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Rappers make Afrikaans hip

White musicians update the image of South Africa's language of apartheid.

In South Africa, language and cultural representations are still fraught with historical baggage.
While Afrikaans has a “diminished space in the public sphere,” it is starting to develop a new association as a language of culture through its use in theater and music, said Kees van der Waal, a professor of social anthropology at Stellenbosch University, an institution that teaches in Afrikaans.

“It is emerging more and more as something in its own right,” he said. “This is freeing Afrikaans of its baggage and that is exciting.”

Die Antwoord’s videos, which went viral after a post by the website BoingBoing in February, have had millions of hits from an international audience. For non-South Africans, the Afrikaans accent is a curious one and has a novelty factor, as do the cultural send-ups in the group’s sometimes bizarre videos.

But among South Africans, the videos have sparked discussions about cultural authenticity. Die Antwoord’s singer, Waddy Jones — who performs under the moniker “Ninja” — is not Afrikaans, but of white British background. Some have questioned whether the group, which also draws influences from the impoverished Afrikaans-speaking Cape Colored community, for example through the use of slang and the lead singer’s tattoos associated with violent Cape Flats gangs, is mocking these people, or at worst, performing blackface.

“There’s a measure of appropriation that makes it uncomfortable,” said Adam Haupt, senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town and the author of "Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip-Hop Subversion."

“Are they parodying Afrikaner culture or elevating its status, giving it cool-street cred?” asks Mary Corrigall, in a lengthy article in South Africa’s Sunday Independent that attempts to dissect the cultural significance of the group.

Rapper Jack Parow told the Mail & Guardian that he is sending up the “zef image” of the Afrikaner because that’s “how I grew up and how I have been classified my entire life, being from behind the boerewors curtain,” he says, referring to the famous Afrikaner boerewors sausage. “So yes, I am making a statement to say that we aren’t as bad as everyone makes us out to be.”