Former Die Matie news editor Adriaan Steyn's Master's thesis, which focuses on the massive expansion of Afrikaans cinema in the last 10 years and the social implications of this, will be turned into a book that will be published by Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Steyn is currently living in the United States where he is completing a PhD in African Studies at Harvard University on a full scholarship. He also completed his BA, Honours, Masters degrees at Stellenbosch University, receiving the latter two Cum Laude.
In December last year Steyn received the 2017 Africa Thesis Award from Leiden University for his Master's thesis entitled A new laager for a “new" South Africa: Afrikaans film and the imagined boundaries of Afrikanerdom. He was chosen as the winner from a pool of 60 other candidates across Africa and the Netherlands, all who had received distinctions for their Masters degrees. Shortly after receiving the award Steyn flew to Leiden University to present a talk on his thesis at the university's African Studies Centre. In 2014, he was awarded the Monica Wilson Award for the Best Student Paper at the annual Anthropology Southern African conference of the Anthropology Southern African Association.
Asked about this achievement, Steyn says: “I'm grateful to the people who have come onto my path over the last few years. Having done my Honours and my Masters in this [Sociology and Social Anthropology] department, I have been lucky to have had an incredible supervisor. It feels good to get this kind of recognition, because I have been working hard on this, but it has also been a team effort with many people making contributions along the way."
His former supervisor, Dr Bernard Dubbeld from the Sociology and Social Anthropology Department, describes Steyn as a student who is willing to “ask the hard questions" about issues affecting South African society today.
With a background working as the news editor of Die Matie, it's no surprise that Steyn is so focused on understanding social issues in South Africa today. His PhD will investigate whether obtaining an education in poor, crime ridden communities like Worcester, offers the youth in these areas a way out of poverty. For his Master's thesis, he interviewed many prominent persons in the Afrikaner community and spent lots of time on Afrikaans film movie sets, even meeting up with Steve Hofmeyr during his filming of Treurgrond, a movie focused on farm murders and land expropriation in South Africa.
“Adriaan's study of Afrikaans film has made a real contribution to understanding how cultural forms of consumer items have reproduced a political identity for Afrikaners in post-apartheid South Africa. It has become the way in which racial separation continues. In the past we had apartheid and colonial laws separating people, and Afrikaans played a big role in that separation. Today we still see a strong racial grouping of people, with some mixing here and there, but without laws driving this divide as it did in the past, we have to ask questions about what drives it today. Adriaan's thesis provides a clue to the answer to that question," says Dubbeld.
Delving into discussions about his Master's research, Steyn explains that the Afrikaans film industry actually came into existence just over a century ago with the “commercial release of De Voortrekkers". After the National Party came to power in 1948, the industry started flourishing, however by the late 1990s and with the dawn of democracy, Afrikaans film production altogether disappeared. Nearly a decade later, the Afrikaans film industry is more than just booming.
“The Afrikaans culture industry in general is doing very well today with a massive explosion in Afrikaans music, festivals, productions and films, however, what is obvious is that many of your artists and performers are predominantly white and so are the consumers of these products. My thesis is an attempt to explain the Afrikaans film industry's recent success but to also consider some of its consequences," says Steyn.
“There seems to be a situation now where white Afrikaners in South Africa are once again starting to define the boundaries of Afrikanerdom. There is a new tendency amongst Afrikaners to escape into enclaves, both physical and psychological, and the Afrikaans film industry is just one part of that."
His own thesis, he says, argues that “Afrikaans language's uncoupling from the state has shifted the preservation and promotion of the language into market-driven domains".
“In my research I ask, if a “distinct" Afrikaner identity was first forged within the cultural sphere, through cultural rituals and through the consumption of Afrikaans media forms, what kind of subjectivities are, in the present moment, being produced by the Afrikaans culture industry?"
“It's important to consider the ways in which the Afrikaans culture industry, by catering for a majority-white audience, is reaffirming the imagined boundaries of Afrikanerdom, and how, through the consumption of its products, Afrikaners are imagining themselves as members of the same collectivity or laager."
Click here to read Steyn's full thesis.
Photo: Former Die Matie news editor Adriaan Steyn's Master's thesis, which focuses on the massive expansion of Afrikaans cinema in the last 10 years and the social implications of this, will be turned into a book that will be published by Leiden University in the United Kingdom. With him is his Master's thesis supervisor, Dr Bernard Dubbeld. (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)