Afrikaners

Afrikaner

Afrikaners are descendants of Dutch, German, and French settlers who speak Afrikaans, a form of Dutch. There are between 2.2 million and 3 million Afrika-ners living in South Africa, Namibia, Bot-swana, and Zimbabwe, though the majority live in South Africa. Afrikaners are also called Boers from the Dutch word meaning “farmers.” In South Africa they comprise around 60 percent of the white population, but only 10 percent of the total population of the country. Afrikaner identity is closely tied to their language, Afrikaans, to the Dutch Reformed Church, and their history of conflict with both the British and the native peoples of South Africa.

Afrikaners have a strong feeling of being Africans and not Europeans.Afrikaner settlement in South Africa began in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company established a colony at Table Bay. The Cape Colony was to serve as a station for ships going to and coming from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), a place where ships could replenish with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and water.

The employees working the land were kept under strict control by the administration, but within a decade, some of the employees were allowed to settle lands outside of the original colony. The free burghers proved to be more cost efficient for the directors in Holland, and so others were released from their con-tracts to establish more freehold farms. To work the land, slaves from the Dutch East Indies, India, Ceylon, and Portuguese Mozambique were imported. The indige-nous Khoikhoi (Hottentots; Khoisan) were defeated and forced into servitude. In 1688, the colony received new blood from French Huguenots (Protestants), who had been forced to flee France in 1685.

The Afrikaans language developed during the first 200 years of European set-tlement in Africa. Dutch was the base, but in order to speak to slaves from Indonesia and Africa, vocabulary from those lan-guages were borrowed and Dutch grammar was simplified. The arrival of French Huguenots brought French vocabulary into the language as well. English became an important influence as Afrikaans developed in the first decades of the 19th century. Afrikaans was not a written language (for-mal Dutch was used until after 1900), but has a rich oral history in songs and poetry. Following World War I, the language quickly developed a literary corpus, and in 2003, Afrikaner John Maxwell Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Cape Colony came under British rule in 1795. The British were forced to leave in 1803, but were back permanently starting in 1806. British control was confirmed by the peace agreements between European powers in 1814. British relations with the Boers were poor, and in 1815, the Boers rose in the Slagtersnek Rebellion. In 1820, the first British colonists arrived in the Cape, which to the Afrikaners seemed a threat to their religion, language, and culture.

The British government became increasingly abolitionist, and in 1834, the Cape administration emancipated all slaves. The result was the Great Trek, where some 5,000 Boers left the territory of the Cape Colony to find a new life free of British control. The Great Trek is an important part of shaping Afrikaner iden-tity; framed in Old Testament symbols, it developed into the idea of a covenant between the Righteous and God and the founding of a new Zion. The defeats of powerful kingdoms, such as the Zulu (Nguni) at the Battle of Blood River in 1838, were later embodied in Afrikaner political ideology. Around 500 Boers stood off and defeated an army of 10,000 Zulus. Zulu losses were put at 3,000 dead, with no losses on the Boer side—this seemed to be a clear sign of God’s appro-val of the Boers. December 16, the date of the battle, became a holiday called Day of the Vow.

The Boers established three inde-pendent states: Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Natalia. The British annexed them, but later gave Transvaal and the Orange Free State their independence. British-Boer relations were strained, and after 1867, when the first diamonds were found near Bloemfontein, British prospectors, miners, and speculators moved into the two Boer republics. British imperialist interests in southern and central Africa were blocked by the republics, and in 1896, the Jameson Raid, an attempt to annex the Transvaal by a pro-British conspiracy, provoked war. The Boer War (1899–1902) created great bitter-ness among the Boers toward the Brit-ish. To crush Boer resistance, the British devised concentration camps for Boer women and children where 28,000 died of starvation and disease before the end of hostilities.

Boers were militarily defeated, but Boer resistance was not. It took on a dif-ferent mode in the form of political parties and secret brotherhoods. In 1914, the National Party was founded to protect Afrikaner economic interests and to take South Africa out of the British Empire. Afrikaners were able to get a number of laws passed in the South African parliament, which favored them between 1910 and 1948. The year 1938 marked the centennial celebration of the Battle of Blood River, and the event was celebrated with the erection of a monument at the battle site as important expression of Afri-kaner culture. In 1948, the National Party was able to win the election and gain con-trol of the government.

The National Party imposed policies based on apartheid,a racist doctrine of separate development for different peoples. Opposition was often branded as communist, and those in opposition were exiled, imprisoned, or banned. In 1991, the reform element in the National Party controlled parliament and ended all apartheid laws, and in 1994, South Africa had its first nonracial elections. Afrikaners remain among the more affluent South Africans, owning large commercial farms. Unlike many of British origin, Afrikaners have not generally joined the white flight from postapartheid South Africa.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Afolayan, Funso. Culture and Customs of South Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A His-tory of Fifty Years of Independence.New York: Public Affairs, 2005.

Morris, Donald. The Washing of the Spears:The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1998.

Stokes, Jamie, ed. “Afrikaner.” In Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts on File, 2009.

Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Worden, Nigel. The Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Apartheid, and Democ-racy. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.