Number of Afrikaans-speaking people is actually growing, says Language CouncilNovember 17, 2022
South Africans were shocked when Benoni-born Hollywood actress Charlize Theron said Afrikaans was dying because it is still spoken by about eight million people globally.
Theron said on the SmartLess podcast that Afrikaans was not a very helpful language and joked that only about 44 people still spoke it.
According to worlddata.info, with a share of around 14%, “[Afrikaans] is most widespread in South Africa. A total of about 8.4 million people worldwide speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue.”
When someone asked on Twitter if SA had a unique species of frog, Afrikaans singer and activist Steve Hofmeyer’s response was brutal: “Charlize.”
Who is she anyway?
Language activist and poet Stanley Cierenberg said he did not remember who Theron was.
“Why does her opinion matter anyway? We shouldn’t give her any publicity if that’s how she feels,” he said.
Cierenberg said SA should ignore Theron.
“Who does she think she is? It’s pathetic for an Afrikaans actress living in another country to break down her own mother tongue,” he said.
Cierenberg said Theron had betrayed her own people. “Charlize’s comment is just a piece of pee-paper, that’s all,” he added.
AfriForum deputy chief executive Alana Bailey said Theron was no language expert.
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“I can believe that after such a long absence from the country, you lose touch if you do not feel strongly about identity.
“I compare her comments to Arnold Vosloo, also a resident of Hollywood, also from the East Rand, but someone who makes good use of his multilingualism and also makes such a contribution to the Afrikaans and South African film industry,” she said.
Bailey added that Afrikaans was not dead. “There are too many people who create the language and feel strongly about protecting and developing it. As long as we protect and support spaces such as schools and businesses and the arts where Afrikaans has a place, the language’s future looks bright,” she said.
Dr Leon Schreiber, MP and Democratic Alliance (DA) constituency head in Stellenbosch said the DA could confirm that in SA’s national parliamentary caucus alone, there were more than 44 people who speak Afrikaans.
“As the most diverse political party in South Africa, many DA members speak multiple languages, including Afrikaans. It appears that it has been a while since Ms Theron visited her country of birth,” he said.
Schreiber added that Afrikaans was far from being an “unhelpful” language. “The DA would happily invite Theron to a parliamentary sitting when she is next in the country so that she can see how we ensure that our beautiful indigenous languages, including Afrikaans, find expression and are protected in the hallowed halls of parliament,” he said.
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“We are also grateful for the spotlight her comments have cast on the importance of protecting and promoting our indigenous languages.
“These languages are not only mechanisms for communication, but they also express our uniquely South African identity, culture and heritage, which Theron has often emphasised on her rise to fame,” he said.
Theron’s comment ‘contradicts reality’
Afrikaans Language Council chief executive Dr Conrad Steenkamp said there were currently roughly 6.8 million Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa.
Theron has always said positive things about Afrikaans in the past. “One wonders what is going on and if it’s flippers’ comment,” he said. “I recently did a research study, Afrikaans Language Council and Solidarity Research Institute 2022 of Afrikaans-speaking people, and I can tell you we found more than 44.”
Steenkamp said he was angry at Theron for saying that Afrikaans was dying.
“It contradicts reality. We found by 2041 we will have at least 7.1 million Afrikaans-speaking people, so we are growing. It’s not a shrinking population. It might shrink in the future but not in the next 20 years. It is not a dying language,” he said.