Afrikaans (in its own language: Afrikaans) is a West Germanic language that is descended from and still closely related to Dutch. It is spoken mainly in South Africa and Namibia. Although it is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "creole", it is in fact an Ausbau language, that is a local offshoot from Dutch with a separate codification. The language retains many features in common with Dutch and remains mutually intelligible with it.
Afrikaans arose in the 17th and 18th centuries in what was then a victualing station for the Dutch East India Company (now the area around Cape Town, South Africa) out of the Zeelandic and Hollandic dialects spoken by the Dutch settlers. Through contact with native African peoples as well as other ethnic groups that had settled in the Cape colony, the spoken Dutch language of the settlers began to differ considerably from written Dutch. This spoken language, also sometimes called Cape Dutch, developed a simplified syntax (e.g. reducing both verbal and nominal inflections and reducing the number of grammatical genders to one) and imported considerable vocabulary from African languages as well as from Portuguese and Indonesian.
Until the end of the Boer Wars of the late 19th century, many Dutch people considered Afrikaans as a dialect of Dutch. Dutch churches and other groups continued to send teachers to South Africa to teach Dutch. However, in 1925 South Africa enshrined Afrikaans, as distinct from Dutch, as one of the official languages in the country's constitution.
Afrikaans is currently one of 11 official languages of South Africa. Despite considerable loss of prestige after the end of apartheid - with which the language itself came to be closely associated -, it remains to be spoken by many people in the Northern and Western Cape provinces of the country as well as in the adjoining countries of Namibia (which was occupied and administered by South Africa from 1918-1990, and where it is spoken by ca. 45% of people), Botswana and Zimbabwe and also in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
The Afrikaans language was at the center of several political controversies in South Africa during the twentieth century, especially in the period between 1948 and 1994 when the South African governments enacted the apartheid laws, thus harming the black population. Because Afrikaanse was strongly associated with the oppressing government, most people preferred English as the communication medium.
Language politics in the early Union period
The Soweto uprising
In 1974 the Afrikaans Medium Decree was issued, which served to restore the balance between the usage of Afrikaans and English. It met with strong oppositon from the black South-African population. The Soweto uprising of 1976 began as a peaceful student protest against the Afrikaans Medium Decree, which mandated that African schools implement Afrikaans as a medium of instruction from the last primary school standard through secondary school. However, it ended in violence with some hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded.