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1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
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Ethnic Revivals in the Free State and the Transvaal 1890–1915

In the Free State the sway of patriarchal leaders began to break down in the 1880s. The land had filled up much more evenly than in the Transvaal. There were few notables who could flaunt the authority of the central government as could occur north of the Vaal. A relatively modern state, free from anarchy and graft, was in place by 1890. With the opening of the gold fields in 1886 South Africa's economic point of gravity shifted towards the Transvaal. The Free State now began to move out of the Cape's economic orbit and directed itself politically and economically towards the Transvaal. The British imperial aggression against the Transvaal was seen by the Free State as an attack on its own autonomy, for which it was prepared to go to war in 1899.

However, even before the war there were signs of a more vigorous ethnic self-awareness being cultivated by an alliance of intellectuals and commercializing farmers. During the 1890s ethnic entrepreneurs saw the Free State as being under attack economically as well as politically. Unable to adapt to the market created by the gold fields, many subsistence farmers in the northern and eastern Free State sold out to English-speaking farmers who produced commercially for the market. M.T. Steyn, who became president in 1895, warned the Free State burghers that if this continued their sons would in due course become tenants on their fathers' land.[94] After the languid 1880s, during which the British had been generally conciliatory to the republics, politics seemed to come alive in the 1890s, as tension with the British increased. Debating societies and farmers' associations sprang up in many towns. In 1896 the OVS Boeren Beschermen (Orange Free State Farmers' Protection Society) presented itself to Steyn as the 'national party' and requested lower taxes and improved labour legislation. One of its offshoots was the Vrystaatse Jongelingsvereeniging (Free State Youth Society), which expressed the need for a journal that would expound an 'Afrikaner nationality . . . and would use no other language than Afrikaans or Dutch'. They wanted this nationality to be like a wall around them to protect them


against foreign intrusion.[95] In the build-up to war, Steyn, who had married an English-speaking woman and easily moved in the bi-cultural society of Bloemfontein, also began to fear the demise of his state and his people. He stressed the vital importance of language: "The language is the people and if we neglect our language we would have to expect the gradual atrophy of our national existence.'[96]

After the Anglo-Boer War, Hertzog would make ethnic politics the cornerstone of his Orangia Unie movement. In a colony where the great majority of the white population was Dutch/Afrikaans-speaking there was little need for a party devoted to reconciliation with the English on the model of the Cape's Afrikaner Bond. Reconciliation was in any case made extremely difficult by the devastation of the war and an aggressive post-war British administration which closed down Dutch private schools and compensated for this only by minimal concessions towards Dutch-medium education in the state schools. The sentiment expressed by many Free State English-speakers that they were Afrikaners—but not Boers—began to fade away. A politically active ethnic consciousness, with Hertzog as its champion, was thus intensified by the experiences of the war and the British assault on language and culture. Yet Hertzog did not develop a coherent ethnic ideology. Even after his breakaway from the South African Party in 1912 he used the term 'Afrikaner' both in its exclusive sense and in Hofmeyr's inclusive sense.[97] When and from whom he adopted his policy of the segregation of whites and blacks and of Afrikaner cultural separatism has not yet been properly investigated. But both in Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom intellectuals had been attracted to these ideas before Hertzog thought of breaking away. Hertzog himself remained an ambiguous leader, uniting people behind him on a basis of personal loyalty rather than through deeply shared convictions. This was true in 1913 when Hertzog led the Free State out of the South African Party and in 1933 when he merged his National Party with the pro-Empire South African Party of Smuts.

The development of Afrikaner ethnicity as a political force took a different course in the Transvaal. In the 1890s there was a growing commitment in the independent Transvaal to promote the Afrikaner and republican character of the state. There were, of course, political divisions among the burghers. On the one hand, there was the conservative faction of traditional Boers, headed by Kruger. On the other, there were the 'progressives' representing progressive commercial farmers and a new generation of better-educated professionals and civil servants, the most able and senior of whom came from the Cape.

To some extent, this division was once again between an exclusive and inclusive conception of nation and state building. Kruger and his followers put a low premium upon education and bitterly resented the use of English in schools as something which undermined the national culture. As a Transvaal nationalist, he was reluctant to enter any alliances that might possibly compromise the state. Even when, after the Jameson Raid, the Free State proposed closer unity between the two republics Kruger waited eight months to respond. The 'progressives', on the other hand, were more inclined than Kruger to regard 'patriotic' Uitlanders as potential burghers and Afrikaners. They were modernizers who attacked the nepotism, corruption, incompetence and maladministration under Kruger's patriarchal state and proposed thorough-going reforms. But they could be equally exclusivist, and this was especially evident in their attacks on the Dutchmen appointed by Kruger to senior positions in the civil service. It is notable that in their opposition to Kruger, the 'progressives' took care to distance themselves from the Uitlanders and presented themselves as acting in the best interests of local Afrikaner society.[98]


The Jameson Raid and the impending war produced a closing of political ranks and ended any chance of the 'progressives' toppling Kruger as president. Yet during the war the Transvaal leadership changed drastically. The older generation of patriarchs and incompetents yielded to a new class of leaders, much more efficient and successful agriculturally, professionally, and militarily than their predecessors. Identified with the pre-war opposition, they were recruited from wealthy landowners, such as Louis Botha, Schalk Burger and Koos de la Rey, and professional men, such as Jan Smuts, Christiaan Beyers and Louis Esselen. It was this new leadership who took charge of the politics of reconstruction after the war's end in 1902. Against the background of a devastated countryside and acute poverty, they saw their first task as building an ethnic political base in a situation where Dutch-Afrikaners formed half of the white population but only a third of the potential voters. The development of a politically articulated ethnic consciousness was greatly facilitated by the post-war policies of the British administration under Lord Milner. Instead of reconciliation, Milner deliberately used education to shape imperial citizens. Yet, despite this, he made no attempt to exploit in Britain's interest the class and ideological divisions among Dutch-Afrikaners by diverting government resources to the patronage of the bywoner class who had supported Britain in the war. The political expression of ethnic awareness was also fostered by the constitutions which Britain granted first to the self-governing Transvaal colony and then to the Union of South Africa. White manhood suffrage meant that it was in the interest of the Dutch-Afrikaner leaders to mobilize the bywoners behind them. And the exclusion of Africans from the franchise effectively ended the white landlord-African tenant and other cross-racial linkages that had grown up in the decade or so before the war.[99]

It was in such circumstances that the leaders, with the help of the various Dutch Reformed Churches, addressed the acute divisions between the bittereinders (generally the men who fought until the 'bitter end' of the war) on the one hand and the 'joiners' and 'hands-uppers' on the other. These divisions were sufficiently healed for Het Volk, a mass Dutch Afrikaner party, to be formed. It won the 1907 election handsomely, as well as the first election under Union before being absorbed by the South African Party in 1911. Selborne and Milner, the British administrators on the spot, clearly realized that this was not the manifestation of an organic ethnic unity but the work of cultural brokers who had constructed a set of alliances with an ethnic framework. In a report of 1905 Milner distinguished between the bulk of the Boer people and the 'political Boers, the Afrikander party' whose ideal was the doctrine of 'a separate Afrikander nation and State'. He concluded:

[T]he Afrikander doctrine emanates essentially from the towns and the nonagricultural middle class, and is 'pumped into' the country Boers . . . It is quite certain that, but for the influence of parsons, doctors, attorneys, law agents, journalists, and the more educated and town-frequenting of their own class, the country Boers as a body would not be irreconcilable.[100]

Declining support was now given to the tendency to define Afrikanerhood in inclusive terms. A knowledgeable observer noted in 1906 that the dictionary meaning of 'Africander' was still 'one born of white parents in South Africa'; however, he added, 'the Dutch have arrogated to themselves the title of Africanders which has come to have a political meaning'.[101] In his view the country had become an 'Africander land', the title of his book.


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