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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


PRETORIUS, Cornia  and  FRONEMAN, Johannes D.. Vrye Weekblad's use of the term Boer to praise and berate in a cultural borderland. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-1, pp.752-769. ISSN 2224-7912.

The alternative, anti-establishment Vrye Weekblad (VWB, 1988-1994) exposed the Nationalist Party government, its apartheid ideology and concomitant evils by focusing on topics which mainstream publications shied away from. It did so by packaging its content through innovative design to support its nonconforming journalism and by using Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor, to create distance from those in power and reach out to the politically marginalised. The type of Afrikaans used by the VWB, which was deliberately less formal than the standard language used in other Afrikaans publications, freed the language from its shackles of conservatism. But it also became a mechanism in support of reconfiguring Afrikaner identity. The use of the construct Boer in VWB is one example representing this effort. In this article the findings of a study into the use of Boer/boer in VWB will be presented in three parts. Firstly, the historical evolution of the term, from merely denoting "farmers" to being employed as a term denoting nationalism, the mythologisation of the Boer in historiography of the first half of the 20th century, as well as repeated controversies in the historical present, are discussed. In the second part empirical data are used to analyse the usage of the construct Boer in headlines, subheadings, picture headlines and teasers on the front pages of all 226 editions of the VWB available in Stellenbosch University's digital collection. Thirdly, using a purposive sample, the headlines on the inner pages of 90 editions of VWB were analysed to further explore the use of the term Boer/boer. The study emanated from an earlier empirical investigation by students from the North-West University into the context, agenda and framing of themes on the front page of the Vrye Weekblad, 226 editions from November 1988 tot 2 February 1994. One of this study's findings was that Boer was used often in the framing of news. How it was used, and why, is considered in greater depth in this article. The use of Boer is approached from a post-colonial perspective and it is argued that the VWB created a cultural borderland in which white Afrikaans speakers could reconfigure a resistance identity without sacrificing all aspects of their identity. This hybridization, a position between two cultures, thus provided for the creation of a dynamic or fluid Afrikaner identity, which could morph into and out of this space. In this way, Afrikaners could embrace transformation and reach out to all South Africans, hence dislodging the othering on which the government of the day relied to sustain its ideology. In the 226 editions analysed, the VWB used Boer/boer 34 times in headlines, teasers and photo headlines on its front page. In addition, Boer/boer appeared 33 times in headlines and subheadings on the much smaller sample of 90 editions' inside pages. On the inside pages, usage in blurbs and kickers were also noted. When only the capitalized word Boer is considered in terms of its intention either to honour or to berate, 29 headlines were counted. The frequency of positive and negative usage on the front page was within close range, but overall more negative than positive. However, if only the capitalized Boer on the inside pages were considered, it was used 26 times and the positive and negative usage of Boer was the same. The ambivalence of Boer, as both a positive and negative concept, which is underscored by its contradictory usage in VWB, could also be linked to an internal VWB debate about Boer. The questions raised, however, appeared to have remained unresolved during its [the magazine's] existence - and continues to underpin controversies even into the historical present in South Africa. As a badge of honour, Boer has been used to describe white freedom fighters and political leaders associated with reformist thinking. It is this usage in particular which suggests attempts to reconfigure the Afrikaner identity. Until this point those who dared to speak out against the government and its policies were branded traitors, communists and sell-outs. But by using the construct Boer to describe Afrikaans anti-apartheid activists such as writer Breyten Breytenbach and theologian Beyers Naudé, it signaled to the so-called "Afrikaanses" that they too could cross into a cultural borderland in which they could reach out to other cultures - but during this fluid process the identity reconfiguration could happen without giving up all aspects of their existing cultural identities at once.

Keywords : Afrikaner nationalism; alternative media; anti-apartheid; hybridity; identiy configuration; cultural borderland; nonconformist journalism; Max du Preez; mythologism; postcolonialism; resistance identity; resistance press.

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