Afrikaners, formerly known as Boers are a South African cultural group that descended from Europeans. Afrikaners speak Afrikaans as their native language. Afrikaner language, customs, and religion were shaped by more than three centuries of harsh frontier life.
Dutch settlers first came to South Africa in 1652, settling at the southern tip of the continent, where they founded the city of Cape Town. They later intermarried with German immigrants and Huguenot (French Protestant) refugees to create the early Afrikaner population. The Afrikaners developed exclusionary policies toward the black Khoikhoi and Bantu peoples who lived in the region. By the time of the British Occupation in 1795, they had dispossessed most of the original inhabitants.
The British permanently took over the Cape colony in 1814 and introduced reforms, including legal protection for the Khoikhoi and the abolition of slavery. Many Afrikaners refused to live under British rule. In a series of migrations in the 1830s and 1840s, which became known as the Great Trek, more than 10,000 Afrikaners moved to inland areas beyond the reach of British laws. There they established the Orange Free State and The South African Republic (the Transvaal) as independent republics. British attempts to annex the Afrikaner republics resulted in the Boer War (1899-1902). Defeated in the war, the Afrikaner republics were absorbed by the British-controlled Union of South Africa in 1910. Afrikaners controlled the government of South Africa between 1910 and 1994. In 1948 they began the policy of apartheid (rigid separation of the races). Condemned by world opinion, apartheid laws were repealed in the early 1990s, as the government began a transition to majority rule. Afrikaner dominance of the government ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa.
Afrikaners constituted over half of the white population of South Africa and about 8 percent of the country’s total population. Although the vast majority now lives in cities, most Afrikaners lived in rural areas until the Boer War. Most Afrikaners belong to the Dutch Reformed Church, which teaches doctrines derived from Calvinism. Among these beliefs is the idea that God reserves salvation for a predetermined group of individuals. Traditionally the Afrikaners have seen themselves as God’s chosen people. The success of the Great Trek, which is reenacted every year by Afrikaners, is seen as a sign of God’s special favor. These religious beliefs contributed to the development of Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid in the twentieth century. Although most Afrikaners supported South Africa’s transition to majority rule in the 1990s, other Afrikaners formed the core of white opposition to democratic government. A small minority of Afrikaners continue to campaign for an independent Afrikaner homeland.