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Afrikaners or Boer are White Afrikaans speakers who have been established in Southern Africa since the 17th century. They are mainly of northwestern European descent (mostly Dutch, German and French ancestry), but their native tongue is Afrikaans, a close relative of Dutch. The Afrikaner people were established out of the diverse peoples who first settled under the Dutch East India Company.


Related ethno-linguistic groups

The Afrikaners are descended from northwestern European settlers who first arrived in the Cape of Good Hope during the period of administration (1652 – 1795) by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). While the original settlers came mainly from the Netherlandsmarker, their numbers were swelled later by French and German religious refugees. It is commonly thought their ancestors were primarily Dutch Calvinists, with smaller numbers of Frisians, Germans and French Huguenots, Flemish and Walloons.

In 1865 the Dutch lost control to the British after the British seized the Cape of Good hope in the battle of Blaauwberg beach near Cape Town. Minor numbers of other Europeans (such as Scandinavians, Portuguese, Greeks, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Scots, English, and Irish) were assimilated into the Afrikaner nation as well.

British South Africans generally were and are considered a separate ethnic group from the Afrikaners, and their first language was English. The semi-nomadic Afrikaans-speakers who developed on the Cape frontier were called Boers. They have also often been considered a separate entity from the Afrikaners.

The Dutch who first settled at the Cape in 1652 intended to establish a geographically limited refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company; originally, they were not interested in founding a permanent settlement. The arrival in 1688 of some French Huguenot refugees who had escaped Roman Catholic religious persecution added new blood and increased the number of settlers. Some of the later colonists from other parts of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia, Irelandmarker and Scotlandmarker) were also incorporated into what became Afrikaners.

The first person noted as calling himself an "Afrikaner" was Hendrik Biebouw, who, in March 1707, stated that he was an Afrikaner and did not want to leave Africa. Biebouw was resisting his expulsion from the Cape Colony, as ordered by the magistrate of Stellenboschmarker. The term shows the individual's first loyalty and a sense of belonging to the territory of modern South Africa, rather than to any ancestral homeland in Europe.

The original Afrikaans-speakers of the Cape Eastern frontier called themselves "Trekboer," meaning "nomadic farmer" in Dutch and Afrikaans. After the British took over, many Boers fled the Cape and moved to the interior of the country in a series of large migrations, collectively known as the Great Trek. They called themselves Voortrekkers ("onward trekkers"), and established two Boer republics: The Transvaalmarker and the Orange Free Statemarker, in the interior. After gold was discovered in these republics, the British entered in force to acquire and control the riches for its Empire. During the ensuing conflicts ( Boer Wars) Trekboer and Voortrekker descendants called themselves Boers ("farmers") and called South Africans of English descent Uitlanders or foreigners. The Anglo-Boer war became the most expensive war Victorian Britain ever fought


The mass migrations from under British rule collectively known as the Great Trek were pivotal for the construction of Afrikaner ethnic identity. The Boers created a number of states that were independent of British colonial oversight.

In the 1830s and 1840s, an estimated 12,000 Afrikaners Voortrekkers migrated to the future Northern Cape, Natal, Orange Free Statemarker and Transvaal/Northern Interior provinces. They were motivated by the desire to escape British rule and to preserve their religious conservatism. The Trek split the Afrikaans-speaking Boers into two groups: the Trekboers (later called 'Voortrekkers') and the 'Cape Dutch', as they were called by British settlers. These distinctions overlapped with economic differences, as the Trekkers generally had fewer material resources than those who remained behind. During the Anglo-Boer war the distinction between Cape Dutch and Voortrekker became irrelevant. They united under the name of Boer people against the foreign British invaders.

As important as the Trek was to the formation of Afrikaner ethnic identity, so were the running conflicts with various indigenous groups along the way. None is considered more central to the construction of Afrikaner identity than the wars against the Zulu in what today is KwaZulu-Natal.

The Trekkers who entered Natal discovered that the land they wanted was under the authority of the Zulu chief Dingane ka Senzangakhona, who resisted their settlement. After Dingane's forces killed a land treaty delegation under Piet Retief on February 6, 1838, large-scale hostilities erupted between Trekkers and Zulus. Zulu impis (regiments) attacked Boer encampments in the Drakensberg foothills at what was later called Blaauwkrans and Weenenmarker, killing women and children along with men. By contrast, in earlier conflicts the Trekkers had along the eastern Cape frontier, the Xhosa had refrained from harming women and children. Shocked by the massacre, the Boer sought retaliation. The Transvaal Republic sent a commando of 470 men to help the settlers. The Boers vowed to God that if they were victorious over the Zulu, they and future generations would commemorate the day as a Sabbath.

The Zulu customarily attacked in the evening. The gun powder that the Boers used had to be kept completely dry. That evening a mist and light rain came down on the camp soaking everything. The guns would not work and the Boers waited to die but the Zulus did not come. Miraculously the Zulus only attacked the next morning when the gunpowder was dry again. Later, it was heard from the Zulu survivors that a strange light hung over the camp and that a monster circled the perimeter keeping them from coming closer. The Zulu also recount that a company of their troops had somehow gotten lost, weakening their army.

On December 16, 1838 a 470-strong force of Andries Pretorius confronted about 10,000 Zulu at the prepared positions. The Boers suffered 3 injuries without any fatalities. Due to the blood of 3,000 slain Zulus that stained the Ncome River, the conflict afterwards became known as the Battle of Blood Rivermarker. Historically the British were unable to defeat the Zulus and only kept to the Port of Natal not venturing inland, this defeat of the Zulus is still seen as a anomaly by both Zulus and Boers today.

Thus, Afrikaners/Boers celebrate the 16 of December as a public holiday, colloquially called "Dingane's Day". After 1952, the holiday became officially called the Day of the Covenant, changed in 1980 to Day of the Vow (Mackenzie 1999:69). The Boer believed their victory at the Battle of Blood River meant they had found divine favor for their exodus from British rule. His power broken, Dingane abdicated his throne. Later the Boers brought homage to the new king of the Zulus.

In 1998 at the inauguration of the most recent version of the monument, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Zulu politician and then Minister of Home Affairs, apologized to the Afrikaner/Boer people for the murder of Piet Retief and the subsequent suffering of their people.

Boer republics

After defeating the Zulu and the recovery of the treaty between Dingane and Retief, the Voortrekkers proclaimed the Boer state of the Natalia Republic. Soon afterward, in 1843, Britain annexed this territory by military force.

Due to the return of British rule, Boer interest in settlement extended to new frontiers to the north-west of the Drakensberg mountains, and onto the highveld(steppes) of the Transvaalmarker and Transorangia (Transoranje). These areas were lightly occupied due to armed resistance by the Mfecane. Some trekkers ventured far beyond the present-day borders of South Africa, north as far as present-day Zambiamarker and Angolamarker. Others reached the Portuguese colony of Delagoa Baymarker, later called Lourenço Marques. It is now called Maputomarker, capital of Mozambiquemarker.

Most notable was the Dorsland Trek or "Thirst Land Trek", initiated by Gert Alberts in the 1870s. The first trek departed from Pretoria via the arid Kalahari Desertmarker to Rietfontein on the eastern border of the present-day Namibiamarker. Over a period of five years, after an arduous odyssey haunted by thirst and malaria, the Trekkers settled on the fertile Humpata Highlands in southwestern Angola. They had been invited by the Portuguese colonial rulers of the day. Over the years, many more Treks from Pretoria to Humpata followed.

Historians believed the Thirst Land Trek was prompted by Afrikaners' wanting to move away from British Empire influence, because of the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley. It was the reason they had first left the Cape Colony. Gert Alberts, the leader of the first Trek, once said, "[I]t was merely Wanderlust" that spurred the first group to pack their wagons and to head for the unknown, in search of new horizons.

For more than 50 years, the Boers contributed to Portuguese development of the hinterland of Angola for trade and hunting. Boer settlers from Humpata also helped the Portuguese subdue indigenous black tribes who resisted their incursions. Relations between the Boers and the Portuguese slowly deteriorated, as the Portuguese persisted in trying to convert the Protestants to Catholicism. The Portuguese insisted the Boer use/teach the Portuguese language rather than Afrikaans in the local schools. For a short period, a splinter group of the Boers settled in the Otavi Highlands in Northern Trans Gariep (later known as German Southwest Africa and today as Namibiamarker.) There they declared an independent Republic of Upingtonia. The small independent state did not last long, as none of the major colonial powers acknowledged its sovereignty. In time, most of these Boers returned to Humpata.

During World War I, German Southwest Africa was conquered by the Union of South Africa. After the war, the League of Nations granted South Africa an unlimited "C" Mandate to administer the country as a fifth province. Trying to populate Southwest Africa, as it was called, the South African Government invited the Angola Boers to resettle there. Most of the Angola Boers accepted the offer, while some returned to South Africa proper. A small group stayed behind in Angola. Today descendants of the Thirst Land Trek and the Angola Boers are involved in all sectors of the Namibian economy.

The Boers created independent states in what is now South Africa: de Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (the South African Republic) and the Orange Free State. When the British annexed these territories, the two Boer Wars resulted: The First Boer War (1880-1881) and the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) (also called the South African War). They ended with British victory and annexation of the Boer areas into the British colonies. The Boers won the first war and retained their independence temporarily. They lost the second. The British employed scorched earth tactics and held many Boers in concentration camps as they tried to take control. An estimated 27,000 Boer civilians (mainly women and children under sixteen) died in the camps from hunger and disease. This was 15 percent of the Boer population of the republics.

Boer War diaspora

In the 1890s, some Boers moved to Mashonaland and Matabeleland (today Zimbabwemarker), where they were concentrated at the town of Enkeldoorn (Du Toit 1998:47). After the second Boer War, more Boers left South Africa. Starting in 1902 a large group emigrated to the Patagonia region of Argentinamarker. Another group emigrated to British-ruled Kenya, from where most returned to South Africa during the 1930s as a result of warfare there with indigenous people. A third group, under the leadership of General Ben Viljoen, emigrated to Chihuahuamarker in northern Mexico and to New Mexico and Texas in the south-western USA. Others migrated to other parts of Africa, including German East Africa (present day Tanzania, mostly near Arusha). Some refugees went to Angola, where smaller and larger groups settled on the Bihe and the Humpata plateaus, respectively; Du Toit 1998:45.

It was a relatively large group of Boers who settled in Kenya. Historian Brian du Toit found that the first wave of migrants were single families, followed by larger multiple family treks (Du Toit 1998:57). Some had arrived by 1904, as documented by the caption of a newspaper photograph noting a tent town for "some of the early settlers from South Africa" on what today is the campus of the University of Nairobimarker. Probably the first to arrive was W.J. Van Breda (1903), followed by John de Waal and Frans Arnoldi at Nakuru (1906). Jannie De Beer's family resided at Athi Rivermarker, while Ignatius Gouws resided at Solai (Du Toit 1998:45,62).

The second wave of migrants is exemplified by Jan Janse van Rensburg's trek. Janse van Rensburg left the Transvaal on an exploratory trip to British East Africa in 1906 from Lourenco Marques (then Mozambique). Janse van Rensburg was inspired by an earlier Boer migrant, Abraham Joubert, who had moved to Nairobi from Arusha in 1906, along with others. When Joubert visited the Transvaal that year, Janse van Rensburg met with him (Du Toit 1998:61). Sources disagree about whether Janse van Rensburg received guarantees for land from the Governor, Sir James Hayes Sadler (Du Toit 1998:62).

On his return to the Transvaal, Janse van Rensburg recruited about 280 people (comprising either 47 or 60 families) to accompany him to British East Africa. Most came from districts around Ermelo and Carolina. On 9 July 1908 Janse van Rensburg's party sailed in the chartered ship SS Windhuk from Lourenco Marques to Mombasa, from where they boarded a train for Nairobi. The party travelled by five trains to Nakuru.

In 1911 the last of the large trek groups departed for Kenya, when some 60 families from the Orange Free State boarded the SS Skramstad in Durban under leadership of C.J. Cloete. But migration dwindled, partly due to the British secretary of state's (then Lord Crewe) cash requirements for immigrants. When the British granted self-government to the former Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in 1906 and 1907, respectively, the pressure for emigration decreased. A trickle of individual trekker families continued to migrate into the 1950s (Du Toit 1998:63).

A combination of factors spurred Boer migration on. Some, like Janse van Rensburg and Cloete, had collaborated with the British, or had surrendered during the Boer War (Du Toit 1998:63). These joiners and hensoppers subsequently experienced hostility from other Boers. Many migrants were extremely poor and had subsisted on others' property. Collaborators tended to move to British East Africa, while those who had fought to the end (called bittereinders) initially preferred German West Africa (Du Toit 1999:45).One of the best known Boer settlements in the British East Africa Protectorate was at Eldoretmarker, in the south west of what became known as Kenya in 1920. By 1934 some 700 Boers lived here, near the Uganda border.

South West Africa

With the onset of the First World War, the Union of South Africa was asked by the Allied forces to attack the German territory of South West Africa, resulting in the South-West Africa Campaign. Armed forces under the leadership of General Louis Botha defeated the German forces, who were unable to put up much resistance to the overwhelming South African forces.

Afrikaner women and children in British concentration camps.
Many Afrikaners, who had little love or respect for Britain, objected to the use of the “children from the concentration camps” to attack the Afrikaner-friendly Germans, resulting in the Maritz Rebellion of 1914, which was quickly quelled by the government forces.

Some Afrikaners subsequently moved to South West Africa, which was administered by South Africa, until its independence in 1990, after which the country was named Namibiamarker.


A tiny group of Afrikaners has settled in the town of Oraniamarker, with the ultimate goal of founding a Volkstaat through a process of Afrikaner demographic consolidation. Some Afrikaners feel that their language and culture face a serious threat in post-apartheid South Africa, due to the relatively small population of Afrikaners, the dominance of the English language and their lack of political power. They also fear a repeat of the events in Zimbabwe and many post-colonial one-party dictatorships, especially from the more 'radical' elements within the ruling African National Congress.

Modern history

Apartheid era

Main article: South Africa under apartheid

In South Africa, the black majority was excluded from equal participation in the affairs of the State and country (except for the homeland of Qwaqwa, Zululand, Ciskei, Transkei, Venda, and Bophuthatswana which were nominally self governed) until 1994. Apartheid laws were first enacted by the British controlled government when the Pass Laws were passed in 1923. The status quo was maintained and restrictions on non-whites' social and political freedoms further tightened when Afrikaner-led political parties gained control of government since 1948.

The South African referendum, 1992 was held on 17 March 1992. In it, South Africans were asked to vote in the last tricameral election held under the apartheid system, in which the Coloured and Indianmarker population groups could also vote, to determine whether or not they supported the negotiated reforms begun by then State President F.W. de Klerk two years earlier. The result of the election was a large victory for the "yes" side. Election analysts however reported that support to dismantle Apartheid among the Afrikaners was actually slightly higher than among English speakers.This assertion is debatable given that statistical analysis published by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) has shown that Afrikaners supported apartheid policies to a greater extent than English-speakers from the 1970s to the 1990s. ( Between Acknowledgement and Ignorance:How white South Africans have dealt with the apartheid past)

Post-Apartheid era

Efforts are being made by a few Afrikaners to secure minority rights even though protection of minority rights is fundamental to the new 1996 post-apartheid Constitution of South Africa. These efforts include the Volkstaat movement. In contrast, a handful of Afrikaners have joined the ruling African National Congress party, which is overwhelmingly supported by South Africa's black majority. However, the vast majority of Afrikaners/Boer have joined White English-speakers in supporting South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, indicating their acceptance of non-racism within a free enterprise economy.

Employment Equity legislation favours employment of black (African, Indian and Coloured) South Africans and women over white males, this combined with the wave of violent crime has led to vast numbers of English and Boer South Africans leaving the country. Black Economic Empowerment legislation further favours ownership by black South Africans as government tenders consider ownership, employment, training and social responsibility initiatives which empower black South Africans as important criteria when awarding tenders. However, private enterprise adheres to this legislation voluntarily. Some reports indicate a growing number of whites suffering poverty compared to the pre-Apartheid years and attribute this to the above legislation - over 350,000 Afrikaners may be classified as poor, with some research claiming that up to 150,000 are struggling for survival.

Genocide Watch has theorized that farm attacks constitute early warning signs of genocide against Afrikaners and has criticised the South African government for its inaction on the issue, pointing out that the murder rate for them ("ethno-European farmers" in their report, which also included non-Afrikaner farmers of European race) is four times that of the general South African population.. There are 40,000 white farmers in South Africa. Since 1994 close to two thousand farmers have been murdered in tens of thousands farm attacks in South Africa, many brutally tortured and/or raped. Some victims have been burned with smoothing irons or had boiling water poured down their throats.

Afrikaner diaspora and emigration

Since 1994 there has been significant emigration of skilled White persons from South Africa. There are thus currently large Boer and English South African communities in the UK and other developed nations. Since 1994, more than one million South Africans have emigrated blaming violent and racially motivated crime as the main reason. See human capital flight in South Africa for details.

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) awarded the Afrikaner people membership during its IX General Assembly on 16 – 17 May 2008 in Brussels, Belgium.

The UNPO is a democratic, international organization. Its members are indigenous peoples, occupied nations, minorities and independent states or territories which lack representation internationally.

UNPO is dedicated to the five principles enshrined in its Covenant:

This successful application for membership represents a formal acknowledgment by an international organisation of the fact the Afrikaner people have since 1994 become a stateless nation. The Freedom Front leader, dr. Pieter Mulder accepted membership of UNPO on behalf of the Afrikaner people.

However not all Afrikaners feel this way. Some see South Africa as their fatherland, and that the democratically elected government appropriately represents them internationally. Some Afrikaners feel the ANC does not value their welfare and that their rights and liberties as described above are always second subject to those of the previously disadvantaged. .



There were 133,324 speakers of Afrikaans in Namibia, forming 9.5% of the total national population, according to the 1991 census. Afrikaners are mostly found in Windhoekmarker and in the Southern provinces.

Global presence

A significant number of Afrikaners have migrated to countries such as Canadamarker, the United Kingdommarker, the United Statesmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Australia, New Zealandmarker, Spainmarker, Argentinamarker, Mexicomarker and Brazilmarker.

A large number of young Afrikaners are taking advantage of working holiday visas made available by the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, as well as the Netherlands and Belgium, to gain work experience. The scheme under which UK working holiday visas were issued ended on the 27th November 2008 and has been replaced by the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) visa. South Africa is unlikely to partake in this scheme.

The favourable exchange rate with the South African Rand (ZAR) also increases the attractiveness of international experience.



Mainly Christian, the Calvinism of Boers in South Africa developed in much the same way as the New England colonies in North America. The original South African Boer republics were founded on the principles of the Dutch Reformed Church. The main reasons the first settlers listed for their discontent with the English colonial power and the founding of the two Boer republics were religious.

A good example of how the Boer culture and religion interlinked can be seen when gold was discovered in Johannesburg: The Boer community desperately tried to keep it a secret for fear that exploration of the resource would lead to moral degradation of the Republic. Even after the mines were running, the Boers did not get involved and kept to farming.

Traditionally, regular church attendance among Afrikaners are among the highest in the world.


The Afrikaans language changed over time from the Dutch spoken by the first white settlers at the Capemarker. From the late 17th century, the form of Dutch spoken at the Cape developed differences, mostly in morphology but also in pronunciation and accent and, to a lesser extent, in syntax and vocabulary, from that of the Netherlandsmarker, although the languages are still similar enough to be mutually intelligible. Settlers who arrived speaking German and French soon shifted to using Dutch and later Afrikaans. The process of language change was influenced by the languages spoken by slaves, Khoikhoi and people of mixed descent, as well as by Cape Malay, Zulu, English and Portuguese. While the Dutch of the Netherlands remained the official language, the new dialect, often known as Cape Dutch, African Dutch, "Kitchen Dutch", or "Taal" (meaning language in Afrikaans) developed into a separate language by the 19th century, with much work done by the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners and other writers such as Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven. In a 1925 act of Parliament, Afrikaans replaced standard Dutch as one of the two official languages of the Union of South Africa. There was much objection to the attempt to legislate the creation of Afrikaans as a new language. Marthinus Steyn, a prominent jurist and politician, and others were vocal in their opposition. They perceived that legalization of Afrikaans as an official language would only serve to isolate the Afrikaners, as they would be the only people in the world to speak Afrikaans. Steyn, who died before 1925, had been educated in Hollandmarker and Englandmarker and was a worldly cosmopolitan figure. Today, Afrikaans is recognised as one of the eleven official languages of the new South Africa, and is widely accepted as an appropriate means of communication for a large number of South Africans.


Afrikaners have a long literary tradition, and have produced a number of notable novelists and poets, including Eugene Marais, Uys Krige, Elisabeth Eybers, Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, and Athol Fugard.


Music is probably the most popular artform among Afrikaners. While the traditional Boeremusiek (Boer Music) and Volkspele (literally, People Games) folk dancing enjoyed popularity in the past, most Afrikaners today favour a variety of international genres and light popular Afrikaans music. American country and western music has enjoyed great popularity and has a strong following among many South Africans. Some also enjoy a social dance event called a sokkie. The South African rock band, Seether, has a hidden track on their album, Karma and Effect, that is sung in the Afrikaans language. It is titled, Kom Saam Met My, which is translated as Come With Me. There is also an underground rock music movement and bands like the controversial Fokofpolisiekar have a large following. The television Channel MK also supports local Afrikaans music and mainly screen videos from the Afrikaans Rock genre.


Rugby, cricket and golf are generally considered to be the most popular sports among Afrikaners. Rugby in particular is considered one of the central pillars of the Afrikaner community. The Springboks won the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cups respectively.

"Boere-sport" also played a very big role in the Afrikaner history. It consisted of a variety of sports like tug of war, three-legged races, jukskei, skilpadloop (tortoise walk) and other games.


The world's first ounce-denominated gold coin, the Krugerrand was struck at the South African Mint on the third of July 1967. The name Krugerrand was derived from Kruger (President Paul Kruger) and rand the monetary unit of South Africa. The Rand is associated with the area called Witwatersrand, "the ridge of white water" an important gold producing area.

In April 2007, the South African Mint coined a collectors R1 gold coin commemorating the Afrikaner people as part of its cultural series, depicting the Great Trek across the Drakensberg mountains.



The Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV) (Afrikaans Language and Culture Society) is responsible for promoting the Afrikaans language and culture.

Die Voortrekkers is a youth movement for Afrikaners in South Africa and Namibia with a membership of over 10 000 active members to promote cultural values, maintaining norms and standards as Christians, and being accountable members of public society. Visit their web page on


Afrikaners support political parties across the spectrum in today's multi-racial, pluralistic South Africa. Many support the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition party.

Smaller numbers are involved in nationalist or separatist political organizations. The Freedom Front Plus is an Afrikaner ethnic political party in the Republican tradition, which lobbies for minority rights to be granted to all of the South African ethnic minorities. The Freedom Front Plus is also leading the Volkstaat initiative and is closely associated to the small town of Orania.


Differences of opinion about who qualifies as an Afrikaner arise from two opposing assumptions about the nature of ethnicity. A complicating factor is that ethnicity can be self-claimed, or can be ascribed by outsiders.

A first understanding of ethnicity is that it primarily describes relatively static inherent qualities that define exclusive groups based on common descent. Accordingly, individuals are born into distinct ethnic groups which share distinctive characteristics such as culture, religion, and language. From this perspective, one is born an Afrikaner, if one comes from a lineage of Afrikaners. Ethnicity is seen as a given.

A second assumption is that ethnicity comprises more fluid identity elements that create rather open-ended groups for particular purposes. Accordingly, ethnic groups form to meet particular needs, often to forge a superficial nationalistic unity out of rather disparate groups in order to gain material, social, or political advantages. From this viewpoint, ethnic groups exhibit great fluidity over time. Simply put, someone who is French can become an Afrikaner, for instance by learning the language and identifying with others who claim to be Afrikaners. In an extreme form, this argument leads to the conclusion that the commonalities within ethnic groups are largely imagined, and may in fact hide huge differences of dialect, religion, and historical experience. Proponents of this viewpoint may find it difficult to account for the stability of certain ethnic groups over time.

A commonly-understood - but seldom-mentioned - factor is that the definition of Afrikaner hinged on racial and linguistic components. While both were present from the start, the linguistic element received particular emphasis under British rule, and the racial element during apartheid. The project of forging an ethnic group arose among some non-British settlers who wanted to organize nationalistic opposition against the restrictive political oversight of first, their Dutch, and, later, their British rulers. Another purpose was to distinguish Afrikaans-speakers of European descent from indigenous groups (such as the Khoi) and slaves who contributed to creation of the language. Consequently, the meaning of "Afrikaner" was restricted to those who were both white and Afrikaans-speaking.

Changes in how "Afrikaner" is understood can clearly be traced through South African history in a way that incorporates elements of both static and fluid assumptions about ethnicity. During the 18th century the term was initially used by Dutch colonists to indicate their unique rootedness in Africa, even though they actually still spoke Dutch. The initial assumption of Dutch descent became irrelevant later when German and French settlers were incorporated into the 19th century definition. At this time the definition depended largely (but not completely) on uniting disparate settlers in opposition to British rule. The challenge was to forge an Afrikaner ethnic group from different economic classes and divergent levels of support for the British regime. What qualified one as belonging to an Afrikaner ethnic group varied somewhat according to historical period,.

While it may seem that the definition of "Afrikaner" is currently more problematic than before, such complexities were already present in colonial periods, as discussed below. Some have argued that the exclusive, racial overtones inherent in "Afrikaner" should be abandoned in favor of the linguistically more inclusive term, Afrikaanses.


The early Dutch colonists who claimed to be Afrikaners at the beginning of the 18th century did not constitute a distinct and new ethnic group. As first generation immigrants, they were culturally closer to their original ethnicities, (Dutch, and later French and German). (Note that while the linguistic categories "Dutch", "French," and "German" are used as though they were homogeneous, they, too, comprised quite distinct dialects forged into unity through political and social projects, as indicated by the need to impose "Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands" in the Netherlands, for instance; see Dutch language.) From the first assumption about ethnicity described above, this group over time formed a shared identity with a common language (Afrikaans), Protestant religious orientation, and cultural traits, distinct from -yet often borrowed from - their respective ancestors and British colonists. Yet while the early Afrikaners were largely Protestants, the Great Trek soon divided them into opposing religious factions. Economic differences existed which largely overlapped with regional variations between the western and eastern parts of the Cape colony, for instance.

Cape Dutch
The colonists at the Cape who remained when others began to trek inland during the 1690s and into the 1700s and were generally more affluent than those who trekked eastwards. The Cape Dutch tended to be loyal or indifferent to the colonial powers and as such did not take part in the Great Trek.
Ideological and cultural divides emerged between the Cape Dutch, Trekboers who migrated northwest, and Voortrekkers who moved northeast in the Great Trek. The term "Boer" (farmer) came to be applied to Afrikaners who settled along the eastern Cape frontier and the Republican Afrikanders who trekked inland during the Great Trek. While such distinctions are presently less pronounced, due to the free movement between all areas of the South Africa, regional dialects among Afrikaans-speakers remain.


Currently it is difficult to classify anyone as an Afrikaner – whether as ethnic or cultural group – based solely on a combination of language and race, just as it is difficult to classify someone as Anglo-African based solely on language (English) and race.

Even if a person is of obvious European descent and speaks Afrikaans as a first language, it is difficult to claim a genealogical link to the original Afrikaners of the Cape Colony due to intermarriage with other European settlers , especially the large number of British descent, but also newer European immigrants including Italians, Portuguese and Germans, among others. A simple example of this would be a quite common occurrence of someone of British descent marrying someone of Afrikaner descent and raising their children in a bilingual home. Would these children be considered Anglo-African or Afrikaner?

The population of white or European Afrikaans first-language speakers are also far from homogenous with regard to religion, politics or cultural practices. The last census of 2001, reported a white population of 4.4 million, of which 2.5 million spoke Afrikaans as a first language and 1.4 million belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church (traditionally a church associated with Afrikaners, see Afrikaner Calvinism). From these numbers it is clear that a combination of factors have to be taken into account and these factors vary for each person as there is no one-to-one relationship between language, race, religion and ethnicity.

In 2004, South African journalist, Jani Allan, appeared as the guest on The Jeff Rense Show to a listenship of 17 million. During the interview, Allan discussed the threats to the Afrikaners' well-being in South Africa, particularly noting the South African farm attacks as well as poverty among Afrikaners. She went on to encourage Americans to sponsor Afrikaners' emigration to the US. Allan noted as the Afrikaners had roots in South Africa, dating back to 1650, they were trapped in South Africa. Unlike Anglo-Africans, Allan argued that emigration would be more difficult for Afrikaners.

Even Afrikaner historian Hermann Giliomee described the classification – perhaps casually – as: (Afrikaans) "enige iemand wat lief is vir die land en wat lief is vir Afrikaans" (English: "anyone who loves the country and who loves Afrikaans").

Another typical comment on the question of the supposed "Afrikaner" ethnic group from Harald Pakendorf an Afrikaans journalist: "To have a debate about Afrikaners seems almost absurd. Which Afrikaners? Who is an Afrikaner? Who will speak on their behalf? Hopefully, there will never be a debate about Afrikaners again. They are not separate enough from the rest of South Africa to be discussed as such."

White nationalism

Another context for the current (in democratic South Africa post 1994) efforts to establish a clear and distinct ethnic group called "Afrikaner", is that of a small conservative group seeking self determination in the form of an independent country or territory which they call a Volkstaat. In order to be counted as a valid instances of ethnic nationalism, these groups must establish the existence of an easily identifiable and homogeneous ethnic group, because such a territory derives its legitimacy from the fact that it is a homeland for such an ethnic group.

Instances of ethnic nationalism which include a white race qualification or component is referred to as white nationalism.

It is to this political background of an attempt at self determination that many descriptions or definitions of "Afrikaner" must be viewed. One example is the official newspaper of the right wing political party, the Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP), with the Afrikaans Die Afrikaner (English: "The Afrikaner"). It declares its goal as the "unashamed promotion of Afrikaner nationalism". The modern context of Afrikaner nationalism for the term "Afrikaner" is therefore unquestionable.

See also


  1. [ Yolandi Groenewald, "Bang bang – you’re dead", Mail & Guardian Online
  2. Hermann Giliomee, The Afrikaners: Biography of a People, University of Virginia Press, 2003
  3. Battle of Blood River - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  4. In Kenya Colony - TIME
  5. Countrystudies Toward Democracy
  6. [1]
  7. Simon Wood meets the people who lost most when Mandela won in South Africa
  8. South Africa - Poor Whites
  9. Million whites leave SA- study
  10. Flags of the World
  11. UNPO list of member states
  12. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (2001) Population project
  14. Bullen, P: The Rise and Decline of Afrikaner Ethnicism in the Twentieth Century [2], 1990
  15. Litnet, Onderhoud deur Gerrit Brand met Hermann Giliomee"
  16. Mbeki, T. and Buthelezi, M. (1999), Report of the Government of the Republic of South Africa on the Question of the Afrikaners, Speech delivered at the National Assembly, South Africa, retrieved 25 June 2006
  17. Basson J: Die Afrikaner - mondstuk van die nasionalistiese Afrikaner, Strydpers Bpk, [3]

  • Du Toit, Brian M. 1998. The Boers in East Africa: Ethnicity and Identity. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
  • Gilliomee, Hermann. 1989. The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850 – 1915, in Leroy Vail (ed.) The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. London/ Berkeley: Currey University of California Press, 1989. [701977]
  • Mackenzie, S.P. 1997. Revolutionary Armies in the Modern Era: A Revisionist Approach. Routledge.
  • Van der Watt, Liese. 1997. 'Savagery and civilisation': race as a signifier of difference in Afrikaner nationalist art, De Arte 55. [701978]

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