Multilingual Activism in South African Hip Hop


  • Quentin E. Williams University of the Western Cape



multilingualism, hip hop, Cape Town, AfriKaaps, language ideology


It is difficult to point exactly to the day multilingual activism emerged in South African hip hop culture, though we can arguably state such activism emerged out of a confluence of historical events that involved the oppression of black and coloured people by an aggressively oppressive apartheid regime. This article discusses the tactics and strategies of multilingual activism undertaken by pioneering hip hop groups Prophets of da City at the inception of hip hop in South Africa. It considers the historical transition from apartheid South Africa to the new South Africa and how new and emerging forms of multilingual activism such as the AfriKaaps movement are contributing to redefining what we mean by multilingualism. The article also links these forms of multilingual activism to an alternative politics of multilingual voice being promoted in the public space of the country.

Author Biography

Quentin E. Williams, University of the Western Cape

Quentin E. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Linguistics Department at the University of Western Cape. He is also a Research Fellow in the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR) at the same university. He has published research on the multilingualism, marginality of voice, linguistic citizenship, hip hop culture and youth multilingualism. He recently completed a monograph entitled Remix Multilingualism (Bloomsbury Press, 2017) and is currently co-editing a volume, Kaapse Styles: Hip Hop Arts & Activism (forthcoming, HSRC Press) with Adam Haupt (UCT), H. Samy Alim (UCLA) and legendary hip hop artist Emile YX? (Black Noise, Heal the Hood).


Alim, H. Samy. 2016. “Who’s Afraid of the Transracial Subject?: Raciolinguistics and the Political Project of Transracialization”. In Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes Our Ideas About Race, edited by H. Samy Alim, John Rickford and Arnetha F. Ball, 33–50. New York: Oxford University Press.

Alim, H. Samy, Awad Ibrahim and Alastair Pennycook, eds. 2009. Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language. London: Routledge.

Alim, H. Samy and Adam Haupt. 2017. “Reviving Soul(s)with Afrikaaps: Hip Hop as Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in South Africa”. In Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World, edited by Django Paris and H. Samy Alim, 157–74. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ariefdien, Shaheen and Marlon Burgess. 2011. “A Cross-generational Conversation about Hip Hop in a Changing South Africa”. In Native Tongue: An African Hiphop Reader, edited by Paul K. Saucier, 219–52. New Jersey: Africa World Press.

Gqola, Pumla. 2010. What is Slavery to me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post-apartheid South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Haupt, Adam. 1995. “Rap and the Articulation of Resistance: An Exploration of Subversive Cultural Production during the early 90s, with particular reference to Prophets of da City”. Unpublished MA mini-thesis. University of the Western Cape.

—2008. Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip Hop Subversion. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Haupt, Adam, Quentin Williams, H. Samy Alim and Emile Jansen. 2018. Kaapse Styles: Hip Hop Art and Activism in Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Hendricks, Frank and Charlyn Dyers. 2016. Kaaps in Fokus. Stellenbosch: SUNMedia Press.

Higgens, Christina. 2009. “From da Bomb to Bomba: Global Hip Hop Nation”. In Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Cultures, Youth Identities, and the Politics of Language, edited by H. Samy Alim, Awad Ibrahim and Alastair Pennycook, 95–112. London: Routledge.

Nkonyeni, Ncedisa. 2007. “Da Struggle Kontinues into the 21st Century: Two Decades of Nation Conscious Rap in Cape Town”. In Imagining the City: Memories and Cultures in Cape Town, edited by Shaun Field, Renate Meyer and Felicity Swanson, 151–72. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Pennycook, Alastair. 2007. Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows. London: Routledge.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2011. Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. “Language Structure and Linguistic Ideology”. In The Elements: A Parasession on Linguistic Units and Levels, edited by Paul R. Cline, William F. Hanks and Carol F. Hobauer, 193–247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, University of New Mexico Press.

Stroud, Christopher and Dimitr Jegels. 2014. “Semiotic Landscapes and Mobile Narrations of Place: Performing the Local”. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 228: 179–99.

Stroud, Christopher and Quentin Williams. 2017. “Multilingualism as Utopia: Fashioning Non-Racial Selves”. AILA Review 30: 165–86.

Warner, Remi. 2007. “Battles over Borders: Hip Hop and the Politics and Poetics of Race and Place in the New South Africa”. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Toronto, Ontario: York University.

Watkins, Lee. 2000. “Tracking the Narrative: The Poetics of Identity in the Rap Music and Hip-hop Culture of Cape Town”. Unpublished Masters dissertation. Durban: South Africa.

Williams, Quentin. 2017. Remix Multilingualism. London: Bloomsbury Press.

Williams, Quentin and Christopher Stroud. 2010. “Performing Rap Ciphas in Late-modern Cape Town: Extreme Locality and Multilingual Citizenship”. Afrika Focus 23/2: 39–59.

Woolard, Kathryn. 1998. “Introduction: Language Ideology as a Field of Inquiry”. In Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory, edited by Bambi B. Schieffelin, Kathryn A. Woolard and Paul. V. Kroskrity, 3–50. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



How to Cite

Williams, Q. E. (2018). Multilingual Activism in South African Hip Hop. Journal of World Popular Music, 5(1), 31–49.