previous sub-section
1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
next sub-section

The Culture Brokers of the Western Cape during the 1870s

It was in the Paarl-Wellington area that the first conscious attempts were made to develop a specific ethnic ideology for the Dutch-Afrikaners. The leading role was taken by two Dutch school teachers, A. Pannevis and C.P. Hoogenhout, who had settled in the area in the 1860s, and a Dutch Reformed Church minister, S.J. du Toit, the son of a Paarl wine grower. A complex set of concerns drove these men. In the first place, they were deeply disturbed by the way in which industrialization and the secularization of education were affecting Dutch-Afrikaner society. They wished to encapsulate Dutch-Afrikaners in their own institutions and culture so as to deflect alien influences. Second, they were motivated by a concern with the more general cultural crisis.

Ironically, the initial attempts at uplift were not directed at Dutch-Afrikaners. A part-time missionary, Pannevis was at first moved by the plight of the coloured population of the Western Cape whose educational opportunities were even poorer than those of the Dutch-Afrikaners. He was greatly concerned that thousands of them were unable to understand the Bible in either Dutch or English. In 1872 he made a plea in the Zuid-Afrikaan that for their sake the Bible be translated into Afrikaans, a language spoken by the vast majority of them.

Before Pannevis's plea, Afrikaans had been used in religious pamphlets and magazines directed at coloured Malays and Christians. Some 300 letters, mostly written by whites, had appeared in newspapers. However, whites used it as a dialect—or the 'lowest vernacular'—to amuse or to poke fun at the lower classes. 'Afrikaans' was a collective term denoting all the corrupted usages of Dutch in the colony. Pannevis, however, realized that Afrikaans was an excellent medium for making the Bible accessible and for providing education to poor and uneducated people. This proposal to render the Bible in Afrikaans for the coloureds was soon


de-emphasized, however, and from the mid-1870s Pannevis and Hoogenhout used all their efforts to persuade the Dutch-Afrikaners that Afrikaans was a language in its own right and that it was the true language of the white Dutch-Afrikaners.

It was Hoogenhout who saw the potential of Afrikaans as a basis of a cultural ethnic awareness to oppose English hegemony. Like Van der Lingen before him, Hoogenhout stressed the link between industrialization and anglicization, and condemned both. English was for him the language of corruption, bred at the billiard table and drinking den. The volk was being bastardized by the way in which English had completely usurped everything in the name of Progress. In his novel Catherina he wrote of the evil and corruption of the anglicized society of Cape Town and contrasted it with the worthiness of the patriarchal social relations typical of the rural Dutch-Afrikaners. In 1873 Hoogenhout appealed in the Zuid-Afrikaan for an Afrikaans translation of the Bible 'not only for brown people but also for many whites, because there are really many whites who do not understand half of the Dutch language'. He added that 'the Lord would not tolerate that the Bible should remain unintelligible to many poor people in South Africa'.[57]

Building on the work of the two Dutchmen, Du Toit declared war against British cultural hegemony, the secularization of education which undermined the traditional authorities, and the corrupting influence of industrialization. He devoted all his efforts towards making Afrikaans the cardinal ethnic symbol which encapsulated the history and the singularity of the Afrikaner people. In three newspaper articles published under the pseudonym 'A true Afrikaner', he argued that language expressed the character of a people (volk ) and that no nationality could be formed without its own language. Second, he argued that Afrikaans should be accepted as a language in its own right by the Afrikaners. Third, he criticized the process of anglicization taking place in parliament, courts, schools and churches, being particularly scathing about the DRC clergy who delivered sermons in English and who founded English-language educational institutions in the principal towns.[58]

In 1875 Du Toit, Hoogenhout and six others founded the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (Fellowship of True Afrikaners) (GRA) in Paarl. By the mid-1870s a strong section within the dominant class considered Dutch-Afrikaners and colonial English-speakers as all being joined into a nascent Afrikaner nation. The Volksblad, for instance, remarked in 1875: 'When we speak of "Afrikanders" we do not mean Dutch-speaking or English-speaking South Africans, but the people who have been and still are being moulded into that distinct nation.'[59] In contrast, the GRA employed the concept of the Afrikaner people to denote a distinct ethnic group within the population. It divided the Afrikaner people into three groups—those with English hearts, those with Dutch hearts and those with Afrikaner hearts, and only the latter were considered to be true Afrikaners. The GRA declared itself in favour of Afrikaans and resolved not to rest before it was recognized as the national (ethnic) language. To further this, it published a newspaper, The Patriot, a nationalist history, a grammar, and some school texts in Afrikaans. Their use of Afrikaans had several dimensions: it was a political language which embodied Afrikaner ethnic self-awareness and expressed opposition to imperial rule; it was an educational instrument which would uplift large numbers of backward children; and it was a vehicle for the dissemination of the Bible among large numbers of poor and ignorant brown and white people.

Yet this emphasis on the Afrikaans language embodying the singularity of the


Afrikaners obscured the fact that the great majority of coloureds—people of slave, European and Khoikhoi descent—also spoke Afrikaans and did so much less self-consciously. No attempt was made to embrace all Afrikaans-speakers as members of a new people participating in a developing nationalist movement. The class divisions between white and brown Afrikaans-speakers were too acute for this. Whites prided themselves on being a master or 'aristocratic' class. Even its poorest members considered themselves too superior to accept employment in someone else's service, to do manual labour, or to work as artisans. Dutch-Afrikaners generally treated brown Afrikaans-speakers as a class of servants still bearing the taint of slavery.

Growing segregation widened the gulf. A trend, starting in the 1830s, to segregate coloured members of the Dutch Reformed Church found expression in the establishment of separate coloured congregations and culminated in the founding of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1881. Schools were segregated in 1893. No statutory residential segregation existed, but the great majority of coloured people lived together in the poorest sections of the towns. The main Afrikaner political movement did not formally exclude coloured members but did reject applications at branch level.

Thus Afrikaner ethnic consciousness from the beginning contained both a strong racist dimension and a considerable measure of self-delusion about the origins of both the ethnic group itself and the Afrikaans language. Despite the fact that a considerable proportion of marriages occurred across the colour line in the eighteenth century, The Patriot and Zuid Afrikaan spoke only of the ethnic group's white or European ancestry. In championing Afrikaans The Patriot was at pains to declare that Afrikaans was a pure Germanic language without 'Hottentot' words, and that the 'Hottentots had abandoned their language and adopted ours'. While there was still little direct economic competition between white and brown Afrikaans-speakers, this racially exclusive ethnic mobilization resulted in the increasing alienation of the coloureds.[60]

previous sub-section
1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
next sub-section