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LOCATION: Republic of South Africa

POPULATION: About 3.3 million

LANGUAGE: Afrikaans

RELIGION: Protestantism


South Africa is located at the southern point of Africa. During the seventeenth century, Dutch colonists from the Netherlands (known as Boers) settled there. Over the next 200 years, British, French, and German settlers joined them. At first, they settled along the coast, but eventually settlers moved inland. These settlers developed a unique cultural identity and language and became known as Afrikaners. Their language, Afrikaans, began as a spoken dialect, but developed into a written language, too.

Over the next 300 years, the Afrikaners battled indigenous (native) African peoples. established independent republics in the interior, and fought the British in two wars known as the Anglo-Boer Wars. All territories were finally united on May 31, 1910, to become the Union of South Africa. (The Republic of South Africa was established fifty years later on May 31, 1960.) In 1910, there was a clear division between the Afrikaners (who belonged to Afrikaner political parties, spoke Afrikaans, supported Afrikaner cultural and linguistic endeavors, and belonged to one of the Dutch Reformed Churches) and British-oriented, English-speaking South Africans. In 1948 the Afrikaner-based National Party came to power. Under a strong religious philosophy and racist social policy, the National Party started to implement the system of apartheid. Apartheid separated the people of South Africa by law along color lines. By the 1980s, there were many Afrikaners who joined the effort to do away with apartheid.


The Afrikaners are concentrated in the Republic of South Africa, located at the southern tip of the African continent. The country consists of four plateaus: the coastal zone, averaging 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level; the Little Karoo, averaging 1,500 feet (450 meters) above sea level; the Great Karoo, averaging 2,500 feet (760 meters) above sea level; and the High Veld, which averages 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level and rises to 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level in the northeast. South Aftrica's capital, Johannesburg, has an annual mean temperature of 60° F (15.6° C). This temperature range is typical for the entire country. Rainfall (which is so critical for farming and ranching) decreases as one moves from east to west. South Africa's eastern coastal zone has relatively high rainfall, but the western veld (open grassland) tapers into the Kalahari desert. About 75 percent of the country receives less than 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) of rain per year. The country's average rainfall is only 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters) because so much of the country is extremely dry. The highest rainfall is in the mountain region of the southern regionabout 200 inches (508 centimeters) per year.

Of South Africa's 42 million people, about 3.3 million are Afrikaners.


Afrikaans, the language spoken by Afrikaners, evolved as a dialect of Dutch spoken by settlers on the frontier during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As various groupsFrench, German, and English speakerssettled in South Africa, they contributed to the emerging language. Also contributing to the language and culture were slaves brought by the Dutch from their holdings in southeast Asia (especially Malaysians). Settlers also took vocabulary and cultural practices from the native Africa people. Afrikaans first appeared in print during the early nineteenth century. Among the unique features of the language is the double negative: Hy wil nie speel nie (literally, "He does not want to play not").

In 1910, the Constitution of the Union of South Africa recognized Afrikaans and English as official languages. Since then, most Afrikaners have been bilingual. In 1991, when apartheid was eliminated, eleven official languages were recognized.

There are also some 13,000 persons of Asian descent in South Africa who speak Afrikaans as their native language.


Early Afrikaner beliefs and traditions come from three major sources: European colonists, native people, and immigrants from Malaysia and India. Heroes and myths from these groups became intertwined as stories were passed down orally.

Much folklore revolved around Oom (Uncle) Paul Kruger (19251904, the former president of the Afrikaner republic).


Afrikaner religion comes from Protestant practices of the seventeenth-century Reformed Church of Holland. The British brought English-speaking ministers to South Africa in the early 1800s. Next, French settlers brought the ideas of Swiss reformer John Calvin (15091564) to South Africa. Calvin believed the church should influence government policy, and that races should remain pure and separate. This led to the development of a unique brand of Protestantism in South Africa. Government policies on apartheid (separation of the races) were supported by Afrikaners' religious doctrines.


Religious holidays include Christmas (December 25), Good Friday (and the secular Easter Monday, in March or April), and Ascension Day (in April or May). Secular (nonreligious) holidays include New Year's Day and Boxing Day (also known as Goodwill Day, December 26). Political holidays include Founder's Day commemorating the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck (the first governor of the Cape) on April 6, 1652; Republic Day commemorating the establishment of the Union of South Africa on May 31, 1910 (and later the Republic of South Africa on May 31, 1960); Kruger Day, commemorating the birthday of Paul Kruger (18251904, former president) on October 10; and the Day of the Vow, commemorating the day when Afrikaners resisted an attack by Zulu warriors on December 16, 1838.

Traditionally, Afrikaners observed Sunday as a day of rest. Stores and movie theaters were closed, organized sports were not permitted, and very little activity took place. People were expected to attend church services. By the late 1990s, this had changed somewhat, although there is still less activity on Sunday than on other days of the week.


It is the custom for Afrikaner married couples to name their first son after the husband's father and their first daughter after the wife's mother.

Birthdays are celebrated with a party accompanied by the giving of gifts. Almost all infants are baptized. Afrikaner children attend Sunday school where they are required to memorize verses from the Bible. At about age sixteen, young people must take catechism, where they learn the basis of Calvinistic Protestantism. Upon completion of catechism, the young person is confirmed as a church member and takes his or her first communion. In many families, sixteen is also the age when the young person is allowed to begin dating. The twenty-first birthday is a major celebration. The family often presents the son or daughter at age twenty-one with a key that symbolizes adulthood.

Adults celebrate birthdays, frequently with a braai the equivalent of the American barbecue. Death is marked at the family level by mourning and the wearing of black dresses by women, and black ties or a black arm band by men. At church services on New Year's Eve, the front pew is draped in black or purple to remember those who have died during the year, and their names are read aloud.


It is customary to greet each person, including children, with a handshake. Friends and relatives of both genders greet each other with a kiss on the lips. (This practice does not generally apply to males greeting males.) Taking leave involves the same actions and the expression, Totsiens (Till we see [each other] again). In the past, Afrikaners practiced informal gender separation. After a meal, men would visit with each other, smoking and discussing such topics as national affairs or sports. Women talked about homemaking and the children. By the late 1990s, opportunities for women in education and employment had improved, and this practice of separate social conversation had declined.


When Afrikaners controlled the government, most white people lived in luxury, with the best housing (many with swimming pools), schools, and hospitals available to them. Afrikaners controlled the best civil service and other jobs, earned dependable salaries, owned automobiles, and had electricity and telephones in their homes. After apartheid (separation of the races) ended in 1991, this lifestyle was legally available to everyone, regardless of race.


In rural communities, Afrikaner families were large because children represented wealth. Some Afrikaner politicians advocated a policy of large families to assure the position of whites in South Africa. Today Afrikaner families average two or three children. Dogs and cats are favored as pets. Dogs are also bred to protect home and property.

Traditional Afrikaner dating and marriage practices involved a young man courting his girlfriend, and then formally requesting permission from her parents (especially her father) to become engaged. For three Sundays prior to the wedding, the couples' names were read in church. If there were no objections raised (for example, that one was already married to someone else), the marriage was performed in church, with a reception afterward. This practice had become less formal by the 1990s.


Afrikaners dress in modern Western clothing. On holidays and special occasions, traditional clothing may be seen. Boys and men wear shorts with knee socks. Women wear long dresses and bonnets for formal folk dancing called volkspele. Male folk dancing partners wear shirts with vests and long pants.


The everyday meal of the Afrikaner is characterized by an emphasis on meat, starch, and cooked vegetables. Green or fresh salads are rare. Breakfast features some kind of porridge. Away from the coast, Afrikaners learned from the native peoples to make a gruel called stywe pap or putu pap (stiff porridge or putu porridge). It is common to have this porridge for breakfast with milk and sugar, and also to eat it with meat or boerewors (boer sausage, made of beef and pork) at a braai (barbecue). Venison has always formed part of Afrikaner dishes, as grazing animals could be hunted or culled from national parks.

Sosaties (skewered marinated meat similar to shish kebab) is frequently included in a braai. A recipe for bobotie, another favorite dish accompanies this article. Fish has become popular for those living near the ocean. Two foods from pioneer days are still popular among Afrikaners: beskuit and biltong. Beskuit (rusks) are biscuits that have been oven-dried. They are served with coffee. Biltong are strips of dried meat (traditionally, beef or venison; more recently, elephant and ostrich). The biltong are treated with salt, pepper, and spices prior to drying.


Children are required to attend school from age six through age sixteen. Each school has its own colors, and girls and boys wear blazers that display the crest of the school. For girls, the uniform is dress or skirt in the color with a white or matching blouse. Boys wear the same color shirt and pants. During most of the year, boys wear shorts with knee socks. Among Afrikaners, almost everyone attends school and is literate (can read and write). Most Afrikaner students who have completed high school (by passing the national examination) continue their education. They go to a university or to a "technicon," an institute that offers technical training.




  • 2 slices of white bread, torn into pieces
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 tart apple, peeled and chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons golden raisins
  • 3 Tablespoons slivered, blanched almonds
  • 2 Tablespoons curry powder
  • 1½ pounds ground lamb
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 egg yolks


  1. Place ground lamb in a frying pan. Cook over medium heat until browned, stirring frequently.
  2. Combine bread and milk; set aside.
  3. Add onions to the lamb and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Add apples and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Remove bread pieces from milk and add to frying pan. (Save the milk for use in step 7.) Add lemon juice, raisins, almonds, and curry powder.
  5. Preheat oven to 325°f. Transfer lamb mixture to a baking dish.
  6. Insert bay leaves into mixture, and pat the mixture down in the center. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven but do not turn oven off.
  7. Beat eggs yolks and milk (from step 4) together. Pour milk mixture slowly over meat mixture in casserole. Return to oven and bake 25 minutes more.

Adapted from Hillman, Howard. Great Peasant Dishes of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.


Much of Afrikaners' heritage is derived from European cultural traditions. The performing arts all follow the western European model. Some South African themes have been depicted, especially in visual arts.


Most Afrikaners are employed in fields ranging from civil service and education to mining, industry, and business. Afrikaners are the majority of whites in rural areas. Afrikaners believe in hard, industrious work, and their religion reinforces that value. Children are raised with statements such as "Idleness is Satan's pillow," implying that idleness is where temptation to get into trouble can be found.


Television was not permitted in South Africa until the 1960s, so the emphasis was on participating in, rather than watching, sports. Afrikaner children play organized sports starting at an young age. Boys play rugby, cricket, or athletics (track and field). Girls play netball (basketball), field hockey, and also participate in athletics. It is common to see a group of boys on an open field with a tennis or rubber ball playing informal cricket or tossing a ball in a variation of touch football. Girls are more likely to participate only in school or club sports.

Older adults engage in jukskei, a competition from pioneer days. Carved pieces of wood, resembling the yoke pin used on draft animals, are tossed in an attempt to knock over a stake. This resembles the American game of horseshoes.


In the past, Afrikaner young people entertained themselves in folk dances, church-sponsored youth activities, and the bioscope (movies). By the 1990s, it was common for a group of young people to rent videos, gather at a bar or a dance, or go to a disco. It had also become acceptable to socialize with English-speaking persons and members of other ethnic groups.


There has been a clear division of labor based on gender among Afrikaners that carries over to the present. Women are known for quilting, crocheting, and knitting. A beautiful doily with a circle of shells or beads covers every jug of milk. Men are known for woodworking, delicate leather-working, and the making of chairs with seats of interwoven strips of leather.


After the end of apartheid in 1991, Afrikaners still bore a heavy burden for the actions of their ancestors who developed the philosophy that led to apartheid. Not all Afrikaners agreed with the apartheid policy of their government and not all Afrikaners were racist. Yet, Afrikaners bear the stereotype or label. Their challenge in the late 1990s is to find a role for themselves in the new South Africa, known as the Rainbow Nation.


De Klerk, W. A. The Puritans in Africa: A Story of Afrikanerdom. London, England: R. Collins, 1975.

Drury, Allen. A Very Strange Society: A Journey to the Heart of South Africa. New York: Trident, 1967.

Hillman, Howard. Great Peasant Dishes of the World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.


Embassy of South Africa, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

Government of South Africa. [Online], 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. South Africa. [Online] Available, 1998.

Southern African Development Community. South Africa. [Online] Available, 1998.

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ETHNONYM: Trekkers


The Afrikaners are descendants, to a great extent, of Dutch, German, and French Huguenot settlers, and, to a lesser extent, of English, Scottish, Irish, and other settlers of South Africa. The Dutch that was the language of the first White settlers, who arrived in 1652, evolved into Afrikaans, which retained much of the structure and grammar of the original Dutch. In 1986 there were 5,800,000 speakers of Afrikaans in South Africa, of which 3,000,000 were classified as "Whites" and 2,800,000 were classified as "Coloureds" (Grimes 1988). Afrikaners are members of an ethnic group who are predominantly White, speakers of Afrikaans, of Western European descent, politically aligned with the National party, belong to the Dutch Reformed church (NGK), and share a distinctive history with other Afrikaners. The extent to which members share all of these characteristics is variable, but it is widely believed, because of the central importance of language, that speaking Afrikaans is probably the most salient indicator of group membership. Furthermore, because loyalty has been a highly regarded value, political-party affiliation is another category that is frequently used to define the in-group and to challenge potential dissidents.

History and Cultural Relations

Besides language, one of the defining characteristics of Afrikaners is their history. Many of the earlier settlers moved away from Cape Town, in part because of their resistance to Dutch and British rule, but also because of their attraction to their new environment. Their relations with the indigenous populations were mixed. They had generally good relations with the Khoi-khoi (Hottentots) and the San, but there was a mutual distrust and fear between the "trekkers," as the inland settlers came to be called, and the Xhosa. Based on these experiences, as well as a strong Christian (Calvinist) faith, Afrikaners came to believe that the only possible relationship between Blacks and Whites was master to slave or enemy to enemy.

A pivotal event, or series of events, in Afrikaner history was the northeasterly migration of the trekkers, or Voortrekkers (the pioneers). Precipitated by a number of conditions, including the annexation of Cape Town by the British, unpopular British regulations, and the emancipation of slaves, this "Great Trek" began in 1835. The Voortrekkers founded the republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, establishing constitutions that disallowed racial equality in church or state. Along the way, the Voortrekkers defeated the powerful Zulu nation, after its leader, Dingane, killed Pieter Retief and his party while they were his guests. Their deaths were avenged on 16 December 1838 at the Battle of Blood River; the date is now celebrated as a national holiday.

Another important event in Afrikaner history was the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), which was precipitated by conflicts between British gold seekers and Afrikaner farmers. Although the British won this war, it had the effect of creating an Afrikaner nation by providing a reason for Afrikaners of the Cape Colony to unite with Afrikaners who lived inland. The British soon restored self-rule to the two republics and convened a convention to plan the Union of South Africa. There were no Black representatives at the convention, and only White voters were allowed to vote on the ratification of the new constitution of South Africa. The Commonwealth country that was created established a color bar that literally prohibited Blacks or Coloureds from participating as equal members in the society. Britain sanctioned this policy by approving the formation of the Union of South Africa in the British Parliament.

The founding of the National party in 1914 is an important event in Afrikaner history, because that party played a major role in the policy that became known as "apartheid." When General Hertzog, the founder of the party (although later rejected by it), was elected prime minister in 1924, a number of policies were initiated that divided the Afrikaans-speaking people from the English-speaking people, as well as from all other people in the country. Afrikaans superseded Dutch as one of the two official languages. The separation of children by color in the schools became more absolute, and Afrikaners began to predominate in many official organizations, such as the South African Police and the civil service. The most powerful of all Afrikaner bodies at this time was the secret Broederbond (League of Brothers), consisting of the elite, the thinkers, and the philosophers of Afrikanerdom. They planned and worked for radical changes in South African society, which they were able to accomplish when, for the first time, they were able to bring to power one of their own, in 1948. In that year the first candidate, Dr. Daniel François Malan, who had the overwhelming support of the National party, was elected prime minister. His government was dedicated to achieving sovereign independence and the preservation of Afrikanerdom and the White race through apartheid. He began what many believe was a total restructuring of South African society, including the political, social, educational, and cultural separation of races. He carried out this transformation through a series of acts, including the Mixed Marriages Act, which prohibited marriages between the races, the Immorality Act, which prohibited sexual relations between the races, the Group Areas Act, which defined where people of different races could live, and the Population Registration Act, which determined the racial category of every person in the country.


The first settlers of South Africa brought with them a fundamentalist form of Calvinism, which, in the frontier, remained unrefined. Events in African history have acquired a religious significance when the leaders of Afrikaner nationalism used them as evidence of a divine calling for the Afrikaner people. When neo-Calvinists suggested that God reveals himself in nature and in history, Afrikaner revisionists jumped to the conclusions that God must be recognized in all things, and that the will of God was apparent in all things. The existence and development of the Afrikaner people, therefore, is an act of God, and, because God created the nation, the nation must continue. A similar argument often heard in the past was that God had willed that there should be separate nations and races.

Many early Afrikaners identified with the Israelites of the Old Testament and saw a parallel between their history and that of the Jews. Like the Jews, they believed and fought for their right to nationhood and, perhaps to a large extent, believed that they were, like God's chosen people, forbidden to mix with others not of their blood.

The Dutch Reformed church, clearly the dominant one among Afrikaners, is distinct from other Protestant churches in that its theology is Calvinist in principle; more important, it supports political policies of the National party. By the time the Afrikaner government came to power in 1948, the NGK had lost contact with the original teachings of Calvin and, in so doing, conveniently provided the theological foundation for apartheid. The National party's policies led to the elevation of apartheid to a civil religion in which the secular notions of volk, culture, and politics became prominent features, and the NGK became a virtual puppet of the National party government, often providing scriptural support for apartheid.

The events that occurred in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, which were primarily of a political naturethe freeing of Nelson Mandela from prison, his election as president, and the dismantling of apartheidwill provide a challenge to the survival of the Afrikaners as an ethnic group in the years to come. Because Afrikaners are fiercely loyal and they have expressed their loyalty to the National party, which supported apartheid policies, how they will respond as a group to the dismantling of apartheid will perhaps be a key factor in their survival as an ethnic group. If they cling to a minority view and make that view a necessary part of their identity, as they have in the past, Afrikaners may dissolve into nothing more than a political party. If, on the other hand, they can remain an endogamous group while accepting antiapartheid or non-National party views, their survival as an ethnic group will be more likely.


Adam, Heribert, ed. ( 1983). South Africa: The Limits of Reform Politics. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Adam, Heribert, and Hermann Giliomee (1979). Ethnic Power Mobilized: Can South Africa Change? New Haven: Yale University Press.

February, Vernon (1991). The Afrikaners of South Africa. London: Kegan Paul International.

Giliomee, Hermann (1989). "Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850-1915." In Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Grimes, Barbara E (1988). Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Harrison, David (1982). The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa in Perspective. London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Kaplan, Irving, and Harold D. Nelson (1980). "Religious Life." In South Africa: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army.

Leach, Graham (1989). The Afrikaners: Their Last Great Trek. London: Macmillan.

Louw-Potgieter, Joha (1988). Afrikaner Dissidents: A Social Psychological Study of Identity and Dissent. Clevedon, Eng.: Multilingual Matters.

Munger, Edwin S., ed. (1979). The Afrikaners. Cape Town: Tafelberg.

Perry, John, and Cassandra Perry ( 1985). "Tinkering with Tradition: Apartheid and Change in South Africa." Canberra Anthropology 8(1-2): 4-31.


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Afrikaner (Boer, farmer) Descendant of the predominantly Dutch settlers in South Africa. Afrikaners first settled around the Cape region in the 17th century. To avoid British control, the Afrikaners spread n and e from the Cape in the Great Trek and founded the independent South African Republic (Transvaal) and Orange Free State. Defeat in the South African Wars (1899–1902) led to the republics merging in the Union of South Africa (1910). See also Cape Province

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Af·ri·ka·ner / ˌafriˈkänər/ • n. an Afrikaans-speaking person in South Africa, esp. one descended from the Dutch and Huguenot settlers of the 17th century. DERIVATIVES: Af·ri·ka·ner·dom / -dəm/ n.

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Afrikaner (earlier also Afrikander) white native of S. Africa. XIX. — Afrikaans, earlier (Cape) Du. Afrikaander, f. Afrikaan (sb.) African + -der, pers. suff. after Hollander Dutchman.
So Afrikaans XX. var. of Afrikaansch.

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AfrikanerAlana, Anna, bandanna, banner, Branagh, canna, canner, Diana, fanner, Fermanagh, Guyana, Hannah, Havana, hosanna, Indiana, Joanna, lanner, Louisiana, manna, manner, manor, Montana, nana, planner, Pollyanna, Rosanna, savannah, scanner, spanner, Susanna, tanner •Abner • Jaffna • Patna • caravanner •Africana, Afrikaner, Americana, ana, banana, Botswana, bwana, cabana, caragana, Christiana, Dana, darner, Edwardiana, garner, Georgiana, Ghana, Gloriana, Guiana, gymkhana, Haryana, iguana, Lana, lantana, liana, Lipizzaner, Ljubljana, Mahayana, mana, mañana, marijuana, nirvana, Oriana, pacarana, piranha, prana, Purana, Rosh Hashana, Santayana, Setswana, sultana, Tatiana, Tijuana, Tirana, tramontana, Tswana, varna, Victoriana, zenana •Gardner • partner •antenna, Avicenna, duenna, henna, Jenna, Jenner, Morwenna, Ravenna, senna, Siena, sienna, tenner, tenor, Vienna •Edna • interregna • Etna • Pevsner

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