ALTERNATE NAMES: Boers
LOCATION: Republic of South Africa
POPULATION: About 3.3 million
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 region—about 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 groups—French, German, and English speakers—settled 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 (1925–1904, 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 (1509–1564) 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 (1825–1904, 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.
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.
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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.
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