Boer family in 1886
|approx. 1.5 million.|
|Related ethnic groups|
Boer (;Afrikaans: [bu:r]) is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for "farmer". As used in South Africa, it was used to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century. For a long time the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but it was eventually taken over by the United Kingdom and incorporated into the British Empire.
In addition, the term was also applied to those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal (which are together known as the Boer Republics), and to a lesser extent Natal. They left the Cape primarily to escape British rule and get away from the constant border wars between the British imperial government and the indigenous peoples on the eastern frontier.
The Dutch East India Company had been formed in the Dutch Republic in 1602, and the Dutch had entered keenly into the competition for the colonial and imperial trade of commerce in Southeast Asia. In 1648 one of their ships was stranded in Table Bay, and the shipwrecked crew had to forage for themselves on shore for several months. They were so impressed with the natural resources of the country that on their return to the Republic, they represented to the directors of the company the great advantages to the Dutch Eastern trade to be had from a properly provided and fortified station of call at the Cape. The result was that in 1652, a Dutch expedition led by surgeon Jan van Riebeek constructed a fort and laid out vegetable gardens at Table Bay.
Landing at Table Bay, Van Riebeek took control over Cape Town, the settlement developed during the previous 10 years. In 1671 the Dutch first purchased land from the native Khoikhoi beyond the limits of the fort built by Van Riebeek; this marked the development of the Colony proper. The earliest colonists were for the most part people of low station; but, as the result of the investigations of a 1685 commissioner, the government worked to recruit a greater variety of immigrants to develop a stable community. They formed a class of "vrijlieden", also known as "vrijburgers" (free citizens), former Company employees who remained at the Cape after serving their contracts. A large number of vrijburgers became independent farmers and applied for grants of land, as well as loans of seed and tools, from the Company administration.
More settlers were landed from time to time, including a number of orphan girls from Amsterdam, and during 1688-1689, the colony was greatly strengthened by the arrival of nearly two hundred French Huguenots. Political refugees from the religious wars in France, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, they were settled at Stellenbosch, Drakenstein, Franschhoek and Paarl. The influence of this small body of immigrants on the character of the Dutch settlers was marked. The Company in 1701 directed that only Dutch should be taught in the schools. This resulted in the Huguenots assimilating by the middle of the 18th century, with a loss to the community in the use and knowledge of French. The little settlement gradually spread eastwards, and in 1754 the country as far as Algoa Bay was included in the colony.
At this time the European (white) colonists numbered eight to ten thousand. They possessed numerous slaves, grew wheat in sufficient quantity to make it a commodity crop for export, and were famed for the good quality of their wines. But their chief wealth was in cattle. They enjoyed considerable prosperity.
Through the latter half of the 17th and the whole of the 18th century, troubles arose between the colonists and the government. The administration of the Dutch East India Company was extremely despotic. Its policies were not directed at development of the colony, but to using it to profit the Company. The Company closed the colony against free immigration, kept the whole of the trade in its own hands, combined the administrative, legislative and judicial powers in one body, prescribed to the farmers the nature of the crops they were to grow, demanded a large part of their produce as a kind of tax, and made other exactions.
From time to time, servants in the direct employment of the company were endowed with the right of "freeburghers"; but the company retained the power to compel them to return into its service whenever they deemed it necessary. This right to force into servitude those who might incur the displeasure of the governor or other high officers was not only exercised with reference to the individuals themselves who had received this conditional freedom; it was claimed by the government to be applicable likewise to the children of all such.
The effect of this tyranny was inevitable: it drove men to desperation. They fled from oppression, and even before 1700 trekking began. In 1780, Joachim van Plettenberg, the governor, proclaimed the Sneeuberge to be the northern boundary of the colony, expressing "the anxious hope that no more extension should take place, and with heavy penalties forbidding the rambling peasants to wander beyond." In 1789, so strong had feeling amongst the burghers become that delegates were sent from the Cape to interview the authorities at Amsterdam. After this deputation, some nominal reforms were granted.
It was largely to escape oppression that the farmers trekked farther and farther from the seat of government. The company, to control the emigrants, established a magistracy at Swellendam in 1745 and another at Graaff Reinet in 1786. The Gamtoos River had been declared, c. 1740, the eastern frontier of the colony; but it was soon passed. In 1780, however, the Dutch, to avoid collision with the warlike Bantu tribes advancing south and west from east central Africa, agreed with them to make the Great Fish River the common boundary. In 1795 the heavily taxed burghers of the frontier districts, who were afforded no protection against the Bantus, expelled the officials of the Dutch East India Company, and set up independent governments at Swellendam and Graaff Reinet.
The Trek Boers of the 19th century were the lineal descendants of the Trek Boers of the 18th century. What they had learnt of government from the Dutch East India Company they carried into the wilderness with them. The end of the 19th century saw a revival of this same tyrannical monopolist policy in the Transvaal. If the formula, "In all things political, purely despotic; in all things commercial, purely monopolist," was true of the government of the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century, it was equally true of Kruger's government in the latter part of the 19th.
The underlying fact which made the trek possible is that the Dutch-descended colonists in the eastern and northeastern parts of the colony were not cultivators of the soil, but of purely pastoral and nomadic habits, ever ready to seek new pastures for their flocks and herds, and possessing no special affection for any particular locality. These people, thinly scattered over a wide territory, had lived for so long with little restraint from law that when, in 1815, by the institution of "Commissions of Circuit," justice was brought nearer to their homes, various offences were brought to light, the remedying of which caused much resentment.
Evolution of the Dutch Cape Colony (1700-1800)
In 1795, Holland having fallen under the revolutionary government of France, a British force under General Sir James Henry Craig was sent to Cape Town to secure the colony for the Prince of Orange, a refugee in England , from the French. The governor of Cape Town at first refused to obey the instructions from the prince; but, when the British proceeded to take forcible possession, he capitulated. His action was hastened by the fact that the Khoikhoi, deserting their former masters, flocked to the British standard. The burghers of Graaff Reinet did not surrender until a force had been sent against them; in 1799 and again in 1801 they rose in revolt. In February 1803, as a result of the peace of Amiens (February 1803), the colony was handed over to the Batavian Republic, which introduced many needed reforms, as had the British during their eight years' rule. One of the first acts of General Craig had been to abolish torture in the administration of justice. Still the country remained essentially Dutch, and few British settlers were attracted to it. Its cost to the British exchequer during this period was £16,000,000. The Batavian Republic entertained very liberal views as to the administration of the country, but they had little opportunity for giving them effect.
War having broken out in 1803, a British force was once more sent to the Cape. After an engagement (January 1806) on the shores of Table Bay, the Dutch garrison of Cape Castle surrendered to the British under Sir David Baird, and in 1814 the colony was ceded outright by Holland to the British crown. At that time the colony extended to the line of mountains guarding the vast central plateau, then called Bushmansland, and had an area of about 120,000 sq. m. and a population of some 60,000, of whom 27,000 were whites, 17,000 free Khoikhoi and the rest slaves, mostly imported blacks and Malays.
Although the colony was fairly prosperous, many of the Dutch farmers were as dissatisfied with British rule as they had been with that of the Dutch East India Company, though their grounds for complaint were not the same. In 1792 Moravian missions had been established for the benefit of the Khoikhoi, and in 1799 the London Missionary Society began work among both Khoikhoi and Bantus. The missionaries' championing of Khoikhoi grievances caused much dissatisfaction among the majority of the colonists, whose views temporarily prevailed, for in 1812 an ordinance was issued which empowered magistrates to bind Khoikhoi children as apprentices under conditions differing little from that of slavery. Meantime, however, the movement for the abolition of slavery was gaining strength in England, and the missionaries appealed from the colonists to the mother country. An incident which occurred in 1815-1816 did much to make permanent the hostility of the frontiersmen to the British.
A farmer named Frederick Bezuidenhout refused to obey a summons issued on the complaint of a Khoikhoi, and, firing on the party sent to arrest him, was himself killed by the return fire. This caused a small rebellion, known as Slachters Nek, in 1815, called "the most insane attempt ever made by a set of men to wage war against their sovereign" (Henry Cloete). Upon its suppression five ringleaders were publicly hanged at the spot where they had sworn to expel "the English tyrants." The feeling caused by the hanging of these men was deepened by the circumstances of the execution , for the scaffold on which the rebels were simultaneously hanged broke down from their united weight and the men were afterwards hanged one by one. An ordinance was passed in 1827, abolishing the old Dutch courts of landroost and heemraden (resident magistrates being substituted) and establishing that henceforth all legal proceedings should be conducted in English. The granting in 1828, as a result of the representations of the missionaries, of equal rights with whites to the Khoikhoi and other free coloured people, the imposition (1830) of heavy penalties for harsh treatment of slaves, and finally the emancipation of the slaves in 1834, were measures which combined to aggravate the farmers' dislike of government. Moreover, the inadequate compensation awarded to slave-owners, and the suspicions engendered by the method of payment, caused much resentment; and in 1835 the farmers again removed to unknown country to escape an unloved government. Emigration beyond the colonial border had in fact been continuous for 150 years, but it now took on larger proportions.
Probably the most powerful motive of the Great Trek was the equality between the black and white races, as proposed by the British. The Boers considered such an equality to be intolerable. This sentiment, which found formal recognition later on in the constitution of the South African Republic, was held in fullest force by the voortrekkers. The exasperation caused by just grievances unremedied was no stronger a motive with the trekkers than the desire to be free from the restraints imposed on British subjects and the wish to be able to deal with the natives after their own fashion.
The year which witnessed the emancipation of the slaves and the creation of the first treaty state also saw the beginning of another disastrous Frontier war. Fighting began in December 1834, and lasted nearly a year. The Xhosa wrought great havoc; and Sir Benjamin D'Urban, the governor, in order to secure peace, extended the boundary of the colony to the Kei River. The Xhosa had suffered much injustice, especially from the commando-reprisal system, but they had also committed many injustices, and the vacillating policy of the Cape government was largely to blame for the disturbed state of the border. Sir Benjamin's policy , which had support of both Dutch and British colonists , was one of close settlement by whites in certain districts and military control of the Bantus in other regions, and it would have done much to ensure peace.
Lord Glenelg, secretary for the colonies in Lord Melbourne's second administration, held that the Xhosa were in the right in the quarrel, and he compelled D'Urban to abandon the conquered territory, an unwise decision adopted largely on the advice of John Philip and his supporters. By 1836 a critical state had arisen in South Africa. The colonists had lost their slaves, the eastern frontier was in a state of insecurity, the British immigrants of 1820 were still struggling against heavy odds, and the Dutch colonists were in a state of great indignation.
The Great Trek occurred between 1835 and the early 1840s. During that period some 12,000 to 14,000 Boers (including women and children), impatient of British rule, emigrated from Cape Colony into the great plains beyond the Orange River, and across them again into Natal and the vastness of the Zoutspansberg, in the northern part of the Transvaal. Those Trekboere who occupied the eastern Cape were semi-nomadic. A significant number in the eastern Cape frontier later became Grensboere ("border farmers") who were the direct ancestors of the Voortrekkers.
Though the Boers accepted British rule without resistance in 1877, they fought two Boer Wars in the late 19th century to defend their internationally recognised independent countries, the republics of the Transvaal (the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, or ZAR) and the Orange Free State (OFS), against the threat of annexation by the British Crown. This led the key figure in organising the resistance, Paul Kruger, into conflict with the British.
After the second Anglo-Boer War, a Boer diaspora occurred. Starting in 1903, the largest group emigrated to the Patagonia region of Argentina. Another group emigrated to British-ruled 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 and to New Mexico and Texas in the southwestern United States.
The Maritz Rebellion (also known as the Boer Revolt, the Five Shilling Rebellion or the Third Boer War) occurred in 1914 at the start of World War I, in which men who supported the re-creation of the old Boer republics rose up against the government of the Union of South Africa because they did not want to side with the British against Germany so soon after a long bloody war with the British. Many Boers had German ancestry and many members of the government were themselves former Boer military leaders who had fought with the Maritz rebels against the British in the Second Boer War. The rebellion was put down by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, and the ringleaders received heavy fines and terms of imprisonment. One, Jopie Fourie, was convicted for treason when, as an officer in the Union Defence Force, he refused to take up arms with the British, and was executed in 1914.
The desire to wander, known as trekgees, was a notable characteristic of the Boers. It figured prominently in the late 17th century when the Trekboere began to inhabit the northern and eastern Cape frontiers, again during the Great Trek when the Voortrekkers left the eastern Cape en masse, and after the major republics were established during the Thirstland (Dorsland) Trek. When one such trekker was asked why he has emigrated he explained, "a drifting spirit was in our hearts, and we ourselves could not understand it. We just sold our farms and set out northwestwards to find a new home." A rustic characteristic and tradition was developed quite early on as Boer society was born on the frontiers of white settlement and on the outskirts of civilisation.
The separation and declaration of the republics were made out of necessity rather than a personal choice. The Dutch were unwilling to protect the people they abandoned at the Cape of Good Hope.
The Boer quest for independence manifested in a tradition of declaring republics, which predates the arrival of the British; when the British arrived, Boer republics had already been declared and were in rebellion from the VOC (Dutch East India Company).
The Boers of the frontier were known for their independent spirit, resourcefulness, hardiness, and self-sufficiency, whose political notions verged on anarchy but had begun to be influenced by republicanism. Most of the men were also skilled with the use of guns as they would hunt and also were able to protect their families with them.
The Boers had cut their ties to Europe as they emerged from the Trekboer group.
The Boers possessed a distinct Calvinist culture and the majority of Boers and their descendants were members of a Reformed Church. The Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk was the national Church of the South African Republic (1852-1902). The "Orange" in Orange Free State (1854-1902) was named after the Protestant House of Orange in the Netherlands.
The Calvinist influence, in such fundamental Calvinist doctrines such as unconditional predestination and divine providence, remains present in much of Boer culture, who see their role in society as abiding by the national laws and accepting calamity and hardship as part of their Christian duty.
During recent times, mainly during the apartheid reform and post-1994 eras, some white Afrikaans-speaking people, mainly with "conservative" political views and of Trekboer and Voortrekker descent, have chosen to be called "Boere", rather than "Afrikaners," to distinguish their identity. They believe that many people of Voortrekker descent were not assimilated into what they see as the Cape-based Afrikaner identity. They suggest that this developed after the Second Anglo-Boer War and the subsequent establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. Certain Boer nationalists have asserted that they do not identify as a right-wing element of the political spectrum.
They contend that the Boers of the South African Republic (ZAR) and Orange Free State republics were recognised as a separate people or cultural group under international law by the Sand River Convention (which created the South African Republic in 1852), the Bloemfontein Convention (which created the Orange Free State Republic in 1854), the Pretoria Convention (which re-established the independence of the South African Republic 1881), the London Convention (which granted the full independence to the South African Republic in 1884), and the Vereeniging Peace Treaty, which formally ended the Second Anglo-Boer War on 31 May 1902. Others contend, however, that these treaties dealt only with agreements between governmental entities and do not imply the recognition of a Boer cultural identity per se.
The supporters of these views feel that the Afrikaner designation (or label) was used from the 1930s onwards as a means of unifying (politically at least) the white Afrikaans speakers of the Western Cape with those of Trekboer and Voortrekker descent (whose ancestors began migrating eastward during the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century and later northward during the Great Trek of the 1830s) in the north of South Africa, where the Boer Republics were established.
Since the Anglo-Boer war, the term "Boerevolk" was rarely used in the 20th century by the various regimes because of the effort to assimilate the Boerevolk with the Afrikaners. A portion of those who are the descendants of the Boerevolk have reasserted use of this designation.
The supporters of the "Boer" designation view the term "Afrikaner" as an artificial political label which usurped their history and culture, turning "Boer" achievements into "Afrikaner" achievements. They feel that the Western-Cape based Afrikaners - whose ancestors did not trek eastwards or northwards - took advantage of the republican Boers' destitution following the Anglo-Boer War. At that time, the Afrikaners attempted to assimilate the Boers into a new politically based cultural label as "Afrikaners".
In contemporary South Africa, Boer and Afrikaner have often been used interchangeably. The Boers are the smaller segment within the Afrikaner designation, as the Afrikaners of Cape Dutch origin are more numerous. Afrikaner directly translated means "African," and thus refers to all Afrikaans-speaking people in Africa who have their origins in the Cape Colony founded by Jan Van Riebeeck. Boer is the specific group within the larger Afrikaans-speaking population.
The BCVO (Movement for Christian-National Education) is a federation of 47 Calvinist private schools, primarily in the Free State and the Transvaal, committed to educating Boer children from grade 0 through to 12.
Some local Radio stations promote the ideals of those who identify with the Boer people, like Radio Rosestad (in Bloemfontein), Overvaal Stereo and Radio Pretoria. An internet-based radio station, Boerevolk Radio, serves as a mouthpiece for Boer separatists.
Participants in the Second Anglo-Boer War
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