An interest in the way people communicate led University of Stellenbosh student Kobie Niewoudt to her Honours illustration project titled The Performative Nature of Tsotsitaal. This series is Kobie’s attempt at challenging the delinquent connotation that is often associated with Tsotsitaal. As an Afrikaans speaker, the project saw Kobie exploring a language that is vastly different from her own.
A blend of several languages and popularised in the heydays of the iconic Sophiatown township, the original variety of Tsotsitaal was a mixture of Afrikaans and seTswana and later included Nguni languages such as isiZulu. The dialect gained notoriety as a street or criminal language during the apartheid days as it was used as a language of secrecy among rebels and comrades alike. Today Tsotsitaal forms part of South Africa’s developing urban culture and can be found spoken in most townships around the country.
“Whilst exploring a culture that has up until now been virtually unknown to myself, I have managed to incorporate the Tsotsitaal “stylect” into my field of illustration,” says Kobie. “I have reached the goal of trying to understand the various facets that construct Tsotsitaal. I want to acknowledge the fact that it is only a glimpse into their current and ever changing culture. Through the practical component of my project, I managed to give my interpretation and understanding of the Tsotsitaal “stylect” from an illustrative point of view. Referring back to the quote by Mfenyana (1981: 302) which predicted that “Long after the year 2000AD professors and pimps will still enjoy and be fascinated by slanguages and ganguages”, it has to be said that his words were true as I am the living example of that prophecy.”