… Kaaps?

For Moments of Joy
Unwrapping Cape Town with you.
Un-clicking the clique-iness
+27(0)72 350 2062
Cape Town & Surrounds

… Kaaps?

A brief look at the history of Kaaps and the origins of Afrikaans

Most people who know anything about South Africa (and even those who don’t) are familiar with Afrikaans, one of South Africa’s (SA) 11 official languages and a tongue generally accepted as a localised form of Dutch that was born in SA after the Hollanders settled in the Cape.

What the majority of people don’t know, though, is the largely untold story of Kaaps, or Cape Dutch as it’s also known, and the controversy that exists surrounding this language’s right to be respected and its role in the evolution of Afrikaans.

Historically speaking, Kaaps preceded the form of Afrikaans that’s officially accepted today, but as it was mostly used by the slaves and workers of past, it was undermined by a certain class of people.

This vernacular is still widely spoken throughout the Western Cape, and efforts are being made to rekindle and restore speakers of the language their rightful dignity.

What is Kaaps?

This vernacular was born in the 17th century out of a need to communicate in the Dutch-dominated colony that was to become Cape Town. During those early days, the region was filled with a mixture of cultures from all over the world, from the indigenous Khoisan and Malays to West African and Madagascan people. Many of these groups were enslaved by the Dutch East India Company and other affluent Netherlanders, and, as a form of revolt, they refused to assimilate and speak the language of the colonists and rather created a new creole to not only communicate with each other, but to also keep their conversations private.

And so, Kaaps was born.

As it was partly influenced by a large and devout Cape Muslim population, the first recording of this fledgling language was written in phonetic Arabic and dates back to the early-to-mid 1800s.

Regarded as lesser than pure Dutch and often termed kombuis taal (kitchen language), this ‘slave tongue’ carried very little status in the social hierarchy. What’s interesting to note is that kombuis means ‘kitchen’ in modern-day Afrikaans, but in Dutch it refers to a galley, which also indicates its use on the ships.

Needless to say, because most of the population of the Cape colony at that time was made up of slaves, the language became widespread. As a result, this vernacular gradually became the mother tongue of the newer generations, eventually outpacing Dutch as a primary language in the area.

Kaaps vs. Afrikaans

Decades after in 1875, once the descendants of the first Europeans to colonise the Cape had started referring to themselves as Afrikaners (people from Africa), the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA), or the Society of True Afrikaners in English, made one of the first attempts at standardising the language.

The organisation was established in Paarl by a collection of middle class farmers, small entrepreneurs, artisans and budding professionals to promote the Cape Dutch vernacular as the lingua franca of the nation in a move that was likely a response to British imperialism. Distancing itself from the language’s origins in the slave quarters, the GRA and its founders made a point of marketing their new standardised dialect (Afrikaans) as the pure language of the Afrikaners, thus branding the Kaaps that it was based on as slang and once again characterising it as a second-class tongue.

Even though the standardising process cut out many of the colourful phrases, Afrikaans today is still littered with words, like eina, gogga, kwagga, aitsa, from the Nama languages spoken by the Khoisan and words, like piesang (the original spelling is pisang), from the Malay.

This standardised version of the language became an elitist tool of discrimination even though slavery was abolished, and when the National Party came into power, it quickly became the language of the oppressor. To this day in South Africa, this stigma still maintains regardless of the fact that it’s been nearly two decades since the nation’s liberation from the Apartheid regime.

Meanwhile, despite the standardisation into Afrikaans and the compulsory language of instruction laws created by the Apartheid government, the community that used the original form of the language still held onto its ancestral background and continued to speak Kaaps, with most not even realising the heritage of the language.

Modern-day Kaaps

According to the 2011 South African census results, approximately 49.7% of Western Cape dwellers speak Afrikaans, and the majority of these speakers are from coloured communities. While this statistic refers to the Afrikaans in its standard form, in reality, Kaaps is what is widely spoken in these communities.

Despite its pervasiveness though, the perception of Kaaps in modern society remains negative: it is considered an uncouth and vulgar version of Afrikaans, and it’s often noted that speakers are unfairly judged based on this historic language.

This attitude doesn’t exist unchallenged though. In an attempt to relay the history of Kaaps and differentiate it from standard Afrikaans, a group of hip-hop dancers, rappers, spoken word artists and musos came together in 2010 to produce the hip-hopera Afrikaaps. Through jazz, hip-hop, traditional goema and reggae music, the troupe takes the audience on a journey from the early days of Autshumaoa (Harry the Strandloper) to present day Cape Town to reveal the heritage, culture and beauty of Kaaps.

Not to mention, while very little literature about the history of Kaaps is available in the public domain, social activists are trying to spread the word, to not only give Kaaps its rightful place as an official language in South Africa, but to also restore the dignity of Capetonians and by extent South Africans who have been made to believe that their mother tongue is a broken one.

We’d like to thank Emile YX? for his invaluable contribution to this piece.


by Meagan Hamman


Cape Flats hip hop pioneer launches new books at Afrocation Tour.

Read more about Cape Town colloquialisms.

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, connect with us on LinkedIn, check out our photos on Instagram and follow our Pinterest boards for updates on what’s happening in and around the Mother City!

Cape Town Events Calendar
June 2023
1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30

Cederkloof Botanical outdoor jacuzziWe just found our next place for a ...

Cederkloof: Cottages with jacuzzi + house with pizza oven

Bombay BrasserieSumptuous Indian set menu for two

10 unique dishes (and MCC) at Bombay Brasserie

mischu breakfast specialWeekends are for mischu

Where else do you get brunch for under R100 in Sea Point?

Cape Town Meadery mead tastingHave you ever tasted mead?

Taste beer, gin and more made from mead (until June)

Rose's Table pop up dining experienceIntimate fine dining in an art gallery

A long-table experience with food, music, wine and art

Excentric Hair camera diagnosisHow healthy is your hair, really?

How to get a free diagnosis + R100 off your first visit

Cannibisters weed barCape Town’s very own cannabis club, ...

It's like your friend’s living room, just with 85 strains of weed

Woodstock Brewery beer tastingLocal craft beer tasting even ...

Nine craft beers, small-batch Thursdays + a guide for beginners

PPC Riebeek Bergmarathon8 reasons to run these races in a lush ...

Do a marathon, fun run with the fam and explore small towns

Taj Whiskey LoungeIntroducing the Whiskey Lounge

Tastings from around the world, guided by an ambassador

Char'd Grill meat appreciation platterMeat appreciation platter at a ...

3 cuts of meat, sizzling side dishes + epic mad-scientist experience

Mountain MarketAffordable healthy food at this city ...

Organic fruit and veg, smoothie bowls + small-scale clothes

Char'd Grill tasting traysSpirit tastings and unique cuts at this ...

Bring out your inner mad scientist: experiment with unique spirits + meat cuts

Pear Tree cocktailsHolistic food + drink at this healthy ...

Sit under the trees and enjoy kombucha cocktails, vegan dishes + a sea view

Pear Tree HermanusUnconventional vegan dishes at this ...

From tofu tostadas and kombucha cocktails to MasterChef-level desserts

Milk on the Beach5 reasons to visit this beach-side ...

Never-ending summer of waffles, hotdogs, cocktails...

Waffle Shack by Milk on the BeachOur team’s top picks at the Waffle ...

Beach-side eatery is perfect for kids, adults and dogs alike

Picnic in the parkPicnic in the Parks, fun workshops for ...

Book a picnic basket, get it delivered to the park + do interactive workshops

Distiller's UnionMake your unique brand of gin

At Distiller’s Union you get to also pick the flavour, colour + drink craft beer

Bar KeeperBar Keeper is open on Sundays till ...

Order 1 bottle to many cases online or in store, get it delivered same day, cold

Sweet River Brewery ingredientsBook out this distillery for your next ...

Make your own at Distillers Union + get craft beer and pizza

The Purple WindmillWeekend market that has it all

Craft beer, kids playpark, aqua golf, target shooting, donkeys and more

Black Elephant Vintners music and wine pairingEver imagined a rock ‘n roll ...

Silent disco, wine barrel tables + rock star murals at Black Elephant Vintners

Blue Train ParkKids Party Idea: Take a ride on the ...

BOOK Now and let the outdoor adventure begin!

Breathwork Africa foundation3+ ways to get your breath back and ...

Classes, courses, retreats on conscious breathing run by the trainers leading the global ...

StrollaGet Irie On The Sunset Deck At Strolla ...

Weekend sunsets at Strolla mean live DJs and reggae (Rivertones)

Honeybee Heroes Be a beekeeper for a day at Honeybee ...

Adopt a hive, learn about bees, take a beekeeping course, buy honey

Klein Roosboom tasting caveTaste wine in a cave

Boutique winery with 6 six cosy tasting nooks. Plus platters, picnics + trails

GiveawaysTravel Tips