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Afrikaners in South Africa - Overview and History

The Afrikaners are a South African ethnic group who are descended from 17th century Dutch, German, and French settlers to South Africa. The Afrikaners slowly developed their own language and culture when they came into contact with Africans and Asians. The word “Afrikaners” means “Africans” in Dutch. About three million people out of South Africa’s total population of 42 million identify themselves as Afrikaners.

The Afrikaners have impacted South African history tremendously, and their culture has spread across the world.

In 1652, Dutch emigrants first settled in South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope in order to establish a station where ships traveling to the Dutch East Indies (currently Indonesia) could rest and resupply. French Protestants, German mercenaries, and other Europeans joined the Dutch in South Africa. The Afrikaners are also known as the “Boers,” the Dutch word for “farmers.” To aid them in agriculture, the Europeans imported slaves from places like Malaysia and Madagascar while enslaving some local tribes, such as the Khoikhoi and San.

For 150 years, the Dutch were the predominant foreign influence in South Africa. However, in 1795, Britain gained control of South Africa. Many British government officials and citizens settled in South Africa.

The British angered the Afrikaners by freeing their slaves. Due to the end of slavery, border wars with natives, and the need for more fertile farmland, in the 1820s, many Afrikaner “Voortrekkers” began to migrate northward and eastward into the interior of South Africa. This journey became known as the “Great Trek.” The Afrikaners founded the independent republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

However, many indigenous groups resented the intrusion of the Afrikaners upon their land. After several wars, the Afrikaners conquered some of the land and farmed peacefully until gold was discovered in their republics in the late 19th century.

The British quickly learned about the rich natural resources in the Afrikaner republics. Afrikaner and