History Afrikaner2

Published on November 24th, 2012


The Origin of the Afrikaners

By Tor G. Jakobsen

Afrikaners were once the dominant ethnic group in South Africa, and are still considered one of the corner stones of the new South Africa. In sum, they number about three million worldwide, the lion’s share residing in southern Africa including Namibia and Zambia.

These Dutch-sounding people with European appearance have made their mark on the world scene as well. Most readers know of the actress Charlize Theron who has won both the Academy Award

and the Golden Globe for best actress. She is originally from the Transvaal province of South Africa, and her great-great-uncle Danie Theron was a major figure in the Boer War.

When it comes to science the name Christiaan Barnard springs to mind. After several years of testing animal heart transplants he finally performed the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967. Barnard became an international superstar, though he never received the Nobel Prize for his contribution to medicine. This he later blamed on the international reputation of the South African Regime.

Who are the Afrikaners?

The first Europeans came to settle in South Africa in 1652. They arrived in what is today the city of Cape Town.

This colony was founded By Johan Anthonisz van Riebeeck. In ten years the European population at the Cape counted 243 heads. In the start all male immigrants were single Dutch males, most of these are described as being of a peasant background, or being laborers employed by the Dutch East India Company as sailors or soldiers. Few free men of the Netherland would choose to emigrate unless it was of the uttermost necessity due to poverty or hunger. From the Dutch settlers came surnames like Vorster, Botha, Coetzee, Merwe, and Jacobs.

In 1688 a group of French Huguenot families arrived, their numbers totaled at 180 persons. These were people fleeing religious persecution following the 30-years war in Europe. This influence is why many South Africans today have French sounding names, like Blignaut, Cronje, de Klerk, de Villiers, and du Plessis.

Apart from these, the female share of the settlers was of Dutch origin. In the 18th century most new arrivals were German males, who had entered a ship in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or any other Dutch harbor. From the German contingent came names like Kruger, Pretorius, Smit, and Schoeman.

Even so, it was Holland rather than Germany that influenced the Cape settlement. There was also an element of racial mixing, mainly due to the gender imbalance within the white population. One could often see marriages between white men and colored women of a fair complexion.

So in sum, todays Afrikaners can be said to mainly a Dutch-German mixture, with a solid presence of French Huguenots, and also drops of other European groups as well as around five percent of none-white ancestry.


Further reading:

Giliomee, H. (2003). The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. London: Hurst & Company.

Le May, G. H. (1995). The Afrikaners: A Political History. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


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2 Responses to The Origin of the Afrikaners

  1. Interesting article. Thanks!

    Afrikaners have a rich history. There’s is so much more to Apartheid, yet sadly, people with limited information seems to only know this part of history. They might be surprised what they find that is much more interesting. Then again, propaganda sells for those who want to favour a certain view.


  2. Chris says:

    The term Afrikaner was first used by the followers of Lukas Afrikaner. He was of part white part khoi(indigenous Cape people) ancestry. The many white males at the Cape took khoi for wives and later also married freed slave women of Malay and Malagasy origin. Many of these people moved north and married into the Nama/Griqua(Khoi Khoi) who reside in present day Southern Namibia and Northern Cape of South Africa.
    Because the Afrikaner clan were also descended from Khoi khoi, they became the protectors of the Nama(Khoi). For 100 years the non indigenous Herero from the north pushed the Nama southwards.
    When Lukas Afrikaner became ruler of the Nama he stopped the Herero intrusion and the horse riding marksmen of the Afrikaners kept their land safe.

    For 100 years the five generations of the Afrikaner dynasty had a nation called ‘Transorangia’ which is now part of present day central Namibia. They founded the city Windhoek with gardens, a church, schools, and traded there with Hereros.
    They built a road to the west coast and through the mountains.

    A British merchant called Frederick Green then armed the Hereros heavily to weaken the Afrikaners for his business interests.
    This signalled the demise of Transorangia along with further infighting.

    The Afrikaners descendants live today but were classified as coloureds(British term) later.
    They gave the name ‘Afrikaner’ to the peoples who speak the language.

    Many people do not know that Afrikaners also descend from the khoi(indigenous Cape people).
    Along with Flemish and Dutch the Afrikaans language also has words and grammar from khoi Nama and Malay.

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