Tuesday, March 6, 2018

So Your Character is From South Africa ... Featuring Amy @ A Magical World of Words & Robin Kelly van Rensburg

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from New England ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts is as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Hi, I’m Robin, a South African homeschooled teen. I have an unquenchable thirst for books, love to write (when I’m not chasing down a thousand plot bunnies), and also fancy myself a singer. I am currently finishing my last year of school.

I'm Amy an I live in Cape Town,  South Africa. I’m a feminist, fangirl, reviewer, blogger, coffee addict, film fanatic, book nerd, introvert, child of God, and aspiring author. I’m homeschooled, and in high school.


What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?  

Robin: There are our mountains, the most well-known one being Table Mountain (located in Cape Town), so called because of the flat and even top. But we also have the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountain) range, which forms a natural border between the KwaZulu Natal Province and the country of Lesotho (which is not part of South Africa), and the Magaliesberg range, which stretches from the Gauteng province into the North West Province.  

Table Mountain
Then there’s our wildife, which includes Springboks (our national animal), Wildebeests, Zebras, and Kudus. And, of course, the “Big Five”: elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalos. We also have one of the deadliest snakes in the world: the Black Mamba. 

One public holiday exclusive to South Africa is Heritage Day/Braai day on the 24th of September, which celebrates the various cultures and ethnicities of South Africa, often with a Braai (Barbecue).

A female Kudu
Amy: I think it’s the fact we have eleven official languages, and that we truly are a rainbow nation. We have great cultural diversity; more evident in some areas than others.

Our eleven languages are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. 

As for cultural diversity, some of the rural non-white South African people groups will seek the advice of a witch-doctor/medicine man/‘sangoma’ for various ailments or problems. This is not generally something that Arikaans or English-speaking people will do. In addition, people belonging to the so-called Coloured group of people, have a strong Malay heritage which is still prevalent today in their traditions and festivals. Example: On the 2rd of January every year they celebrate ‘Die Tweede Nuwe Jaar’ with the Coon Carnival, which involves different bands of musicians marching and dancing through the streets of Cape Town.  

Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?  
Robin: Our summers are boiling hot. It feels like I get baked in an oven nearly every day. We usually get most of our rains during the summer months. The South African winters are quite dry, except in Cape Town, which is in the Western Cape Province, (the southern province of the S.A), and is known for its wet winters.

Cape Town
One of my favourite places in the S.A is Oribi Gorge (named after a species of antelope), a canyon in KwaZulu Natal. I can’t begin to explain how lovely it is. It’s so beautifully green, and the view is breathtaking. The area has an abundance of wildlife, from leopards to various different species of antelope, with the gorge’s namesake, the Oribi, included. Visitors can also go zip-lining and cross a suspension bridge from one peak to the other (I was too chicken to cross the bridge!).

Oribi Gorge
Amy: Our environment is has a ton of beautiful beaches, mountains, deserts, and a wide variety of scenery. I’ve never been out of my home province (Western Cape) but my favourite places here are Silvermine – a great place to hike and picnic – and Kirstenbosch, a huge public garden bursting with flowers and gorgeous scenery.   

Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Robin: We have an absolutely brilliant invention called a Braai, which is basically the South African version of the barbecue/grill. We cook various different meats on the Braai, from Boerewors (Sausages) to Sosaties (Kebabs), and lamb chops. 

Boerewors on the Braai
Another popular food is Mealie Meal. Mealie Meal is a white porridge made from maize, and is usually served with meat and gravy, or occasionally with milk and sugar. One of our most famous dishes is Potjiekos (Literally meaning “Pot Food”), which is cooked in a black cast-iron pot, traditionally over an open fire. The meal consists of meat and various veggies. For dessert, you can have a slice of Milk Tart, which has a delicious crumbly crust, a sweet milky filling, and is topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Or Koeksisters, which are plaited pastries filled with sweet syrup. And let’s not forget the snacks: Droewors and Biltong. Droewors is dried out Boerewors, and Biltong is almost like Beef Jerky, but with a smoother texture. And of course, Beskuit or Rusks, which are like hard biscuits. We usually dunk our Beskuit into coffee or tea, to soften it and make it easier to eat.

Milk Tart
Potjiekos on the fire
Amy: Because we have a wide variety of people groups, there’s an equally wide  variety of foods as well; which include dried sausage/biltong, milktart (a creamy milk pudding with a cinnemon topping), koeksusters (plaited dough fried in sugar-water), babootie (a lightly curried mince beef dish with an egg-mixture baked on top of it ), and mieliepap (a very thick, dry porridge).     

Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Robin: A lot of our slang is derived from Afrikaans and the Afrikaans speech patterns that have been adapted to English. We also have a few words that have been borrowed from the native African languages. Some of our most common slang is:

Bakkie: What we call a pickup truck. But it’s also the Afrikaans word for a little bowl.
Eina (pronounced “Ay-nah”): Our word for “Ouch!”
Eish: Basically our variation of “Eesh!”
Ja: The Afrikaans word for yes.
Ja, nee: Basically this translates to saying “Yes, no”, and is a phrase we use when we somewhat agree with what you are saying, or don’t know what to say.
Robot: What we call a traffic light. 
Takkies: Sneakers/athletic shoes. 
Shame: This is a word we South Africans use in a strange way. We may use it to sympathize with you, like “Oh, shame, you broke your leg!” or if we see something cute, like “Aww, shame, that baby is so cute!”
Now-now: When we say “Now-now”, it usually means the same thing as “In a while”. It doesn’t mean the same as “Now”, as in, “Immediately”.
So long: This means the complete opposite of “Now-now”. If we say something like: “Clean up so long”, it means, “Clean up right now”.
Aikona: A word that could mean something like “No way!” 
Yebo: The Zulu word for “Yes”. 

I just feel like I have to include this strange euphemism we use: Let’s say that you may have, you know, thrown up, and you don’t want to gross everybody out by saying exactly what happened. So instead you’ll say: “Ek het n kat geskiet”, meaning, “I shot a cat.” I have no idea how this strange saying came about, but I feel so sorry for the poor cat. Another strange saying we have is “Jakkals trou met wolf se vrou”, which is what we say when it’s raining and the sun is shining at the same time. It literally translates to “Jackal marries wolf’s wife”

Amy: Again it depends on where you live and what group of people you belong to. In the Western Cape, people living on the Cape Flats and surroundings, speak a mixture of English and Afrikaans with many slang words. 

Among the English speaking people, we call things slightly different names. Examples include:  “ketchup”, is tomato sauce, a “barbeque” is a braai, “cookies” are biscuits, “jerky” is biltong, and “jelly” is jam.   

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Robin: Well, I guess a regular day in South Africa is like a regular day in the States: Kids wake up early in the morning, go to school, and their parents go to work. I’m afraid that there isn’t much difference with the routine of the Western world.

Amy: I can only do this from my point of view because there’re so many different people and lifestyles, but for me a normal day typically involves school in the morning and free time in the afternoon; unless we have somewhere to be, like the shops, or friends, or youth, or extra murals.  

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Robin: One of the main differences is that we have eleven official languages instead of just one or two. They are: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Tswana, Sesotho, Tsonga, Swazi, and Venda. 

Politically speaking, well, our country’s government is very corrupt compared to the United States Government. Top government officials (including the president) use money for their own personal uses instead of helping to fix our country. We also tend to get power outages often, and sometimes the power is switched off purposely for a few hours at a time to save electricity. This process is called “Load-shedding”. I know this may be shocking to many of the Americans reading this, but I wanted to be honest, and I don’t want to sugarcoat the harsh realities of our country’s political situation. 

South African President

Amy: Environmentally: like the States, we have a wide variety of scenery, vegetation, climates, and some very built-up areas and some very sparsely populated. Some areas are very wealthy, and some very poor. 

Politically: We are a democracy, and the party that gains a two-third majority is the ruling party. We have an opposition party and many other smaller political parties. Our country is run by a President.    

Culturally: It ranges from traditional African lifestyles and practices to a very European/Americanised lifestyle. In the minority, the Afrikaans-speaking people also have their own set of traditions and lifestyles. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Robin: April 6, 1652: The day Jan van Riebeek arrived at Cape Town, in order to take command of the Dutch settlement in the S.A. The site was later fortified as a way-station for the Dutch East India Company trade route between the Netherlands and the East Indies. The Dutch played a large role in founding the Afrikaner nation, and many White South Africans have Dutch ancestry. The Dutch language also played a role in developing the language of Afrikaans, which is mostly derived from Dutch (with some German and French influences). 
Jan van Riebeek
May 31 1902: The end of the Second Anglo-Boer war, which was mostly waged over the ownership of the Witwatersrand Gold Mines. This war brought a new horror that the first war didn’t: Concentration camps. Many of the inhabitants were the Boer soldiers’ wives and children, who lived in the most horrific conditions. Emily Hobhouse, a British welfare campaigner, worked to try and improve the conditions of the concentration camps.

May 31,1961: The day South Africa officially became a republic, and Queen Elizabeth II stepped down from her title as Queen of South Africa. 

- Looking way back, probably the arrival of European settlers (1652 onwards). 
- When South Africa became a republic and gained independence from Britain.
- In 1994 it was the end of apartheid rule and the first truly democratic elections were held. 

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Robin: One of the most annoying stereotypes for me is that everyone thinks that we talk with an Afrikaner accent: Not pronouncing English words right, saying the vowels too harshly, and so on. This makes us seem stupid. The majority of people overseas tend to view us as having the Afrikaner accent. But keep in mind that there are different ethnic groups (like the Zulus, Xhosans, and Coloureds) in the S.A who have different languages that have different accents from the Afrikaners. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all White South Africans are Afrikaners, as they prefer English as a first language and as such don’t speak with that accent. 

Another stereotype is that foreigners seem to think we have lions roaming about in our backyards. I personally find this to be more funny than offensive, though. 

In terms of media, well, our own media doesn’t put us in a very good light, especially concerning the Afrikaner nation, who are portrayed as being vulgar and absolutely stupid. This is very annoying to me, as I don’t act that way nor do I have that disgusting sense of humor. The film Lethal Weapon 2 portrays Afrikaners as the main villains and practically makes them out to be neo-Nazis. Our own films and books tend to copy archetypes from Western media, most of which has long since been deemed “Cliché” by American writers. 

Amy: In international movies, South Africans are often portrayed as “boorish oafs” who can hardly talk properly! (Actors can never get a South African accent right…)   
People, in general, tend to think all South Africans live in mud huts with lions and wild animal roaming around their dirt streets.  That is not the case anywhere in the country!  

And there’s also the fact that most people from other countries don’t even know where South Africa is. 


What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Robin: This is quite a problem, since many people still cling to the stereotypes I mentioned above. However, I remember a new TV series called “Frequency” having a minor character who is South African. The show didn’t really go into much detail about our language and culture, but the character was portrayed as being reasonably intelligent, and his accent wasn’t too thick and hard to understand. Sadly, there aren’t many movies, shows, or books that shed the stereotypes of the South African people. Except maybe for District 9, which I haven’t watched myself, but I do know was directed by a South African and had a South African actor in the lead role. 

Amy: Video-clips and photographs displaying the natural beauty of our country to tourists are usually very accurate. 

District 9
Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Trompie: From the Trompie series of books (by Topsie Smith), a classic of South African literature. It’s about the adventures of a boy named Trompie who, with his friends, causes trouble everywhere he goes. Trompie was so popular that he even got his own TV series. 

A Trompie book
Saartjie: The female version of Trompie, who had her own book series (also written by Topsie Smith, under the pseudonym of Bettie Naude) and TV show. The story centered on her and her two best friends having all sorts of funny trouble-making experiences.

The sparrows from Twee vir n Stuiwer (Two for a Farthing), written by W.A Hickey: This book is a classic of South African literature. It follows the lives of a group of Mossies, or sparrows, as they fall in love and struggle with their local gang. It may sound weird and really out-there, but believe me, this is one of the most well-written and funniest stories I’ve ever read. It’s like a soap-opera about birds. 

Amy: Not a lot of South African characters appear in movies, etc, except for Nelson Mandela (who was a real person.)  

So yeah, I can’t really think of any characters……

Klaw from Black Panther
Thank you, Amy and Robin, for this very informative post! Come back next week for a post all about Nigeria!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Cuba, Venezuela, Switzerland, Kenya, Iraq, and Egypt.

Do you have any characters from South Africa? Did this inspire you to write a South African character or set a book in South Africa? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Amy and Robin? Be sure to thank them!

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