I no longer call ‘them’ the ‘Kaffir Pots’.

by Naretha Pretorius


Yes, indeed, that’s what ‘they’ were called… Now we refer to it as ‘potjies’ (pots)… in which we make the popular South African dish called ‘potjiekos’ (directly translated as pot food).  But not so long ago, in a country ruled by Apartheid it was common for ‘black’ people to be referred to as ‘Kaffers’ (‘Kaffirs’), a term that is derogatory and disrespectful, and today a banned term.  What is interesting is that even objects were called that.  I grew up in a time where using the K-word was part of our conservative Afrikaner community’s everyday language, something I am not proud to announce, and  it is most disappointing that close to 20 years post-Apartheid in some circles it remained unchanged. 

As a young girl I realised that the word had bad connotations, and from then on I refused to use it, I must have been around 11 years of age, but most of my family, friends and community continued to use the word without any critical reflection or consideration.

I still wonder why objects were referred to as the K-word, I have no concrete answer to that, only my own speculation and conclusions drawn from conversations, but I do wonder whether it’s because of what they ‘did’…

These objects adopted human qualities, such as hardship, endurance and physical strength.  Let’s consider these cast iron pots, they are physically hard, they can endure extreme heat and the chances of them breaking is minimal… and they are black.  But then you get what was called by fishermen as a ‘kaffertjie’ (little ‘kaffir’), it’s job was to hold your fishing rod while you sat back and relaxed and waited for the ‘big one’ to bite the bait.  It did the hard work for you, it was your servant.  Then you get linen sheeting referred to as ‘kaffir sheeting’, these days referred to as K-sheeting, something I discovered recently.  What I learned was that the fabric is really strong and durable… it can endure many washes, it is ideal for regular use or curtaining that needs to endure direct sunlight. However, drawing this analogy of hardship and endurance does not explain why Afrikaners called the Coral Tree a “Kaffer Boom’ (Kaffir Tree), except that it potentially refers to its botanical name, Erythrina Caffra… my most favorite tree due to it’s bright orange-red flowers in winter and it’s thorny bark.  The shape of the flowers are unique and strong in character.

Coral Tree

My assumption is that these objects were referred to that term in the same way of how white Afrikaners referred to ‘black’ people during Apartheid.  ‘Black’ people in my community were seen as physically very strong, there was a saying that black people were ‘houtkoppe’ (wooden heads), and that they were so strong that they can fall on their heads without getting hurt (or to the extreme that they can not die!).  Their physical strength was associated with violent behaviour, reinforced through the notion of ‘die swart gevaar’ (‘the black danger’).  ‘Black’ people were our servants; they worked hard but also received very little in return.  It’s this that made me think critically of my personal history and origins, how my socio-political past influenced, informed and shaped my identity… I wonder why I have transformed the way that I did.  What made me realise that the K-word was wrong as a young child? What made me question race, religion and politics? What made me move away from what I once believed?  I am today a different person with a new set of believes, and I am happy that this drastic shift happened.  I am a better person.

I find these pots beautiful, I will always have an emotional relationship with ‘them’, ‘they’ remind me of where I come from, what I was and what I have become.  They nostalgically remind me of holidays on the farm sitting around the fire while my mother prepared ‘pot brood’ (pot bread) in our ‘kaffir pots’, but they also strongly remind me of my problematic political past.   Jacob Dlamini (2009) beauftifully addresses nostalgia of a politically problematic past in his book Native Nostalgia where he highlights how our memories of a troubled past is enriched by the nuances of a happy childhood, although it was surrounded by political unrest.

I no longer call ‘them’ the Kaffir Pots.

It’s in the past.

I now find them beautiful.