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1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
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Early Stimulants of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness

Yet it became increasingly difficult to maintain such a phlegmatic posture. From the 1850s onwards, the Dutch-Afrikaners in the Cape faced a twin assault on their cultural and spiritual values in the forms of the so-called 'liberal tendency' and intensified British cultural imperialism. Springing from the eighteenth century Enlightenment in Europe, but only gathering force in the Cape from the 1850s, the liberal tendency stressed personal autonomy, personal self-sufficiency and personal sovereignty. Considering itself the antithesis of absolutism, it championed democracy and the separation of State and Church. It challenged the authority of the Scriptures, the Confessions, and the ruling ecclesiastical bodies. From the 1860s some young ministers in the DRC in the Cape started to preach a liberal theology which questioned some of the fundamental tenets of the Confessions. Two were deposed in 1864 on account of heterodox teaching but were restored by secular courts. In 1865 the liberal tendency scored a major breakthrough when instruction in the Christian religion was barred from the state schools which now became fully secularized. In 1875 a final separation between Church and State was effected with the triumph of the principle of voluntarism towards religion. Disestablishment ended the state's financial support for the DRC which by the mid-nineteenth century received some £7000 annually for paying salaries. The result was that each parish had to assume sole responsibility for providing for its minister's remuneration.[35]

Even more ominous was the growing challenge of British cultural imperialism. To protect its commercial and strategic interests in the Cape Colony, it seemed vital for Britain to reshape the white colonists in its own image. The Dutch-Afrikaners were, to use Robinson's terms, 'the ideal prefabricated collaborators' in helping to secure British power and influence.[36] Although a very large number of Dutch-Afrikaners were still in the subsistence sector and had little or no knowledge of English, the government in 1865 abolished Dutch as a medium of instruction in government schools and imposed English as the sole medium. This decision flowed from a recommendation by a commission of seven members, three of whom had Dutch names. They belonged to the relatively small number of 'Anglo-Afrikaners' in and around Cape Town who wanted English to become the sole official language and the colony to assume an English identity. By the 1860s it appeared as if their wish was gradually coming true—certainly as far as Cape Town and its immediate environs were concerned. Several observers reported that Dutch-Afrikaner youth in this area were becoming estranged from their language and customs. With a good command of English a prerequisite for a career in the civil service, law and commerce, there were powerful forces at work in favour of further anglicization. Even the most prestigious DRC congregation,


the 'Mother Church' in Cape Town, yielded to the demand for English services to be held in the Groote Kerk on some evenings. The Mother Church was preceded or followed in its example by several rural congregations. In effect, this legitimized the Anglo-Afrikaners' position.[37]

No one watched these developments with more concern than the Reverend G.W.A. van der Lingen of Paarl. Van der Lingen realized that what was happening at the Cape was a vital ideological battle between, on the one hand, the state and the liberal tendency, both of which emphasized rationalism and secularism, and, on the other, the authority of religion and the clergy. If they lost the battle, the church and its ministers would steadily find themselves losing control over their members and be confronted with dwindling support and status. Anthony Smith has acutely observed that in situations such as these neo-traditionalists not only strongly defend traditional values and dogma but also try to use political means to revive religious heritage, faith and authority. What they do, in short, is to turn their religious congregations into ethnic communities, as happened with the Jews.[38]

After his studies in the Netherlands, Van der Lingen became the leading force among those who rejected the call for freedom, civilization, enlightenment and progress. He was also in the forefront of the fight against liberal theology in the DRC. Deeply concerned by the rapid advance of English culture and the alien influences of the state schools, Van der Lingen established schools under the auspices of the church council which gave a prominent place to the teaching of Dutch and religious instruction. But he seemed to be waging a losing struggle and his influence did not extend much beyond Paarl and Stellenbosch where he served as chairman of the Theological Seminary council. Even in the seminary there was a distinct trend towards anglicization.[39]

By 1870 the traditional Dutch-Afrikaner world of subsistence farming and the sway of patriarchal local or regional leaders were slowly coming to an end. With the advent of commercial farming, the increased dependence on credit, and the development of an infrastructure of roads and markets a new kind of politics appeared. It assumed different forms in the two republics in the north on the one hand and in the Cape Colony on the other. In the Orange Free State and the Transvaal mobilization around the state began to develop which, over time, became the basis of local nationalisms. In the Cape Colony the Dutch-Afrikaners began to articulate ethnic sentiments and started to explore political strategies based on ethnic mobilization. By this I mean that an emotional attachment to a Dutch-Afrikaner group as a cultural group with shared beliefs about descent and history began to be channelled into a movement that made political claims on behalf of this group. Initially it was an amorphous type of ethnic consciousness, quite different from the radical twentieth century Afrikaner ethnic movement of the 1930s and 1940s which would insist on political supremacy and would define the group exclusively in terms of an elaborate ethnic ideology.

The context in which such a mobilization around the state and consequent local nationalism occurred in the Orange Free State was supplied, first, by the response to the British annexation of Basutoland (1868) and me Diamond Fields (1871), to which the young republic had expressed strong claims, and, second, by accelerated economic development which made much increased resources available to the state. The annexation of the Diamond Fields made the burghers feel that they had been wronged as an ethnic group by Britain and by English-speakers, who were seen as 'the other'. But as important was the growing prosperity brought by the discovery of diamonds and the rise of a market in Kimberley, a town which already by 1871 had a population of more than 40,000


whites and 20,000 Africans. This prosperity, which spilled over to the Free State, enabled the struggling republic to develop its institutions and infrastructure. It was able to set aside funds for commissioning a Dutchman, H.J. Hofstede, to write a history of the Free State. This book aimed to stir and 'uplift national feelings', by telling of the 'trials and tribulations' of the forefathers and the numerous grievances of the Afrikaners.[40] This was not so much 'the product of an awakening of a national feeling' as a deliberate attempt by the government to cultivate such a feeling for the sake of state building.[41] Yet, these efforts encountered considerable stumbling blocks. In the Volksraad merchants and professionals closely tied to British merchant capital were well represented. While Brand was President (1864–1888), they could promote a bi-cultural consciousness in which English was predominant as the language of commerce and intellectual discourse.

Nevertheless, with many burghers in a state of indebtedness, both local and ethnic sentiment could feed from the early days of the republic on a financial anti-imperialism which expressed itself in strong resentment against their main creditor, the Standard Bank. The bank sent large dividends abroad and was accused of charging excessive interest rates. Against it stood the local bank, the Bloemfontein Bank, which had several members of the Volksraad as shareholders. They had no qualms about spreading the word that the avaricious foreign bank would drive the Free State burghers over the Vaal River or into the sea. In 1865 the Volksraad expelled the Standard Bank from the Republic and in 1882 it rejected the Bank's petition to be readmitted. In a report to London the General Manager complained that 'while the President . . . is friendly, we cannot expect that he will exert himself in our favour and the [Volksraad] itself is at present extremely anti-English'.[42]

In the Transvaal the development of a local nationalism was less advanced than in the Free State. Subsistence farming linked only tenuously to the market continued to reinforce established networks of patron-client relationships, and extreme individualism was still scarcely diluted by the integrative effects of trade. The influence of regional leaders was too strong and the interests of the regions too diffuse for any national cohesion to develop. The Reverend F. Lion Cachet, head of one of the three Reformed Churches in the Transvaal, aptly remarked in 1872 that the Transvaal burghers were so divided 'that they appeared to be four or five nations instead of one nation'.[43]

Ironically, it was under T.F. Burgers, president from 1872 to 1877, that the greatest factionalism and disintegration occurred. More than any Dutch-Afrikaner leader of the time he advocated the unity of all 'Afrikaners whether by birth or adoption' across the political boundaries of South Africa, the teaching of a national history to counteract English cultural hegemony, and the development of a railway line to Delagoa Bay to lessen their dependence upon the Cape Colony.[44] Yet while Burgers propagandized on behalf of these ideas, his state was heavily indebted to foreign banks, particularly the Cape Commercial Bank, which granted low interest rates to obtain a political grip on the state. The parochial Transvaal burghers had little enthusiasm for allowing Cape Dutch-Afrikaners open competition for jobs in the Transvaal and refused to pay increased taxes for constructing a railway and waging a war against Africans. By the time the British agent, Theophilus Shepstone, arrived in the Transvaal in 1877 to annex the state, it was utterly bankrupt and politically paralysed by the divisions between the Kruger and the Burgers factions.[45]

In the Cape Colony political ethnic self-consciousness also began to develop. This occurred within the context of, first, the rapid economic expansion consequent upon the opening of the Diamond Fields in 1869; second, the


introduction in 1872 of Responsible Government which created a new arena for political contests; and, third, the growing concern, articulated by intellectuals and professionals, about a major economic and cultural crisis descending upon a large section of the Dutch-Afrikaners.

Even before accelerated economic development started around 1870, there had been a considerable improvement in communications. Cape Town's penny post was extended to the rest of the colony in the 1860s, telegraph cables were flung eastwards and northwards to beyond the colony's borders, and newspapers proliferated. By 1871 there were some 34 newspapers in the colony of which 24 were outside Cape Town. Most of them appeared twice a week with pages in both English and Dutch. While these innovations bound the Dutch-Afrikaners closer together, this was counterbalanced by the fact that more than 90 per cent of them still lived on the land, mostly on widely dispersed farms.

The economic boost which the Diamond Fields gave to the colony did not immediately destroy the isolation of subsistence farming. It did, however, make farmers in particular and Dutch-Afrikaners in general much more aware of new opportunities, existing constraints, and the uneven nature of economic growth. The two most important branches of agriculture in which Dutch-Afrikaners were engaged benefited little from the diamond boom. Wine production, the most important economic activity in the region and one dominated almost exclusively by Dutch-Afrikaners, faced exceedingly difficult times. A period of growth and prosperity had ended in 1861 when the British preferential tariff on Cape wines was abolished. Total wine exports plummeted from 319,146 gallons in 1863 to but 57,942 in 1875.[46] Wine surpluses increased annually, prices dropped, and by 1878 the economic position of the wine growers caused deep pessimism.[47] The wool farmers also gained little from the opening of the Diamond Fields. The value of wool exports had peaked at more than £3,000,000 in the early 1870s, but by 1885 it had dropped to less than half that in value.

Dutch-Afrikaners slowly moved into industry, but they found it difficult to compete with the more skilled English-speakers. During the 1870s and 1880s most of the wine distilleries established by Dutch-Afrikaners in the rural Western Cape went bankrupt. The Dutch-Afrikaners also entered in considerable numbers into the world of finance and property speculation which burst upon South Africa in the 1860s and 1870s, coming into competition with British interests. The state banking monopoly had ended by the middle of the nineteenth century, and in its place came district banks, of which there were 29 by 1862. Dutch-Afrikaners invested heavily in these banks and some became directors. In the early 1860s, however, strong London-based banks opened branches in South Africa. Soon there was a surfeit of investment capital chasing far too few sound investment opportunities. Many of the district banks went bankrupt as a result of incautious lending and overspeculation, and by 1882 there were only eight left. In contrast the Standard Bank's dividend rose steadily from 1865 to 1881, most of it being distributed overseas.[48]

Severe barriers also faced Dutch-Afrikaners who contemplated entering central and local government which by 1875 employed some 4500 people in the colony. Every candidate had to be fluent in English, the only official language, and the informal system of patronage was dominated by English-speakers who virtually monopolized the senior ranks. Against this general economic background, Dutch-Afrikaners began to agitate for protectionist policies to aid farmers, a national bank to counter the imperial banks, and equal status for the Dutch language. In general, English-speakers, with their base in commerce and industry and mostly unilingual, opposed these demands.


The introduction of Responsible Government in 1872 also stimulated ethnic mobilization as it created an arena in which effective contests for state patronage and revenue could take place. While there was little to contest in the 1850s and 1860s, the state's resources and capabilities were expanding rapidly by the 1870s. Between 1854 and 1874 the value of exports (including diamonds) increased eight times, that of imports three times, and revenue five times. While the government previously had been occupied with keeping expenditures down, its main concern in the 1870s and 1880s was to secure credit to develop the Diamond Fields, to construct railways and other public works, and to procure labour from the Transkeian territories. The Cape government worked hard to maintain a flow of credit, especially from London. To gain access to that credit and to benefit from state expenditure and patronage was vitally important for the fortunes of landowners, commercial farmers, local businessmen, commercial middlemen, and those active in the import-export sector.[49] It was along these avenues that the Cape Dutch-Afrikaner leader, Onze Jan Hofmeyr, would pursue his career.

Responsible Government also made possible an amendment of the Cape constitution. In the 1850s Dutch-Afrikaner leaders had supported the low, colour-blind franchise, hoping that it would counteract 'the fictitious inequality of wealth' which existed at the Cape. During the 1860s this hope gave way to disillusionment. 'Coloured' and black voters supported English merchants and traders rather than Dutch-Afrikaner candidates who represented farmers who generally paid low wages to their workers. This prompted Dutch-Afrikaner leaders to turn away from the non-racial democracy and increasingly resort to racist politics. After the introduction of Responsible Government, Hofmeyr and the Zuid-Afrikaan would more and more discuss the constitution in terms of 'Africaanderism' which meant a curtailment of the non-white franchise and the promotion of farming interests.[50]

Dutch-Afrikaner political mobilization was encouraged by the political decline of merchant hegemony and the incorporationist strategy of a Cape liberalism that was aimed especially at coloured artisans and progressive African peasants. The merchants were unable to consolidate their own class position largely because of a bitter conflict between the Cape Town and Port Elizabeth mercantile communities over railway extension and the improvement of harbour facilities. Neither group of merchants tried to establish a regional political base by attracting the support of farmers and professional men. Moreover, with the rise of Kimberley and the Witwatersrand, the Cape merchants lost their grip on the mainspring of the southern African regional economy.[51] Their political and ideological dominance receded as the Cape's English-speakers tied their fortunes to the gold-mining industry of the Transvaal based on low-paid African wage labour. Inevitably these changes undermined Cape liberalism, which was not posited on the incorporation of cheap African wage labour in the economy. The tide now clearly turned in the direction of a restrictive franchise and state intervention to meet the labour needs of farmers, a change which well suited Dutch-Afrikaner politicians.[52]

It was of course not inevitable that a colony-wide Dutch-Afrikaner political movement based on ethnic awareness would emerge. Another possibility was a farmers' party, but that went aground upon the antagonism between the English farmers and merchants in the Eastern Cape and the economically less-advanced Dutch-Afrikaner farmers in the East. That there emerged an Afrikaner party conforms to the general observation that in societies where class and ethnic ties tend to coincide rather than cross-cut, political entrepreneurs usually establish a


following by relying on emotive ethnic distinctions between 'us' and 'them'.[53] Senior English officials sensed that Responsible Government could mean the demise of the English ascendancy at the Cape. The Attorney General wrote to London in 1871 that the Boers, forming the majority of the white section in the constituencies, 'desire to keep Africa for themselves and keep down English interests and institutions'.[54]

In the framework of Cape politics, however, such sentiments had to be reinforced by a perception of a viable common culture before a specifically Dutch-Afrikaner political platform could be constructed. This brings us to the last dimension of the context in which a politically oriented ethnic consciousness developed, namely the apprehension among Dutch-Afrikaner professionals that a large section of their ethnic group faced both economic and cultural degeneration.

Accelerated economic development had greatly widened the class cleavages within Dutch-Afrikaner society. At the top were the large landholders and commercializing farmers and the Cape Dutch in the towns, who prospered as financial agents and auctioneers; then came a large number of middling farmers who managed to make ends meet; and finally, at the bottom, there were the small farmers and bywoners . From the 1870s on a large class of poor and often destitute small farmers began to form. They were unable and unwilling to do anything but farm—almost an underclass that in Marx's terms was 'passively rotting away'. Some of the most desperate of these small farmers began to migrate to the towns where they found casual employment, but others resorted to vagrancy, begging and crime. In towns all over South Africa, blacks and whites were working and living together and, in small but growing numbers, sleeping together.

This economic crisis was accompanied by a grave cultural crisis. At its apex, Dutch-Afrikaner society was losing some of its brightest minds through the steady process of anglicization. At its bottom there was the even greater threat of large numbers of the poor becoming proletarianized. The cultural crisis sprang from the economic crisis facing poor farmers. In the Eastern Cape many Afrikaner farmers could not afford to send their children to school because of the need for their labour. Some Boer farmers in 1875 even demanded a bonus for each child they sent to school to compensate for the loss of labour power that schooling meant.[55] The result was child illiteracy of alarming proportions. In the 1875 census it was estimated that only 43 per cent of children between the ages of five and fifteen in the Cape Colony could read and write, and for Dutch-Afrikaners it must have been considerably lower, assuming that English-speakers probably attained the level of their counterparts in Victoria and New Zealand, where it was about 60 per cent. It was true that almost everyone after the age of fifteen learned to read and write, but the level of these skills was in most cases extremely rudimentary. It was generally known that a large section of the Boers never read any books apart from the Bible.

By the 1870s this cultural degeneration was alarming government officials. In 1873 a series of anonymous articles appeared in the Cape Monthly Magazine, obviously the work of a well-informed person:

I would ask the ministers of religion, the promoters of education, and the responsible rulers of the Colony, if they are satisfied with things as they are?—if they realize the fact of the children of Dutch-speaking, European parentage growing up with less care bestowed upon them than upon the beasts of the field—without the ability to read or write even their mother tongue, without any instruction in the knowledge of a God that made them, having at their


command no language but a limited vocabulary of semi-Dutch, semi-Hottentot words, and those only concerning the wants or doings of themselves and the animals they tend?[56]

The author delivered a searing indictment of 'State-paid ministers' who were unconcerned about this situation and whose only visible activity was a Sunday sermon in the village church. He warned that if no remedy was found a growing criminal class would develop.

In 1867 diamonds were discovered, beginning a period of economic transformation of South Africa. The accelerated industrialization of South Africa in the wake of the mineral discoveries did not immediately transform people's self-conceptions. Invariably, collective memories persist in institutional forms when the social conditions which originally gave rise to them have evaporated. As long as they remained tied to the land, the Afrikaners retained a primary loyalty to their church and faith and to regional and other subgroupings rather than to a state or a pervasive culture. Nevertheless, a slow movement towards ethnic identification did begin, initially undertaken by ethnic culture brokers and then stimulated by catalytic political events, ultimately producing concrete expressions of a politically articulated ethnic consciousness. In the Western Cape a few clerics and teachers tried to deal with the cultural crisis of Dutch-Afrikaner semi-literacy and illiteracy; in the same region wine farmers mobilized against a tax that adversely affected their industry; and in the Transvaal near-subsistence farmers rose against the British annexation of their state.

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1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
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