Liminality, transformation and communitas : Afrikaans identities as viewed through the lens of South African Arts Festivals: 1995 – 2006
Van Heerden, Esther
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The study analyzes the reconfiguration of Afrikaans identities in post-apartheid South Africa as mediated by two prominent Afrikaans-orientated arts festivals, namely the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival and Aardklop. Fieldwork was conducted in the two host towns – Oudtshoorn and Potchefstroom. A variety of research methods such as archival research, participant observation, semi-structured interviews and informal conversations were employed. The arts festivals emerged during a time of perceived crisis for particularly Afrikaans communities in the 1990s, when Afrikaans and the arts were in need of being renewed. The study compares and contrasts the Afrikaans-oriented arts festivals to the former Afrikaner volksfeeste in order to illustrate the marked contrasts between them. Whereas the volksfeeste were designed to advance Afrikaner nationalism in a narrow sense, the newly established Afrikaans-oriented arts festivals were envisioned as inclusive celebrations. Both festivals were established to advance the arts in Afrikaans, to redeem Afrikaans, given its tainted reputation as the language of apartheid, and to help bring about national reconciliation. The study traces the historical development of the two festivals in relation to these aims. The literature indicates that festivals as liminal events facilitate conditions during which festivalgoers are united in celebration and experience a sense of community or social communitas. The study utilizes the notion of liminality – the process by which the ordinary is rendered extraordinary during festivals. Six conditions of liminality are distinguished: extensive planning and preparation, different senses of time, the alteration of everyday routines, re-discovery and reappropriation of private and public spaces, the activation of festival spaces and the reworking of rules. It shows how liminality, rather than being self-evident, was carefully constructed. The study assesses the festivals’ potential ‘to bring people together’ against this background by looking at three possible means of social transformation: through the experience of the arts, through the use of public space and through encountering Afrikaans. The assessment reveals the discrepancy between official festival policy and practice. The tensions that existed – between ‘high culture’ and ‘popular culture’, centre and periphery, and inclusion and exclusion – hindered social transformation. The festivals nevertheless contributed to the establishment of a temporary sense of belonging or communitas amongst some festival-goers. Although Afrikaans was central to most manifestations of social communitas, festival-goers celebrated ‘being Afrikaans’ in diverse ways. The study concludes that these festivals were characterized just as much by the presence as the absence of social communitas.