The 47-year-old actor opened up about growing up in South Africa while appearing on Monday’s episode of the SmartLess podcast. After revealing that she didn’t begin speaking English fluently until the age of 19, when she moved to the United States, she noted that it was easy for her to “drop” her South-African “accent”.
She then said that her first language, Afrikaans, was not very popular and that there’s only “about 44 people still speaking” it.
“It’s definitely a dying language, it’s not a very helpful language,” she said about her mother tongue, which is derived from the Dutch vernacular.
On social media, multiple listeners were quick to criticise The School for Good and Evil star. Some claimed that she hasn’t recently spent time in South Africa and expressed how important the Afrikaans language is.
“Afrikaans has a strong association with apartheid. This statement was made by Charlize Theron to appease Hollywood,” one wrote. “I do not concur with her. As with all other languages, the Afrikaans language must be preserved.”
“Wow what a disrespectful comment to the millions of South Africans of all ages, races & stations in life that speak Afrikaans as their first language,”another added. “Maybe she needs to spend ‘real’ time in all regions of [South Africa], not just glitz street.”
On a video of the podcast posted on Smart Less’ Instagram, Tim Theron, a South African movie director, shared why he disagreed with the actor’s perspective.
“We’re extremely proud of Charlize and everything she has achieved… but we’re also very proud of our diversity and our amazing and beautiful official languages, of which Afrikaans is one,” he wrote. “It’s not a ‘dying language’, and it’s not only spoken by 44 people. It’s spoken by millions of people, there are new songs and poems being written every day, movies made etc.”
Wow what a disrespectful comment to the millions of South Africans of all ages, races & stations in life that speak Afrikaans as their first language. 😳
Maybe she needs to spend "real" time in all regions of SA not just glitz street.
— Julie Hughes🌍🇿🇦 (@Juleanor) November 16, 2022
On Thursday, the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), an organisation that promotes multilingualism in the country, shared a statement in which they called Theron’s remarks “disheartening,” “disturbing ,” and “inaccurate”.
“These comments made by Ms Theron perpetuate the persistent misconception that Afrikaans is only spoken by white ‘boere’ South Africans, which could not be farther from the truth as 60 per cent of the people that speak the language are black,” the statement reads.
On the other hand, some Twitter users defended Theron.
“Charlize Theron’s ‘only 44 people still speak afrikaans’ isn’t naivety or stupidity, it is literally just a quiet repetition of the white afrikaner fear that they are dying out and being outnumbered & overpowered by the black masses,” one wrote.
Charlize Theron has a point about Afrikaans not being a helpful language. In that we're forced to learn it in school instead of sign language. We're more likely to bump into a deaf person than an Afrikaaner speaker. Therefore, we're ignorant about sign language.
— Mmasebotsana🇱🇸🇿🇦 (@mmasabata_) November 17, 2022
“Charlize Theron has a point about Afrikaans not being a helpful language,” another added. “In that we’re forced to learn it in school instead of sign language. We’re more likely to bump into a deaf person than an Afrikaaner speaker. Therefore, we’re ignorant about sign language.’”
Despite the Bombshell star’s point, data has shown that Afrikaans is a fairly common language in South Africa. According to Stats South Africa’s 2018 Community Survey, Afrikaans is the third language most spoken by household members, as 12.2 per cent of people in the country speak it in their homes.
The Independent has contacted a representation for Theron for comment.