape Afrikaans - or Cape Dutch, as it was then known -  was used to create a means of private communication between the indigenous Khoisan, Malays, West African and Madagascan people and to oppose the dominant language of the time. However, as the vernacular spread, it became the home language of more than half of the population. Today, Kaaps is spoken by more than 70% of people in Coloured communities throughout the Western Cape, most notably on the Cape Flats, Bo-Kaap, Boland and West Coast. Interestingly, these people consider themselves speaking Afrikaans rather than a regional variant of the language.

Modern-day Kaaps still has many negative connotations to it. It has been labelled as "kombuistaal" "Gamat-taal" and "skollie-idioom" and has been denied official status in South Africa. This gave rise to several individuals attempting to remove the stigma surrounding Kaaps. One such is poet and playwright Adam Small, who, through his writing, resisted the oppression of Coloured people and their language during the Apartheid era.

Kaaps continues to be a subject of controversy in literary and academic discourse after the end of Apartheid. In 2012, young debut poet Nathan Trantraal accused Small of turning Kaaps into a joke, despite Trantraal's poetry also published in Kaaps. His comment caused an outburst of anger amongst writers and scholars; many of them consider Small one of the greatest poets in Afrikaans literature and for a newcomer to criticise him and his oeuvre is nothing if not seeking attention.

Michael le Cordeur, chairman of the Afrikaanse Taalraad, has suggested that Kaaps be taught in schools and acknowledged as a valid dialect in order to ensure the future for Afrikaans. 

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