English in Africa

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Folksong and ballad as social comment in some South African railway poems and songs

Elwyn Jenkins


This article analyses a selection of South African English and Afrikaans humorous and satirical poems and songs about the railways. They include a folksong, “The Kimberley Train”, which dates back to the earliest expansion of the railways to the interior, and poems and songs from the 1960s to the early 90s. While Hugh Masekela raged at the condition of migrant miners, the target of the satire by English- and Afrikaans-speaking writers was the Afrikaner nation, its culture and history. Four of the poems are ballads in the heroic tradition. The characters featured are working-class Afrikaners, and the diction employed is a colloquial South African dialect consisting of modern slang, mixed English and Afrikaans, and Fanakalo. A common method of the humour and satire exploits the connotations of personal and place names.

Keywords: Railway poems, railway songs, South African satire, South African poetry, South African folksongs, South African English dialect

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