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Afrikaners (Afrikaans and Dutch: Africans) also known as Boers which means 'farmer' in Dutch (Afrikaans), are a distinct group of descendants of European settlers, arriving in modern day South Africa on and after 6 April 1652. Their mother tongue is Afrikaans, their predominant religion is Protestant Christian, particularly Afrikaner Calvinism, and they identify with the Afrikaner culture.


Origins of ethnic group

Afrikaners are descended from northwestern European settlers, mainly coming from the Netherlands, and religious refugees who lived in the Cape of Good Hope during the period of administration (1652-1795) by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) and the subsequent period of British rule, including primarily Dutch Calvinists and Flemish as well as German Protestants, French Huguenots, Frisians, and Walloons.

The original colony at the Cape, which was started as a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company, was first settled by the Dutch in 1652. The arrival in 1688 of a small group of French Huguenots who were fleeing religious persecution in France infused new blood and swelled the settlers' numbers. Some settlers from other parts of Europe (e.g. Scandinavia and the British Isles) also joined the ranks of the Afrikaners.

The first person recorded to refer to himself as an "Afrikaner" (simply meaning African) was Hendrik Biebouw who, in March of 1707, stated that he was an African and did not want to leave Africa, after his expulsion from the Cape Colony was ordered by the magistrate of Stellenbosch.


Great Trek

In the 1830s and 1840s an estimated 12,000 Voortrekkers started penetrating the future Northern Cape, Natal and Orange Free State provinces, putting themselves beyond the reach of British authority in order to escape relentless border wars with the Xhosa tribe, British colonialism, including its Anglicization policies, as well as to ease pressure on an overcrowding frontier where land was becoming scarce. This event caused a marked split in the Afrikaner population, with the Trekboer descended Afrikaners participating in the exodus referring to themselves as Boers or Voortrekkers, while the Afrikaners centered mainly in the western Cape who did not participate were referred to as the Cape Dutch.

While some historians claim that these series of mass migrations, later known as the Great Trek, were partly caused because the Boers did not agree with the British restrictions on slavery, the fact of the matter is most Trekboers did not own slaves, unlike the Cape Dutch, their more affluent cousins in the western Cape who did not participate in the Great Trek. The vast majority of Voortrekkers were Trekboers from the Eastern Cape who engaged in pastoralism. Nevertheless, the British promulgation of Ordinance 50 in 1828, which guaranteed equal rights before the law to all "free persons of colour", was indeed a factor in Boer discontent, as is well documented by numerous contemporary sources; the various republics founded by the Voortrekkers prohibited slavery itself, but they would all enshrine inequality by race into their constitutions, as enforced by the British in all their colonies.

During the Great Trek they fought against the Zulus, with war erupting when Voortrekker leaders Piet Retief and Gerhard Maritz, along with their delegation, were lured under the pretence of a land treaty and massacred by King Dingane and his warriors or Impi, who administered the best land in some of the areas the Boers were attempting to trek into. Retief and the local Voortrekkers had performed several deeds for Dingane, including returning stolen cattle taken by a rival chief named Sekonyela, and came to finalise the treaty in which the Voortrekkers were granted lands in Dingane's kingdom before Dingane changed his mind. After the massacre of Piet Retief’s delegation, the Zulu Impis also attacked Boer settlements at Blaauwkrans and Weenen, killing all women and children, amounting to half of the Natal contingent of Voortrekkers.

These attacks on the Trekboers evoked retaliation, with the 470 strong forces of Andries Pretorius taking on over 10,000 Zulu warriors who attacked their prepared positions at the Battle of Blood River. The Boers suffered only 3 injuries and no fatalities while 3000 Zulus were slain. This could be partially contributed to the Boers' use of guns over the Zulu traditional weapons; the Boers however attributed it to a vow they made to God before the battle that if victorious, they and future generations would commemorate the day as a Sabbath. 16 December was celebrated as a public holiday, Day of the Vow.

Boer republics

After the defeat of the Zulu forces and the recovery of the treaty between Dingane and Retief, the Voortrekkers proclaimed the Natalia Republic. This Boer state was annexed by British forces in 1843.

Due to the return of British rule, emphasis moved from occupying lands in Natal, east of the Drakensberg mountains, to the west of them and onto the high veld of the Transvaal and Transorangia, which were lightly occupied due to the devastation of the Mfecane. Some were known to have ventured far beyond the present day borders of South Africa, north as far as present day Zambia and Angola, also reaching the Portuguese colony of Algoa Bay, modern-day Maputo, capital of Mozambique.

The Boers created independent states in what is now South Africa: the Transvaal Republic (the South African Republic) and the Orange Free State. The British also annexed these territories, which led to the two Boer Wars: The First Boer War (1880-1881) and the Second Boer War (1899-1902)- now called the South-African War, which ended with the inclusion of the Boer areas in the British colonies. The Boers won the first war, but lost the second, mainly due to the British employing their Scorched earth tactics, and the first use of Concentration camps, which led to the deaths of an estimated 27,000 Boer civilians (mainly children under sixteen), who died in the concentration camps marking the deaths of about 15 percent of the local Boer population. About 15,000 Bantu civilians died in separate concentration camps, erected by the British forces.

Following the British annexation of the Boer republics, the creation of the Union of South Africa (1910) went some way towards blurring the division between the British settlers and the Afrikaners.

Boer diaspora

After the second Anglo-Boer War three main Boer diasporas occurred. Starting in 1903 the largest group emigrated to the Patagonia region of Argentina. Another group emigrated to modern day Kenya, from where most returned to South Africa during the 1930s, while a third group under the leadership of General Ben Viljoen emigrated to Mexico as well as the American southwest of New Mexico and Texas.[citation needed]

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.

Many Afrikaners 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 administrated by South Africa, until its independence in 1990, after which the country was named Namibia.


A small group of Afrikaners has settled in the town of Orania, with the goal of ultimately gaining a Volkstaat as the result of a process of Afrikaner demographic consolidation. Afrikaners today feel that they are facing a serious threat to their continued existence as a people, due to the relatively small population of Afrikaners, the dominance of the English language and the lack of any real political power. They also fear a repeat of the events in Zimbabwe, especially from the more "radical" elements within the African National Congress.

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