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The Afrikaners of Southern Africa

Population:     pop (year, source)
Religion:        Christianity, Secularism
Registry of Peoples code(s):  Afrikaner:  [100093]
Registry of Languages code(s) (Ethnologue):  Afrikaans:  [afr]


Population: 3,155,000 (1996 estimate)

Afrikaners live primarily in the Republic of South Africa.  A few are found in farming enterprises in other southern Africa countries.  During the colonial period, several hundred farmed in Kenya.  Afrikaners have been established as farmers in several ocuntries of Southern Africa.

In recent decades some neighbouring countries have invited Afrikaners to immigrate to upgrade or reestablish the commercial farming sector of those nations.  Since the end of apartheid and the move to majority rule, South Africans have been active in business or import-export contacts in many African countries.

Some Afrikaners live in several other English-speaking countries as well. At the turn of the 20th century, after the Boer Wars with Britain, one colony was established in Patagonia, Argentina.  This group has become quite indigenized, though retaining a formal identity as Afrikaners, calling themselves Boers.  They have an annual Boer Sports festival.

Eduardo G. Monteagudo, a member of this community wrote to provide some information about this Argentinian Boer group.  Read his brief introduction to the Patagonia Boers here.

In 1652 a small company of employees of the Dutch East India Company were settled on the southern tip of Africa in order to establish a refreshment station for the Companyís ships en route to the Far East.  From this group of Dutchmen the Afrikaners were to develop.  From 1688 to 1700, they were joined by about 200 French Huguenots, Protestant refugees from Catholic France.

Despite language and cultural differences, a shared commitment to the Reformed faith enabled these two groups to merge into one, and to this day many Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa have surnames which can be traced back to the Huguenots.  German refugees farther swelled their numbers.  For more than a hundred years after the first settlement, the Dutch Reformed Church was the only legally permitted and established church on South African soil.

In time, groups of settlers moved away from the Cape settlement into the hinterland to develop farms there.  The indigenous people of the Cape at that time were the Khoikhoi people, many of whom worked as laborers on the farms of the Dutch-speaking settlers.

The Dutch government forbade enslaving indigenous people of southern Africa.  They did allow the importation of slaves from other territories.  Current investigatons into the history of South Africa seem to indicate that the firtst slaves were brought from India.

See more of this dicussion on the profile of the Coloureds of South Africa.  Indentured servants came from the Dutch East asia (Malay) territories.

The isolation of the Cape from the Netherlands in Europe, meant that the form of Dutch spoken in the Cape gradually changed significantly from that spoken in Holland.  The Cape dialect of Dutch came to be called Afrikaans ("the African language").  In the church, the law courts, educational institutions and official government circles, the official language was Dutch.  But the common language of the people was increasingly Afrikaans.

Out of the interaction between the Dutch settlers and their slaves developed another South African people.  The first and largest base of this people was Malay Cape Coloured, or the brown Afrikaners.  The settlers also had mixed offspring with the Khoikhoi, the San and the Xhosa.  The term Coloured came to be applied to all mixed people.  The Coloureds share the same language and religion as the "white" Afrikaners, although separated from them by strong social and class distinctions.

One group of Coloureds escaped to the bush and lived as an African tribe, but became fearsome warriors on horses.  These were the Griqua, who are still an Afrikaans-speaking tribe today.  Today, there are about 7 million Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa, over half of whom are "Coloured" people.

The Dutch settlers resented the British takeover, and some moved further inland.  Two measures led to a permanent enmity.  The government made English the official language in place of Dutch.  In 1824, Britain freed all slaves in all British territories.  The Great Trek resulted, so that by 1835, a steady visible steam of Boers (Dutch for "farmer") was migrating north and east, establishing independent Afrikaner states, including Natal.

The final insult was the annexation of the independent northern Boer republics.  The Transvaal, annexed in 1877, tried to negotiate independence and finally defeated British forces in the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881), winning autonomy but not total independence.  Further British incursions into the Transvaal led to the second Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902.  The British defeated the Afrikaners and finally incorporated their republics into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

The name Afrikaner is the Dutch-Afrikaans word for "African." This term came to be applied to the permanent Dutch settlers in South Africa by the Dutch in Europe.

Throughout their history of more than three hundred years, Afrikaners have been held together and fortified by a love for their language, their culture and their church (still predominantly the Dutch Reformed Church).  A strong sense of destiny and calling has inspired them to noble accomplishments and tragic mistakes.

Their contributions to the development of southern Africa are undeniable, although these have been overshadowed by their association with the disastrous policies of apartheid.  Shorn of power and privilege, they stand at the threshold of a new era.

Possessing a language and culture that is unique to southern Africa, Afrikaner have described themselves as the White Tribe of Africa.  They have traditionally maintained that they have no other home, and their future was inextricably linked to the fortunes of southern Africa and the country of South Africa.

In recent decades, however, emigration of Afrikaners as well as other whites out of South Africa to other lands has increased.  Urban identities in Johannesburg have changed also, with many mixed English-Afrikaner families in the latter half of the 20th century.  Some Afrikaners now have English as a mother tongue.

Strong initiative, independence and decisiveness are characteristics of the Afrikaners, developing out of their pioneering spirit and the difficult circumstances of their early history and the political dominance of the British.

Afrikaans is a language that developed from Dutch.  The Dutch in the Netherlands despised Afrikaans as a corruption of pure Dutch, fit only to be spoken in the kitchen and by the servants.  Besides normal change, the Afrikaners borrowed words from the local people.  Other changes were introduced by of the Malay and Khoikhoi, who spoke Afrikaans poorly.

The Afrikaners simplified their speech consciously to some extent.  The movement to have Afrikaans recognized as an official language was strongly resisted by Dutch purists, and it was only in the early twentieth century that Afrikaans was finally given official recognition and used formally in church, legal and government functions.  Afrikaans was made a second official language in 1925.

Great efforts have been made in the development of Afrikaans.  A considerable body of literature exists in the language, including some fine poetry.  It has great power of expression in the down-to-earth things of everyday life.  It is not so well suited as a medium of scientific and technical information, although Afrikaans textbooks have been produced in these fields.

Afrikaners, while known for their condescending and superior attitude toward Africans, at the same time, have the reputation for learning African languages and customs.  An Afrikaner form of English has developed also.

Political Situation:
In 1795, the British took over the Cape.  Between 1824 and 1838, a number of Boers (as Afrikaans-speaking farmers were known), discontent with British rule, trekked deep into the interior. They are thus referred to as Trek-Boers. They intended to establishing independent republics far from the interfering reach of the British colonial authorities in the Cape.

Two major Boer republics came into being, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.  This movement is so distinctive in afrikaner history, a distinction is made between them and the Afrikaners broadly.  Some go so far as to say they are two separate peoples.  Here intheir northern replublics the Boers might have been left in peace on their farms, but for one fateful discovery – gold in the Transvaal.

The influx of gold diggers into the Transvaal led to tensions with the farmers and the Volksraad who feared that these uitlanders (foreigners) would deprive them of their country.  These tensions led to the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the defeat of the Boer republics, and their final annexation by the British.  The British combined the Cape colony, the two Boer republics, and the colony of Natal into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Out of the bitterness of defeat, the Afrikaans-speaking people experienced a surge of nationalism in the early twentieth century which led to the victory of the Nationalist Party in 1948.  Many Boers were sympathetic to Germany in both World Wars.

In the face of overwhelming black superiority in numbers, the policy of apartheid was developed as an attempt to maintain white (Afrikaner) supremacy in South Africa.  (Though the Afrikaner Nationalist government consistently and fully institutionalized racial separation, already in 1905 the British had separated public schools in the Cape Province into schools for Africans, Coloured, Asians and Whites.)

In 1949 racially mixed marriage was made illegal.  Despite strenuous efforts, the policy of apartheid was unworkable and eventually collapsed in the face of increasing black resistance at home and international condemnation abroad, leading to the triumph of the African National Congress in 1994.  The English South Africans were officially opponents of apartheid (though informally often supported aspects of it and benefitted from it), but were a minority in the Nationalist-dominated parliament after the war.

Afrikaner population has decreased in the last three decades, due to emigration.  Figures are usually given for Afrikaans speakers, which includes other communities.  Estimates are around 3 million for the Republic of South Africa.

Traditionally patriarchal, there is strong emphasis on respect for elders.  Children never say "you" to their parents, but always use the form "Pappa" and "Mamma" (e.g., Would Pappa please pass me the salt.  Would Mamma like me to comb Mammaís hair?) Children refer to all their elders, whether family or not, as "oom" (uncle) and "tannie" aunty).  Customs are changing as young, urban Afrikaners relate in new ways to other South Afrikaners.

Afrikaners are specially fond of braaivleis (barbecue), often just called "braai." Biltong (dried salted meat), melktert (milk tart), koeksisters (sweet pastries) are all popular.  Rural Afrikaners are great meat eaters.  Vegetables are often flavored and sweetened.

Boeremusiek is very popular.  The concertina is the key instrument, accompanied by guitar, banjo, piano, accordion and drums.  It combines a lively dance rhythm with a lilting, sometimes plaintive and very distinctive sound.  Afrikaners love the bush and outdoor life.  Many songs express a dream of retiring on a little farm somewhere.  Traditionally virtually all Afrikaners were farmers (boere).  Without doubt, rugby is the national sport of Afrikaners, followed fairly closely by cricket.

Religion plays an important part in the lives of most Afrikaners.  The Afrikaners are considered to be 100% evangelized.  About 99% are cultural Christians.  About 50% of these are considered Evangelical.

Many are devout members of the Dutch Reformed Church.  The Dutch Reformed Churchís life and social attitudes have been deeply aligned with the tenacious culture.  This has compromised its relations with other church bodies and for some years the South African Church was excluded from the world Reformed Church fellowship.

Various Pentecostal churches are also well established among Afrikaners.  Whether staunchly Calvinist or enthusiastically Pentecostal, most Afrikaans churches are conservative in doctrine and ethos.  Men wear suits and ties to church.  Until rcently, virtually all women wore hats.  Worshipers tend to "dress up" for church.

Related Profiles and Articles on the Site
Boere Sports Patagonia
Coloureds of South Africa
Self-Concepts of Race in South Africa

For more on the Afrikaner People

Afrikaner / Boer / Afrikaanse
Afrikaner – Wikipedia
Afrikaner – UNPO/Freedom Front
Boer – Wikipedia
Afrikaner The Afrikaners: Biography of a People – Book Review
Die Boere in vandag se ArgentiniŽ

Davis, N E.  A History of Southern Africa.  Nairobi, Kenya: Longman Group Ltd, 1978.

de Klerk, W A.  The Puritans in Africa: A Story of Afrikanerdom.  Middlesex, England:  Rex Collings Ltd, 1975.

Demographic Statistics.  Pretoria, South Africa: Central Statistical Service, 1995.

du Preez, Sophia.  History, Homes and Customs of the Voortrekkers.  Pretoria, South Africa:  National Cultural History and Open-Air Museum, No. 4 1974.

du Preez, Sophia.  Race.  Auckland Park, South Africa:  Jacana Media, 2007.

This is South Africa.  Pretoria, South Africa:  South African Communication Service, 1992, 1995.

Were, Gideon S.  A History of South Africa.  London, UK:  Evans Brothers Ltd, 1974.

Cliff Jones and Orville Boyd Jenkins
August 1996
First posted 30 January 2003
Revised 25 February 2011
Last edited 23 August 2013

Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2004 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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