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Afrikaners

Roughly 3 million people, or 7 percent of the people of South Africa, trace their roots to Dutch, German, Belgian, and French forebears. Their language, Afrikaans, and membership in the Dutch Reformed Church are the most widespread common features of this population. Afrikaans, a seventeenth-century African variant of Dutch, differs from its parent language in that it has eliminated grammatical gender and many inflected verbs. Afrikaans was recognized as a separate language in the nineteenth century, after a significant literature began to develop.

The founders of Cape Colony were Dutch immigrants and French Protestant refugees, whose settlement grew slowly, through a century and a half, before it was taken possession of by Great Britain in 1806. Many of the Afrikaners' forebears arrived in southern Africa in search of independence from government oppression. They settled the region by fighting a series of wars. These early settlers and their descendants, the Boers, showed no mercy to the natives, enslaving as many as they had use for and shooting down or driving off the rest. They had well-nigh exterminated the Bushmen and Hottentots with whom they first came in contact, and had had desperate encounters with the Kaffirs [Xhosa peoples], on whom they next encroached, before the British supremacy began; and as soon as that supremacy became effective, and therefore obnoxious to them, they trekked northwards in large numbers, and, in building up their Orange Free State and South African Republic, made further havoc of native interests.

The founders of what is now Cape Colony were Dutch immigrants and French Protestant refugees, whose settlement grew slowly, through a century and a half, before it was taken possession of by Great Britain in 1806. These early settlers and their descendants, the Boers, showed no mercy to the natives, enslaving as many as they had use for and shooting down or driving off the rest. They had well-nigh exterminated the Bushmen and Hottentots with whom they first came in contact, and had had desperate encounters with the Kaffirs, on whom they next encroached, before the British supremacy began; and as soon as that supremacy became effective, and therefore obnoxious to them, they trekked northwards in large numbers, and made further havoc of native interests. These migratory Boers, half-puritans, half-freebooters, exhibited a genuine heroism in their conflicts with the Zulus and the Matabele Zulus; and having extorted a recognition of their independence from the British Government, ultimately organised themselves in communities within the territories now known as the Transvaal and the Free State, respectively in 1852 and 1854.

Yonah Seleti notes that "Two Voortrekker states emerged in the interior - the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. The two republics both had weak administrative structures with very few salaried officials. Neither republic was capable of establishing a system of government that would generate sufficient money to pay for the running of government. Local administration was in the hands of unpaid officials. The situation was made worse by the Voortrekkers reluctance to pay taxes. However, the Orange Free State stabilised under the leadership of J.H. Brand. Stability in the Transvaal had to await the discovery of minerals."

Things might have turned out no better if the English colonists in South Africa had had no Boer exemplars and pioneers; but two great evils resulted from the Boer policy which the English inherited, and only in part abandoned. One was the institution of slavery, which, formally abolished in 1834, but left its traces in the pass laws and labor laws, the political and social disabilities, and other arbitrary and unjust restrictions, to which natives were long subjected in Cape Colony, and to some extent in Natal. The other evil was the setting up of a feud between whites and blacks, which furnished excuses for the long series of Kaffir wars that lasted till 1865, the Basuto, Zulu, and other wars that followed, and many dismal quarrels only less offensive than wars in that they were not attended by much fighting.

The fought with Zulu and British armies, who also hoped to defend their territorial claims. The Afrikaners' defeat in the South African War [Boer War] was a crucial turning point in their history; their greatly outnumbered troops suffered a military defeat, and more than 26,000 Afrikaners--including many women and children--died in British concentration camps. The two formerly independent Afrikaner republics, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (later the Transvaal), were incorporated into the Union of South Africa within the British empire in 1910.

The war left much of the Afrikaners' farm land devastated, the result of the British "scorched earth" policy. Farmers had also been hard hit by cyclical occurrences of drought and rinderpest fever. This desperate rural poverty drove many Afrikaners into urban areas for the first time, to seek jobs in the growing industrial sector and particularly the flourishing mining industry. But many Afrikaners lacked educational credentials and urban work experience, and they were threatened by competition from the large black population in the cities. Africans had, in some cases, become accustomed to the work and lifestyle changes that were new to Afrikaners at the time. Afrikaner mineworkers, nonetheless, demanded superior treatment over their black counterparts, and they organized to demand better wages and working conditions through the 1920s.

During the 1920s and the 1930s, Afrikaner cultural organizations were important vehicles for reasserting Afrikaners' pride in their cultural identity. The most important of these was the Afrikaner Broederbond, also known as the Broederband (Brotherhood), an association of educated elites. The Broederbond helped establish numerous other Afrikaner social and cultural organizations, such as the Federation of Afrikaner Cultural Organisations (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge--FAK), and a variety of Afrikaner social service organizations. Most of these groups represented people of different classes and political persuasions, but Afrikaner leaders worked hard in the 1930s and the 1940s to forge a sense of unity and pride among them.

By the 1940s, the National Party (NP) had gained widespread appeal among Afrikaners by emphasizing racial separation and Afrikaner nationalism. Its narrow election victory in 1948 brought apartheid into all areas of social and economic life in South Africa. The force of the government's commitment to apartheid, and the popularity of the Dutch Reformed Church among Afrikaners, contributed to the impression of Afrikaner unity during the decades of National Party rule. But numerous rifts divided the community, and heated debates ensued. Some believed that the basic assumptions of apartheid were flawed; others, that it was being applied poorly. A small number of Afrikaners worked to end apartheid almost as soon as it was imposed.

Most Afrikaners strongly supported the government's 1960s and 1970s campaign to stem the spread of communist influence in southern Africa--the Total Strategy--based in part on their suspicion of strong centralized government and on their religious beliefs. But many were critical of South Africa's military intervention in neighboring states during the 1980s, and of escalating military costs in the face of the receding threat of what had been called the communist "Total Onslaught." By the late 1980s, enforcing apartheid at home was expensive; the unbalanced education system was in disarray and could not produce the skilled labor force the country needed. Most Afrikaners then welcomed the government's decision to try to end apartheid as peacefully as possible.





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Page last modified: 23-10-2012 19:12:41 ZULU