I’ve been pondering how to phrase all this for some time now, but finding a way in is tricky. Previously, when I voiced some of these thoughts to my sister-in-law, I was met with the inevitable “don’t you think you’re just being paranoid?”
Well, maybe I am.
You see, you may not even notice any more. In South Africa, we’ve become so used to it that we don’t even think of it. I’m talking about the markings on the road. More specifically, the fact that they’re still (21 years on) bilingual in English and Afrikaans.
I’m not going to give you a history lesson about policies of European-language bilingualism in SA. You can find that elsewhere. Google it or something. What I’m talking about is the lingering presence of those policies, in everyday life. And, most specifically, the subtle way in which road-painters seem to be protesting this fact.
There’s no point in writing STOP bilingually – it’s the same in isiBhunu and isiNgisi. Here, at least, isiLungu is monolithic. But that’s not the same with the other two common road-markings – SCHOOL and SLOW. The first one’s isiBhunu counterpart, SKOOL, seems to be continued without much thought – perhaps it’s a compromise, since even isiNtu uses the Latin-derived term, as can be seen by isikole in isiZulu. So SKOOL remains.
But it is the counterpart of SLOW, STADIG, that seems to be the focus of a subtle campaign to change things. Let me explain. On Linksfield Rd, driving through Edenvale towards the centre of the suburb, there is a school on your left as you crest the hill. Leading up to it, of course, are the various measures introduced to control traffic and prevent accidents. And right outside the school there are road markings – SLOW followed a few metres later by STADAG. No, I didn’t mis-spell it. That’s what the road-painters saw fit to put there.
When I first noticed it, I did a double-take. My disbelief turned to ridicule of the road-painter, but that then changed to doubt. Surely a person has orders of what to paint on the road? If they do, then this was deliberate. It takes more effort and paint to render an A in big letters than it does to do a similar I. So someone went out of their way to deliberately mis-spell an Afrikaans word, right outside a school, in an area where there is potentially quite a high density of Afrikaans-speakers.
I’ll let that sink in as we move to the next observation. Up on the ridge, near the Observatory, there are numerous places where one is urged to be SLOW. Approximately 5, on my usual routes through the suburb, show a pattern of activity which is interesting – only the coat of paint on SLOW has been renewed, and STADIG has been left to fade, slowly, under the crush of rubber and the elements and time. This observation speaks of a different sort of deliberateness, and one which I would expect – it saves money and time, and allows the out-dated policies to fade into obscurity. But it is still deliberate. And as such it points to a decision to change. It’s less of a gesture of defiance than deliberately mis-spelling a word, but it is defiant nonetheless.
So now you can tell me whether I’m imagining things. Look at your own neighbourhoods. Observe. See what you find.