Though many readers may be familiar with the apartheid era of the 1990s, and the stirring activism of Nelson Mandela, they may not know about South Africa’s longer history and why the country has experienced, and is still experiencing, so much racial strife. We will take a deeper look at the Boers in order to provide insight into The Smell of Apples, particularly Dad’s comments and the Erasmus family’s history.
The term Boer is Dutch for “farmer” or “husbandman.” The Dutch East India Company gave Jan van Riebeeck the task of establishing a shipping station on the Cape of Good Hope, which he accomplished in 1652. Dutch immigrants came to the region and formed Cape Colony. The colony prospered, but eventually there were few opportunities for whites in the area to have economic autonomy and stability. Some began moving out of the area, and were given the name of trekboers.
The Boers saw the indigenous African people as impediments to their own success, and fought frequent range battles and wars with them. They believed, as Calvinists, that it was their God-given destiny to settle in this pagan wilderness and to exercise their authority over the benighted black population. The Boers and their urban countrymen both spoke Afrikaans, a language mixed of Ditch, indigenous African, and others.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the British took over the Cape Colony to prevent the French from doing so. The Boers soon began to resent British rule, especially those policies that freed slaves. In the period of 1835-1843, over 12,000 Boers left in what was deemed the Great Trek, heading for the high veld and southern Natal. The British government recognized their independence in the Transvaal in 1852, and the Vaal-Orange river area in 1854; respectively, those areas became the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. Both of these areas began implementing apartheid, or racial separation. Fighting was especially intense with the Xhosa people, who ardently tried to defend their land.
When diamonds and gold were discovered in the region in 1867, it was only a matter of time before war between the Dutch and the British would break out. The British were concerned with the Boers’ refusal to give rights to the Uitlanders (immigrants, mostly British) to the Transvaal gold and diamond fields. Fighting began in 1899 and was characterized by brutal guerilla warfare and the British use of concentration camps for the Boers. The Boers surrendered to the British in 1902.
The Boer states were reabsorbed into British South Africa, but retained their language and culture.
In the early 21st century, these Boers, now called Afrikaners, make up about 60% of the white population of South Africa.