- Afrikaner / Boer / Afrikaanse -
Traditionally the term Afrikaners referred to white Afrikaans speaking people in South Africa. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century Afrikaners were also known as Boers, from there the naming of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Boer is a Dutch/Afrikaans word, which means "farmer". Referring to Afrikaners in this way was very valid up to the early parts of twentieth century as most followed a simple farming life.
The term Afrikaner was coined during a meeting in the early days of the Cape Colony (late seventeenth century). At the meeting one of the Vryburgers ("free citizens") exclaimed: "I am not Dutch, I am an Afrikaner (African)". It is an irony of history that Afrikaners, two centuries later, by means of Apartheid's racial segregation tried so hard to separate themselves from other Africans and longed to be seen as Europeans in Africa...
The Afrikaners experienced many hardships in their short history but survived mostly because of a fundamentalist brand of Christianity and an undying stubbornness. The British Empire under-estimated these qualities of the Afrikaner volk ("Afrikaner Nation") in October 1899 when they declared war on their two small republics in the north of present day South Africa. British commanders claimed that the campaign would be over by Christmas. Eventually British troops numbered ±500 000 compared to the make-shift Boer army of ±80 000 volunteers. The very costly and embarrassing Anglo-Boer War/ South African War only ended some three years later after the British resorted to putting Boer women and children in history's first concentration camps (26 000 died) and implemented a scorched earth policy burning down Boer farm houses and crops.
As so often happens in history the previously oppressed became the new oppressors when the Afrikaner nationalist National Party took over government in 1948. While racial segregation was a fact of life in colonial South Africa for more than 300 years the National Party now formalised and rigorously enforced racial segregation. Through various government initiatives Afrikaners were given the opportunity to get good education and were thus social-economicaly empowered. Today, two generations later, the vast majority of Afrikaners come from privileged educational backgrounds.
With the paradigm shifting change to a democratic South Africa culminating in the 1994 elections Afrikanerdom has been changed for ever. While a lot of pressure was brought to bear on Apartheid South Africa it should be acknowledged that Afrikaners (and white English South Africans) voted for an end to Apartheid in the last elections and a crucial make-or-break referendum in 1991. In the process the Afrikaner peacefully gave away its position of political power in South Africa, which due to the country's demographics it will never regain in a democratic South Africa. (This statement is not made in ignorance to the huge sacrifices made by black, coloured and indian South Africans in their struggle against Apartheid and racism in general)
During the Apartheid era of christian nationalism Afrikaners formed a generally homogenous group. They were very much a patriarchal society exhibiting undoubting loyalty to the ruling party and authority in general. The Afrikaans (reformed) churches played a big role in unifying Afrikaners and providing a "moral" base for Apartheid. "Eendrag maak mag" (unity creates strength) was the motto and it did indeed put the Afrikaner nation in an immensely powerful position. Apartheid's undoing, in terms of Afrikaner mentality, probably came about because of the urbanisation and improved education of Afrikaners as well as a growing realisation that theirs was not the moral high ground.
Since 1994 when the first democratically elected "black" ANC government came to power Afrikaner identity has undergone dramatic change. It is in fact very difficult to pin down an Afrikaner identity in all but the vaguest terms. This does not mean that Afrikaners, or Afrikaans, is slowly dying. While a small ultra-conservative collection of Afrikaners still see themselves as God's chosen people the majority of Afrikaners see themselves as individuals, citizens of a new South Africa who happen to be Afrikaans. This is not to say that there are not shared values or trades common to most Afrikaners. It's rather a question of reprioritising and finding one's place in the larger society.
The definition of Afrikaners being white Afrikaans speaking people has also become problematic. While it is true that Afrikaans speaking whites do have unique cultural and language trades it is also true that they share their language, as home tongue, with more than 2 million Afrikaans speaking "Coloured" people and a few black South Africans.
Africa is constantly re-inventing itself definitions change as well.
Many people's definition of the term Afrikaner in our time will
include Afrikaans speaking blacks
and coloureds. However, the term does carry a historical context of Afrikaners
being white. For this reason many Afrikaans speaking people of different
race groups are starting to talk about themselves Afrikaanses.
The latter term has much the same meaning as the former and simply adds
a modern extension to the base word "Afrikaan" (African), i.e.
Today most Afrikaanses (which is inclusive of the term Afrikaner) will identify themselves as being South Africans first before specifying other identifiers such as being Afrikaans speaking, Christian (or not), etc. While race is still prevalent it is slowly diminishing in importance with an individual's personal traits being rated a much more important matter. These days a friendly rivalry between people will often be based on your city/ region of residence, sport team, etc., rather than your race or language.
(also see: South African history)
| Orville Jenkins*
We recommend: The Afrikaners: A Biography of a People (May 2003)*.
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