Traveller’s Rest, the dusty farm where I spent a month climbing, lies 260km north of Cape Town in the bosom of South Africa’s rugged Cederberg ranges. The mountains tower majestically above fertile citrus farmland, forming a wall that keeps the rain – and most of the tourists – to the south. Beyond the barrier of peaks is an almost Martian landscape scattered with orange, wind-sculpted boulders and roamed by leopards and baboons. They call this place Rocklands.
My partner and I came from Australia for the rocks. We spent most of our days climbing, but one morning the sky was a giant bruise, flinging the odd fat raindrop at the dusty red earth. Instead, picking up maps of the renowned Sevilla Trail at Traveller’s Rest’s farm stall – a restaurant and corner shop catering to visitors – we wound our way among painted boulders admiring San (Bushman) rock art, some dating back 8,000 years.
Today, this is Afrikaner heartland; many of the farms in the area were first tilled in the 1740s by Trekboers, the Dutch ‘wandering farmers’ of Calvinist faith later known simply as Boers. Their descendants are called Afrikaners; their language, Afrikaans.
After our walk, we returned to the farm stall for lunch. “How are you people?” Frida, the waitress asked as we arrived. ‘You people’ is a common address in South Africa, but until I learned that it was a direct translation from the Afrikaans, ‘julle mense’, it left me feeling like a schoolgirl in trouble.
The history of South African English is inextricably linked to that of Afrikaans, the language that South Africa is known for, which is a modern-day iteration of 17th-Century Dutch. As I set out to tell the story of one, the other kept cropping up, demanding attention, dispensing context. But here, English and Afrikaans are also inseparable from Africa itself. Just as they draw words from each-other, and from the migrants and slaves brought by the colonists, the languages also draw much of their character from the people who were here first. In that regard, language is like the culture in Africa’s southernmost country: rich beyond comprehension, a patchwork of worlds.
Read more: BBC Travel