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People love to laugh at themselves, especially at times when the country they live in seems at odds with itself. You just have to look at stand-up comedy and satirical cartoons in a country like South Africa to see that. But social media has provided a new medium for this, and this past weekend saw the hashtag #YouKnowYoureSouthAfricanWhen giving us the giggles.
Some of our favourites included:
#youknowyouresouthafricanwhen the phrase "ja well no fine" makes sense to you
— wilson mafokwana (@ntshoyamathudi) June 16, 2013
#YouKnowYoureSouthAfricanWhen you say "Shame man" as an expression of sympathy rather than disgust.
— Sarah Britten (@Anatinus) June 16, 2013
— fernaaz (@miss_fernaaz) June 17, 2013
Tweets were surprisingly lacking in the cynical tone that Saffas usually adopt when discussing the state of the nation. Predictably, though, most contained a dose of our local brand of affectionate mockery.
Our habit of caricaturing ourselves spawned another recent trend – #wordsthatchowblacks –which poked fun at some of the non-English accents in the country:
— Lesedi Moiloa (@KeoDaPoet) June 3, 2013
This didn’t mean any politically-correct hats were hung up though:
We will roast any white person that participates in »»» #wordsthatchowblacks that's just a friendly warning…
— Herman Henry II (@Im_Her_man) June 2, 2013
Hashtag trends, like rotation curation, where a country rotates its national Twitter account between users, can be a form of national storytelling that doesn’t prioritise the voices of journalists or marketing teams. If they can navigate the local dialects, international followers may even get a peek at South African culture that isn’t sterilised and packaged by tourism organisations or — even worse — badly produced foreign media.
For South Africans, such trends are, like good stand-up comedy, a possible nation-building device. They open up a space for inter-cultural conversations that most ordinary citizens don’t tend to have on the street. Twitter is a limited tool for nation-building, though, for the same reasons that it’s an imperfect tool for social change. It’s not a medium that is accessible (or useful) for many South Africans, and the tweeps participating in the trend are generally middle-class English speakers.
Its imperfections don’t render it useless, however. Identity-based topics like these are indicative of the way that the internet caters to niche markets that enjoy nostalgia, and South Africans could do with a bout of nostalgia that isn’t remnant of apartheid, poverty or crime. They get to look back and tell their own local stories, one tweet at a time. And laugh while they’re doing it.