From European to "Africaander”

The modern Afrikaner is descended mainly from Western Europeans who settled on the southern tip of Africa during the middle of the 17th century. Portuguese mariners discovered the sea passage to the East round Cape Point in 1488 and in the course of their visits, came into contact with the Khoi. Initially cultural differences caused conflict and the Portuguese conveyed a biased image of a ‘hostile’ Africa to the Western world.

Nevertheless, for the commercially active Dutch the Cape was the ideal halfway station on the sea route to the East, and the Dutch East India Company (VOC) established a refreshment post in Table Bay (present day Cape Town).  In 1657 officials (mostly Dutch and Germans) could retire from the Company's service and become Free Burghers (independent farmers). In 1688 a group of French Protestants, striving for religious freedom, fled from France and settled in the Cape. Together with the Free Burghers they are regarded as the earliest ancestors of the Afrikaner nation.

According to J.A. Heese and C. Pama, by 1867 the 'Afrikaners' constituted a mixture of:

  • Dutch (34, 8%)
  • Germans (33, 7%)
  • French (13, 2%)
  • People of colour (7%)
  • British (5, 2%)
  • Unknown origin (3, 5%)
  • Other Europeans (2, 6%)

A unique cultural group was formed which identified itself completely with African soil. As early as 1707, Hendrik Biebouw (Bibault) referred to himself as an "Africaander". This community developed their own language, national identity, history and religion. They differed radically from the indigenous Khoi and San and also from the south-moving Bantu-speaking peoples whom they would later encounter deeper into the interior.

In 2006, a census determined that just over 5 million South Africans speak Afrikaans as their home language. Afrikaans is also spoken in the Republic of Namibia, and by South Africans living and working in the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Language, Culture and Beliefs

Religion: The Afrikaner's Religious Experience
Afrikaner religion stems from the Protestant practices of the 17th century Reformed Church of Holland. Other religious influences in South Africa came from British English-speaking ministers in the early 1800s, and the Swiss reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) who was brought to South Africa by French settlers. Calvin believed the church should influence government policy, and that races should remain pure and separate. All these influences led to the development of a unique brand of Protestantism in South Africa. Government policies on apartheid (separate development of races) were supported by Afrikaner religious doctrines.

The Dutch and French who settled in the Cape were committed Calvinists or Reformed Protestants. Anyone who accepted the Christian faith was accepted in the Western cultural community. Those outside were regarded as heathens while the Eastern slaves were predominantly Muslim.

By 1795, there were seven Dutch Reformed congregations in the Cape, and Calvinism became the foundation of the Afrikaner's philosophy of life and view of the world. It also influenced all aspects of his cultural activities. In addition, individuality and independence were intensified by a pioneering existence. The migrant farmers and pioneers who took part in the Great Trek into the interior didn't have any kind of organized church life and not having ministers of religion, their only source of knowledge was the bible. In their struggle for survival they gradually came to identify themselves with the nation of Israel.

With the establishment of another two Dutch Reformed (Hervormde and Gereformeerde) churches in the 1850s in the Transvaal three so-called sister churches originated. Afrikaners believed that they were called to spread the Christian faith in Africa. The influence of their Christian-national beliefs figured strongly in government and schools.

Festivals are part of the Afrikaner's existence and fill a need to express joy or humility over certain events. New Year and the so-called Dingaan's Day or Day of the Covenant memorial festivals were traditionally celebrated annually even before the South African War (Anglo-Boer War).

The centenary of the Great Trek in 1938 was the inspiration for a people's festival. People all over the country became involved and celebrations were organized even in the smallest villages. The highlight was on a hill outside Pretoria where thousands of people gathered for the laying of the corner stone of the Voortrekker Monument on the 16th of December. In 1949 a second festival was held during the inauguration of the Monument (13-16 December).

Several other centenaries were celebrated with much pomp and circumstance such as the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck (1652) in 1952. Political events were celebrated with festivals such as the Union Festival in 1960 and the Republic Festival in 1966 when the Republic of South Africa (RSA) was five years old. Cities and towns usually celebrate their own centenaries with local festivities.

In addition, some organizations arrange festivals on a smaller scale to commemorate certain events. Regional celebrations such as the Biltong Festival in Somerset-East or the Mampoer (traditional liquor distilled from fruit) Festival at the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum, Pretoria, is held annually. The 1990s saw the start of annual arts festivals - the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (Oudtshoorn) followed by Aardklop in Potchefstroom, InniBos in Nelspruit and many others.
Afrikaners also continue to celebrate their heritage in traditional ways and on special occasions don traditional dress and take part in formal dancing called volkspele. On these occasions, boys and men wear shorts with knee socks, and women wear long dresses and bonnets. Male folk dancing partners also wear shirts with vests and long pants.

Afrikaners are particularly fond of music and song. During the Great Trek and in the early pioneering days this was expressed in the singing of religious songs. Light music was made using instruments such as the violin, and the concertina and would later develop into a traditional Afrikaans music form, namely ‘Boeremusiek’.

Afrikaners only really began to compose Afrikaans music after the TweedeTaalbeweging (Second Language Movement) c. 1905 when poets were able to express themselves in Afrikaans and the poems were set to music. J.H.G. Bosman did pioneering work with the music he composed for Eugene Marais’ ‘Winternag’ in 1908. This was the beginning of the Afrikaans art song. Composers who made significant contributions before 1930 were S. le Roux Marais, Stephen Eyssen, and M.L. de Villiers. After 1930 musicians such as Gideon Fagan, Arnold van Wyk, Hubert du Plessis and Stefans Grove played important roles.

After 1945, a few operas were translated into Afrikaans and performed, but opera was to remain a foreign art form for most Afrikaans speakers. Afrikaans opera singers did, however, make their mark. Cecilia Wessels became famous abroad for her roles in operas. Mimi Coertse will be remembered for her wonderful contribution to music - in Afrikaans, but also for all the years she performed in opera houses abroad.

It is in the field of popular music that Afrikaners made an enormous contribution - Jannie du Toit, Koos du Plessis, Laurika Rauch, and several other artists would become famous. The Musiek- en Liriekbeweging (Music and Lyrics Movement) heralds the beginning of a new era of modern, original Afrikaans music.

In the 1980s, musicians protested against the government of the day. This culminated in the Voelvry Movement which built up a big following amongst the youth as they toured to and performed on university campuses.

Since the 1990s and particularly since arts festivals became popular, there has been renewed interest in and support for Afrikaans music amongst the youth. Afrikaans artists produce popular as well as alternative music and have caused an explosion in Afrikaans music sales.

Fine Arts
By the end of the nineteenth century, a number of Dutch artists such as Frans Oerder had settled in South Africa and overtime became Afrikaners. Oerder took part in the Anglo-Boer War as an official war artist on the side of the Boers. As early as 1898, Anton van Wouw had started work on the statue of Paul Kruger which today graces Church Square in Pretoria. These artists were exponents of Realism, which was popular amongst their compatriots, and they became teachers of a new generation.

Van Wouw also created several excellent bronze statues and is, par excellence, the great Afrikaans sculptor of the people. Coert Steynberg will also be remembered for his many statues and monuments. Afrikaans sculptors produced a large number of national monuments and statues of Afrikaner heroes.

J.E.A. Volschenk was the first Afrikaner to become a professional painter. He particularly captured South African landscapes on canvas. W.H. Coetzer's interest in Afrikaner history resulted in the creation of several historical paintings.

Erich Mayer loved South Africa, its landscapes and its people. He was a pioneer in developing Afrikaans art, and his work is of great cultural historical value. J.H. Pierneef developed a style of his own which could only have originated in South Africa-a new way of portraying nature. His lino cuts and etches eternalized many historical buildings. Maggie Laubser also developed her own definitive style.

In addition, Afrikaans artists made significant contributions to other fields of art such as stained glass, ceramics, mixed media and mosaics.

After the South African War the Tweede Afrikaanse Taalbeweging (Second Afrikaans Language Movement) developed, which would build upon the foundation laid in the nineteenth century. Eugene Marais' striking poem ‘Winternag’ was published as early as 1905 and in 1915, Totius became the first recipient of the Hertzog Prize for Literature.

In 1914, Afrikaans was recognized by the Cape Provincial Council and in 1925 was acknowledged by the legislator as an official language. Gradually scientific works began to be published in Afrikaans, facilitated by the first edition of the Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreels (Afrikaans Word List and Spelling Rules) in 1917. The highlight for most Afrikaners was the launch of the Afrikaans Bible in 1933.

Initially, few women ventured to write, but in 1936 Elisabeth Eybers made her debut as the first female poet in Afrikaans.

Afrikaans authors and poets contributed to every genre and in the 1960s protest literature was published, criticising the government of the day and its policies. In terms of the power vested in the Publication Board in 1963, some lyrics, films, and publications which threatened public morals or safety, were banned.

Publications in the form of newspapers and magazines date back to the second decade of the 20th century. The first Die Huisgenoot appeared in 1916, and Die Landbouweekblad in 1919. These prepared the way for other family publications while a number of organizations like the ATKV and the FAK began to launch their own publications.

The wealth of literature that still appears in Afrikaans proves that the language is alive and well.

On an international level, Afrikaners excelled in individual sports such as boxing and wrestling soon after the Anglo-Boer War, and later in athletics. But it would be rugby that found favour at an early stage. Afrikaners contributed on all levels to South Africans becoming renowned as one of the greatest rugby nations in the world, and the world champions in 1995, 2007 and 2019.

Various illustrious individuals, like Danie Craven, Mannetjies Roux, Frik du Preez, Dawie de Villiers and Naas Botha and families such as the Morkels, Du Plessis' and Burger-families, as well as rugby-commentator Gerhard Viviers and many others became part of popular Afrikaner culture.

Success or failure on the rugby field has a direct impact on the morale and attitude of most Afrikaners. On the other hand Afrikaners, unlike their fellow citizens, are still relatively uninvolved in soccer. Since the Afrikaners are an especially sporting nation, it was used as an effective weapon against the South African government in the years of conflict and international isolation.

After South Africa was readmitted to international sport, Afrikaners also made a difference on the cricket field. Golfers like Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman currently excel on the golf course whilst swimmers such as Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman shatter various world records.

Afrikaans architecture is associated with an intrinsic architectural style that began with the construction of Cape Town by the Dutch in the late 17th century. Monumental public buildings, houses of commerce, private dwellings, churches and rural estates of that period reflect the ornamented, but severe style of colonial Dutch architecture, which was influenced by traditions from the Dutch East Indies.

Even in the smallest towns, Afrikaans Dutch Reformed churches contributed to an important architectural aspect to the country, with their soaring steeples and classic stonework.


Afrikaans/ Afrikaners in the Cape
The Afrikaans dialect spoken today originates from the Dutch language spoken by early settlers in the 1600s. However, modern Afrikaans is in fact an accumulation of many other influences, which include other languages, both foreign and indigenous.

The influence of other languages on the development of the Afrikaans dialect began after 1652, when sailors who had been shipwrecked off the Cape coast incorporated terms and phrases into the dialect. This influence was significant, as many ships passed through the Cape after a trade route via the horn of Africa became viable. These phrases, both English and Portuguese in origin, soon found their way into the then predominantly Dutch dialect.

At this stage, before Afrikaans became an established and written language, it was referred to as Cape Dutch or Kitchen Dutch. This is because it acted mainly as a spoken language for people living in the Cape, with Dutch used as the formal and written language. The first known example of written Afrikaans appeared in a poem dated 7 August 1795, written about the Battle of Muizenberg. Other early work in Afrikaans included the use of the Arabic alphabet, for example in the work Bayaan-ud-djyn written by Abu Bakr in the mid 1800s.

The Afrikaans dialect took on a different flavour with the arrival of slaves in the Cape. Naturally, they all spoke different African and Asian languages, depending on their origins. Slaves from India and the East Indies for example, spoke a mixture of Indian and Indonesian languages. All these languages, accents, dialects and phrases, along with Khoikhoi dialects, began to influence the way people communicated on the farms. Mixed with Dutch and German, the result became a dialect known as Afrikaans. This dialect was further developed by Huguenot settlers, who contributed different words to the Afrikaans vocabulary, and altered the sounds of certain words.

These Huguenots, along with other Free Burghers, had been granted rights to land by the VOC management (1652-1795), and began farming to generate income. In the area of the Cape Peninsula, where they had limited access to education and cultural opportunities, these Free Burghers soon established grain and wine farms, which thrived due to favourable economic conditions.

In order to maintain these farms, slaves were imported for manual labour from the East. According to records, by 1170 there were 8104 slaves versus 7949 burghers with their families in the Cape. As these slaves were also employed as domestic servants, aspects of Eastern culture such as music, food dishes and words became an intrinsic part of the developing Afrikaner culture.

The movement of Afrikaners into the interior
Cattle farmers, also known as itinerant ('trek') farmers, or trek boers, stayed on the move in search of pasture. Eventually, by the end of the 18th century many of them lived in isolation, some as far as 1 000 km from Cape Town. As a result of their constant battle for survival against nature and the indigenous peoples, theirs was a struggling existence with few opportunities to develop culturally. Travellers often referred to their 'backwardness' which was in sharp contrast with the almost flamboyant life style of many 'Afrikaners' (farmers and officials) in the Cape.

The consequences of British colonisation of the Cape after 1806 (i.e. conflict with the Xhosa as a result of the Eastern border and the anglicizing policies, and the manner in which the British freed the slaves) fired the Afrikaners’ craving for independence and this led to the Great Trek (1836-1854) into the interior. In spite of inadequate training and political know-how, the sheer willpower of these pioneers resulted in the establishment in 1852 of the South African Republic (ZAR) and of the Republic of the Orange Free State (OVS) in 1854. These republics became known as the Boer republics and the inhabitants would be internationally known as the "Boers'.

The determination and courage of these pioneers became the single most important element in the folk memory of Afrikaner Nationalism, and significant developments in the consolidation of the Afrikaans language and culture began with the “Groot Trek”.

Around this time, three main Afrikaans dialects had emerged, Cape Afrikaans, Orange River Afrikaans and Eastern Border Afrikaans. The Cape dialect remains infused with the language spoken by Malay slaves who worked in the Cape, and spoke a form of broken Portuguese. The Orange River dialect developed with the influence of Khoi languages and dialects developed in the Namaqualand and Griqualand West regions, and the Eastern Border Afrikaans evolved from the settlers who moved east towards Natal from the Cape.

The move towards Afrikaans as an official language
Die Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA), an organization that promoted the Afrikaans language, was formed by Rev. S.J. Du Toit on 14 August 1875. By this time, the language was spoken by many people of different races and ethnic groups throughout Southern Africa. As the language evolved further, White Afrikaans speakers distanced themselves from the English-speaking community, due to resentment after their defeat in the South African War of 1899- 1902.

This resentment was exacerbated by the treatment of Afrikaans women and children in war concentration camps, the British “scorched earth policy” and resulting Afrikaner destitution. The loss of Afrikaner morale prompted a 'Kultuur' [culture] campaign to promote the Afrikaans language, and lead to the establishment of the Afrikaner Broederbond (Brotherhood). The Broederbond in turn established other cultural institutions such as FAK (Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge). In 1924, Afrikaans, as opposed to Dutch, was given official recognition, and a new South African flag was introduced three years later.  

The National Party was also instrumental in the consolidation of Afrikaner culture, as it emphasized Afrikaner Nationalism and racial separation. Therefore, when the party won the South African elections of 1948, measures were introduced to give preference to White Afrikaans speakers in terms of employment and business. The National Party's institution of apartheid was overtly criticized, and was vehemently protested against. A significant example of anti-apartheid protest was the Soweto Uprising of 1976, when Afrikaans was declared the sole medium of instruction in so called “Bantu” schools.

Unfortunately, the National Party's ruthless apartheid regime and simultaneous promotion of the language continues to associate the language with an oppressive political system. During apartheid, Afrikaans was 1 of only 2 official languages. However, today it is one of 11 official South African languages recognized by the Constitution.

Related Languages

Afrikaans has also formed part of pidgin languages such as Fanagalo (or Fanakalo), which was developed in order to create a common language on the mines, which employed workers from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Fanagalo has elements of the Nguni languages, English and Afrikaans.

Afrikaans, which was first spoken in the Cape Colony, was also originally a pidgin language, or a language that has been grammatically simplified from a parent language, with the addition of local language elements.

Like Fanagalo, Afrikaans was also developed so that people who did not share a common language could communicate with each other.

Gamtaal is a dialect of Afrikaans spoken on the Cape Flats, a district of Cape Town. The name derives from the term gammat taal, the word gammat a derogatory word to describe a ‘young malay’ or ‘young coloured’.

According to Adam Haupt, gamtaal is seen as an ‘authentic’ language representative of the Coloured working class, and has been used in the songs of musicians such as Prophets of the City (POC) and Brasse van die Kaap (BVK).

This article is mainly made up of a research put together by 'Die Erfenisstigting' research and heritage NGO based at the Voortrekker Monument. The material has been used with their permission (2010), it forms the basis of a permanent exhibition at the Voortrekker Monument on the 'history of Afrikaners in SA'.


‘Afrikaners’ [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 October 2010]|‘Afrikaners’ [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 October 2010]|Dooling, W. Turning Points 2: The Impact and Limitations of Colonialism, Chapter 2: The Development of a Colonial Slave Society, Published by STE Publishers and South African History Online (SAHO) [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 October 2010] |'Fanagalo' [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 October 2010]|Harris, R.L and Zegeye, A. (2003) Media, identity and the public sphere in post-apartheid South Africa. Published by Brill. p. 106

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