Afrikaans Language Monument: A Contested Monument for a Contested Language
The Afrikaans Language Monument (ATM) in Paarl, South Africa, was erected on the foothills of Paarl Mountain to celebrate the history and development of the Afrikaans language. It is a large and imposing nonfunctional structure, richly imbued with symbolic meaning. There is also a museum for the Afrikaans language in the same town, making it the only language in the world with a monument as well as a museum dedicated to it.
Afrikaans is still viewed by many as the language of the oppressor, owing to its connection to the apartheid government, rendering the monument a hotly contested site. This chapter poses the question of whether the changed sociocultural climate in the country – from the apartheid government in the 1970s to a democratically elected government today – has affected the attitude of the broad South African public toward the monument and if so, what those changed attitudes translate to in terms of the viability of the institution as a tourism destination and a national place of commemoration.
The comparative, qualitative method is employed by comparing attitudes displayed toward certain aspects pertaining to the monument during the building and planning phase in the 1960s and 1970s and responses to the same aspects 40 years later, with the aim of putting cultural changes into perspective against the broader background of the country’s sociopolitical and cultural development.
Although some South Africans still view the efforts of the ATM to transform their events and exhibitions to attract people from across the spectrum as mere political window dressing, very significant changes are visible in visitor demography and numbers, pointing to a greater acceptance of the monument as a cultural rather than political icon.
KeywordsAfrikaans Language monument Language museum Monumentalizing language Cultural change Apartheid
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