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1— The Beginnings of Afrikaner Ethnic Consciousness, 1850–1915
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The Faltering of Ethnic Consciousness in the 1880s

Yet despite these early accomplishments, Afrikaner political ethnicity failed to sustain its momentum. Three forces worked against it: first, continuing British imperial hegemony; second, deepening class cleavages within the Dutch-Afrikaner group; and, third, intense inter-state rivalry between the Cape Colony and Transvaal. All of these contributed to an incoherent and inconsistent ideological conception of 'Afrikanerhood'.

The inhibiting force of British political hegemony was evident in the Cape Colony even at the time of the Transvaal protests and revolt. Despite their strong feelings of solidarity with the Transvaal burghers and resentment at British imperial arrogance, the Dutch-Afrikaners—particularly the Cape Dutch—were reluctant to engage in any kind of politics that challenged the dominant consensus. This consensus demanded an almost unqualified political loyalty to Britain and to the ideal of common nationhood for the two white population groups. While Hofmeyr and several branches of the BBV in 1880 protested against the annexation, only one branch received a Transvaal deputation seeking to rally the support of the Cape. The BBV in general acted in an uncoordinated and unconvincing way.[66]

After Britain granted a qualified independence to the Transvaal, Hofmeyr declared in parliament: 'The generosity of the terms had strengthened the loyalty of the Dutch in the Colony . . . [and] had given it a warmth and heartiness which it never had before.'[67] In the course of the 1880s Hofmeyr came to reject the Afrikaner Bond's call of Africa for the 'Afrikanders' and South African political unity under its own flag in favour of a political union under the British flag. President Brand of the Orange Free State also sought to maintain ties of the closest political and economic unity with the Cape Colony, and, by extension, with Great Britain, and to promote Dutch-Afrikaner and English unity. He thus strongly attacked Du Toit's Afrikaner Bond as destructive. Only Kruger in the Transvaal took an opposite approach. Even he, however, espoused a Transvaal nationalism whose point of departure was loyalty to the Transvaal state and which


was not based on an 'organic' Afrikaner unity.[68]

English cultural hegemony reinforced British political rule. Despite the formal recognition of Dutch, the English language maintained its dominant position in the Cape's schools, courts and parliament. In growing numbers, better educated Dutch-Afrikaners spoke English in public debates and used English for correspondence and even in their personal diaries. The situation was little different in the Free State. Its rural schools were usually started by wealthier farmers who set a premium on English as the language of commerce and intellectual discourse and who deliberately sought out English teachers. In the early 1880s a school inspector found that only a third of the schools he visited used Dutch as the sole medium of instruction. A cleric reported: 'I cannot neglect mentioning how much talking and writing in English has become prominent in the Free State, especially in the towns. Nowhere else did I have to speak so much English as there.'[69] Before the end of the nineteenth century public and social life in Bloemfontein was almost exclusively English.

A major problem in the Transvaal was illiteracy—in 1877 it was estimated that only 8 per cent of white children of school age were attending, as opposed to 50 per cent in the Cape Colony and 12 per cent in the Orange Free State. The opening of the goldfields in the 1880s brought with it deep cleavages in the community over the question of education along with fresh opportunities for capital accumulation. A group of Dutch-Afrikaners, often the products of English education in the Cape, demanded the inclusion of much more English in the syllabus. Against these 'progressives' stood President Kruger who made Dutch the medium of instruction and who was strongly supported by Dutch immigrant civil servants and school teachers and by the Dopper Church. S.J. du Toit, who had become head of Kruger's education department, sided with the 'progressives' against Kruger and his 'Hollanders' and was remarkably lax in enforcing the language ruling. When Dr Mansvelt, a Hollander, became Superintendent of Education in 1892, an attempt was made to enforce Dutch as the medium of instruction in all higher standards. This sparked an outcry from the 'progressives' who saw English as a prerequisite for their economic advancement as well as from the substantial English population of Johannesburg. Mansvelt was forced to back down, and the state continued to subsidize schools where Dutch was taught at least four hours a week.[70]

Possible ethnic solidarity was further undermined by the deepening class divisions within Dutch-Afrikaner society. In the Cape Colony there was in fact little in common between the well-educated Cape-Dutch, acting as financial middlemen in the towns, and the common, lowly Boers. In the competition between Hofmeyr's BBV and Du Toit's Bond there was a distinct class dimension. The BBV appealed to the upper or middle class in contrast with the more populist Bond which criticized the large sums expended on railway extension and attacked British banks and merchants as alien fortune-seekers.

While the BBV members spoke what passed as High Dutch or simplified Dutch, the GRA and Du Toit's Bond deliberately chose Afrikaans, regarded as the language of both coloured workers and the poor and ignorant class of Dutch-Afrikaner society. The BBV's mouthpiece, the Zuid-Afrikaan, haughtily commented that 'brandy and The Patriot have this in common: that they are enemies of civilization'.[71] It was a matter of surprise when it was discovered that The Patriot was read not only by bywoners but by 'civilized people' as well.[72] While the GRA busily tried to invent a national culture, the BBV's membership did not care much for culture and worried rather about their class interests. In 1878 a speaker at a Paarl dinner for parliamentarians expressed the hope that the


enthusiasm for a 'nationality' would lead to the establishment of brandy as a national drink and that the moment would soon arrive when there was a South African nation and a South African national drink.[73]

After Hofmeyr took over the Bond he toned down the nationalist strains. The Bond accorded a prominent rhetorical place in speeches to the lowly Boer farmer, but its true base was the town-based businessmen, rich landholders and commercial farmers. The leadership of Hofmeyr's movement was derived from such groups, and they increasingly looked to the state to further their interests, not least through the provision of public works. In towns they organized petitions for the building of courts, magistracies and local railways. The large flow of credit from London cemented the Bond's collaborating relationship with British imperialism.[74] The less affluent whites on the farms and in the towns shared little of this enthusiasm for development and modernization. In a town like Graaff-Reinet the poor, known as the 'backstreet people', at one stage refused to pay municipal rates. But over the longer run there was little the poor could do against the dominant position of the Bond and the commercial stranglehold of English-speakers. Du Toit's proposals for a national bank, boerewinkels (farmers' cooperative stores), and consumer boycotts all came to nothing.

In the Transvaal and Orange Free State the rapid commercialization of farming during the 1880s and 1890s created a growing gulf between landless and landed Dutch-Afrikaners. The large farmers accumulated wealth through their access to office and their ability to exploit large numbers of Africans living on their land. They successfully resisted demands from the 'levellers'—usually poor and middling farmers—that African labour be evenly distributed among the farmers. By the end of the century many farmers, having lost patience with bywoners desperately clinging to their status as whites, chose to have rent-paying or share-cropping Africans on their farms. That growing numbers of poor whites had little interest in ethnic appeals is shown in their large scale defection to British ranks in the Anglo-Boer War.

The final reason why Afrikaner ethnic consciousness did not develop as a political force transcending parochial territorial boundaries lay in the interstate rivalries of the 1880s. The root of the problem was the Cape's desperate search for revenue to meet its rapidly growing liabilities, attempting constantly to extend its trade and railway network beyond its northern boundaries. Despite the fact that the Bond was the strongest party in Parliament, it did little or nothing to ease the financial distress of the republics and more than once rejected requests that the inland states be allocated a share of the customs duties collected at the Cape ports. A recent study thus describes the Bond as blinkered, selfish and parochial in this respect.[75]

The discovery of gold confronted the Cape with the sudden prospect of becoming the 'poor relation' in South Africa. Kruger blocked the extension of the Cape railway system into the Rand, the new powerhouse of the South African economy, threw obstacles in the way of trade in agricultural products and made it as difficult for Cape Dutch-Afrikaners in the Transvaal to obtain citizenship as it was for other Uitlanders . At the same time, Hofmeyr and his Bond were increasingly acting as British imperial agents by supporting British-backed expansion which aimed at the encirclement and isolation of the Transvaal. In 1887, amid growing tensions over railway and trade policies, four Cape Town Bondsmen, including Hofmeyr, wrote to Kruger:

We must admit having noticed a cooling off of the warm feeling of attachment to the cause of our Transvaal brothers, that showed itself from 1877 to 1881.


We fear that unless events take another course, it will soon be almost impossible to obtain in the Cape Colony a similar expression of sympathy for you, as on that occasion . . . . [Once] a division arises between kinsfolk, one cannot foresee where it will end, and the Africander cause is far from being strong enough to be able to face division between Transvaal and Colonial sons of the soil.[76]

But division did grow. By 1890 Hofmeyr was so much under Rhodes's influence that he was willing to travel to Pretoria to tell Kruger that he could not unconditionally claim Swaziland.[77] Kruger thundered at him: 'You are a traitor, a traitor to the Africander cause.'[78] Yet, despite his objections to the Transvaal's stringent franchise qualifications for Uitlanders —particularly Cape-Afrikaner Uitlanders —Hofmeyr continued to profess his sympathy and affection for the Transvaal with the words 'blood is thicker than water'.[79] These and even Kruger's words certainly suggests an awareness of Afrikaners as members of a common ethnic community. However, for Kruger and Hofmeyr the basis of political action and the definition of the concept Afrikaner were quite different.

Indeed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century the very concept of 'Afrikaner' remained highly ambiguous. At the one end of the spectrum there was the GRA and The Patriot who defined the term in the ethnic sense of a people with a common descent and history. For Hofmeyr and the Zuid-Afrikaan, Afrikaners were a volk or a nation-in-being comprised of both Dutch-Afrikaners and English-speakers who were loyal to the Cape and believed in the need to maintain white supremacy against the Africans.[80] While James Rose Innes, a leading Cape liberal, did not consider himself an Afrikaner, which in his view was defined as people belonging to the oldest section of the white population and newcomers holding specific views on the Native Question, Cecil John Rhodes embraced the inclusive concept of Afrikanerhood.[81] Eagerly availing himself of the political base Hofmeyr's Bond offered him, he stated in 1890 that his government would be an 'Afrikander' one, and he indeed shared the Bond's views on labour and African policy.[82] Edmund Garrett, editor of the Cape Times, coined the phrase 'John Bull Afrikander' in asserting that Britain by 1890 was acting only in the interests of South Africa as a whole.[83] Finally, there was the conception of leading Transvaal burghers, such as F.G. Wolmarans and Schalker Burger who both served as chairman of the Volksraad. They defined the term Afrikaner in narrow, republican terms. Propagating a distinct Transvaal nationalism, Burger stated flatly that 'everyone from beyond the borders of the republic must be viewed as a stranger, no matter if he came from the Free State, the Colony, England or Holland, etc'.[84]

Despite these divisive forces, a degree of ethnic awareness and commitment had been attained by the 1880s. The catalytic forces that produced it did not fade away. Indeed they would intensify over the next twenty to thirty years. British imperial policy did become more conciliatory in the 1880s (leading to the waning of Hofmeyr's ethnic fervour), but the mid-1890s saw the emergence of an aggressive British imperialism which threatened to sweep aside Dutch-Afrikaner political and cultural autonomy. In the meantime the conflicts arising from the changing political economy increased as did the cultural struggle waged by people whose livelihoods depended on mastery of a foreign language. By the turn of the century Dutch-Afrikaners would, on a much broader level, see themselves as a distinct political group and would attempt to develop a separate culture—they had become Afrikaners. The task of extending and institutionalizing Afrikaner ethnicity differed in the Cape and the two republics. In the Transvaal and Orange


Free State the state preceded the nation, and political expressions of ethnic consciousness could accordingly feed on the idea of national self-determination in addition to responding to class needs. In the Cape Colony, however, it had to grow from a shared culture and common economic concerns.

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