The Afrikaner Domination of the Boers: How it was Constructed

OPINION – The following, I hope, will be an informative explanation contrasting and outlining the difference between the once notable historical differences between the two main White Afrikaans speaking groups as I have discerned from spending time examining the history of the groups and the region in question.

The term “Afrikaner” and the term “Boer” once denoted two distinct groups in the not so distant past. While it is easy for many people of Boer descent to not realize the difference due to the fact that they were often brought up to think of themselves as Afrikaners: the fact of the matter is that there is indeed a valid and poignant difference between the two terms since it relates to two distinct cultural groups. The Afrikaners conditioned the Boers to view themselves as Afrikaners as well in the wake of the devastation of the Anglo-Boer War when most Boers were destitute and looking for work in the cities. This left them rather vulnerable to the Cape based Afrikaners’ political maneuvering which ultimately would co-opt the Boers in a political context.

The Boers are the descendants of those semi-nomadic early migrating farmers who were known as the Trekboers who first trekked / moved away from the Cape Colony and Colonial society in general during the late 1600’s and 1700’s due to their poorer status and the fact that they found the autocratic VOC regulations intolerable. This act alone would be the essence of the difference between the Boers and the Afrikaners who had remained in the Cape Colony as it was the beginning of a cultural gulf which stretches back to Europe before they were brought to the Cape. The Afrikaans historian Brian Du Toit states on page 1 of his book on the Boer diaspora which went to East Africa following the Anglo-Boer War that the Boers were formed on the frontiers of White settlement and on the outskirts of civilization. [1] While the Afrikaners in the Cape on the other hand were not. This is the crux of why the Cape Afrikaners were pro colonial and the Boers were anti colonial. This was a trait which would later play a significant role during the second Anglo-Boer War. When a significant number of the Trekboers settled down on the eastern Cape frontier by the late 1700’s they became known as Grensboere or Border Farmers. It was from the Grensboere and a number of still Trekboers that the vast majority of the Voortrekkers would later came from after the local Boers were tired of British Imperialist Colonial oppression / Xhosa attacks / constant frontier wars and growing land shortages during what was later called the Great Trek.

While all this was happening among the Boer communities on the frontier, most the the White community at the Cape had remained in the Cape Colony and were often known as the Cape Dutch and were loyal to the colonial powers and often ridiculed the frontier Boers for whom they had little affinity for viewing them as semi-barbaric [2] ruffians. The Cape Dutch (the forerunners to the Afrikaners) often attempted to exert nominal control over the Trekboers notably with the establishment of the frontier towns of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet. [3] It was in these two towns that the Boers declared their first republics in 1795 whereupon they adopted the red white & blue horizontal tri-colour flag taken from the Batavian Republic flag. [4] This motif would later be found in numerous other Boer Republic flags. While the orange white & blue horizontal tri-colour flag of the Cape Dutch run VOC Cape would later find its way into the South African flag in 1927 under the Prime Ministership of the Cape Colony born – i.e. Cape Dutch- Afrikaner JBM Hertzog.

The first freedom struggle the Boers ever had was against the administration of the Cape Dutch i.e. the proto-Afrikaners. Or rather the people who would later coin the term Afrikaner and whom used it in a political context. This is most significant since it demonstrates that the Cape Dutch / Afrikaners have never wanted freedom – in contrast to the Boers who have always wanted freedom in Africa – and often fought or worked against the freedom of the Boers. Just as they would again later do during the second Anglo-Boer War when numerous Cape Colonist Afrikaners fought against the Boers on the side of the British. [5]

Now there might even be some Boers who think that all this is in the past and that they are now all one big “Afrikaner” group [6] but this is wrong on a number of fronts. First let’s consider where the term Afrikaner came from and what purpose it served. The term Afrikaner was first loosely used in 1707 when Hendrik Biebouw, a member of the local White proto-Afrikaans speaking community at the Cape – was in court and declared that he was an “Afrikaner” meaning that he was an African and was no longer from Europe. During this time all of the White settlers and mixed race persons in Africa were referred to Afrikanders and later Afrikaners -but this was simply a GEOGRAPHICAL label as it was applied to White people in general who were born in Africa regardless of which cultural group they were apart of. How it came to be used to denote a specific cultural group(s) and become politicized occurred much later in 1875 when a group of Cape Dutch intellectuals in the Cape Colony decided to start a language rights group [7] aimed at getting official recognition for their language which they began to call Afrikaans – after the African continent.

Remember that at this exact same time the Boers were independent in their own Republics in the north and spoke their OWN dialect of this language which they called “die Taal” or “Boer Taal” which historians have classified as Eastern Border Afrikaans [8] since the Boers’ dialect of Afrikaans developed on the northern and eastern frontier AWAY FROM the Cape Colonist Afrikaners and their dialect. The term Afrikaner was first used in a political context by these Cape Colonist people who began to call themselves Afrikaners after the language they spoke – all at a time when the Boer people HAD LONG SINCE BEEN ESTABLISHED and were mainly living in their own independent world-recognized Republics in the north. Therefore in the late 19th century and into the 20th century – and as early as the 1700’s when the Boers’ ancestors trekked out of the Cape Colony – there were two distinct and identifiable White Afrikaans speaking (different dialects) groups [9] in Southern Africa: one in the Cape Colony (and some who moved northwards after the gold rush) who called themselves Afrikaners and were the descendants of the pro colonial Cape Dutch / and the other group: the anti-colonial / Republican / independent oriented Boers living in the northern and eastern Cape frontier and within their own independent Republics in the north – descendants of the Trekboers / Grensboere and the Voortrekkers.

President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic – who referred to himself as a Boer – was wary of the Cape Afrikaners and did not want them coming to his Republic (Transvaal – ed.) as he viewed them as being too pro-British.[10] He would often recruit people from Holland to fill certain government positions as he felt that they would be more loyal to the Transvaal Republic than the Afrikaners. The Cape Afrikaners were often influenced by the British colonial power.

After the Boers were conquered by the British and became incorporated into the British created macro state of South Africa: a number of these Boers even attempted to restore their former Republics by force of arms in 1914 when General De Wet and some other notable Boer Generals (including it is believed General De La Rey) staged a rebellion to the South Africa government during World War 1.[11]  This rebellion was triggered when Prime Minister Louis Botha’s government decided to enter on the side of the British during the war. This lead to an outrage among many Boers since it was less than 15 years after the British killed close to 70% of the total Boer child population in the concentration camps. The rebellion was put down by force and its leaders were shot, or jailed and banned from participating in politics.

So how in the world did the Boers become conditioned to also later view themselves as Afrikaners as well,  you might be asking? In a short 3 word response: war / propaganda and politics. After the devastation of the Anglo-Boer War – of which a number of Afrikaners fought against the Boers on the side of the British – when many Boers had to move to the cities to find work they often encountered Afrikaners [12] who would exert their political influence over the poorer Boers – but many Boers still remained culturally intact and even had their own organizations. This is where the disastrous effects of Afrikaner Nationalism comes in.

During the 1930s the Afrikaner Broederbond (Brotherhood) and the Afrikaner Nationalists – which were one and the same [13] – worked hard to incorporate (assimilate) the Boers into the Afrikaner fold [14] as the Afrikaner Nationalists viewed the Boers as a political threat to their planned hegemony in South Africa. After the Boer led Rand Rebellion was put down by violent force (even complete with the South African Party government bombing Johannesburg) [15] in 1922: the Afrikaner Nationalists worked overtime to politically incorporate the Boers under the Afrikaner banner of which the Cape based Afrikaners would control. One of the first things they did was to create the Colour bar laws [16] which reserved certain jobs for White people as the main grievance of the Boer mine workers was that they did not like having their wages being under cut with the importation of cheap Bantu labour. This effectively started to acclimatize the Boers to the Afrikaner Nationalists by getting them hooked onto a dimension of the Apartheid platform. Though it should be noted that Apartheid was started by the British Colonial administrations [17] – particularly the horizontal oppressive features- and was only expanded upon by the Afrikaner Nationalists in which they also envisioned and attempted to turn the Bantu reserves into independent states. [18] Four were in fact granted outright independence [19] but were only ever recognized by South Africa and each other but not by the world.

Another more effective method the Afrikaners used to co-opt the Boers was by invoking Boer history most notably the Great Trek. Notice how the Cape Colonistic-born Cape Dutch / Afrikaner D F Malan: the National Party Prime Minister was able to do this to great effect – notably during the Great Trek reenactment ceremonies and at the Voortrekker Monument inauguration. This single event alone was definitely one of the convenient tools that the Afrikaner Nationalists used to co-opt the Republican Boers which in turn let the Boers’ guard down thinking (erroneously as it would turn out) that their (Boer) interests were looked after by teaming up with the Cape based Afrikaners under the banner of Afrikaner Nationalism – which was an extension of British Imperialism in many ways as the macro State set up by the British with the South Africa Act of 1909 was now being run by a Cape based Afrikaans speaking regime which was recruited as a surrogate Colonial power.

D F Malan was nothing more than a political opportunist (interesting how Jacob Zuma – a political opportunist himself – is attempting to do a similar thing in modern times by attempting to appeal to the Boers and Afrikaners just as Malan was able to successfully do) who used the centennial of the Great Trek to promote his political agenda and the establishment of Afrikaner Nationalism which sought – as part of its goal – to expropriate and subjugate the Boer Nation under the tutelage of the anti-republican Cape based Afrikaners. Malan was even opposed to the republican aspirations of the Boers – even attempting to prevent the Boer descended Hans Strijdom from succeeding him as Prime Minister as he favoured N C Havenga [20] the former leader of the Afrikaner Party which joined the National Party in 1951. According to one of the past guests of the Hello Afrika segment of the Right Perspective radio program: Theuns Cloete of Boervolk Radio: Strijdom was even talking about restoring the Boer Republics as there was considerable support among the Boers [21] during the 1940’s and 1950’s for this. Strijdom interestingly later died in office under mysterious circumstances and was succeeded by none other than Hendrik Verwoerd: the Dutch born architect of Grand Apartheid and who would later turn South Africa into a nominal republic which would further offset and blunt Boer aspirations for independence within their own Republics.

Therefore by the 1950’s most White Afrikaans speaking people were conditioned to view themselves as Afrikaners even though this is technically incorrect since for Boers to do so they are basically giving up their own unique identity and allowing themselves to be represented and dominated by the numerically larger Afrikaners [22] who have often historically worked against the interests of the Boers. This is the main reason why it is woefully wrong for Boers to think of themselves as Afrikaners. Consider the following related examples. In Canada there are Quebecois and Acadians: both are French speaking Canadians but no one would ever call the Acadians: French Canadians since this is a term which is applied to the French speakers in Quebec and Ontario. Similarly there are distinctions between the Croats and the Serbs in Europe even though both groups speak the same language – though different dialects of Serbo-Croatian: Croats speaking a dialect called Croatian and Serbs speaking a dialect called Serbian – just as the Boers and Afrikaners speak (or at least used to to a larger extent) different dialects of what came to be called Afrikaans.

The difference between the Romanian & Moldovan is another example of different cultural / ethnic groups speaking different dialects of a similar or closely related language. The problem among the White Afrikaans speakers is that the Afrikaners were able to effectively dominate and overshadow the Boers. Perhaps not too unlike how the Serbs once did in the former Yugoslavia – but it appears that the Afrikaners were much better at conditioning Boer identity out of the public sphere – only to be used as a convenient political prop to bolster and advance the agenda of the Cape based Afrikaner Nationalists.

This is why many Boers do not want to be viewed as Afrikaners since this makes them a minority within the Afrikaner designation. It makes the Cape based Afrikaners the center of power. The Afrikaners of Cape Dutch descent outnumber the Afrikaners of Boer descent. Making any union between Afrikaner & Boer always coming to the detriment of the Boers. This means that anti-Boer Afrikaners could (and often do) represent the entire Afrikaner group making decisions which could be inimical to the Boers. Rather like what often happened in Apartheid era South Africa when Boers were outvoted by the Afrikaners. Sort of like how liberal leaning states often make decisions inimical to the local conservatives because the given state’s left of center leadership makes the political decisions affecting the entire population of the state marginalizing persons with right of center inclinations.

The Cape based Broederbond – which was the driving force behind Afrikaner Nationalism / The National Party / Apartheid rewrote the history of the Boers turning them into “Afrikaners” [23] retroactively as part of a rhetorical device in order to co-opt the Boers / their history and their inheritance. Therefore the history they wrote would often refer to Afrikaners instead of Boers – which is a common error still copied by contemporary authors – without realizing that they are promoting the Afrikaner Nationalists propaganda and skewed version of the past. The well known Afrikaans historian Hermann Giliomee was one of those who played an integral part in the continued perpetuation of this myth by covering up or derisively down-playing the distinct and separate history of the Boer nation.

The late Boer patriot Robert van Tonder of the Boerestaat Party was one of those who was most insistent that the Boers are a different nation to the Cape based Afrikaners and was calling for the restoration of the Boer Republics as early as 1961 [24] – the same year that Hendrik Verwoerd turned South Africa into a “republic”.

Furthermore: TRP caller Henry Pinkham is exactly right when he points out that the Boers can only achieve freedom as a nation since if they try to do it while still attached to the Cape based Afrikaners the Boers will (obviously) get nowhere. The Cape based Afrikaners – particularly its leadership – still to this day like nothing better than to keep the Boers on their Afrikaner reservation.

Also: the world remembers the neo-colonial role that the Afrikaners played (at the behest of the British who put them in control in the first place) and their disastrous (though often exaggerated) legacy while the Boers played only a marginal role as they had hardly anything to do with the implementation of Apartheid and were never high in the ranks of the political order. Therefore going forward as Boers will only help their cause even more particularly among the rest of the world since the Boers were recognized the world over during the Anglo-Boer War. The Boer Republics themselves were recognized by the various European governments and American government [25] and the cause of Boer independence was supported the world over.

Now it would be one thing if the difference between Afrikaner and Boer was just semantics (as one guest erroneously and ignorantly put it) being different terms referring to the same people. This could even be true to an extent vis a vis those Boers or Boer descendants who also refer to themselves as Afrikaners – due to conditioning – but the fact of the matter is that most Afrikaners are of Cape Dutch descent since people of Boer descent comprise only about not much more than a third of the total White Afrikaans speaking population.

Furthermore the term Afrikaner originally referred to those colonial Cape Dutch people who often worked against Boer interests and as such these, two terms in fact refer to two different and distinct peoples. One poster on a forum once said that the Cape based Afrikaners – i.e: the former Cape Dutch – are nothing more than Afrikaans speaking English people. Rather poignant observation since the Cape based Afrikaners have virtually the same cosmopolitan neo-colonial liberal outlook as most of the English speakers have which is in sharp contrast to the more rustic / rural / anti-colonial and conservative outlook of the Boers.

Therefore even if the Boers and Afrikaners were to achieve independence in a common state (as they had in Apartheid era South Africa along with the English speakers) – which the notion of dismissing the differences between Afrikaner and Boer would lead to – the Boer people will still not have the full self determination that they most seek as they would STILL be under the political control and suzerainty of the Cape based Afrikaners WHO OFTEN do not share their political outlook / culture nor even the same history i.e.: the trekking themed past / the various freedom struggles nor the frontier origins which shaped and defined the

AUTHOR: David Christie

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David Christie

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