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Boer soek iets anders

Agricultural body Agri SA has joined the easily upset masses of our country by getting its thick farmer socks in a bundle over yet another inane remark by a top ANC leader.

This time it was Cyril Ramaphosa, who, imbued with electioneering hubris, warned those attending a public meeting in Limpopo recently that the evil Boer, replete in khaki and frothing with 'dop en dam', Calvinist zeal will encircle the country, turning it into a laager of the past.

"If all South Africans don't vote, we will regress. The Boers will come back to control us," he apparently stated. With elections looming, hyperbole, rhetoric, jargon, jingoism and propaganda will find their way into anything coming out of the mouth of a politician.

At a cursory glance Ramaphosa's remarks constitute nothing but piffle. Yet I find myself having to ask why this term 'Boer' continues to irritate nerves to such ridiculously histrionic levels.

Any Afrikaans dictionary, let's take the intimidatingly title HAT: Verklarende Handwoordboek van die Afrikaans Taal (try to say that fast three times over!) defines 'Boer' as, 'Landbouer; plattelander. Die boerderybedryf uit oefen'. I'll put you non-Afrikaans-speaking lot out of your misery by paraphrasing this definition; in its purest form it basically refers to a farmer. It also refers to a member of the 'Afrikanervolk' or the Afrikaans culture. On its surface it's a word which too often remains sinister, a label to be attached to the backward among us.

Languages, however, are dynamic and the word has maybe for too long been associated with those hawkish, God-haunted white men who helped reduce South Africa to a pariah state for decades: The Nats.

But 'Boer' can mean any number of things in the South Africa of the 21st century. Often I've heard the term used among coloured people in referring to police officers. The link is easy to understand. Under Apartheid many an Afrikaner rushed to defend the 'Volk' by becoming either a cop or a soldier. When in the field as a reporter I couldn't help but chuckle when I heard a black police officer being called a 'Boer' by a coloured person, usually amid a heated atmosphere. In such cases it is derogatory, though.

In our modern day language 'Boer' can be a verb, also applying to situations where you find yourself 'hanging out' or 'chilling' somewhere. Example: "I'm boering with my mates". Coloured people's linguistic equivalent would be, "I'm blomming with my bras", yet another beautiful example of a South Africanism.

The expression "'n Boer maak a plan" has also weaseled its way into our ever-growing body of colloquialisms. It's a fantastic, and rather accurate, way of explaining resourcefulness, especially amid adversities. You can say what you want about Afrikaners, but their history is filled with examples of just how hardy, tough and resourceful Afrikaners have been throughout history. Think of the Great Trek and the Anglo-Boer War.

For those inclined to refuse to accept the ambiguities of the word 'Boer' I would suggest, as a last resort, watching a programme on KykNet on DSTV called Boer Soek 'n Vrou. For me it's a peek into the lives of real old-fashioned farmers; toughened boere who, despite their two-tone shirts, veldskoene and bakkies are themselves trying to do what every human does: Try to find love.

When I'm not buckled over laughing at the fascinating cultural disparities between those featured in the series, I'm genuinely intrigued by these purebred brethren of the Afrikaans culture. To me, watching this programme settles my mind (at the very least) that the ubiquitous - and let's face it - bizarre paranoia that a khaki-clad army will again take over the country, Boermag style, is ridiculous.

Yes, of course there are still Afrikaans people who have the Vierkleur emblazoned on their wall, who still sing Die Stem and insist HF Verwoerd was simply misunderstood. But then we also still have many who will still sing 'Kill the Boer, kill the farmer'. I'd like to think, though, that these types are gradually finding themselves in ever-shrinking corners and the word 'Boer' will find itself freed from the stifling confines of the past.

I've met many an Afrikaner (I'm married to one) who has broken away from the 'verkrampte' shackles of the past. They're helping (whether they know it or not) to change the face of their culture, ensuring it remains unique and yet open to change. They, like their ancestors, are on a great trek... seeking their identity and redefining their culture.

Regan Thaw is a Cape Town EWN News Anchor.

Follow him on Twitter @ReganThaw

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