Preferred Citation: Vail, Leroy, editor. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. London Berkeley:  Currey University of California Press,  1989.

2— Afrikaner Women and the Creation of Ethnicity in a Small South African Town, 1902–1950

Afrikaner Women and the Creation of Ethnicity in a Small South African Town, 1902–1950

Jeffrey Butler

Oddly enough in South Africa the women have always exercised a great influence. I say 'oddly' because they are so utterly and entirely opposed to the modern view of 'women's rights'.

But from the time that these Dutch [i.e. Afrikaner] women accompanied their husbands on the Great Trek and stood loading the old flint locks in the laager [wagon circle] to withstand the Zulu rush; down to the time that they lashed the men out with their tongues to the almost hopeless struggle for their independence in 1881—and now that they have willingly made every sacrifice for their independence in this war, the Dutch woman has been a very real factor in influencing events.
John X. Merriman, 1900[1]


This chapter is entitled 'Afrikaner women and the creation of ethnicity . . . .' By ethnicity we do not mean only the existence of a community with a distinctive language and institutions, and, therefore, a history of its own. Afrikanerdom in that sense is almost as old as the settlement of Dutchmen in South Africa. We mean in addition a community conscious of its institutions and language, developing an historical record, aware of the existence of other communities in conflict with it and of the necessity of mobilizing itself in defence of its interests. Ethnicity in this sense is analogous to E.P. Thompson's notion of class—'when men . . . as a result of common experiences . . . feel and articulate the identity of their interests . . . as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs'.[2] That consciousness, as Thompson emphasized, is itself an historical product; it will, therefore, vary in intensity over time, and is by no means a necessary consequence of cultural difference, but the result of action by individuals and organizations that create and sustain it.

Most studies of ethnicity in South Africa have stressed the role of long-term political conflict between English and Afrikaners and, most especially, the impact of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902. Granted the importance of this conflict, however, the construction of Afrikaner ethnic identity cannot be understood in terms of that conflict alone. John X. Merriman, a noted politician in the Cape Colony who frequently showed an acute sense of social process and a capacity to


foresee the consequences of current policies, was aware of the importance of women in the process. Writing during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902, he drew attention to the complex division of authority between the sexes in Afrikaner society and to women as 'a very real factor' in spite of disenfranchisement and an apparent lack of interest in the contemporary struggle for 'women's rights'.

Power is affected by social as well as explicitly political factors. In a study of the Creoles in Sierra Leone, Abner Cohen has written: 'In all systems of stratification, women play a crucial part in the distribution and maintenance of power between groups. The higher the group is in the hierarchy, the more crucial that part tends to be.'[3] As members of the group at the top of a racial hierarchy, Afrikaner women had for long played a central role, as Merriman noted, even though they did not receive the vote until 1931. 'Afrikaner women . . .', wrote Sheila Patterson, 'despite their traditional assignment to the kitchen and the nursery, [are] far from disinterested in politics.'[4] There was, and is, substantial male dominance in many spheres of Afrikaner society, but on occasion Afrikaner women have shown independence from their menfolk on public issues. Acting outside the explicitly political realm, they frequently played an important part in defining Afrikaners as a self-conscious ethnic group in an urban environment and in meeting many of the needs of Afrikaner poor whites who had recently left the land.[5]

Furthermore, although it will not be possible to pursue the issue in detail, I shall suggest that they helped to raise ethnic awareness to such a level that being an Afrikaner became not merely a cultural identification, defined essentially by language spoken and church attended, but a political one as well. To be a 'ware Afrikaner', poorly translated as a 'true Afrikaner', was to have certain precise political loyalties. Thus women contributed greatly to the development of the 'second phase' of Afrikaner ethnic consciousness that occurred during the first half of this century and which contributed crucially to the victory of the National Party in 1948. By concentrating upon the role of women in forming Afrikaner ethnic consciousness, we shall, therefore, move towards an explanation of the social processes which aided the sustained political consolidation of Afrikanerdom, produced the victory of 1948, and which lasted until the founding of the Herstigte Nasionale Party in 1969.

In addition to emphasizing the role of women in these processes, we shall also be correcting a tendency to write South African history from the 'centre'. Social histories of small towns can tell us much about the history of Afrikaner communities that we now know only in outline because much of it is in an Afrikaans literature that English-speaking scholars have largely ignored.[6] What were the local processes by which an ethnic group was mobilized to overcome divisions of region, leadership, income, ownership, recent impoverishment and reluctant urbanization? The Afrikaner poor may have been a class in the sense that they shared landlessness, low income, and a consequent lack of control over their lives, but they became a class in E.P. Thompson's sense with an important qualification. 'Class,' wrote E.P. Thompson, 'happens when some men, as a result of common experiences (inherited or shared), feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs.'[7] In South Africa, their sense of common experience was inherited and shared in their recent humiliation at the hands of the British conqueror; the articulation of their interests had, or was given, an ethnic dimension. Thus class loyalties having their origins in 'productive relations',[8] which could and perhaps should have divided the ethnos, did not do


so. The evidence of genuine class conflict dividing Afrikaners from each other so that local organizations were linked to class specific divisions is sparse indeed. There is strong evidence that it was the work of Afrikaner women in particular which brought about this situation of blunted class antagonisms.

Towards a Unified Afrikaner Community

The election in 1948 of an exclusively Afrikaner government dedicated to advancing the interests of Afrikaners and to preserving 'white civilization' came about as a result of the changed loyalties of the Afrikaner dominated countryside. The senior members of the Afrikaner political class which has ruled South Africa since 1948 were raised in a rural, small-town world. This development of a racial and an ethnic political movement outside the major cities was shaped by two major forces, viz., a rural economic and social crisis which particularly affected Afrikaners, the whole complex phenomenon we include in the notion of 'poor whiteism'; and the response of Afrikaners to the conquest of their republics by Great Britain at the turn of the century. Poor whiteism was already well developed long before the outbreak of war in 1899, as the result of the increasing commercialization of agriculture and the incapacity of the South African countryside to support all who wished to farm on it with the wasteful methods of old.[9] The war, with its devastation of the countryside in the Orange Free State (OFS) and the Transvaal, and the impounding of horses in Cape Colony, exacerbated the impoverishment of many and gave thousands of poor Afrikaners additional reasons to resent a condition that they would have resented anyway. Many went to the nearest small town, but the capacity of those towns to absorb additional population was limited by the lack of industrialization, and so a major drift to the large towns accelerated from the turn of the century on.[10]

The war was not a process but a cataclysmic event, one of those phenomena which, in their impact, cut across divisions of class, region and sex, much like defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine left lasting bitterness at all levels of French society, something no politician could ignore.[11] In South Africa the war was even more significant because it united Afrikaners in the colonies—the Cape and Natal—with their brethren in the republics in a way that they had not been before 1899. In particular, one of the war's spectacular impacts was on the women of the republics, and the death of 26,000 women and children in concentration camps came to be seen by many Afrikaners as a literal Murder of the Innocents.[12]

The story of how Afrikaner leaders and followers, rich and poor, urban and rural, throughout South Africa reacted to the situation they found themselves in after 1902, to the fact of conquest, has not yet been told. The conquest of the republics affected all Afrikaners, including those in the Cape, and all were affected by the British attempt to follow the military victory by a cultural one, an attempt at cultural genocide. Lord Milner's attempt at wholesale anglicization was directed at Afrikaners in the OFS and Transvaal, but it affected Afrikaners throughout South Africa. The years 1902 to 1910 were crucial ones in which Afrikaner resentments began to be articulated, mitigating but not abolishing social divisions and leading, as we shall see, to the development of new institutions, new leaders, and an expanded role for women. Some of the developments in this period have recently been described in the context of the industrial Witwatersrand.[13] But for Afrikaners the important changes took place in small communities: the urbanization of Afrikaners in the large cities was only beginning in 1902.[14]


The South African War provoked a debate among Afrikaners as to how they should manage their relations with the other groups in South Africa. In particular, how was the recent past of only a section of the volk to be made that of the whole and to be used politically? Soon after the Union of the four colonies in 1910, there was a major political split and an organized Afrikaner ethnic movement was born, based on historic anti-British resentment, recently inflamed; a desire for the protection of language and church; the destruction of an English cultural ascendancy in South Africa; and an end to the patronage abroad of the imperial conqueror—a genuine Sinn Fein, 'our own', movement. In parliament the struggle was conducted in terms of language, symbolic constitutional issues such as the flag, anthem, and the British Commonwealth, and of more concrete issues like the handling of the problem of poor whiteism, the latter raising the possibility of articulated class division among Afrikaners. Locally, the raising of ethnic awareness was frequently indirect in such institutions as the church and local government, in both of which national political alignments were muted, and indeed explicitly abjured. But the muting of politics did not mean that the activity had no political effects. An important part of the political history of Afrikaners will be found in ethnic bodies such as the church, in which issues relating to cultural survival, welfare, and segregation—all sensitive politically—were constantly addressed.

The place of ethnic institutions in political history raises an important methodological issue. Some neo-Marxist scholars have recently studied Afrikanerdom in terms of its capital and class structure rather than the categories which Afrikaners themselves employed—language, church and party: to define Afrikanerdom in such terms, writes Dan O'Meara, is to perpetuate 'mythology'.[15] So he explains the desertion of the pro-British United Party between 1938 and 1948 by the farmers of the Transvaal—the crucial shift in 1948—in terms of the economic interests of the farmers in relation to labour and to markets.[16] But there are at least two types of historical writing involved here which are not mutually exclusive and may be reinforcing. An analysis of the capital structure of Transvaal agriculture may explain a great deal, but we require also analyses which will explain why it was the Afrikaner farmers, not all farmers, who deserted the United Party in 1948.[17] We need, therefore, histories which delineate behaviour in ethnic institutions, like the church and its related bodies, as well as in inter-ethnic economic bodies, like farmers' associations and marketing boards. The scene of our investigation will be Cradock, a small town in the Karoo region of the eastern Cape.

A Karoo Town with a Poor White Problem

In the 1920s Cradock was a town of intermediate size (14,870 total population), large enough, according to locals, to distinguish itself from 'real dorps' nearby, and to rank itself with Graaff Reinet (14,000) but smaller than Grahamstown (23, 000) and Queenstown (25, 500). Going north there were no larger towns before Kimberley (58,000) and Bloemfontein (79,100).[18] It was, and remained, a farming and minor railway centre.

The developments of the nineteenth century, especially a brief prosperity during the 'cotton famine' of the American civil war, led to the growth of a South African small town and district culture which has since partly disappeared. There was a minority of English farmers, 32 per cent by number, 35 per cent by value of holdings, tending to concentrate in the Fish River valley, some of them wealthy by local standards, experimenting with new crops and irrigation. These farmers often


had urban links, by marriage or involvement in local business, and the town was run by an oligarchy of English family firms and professional men. As most civil servants and railway artisans were still English-speaking in 1920, the town had a decidedly English cast and flavour, when measured by advertising, the proceedings and personnel of local government bodies, and the staffs of the two high schools and one training college. The one daily newspaper, The Midland News (1891), was in English, whereas the Dutch—later Afrikaans—De Middelandsche Afrikaander (1899) was only a weekly, which on the death of its editor in 1933 was taken over by its English competitor.[19]

This English ascendancy was not the result of the English being a majority of the population. According to the Voters' Roll of 1925, 320 out of 703 white male voters in town had English names (45 per cent), and the 1926 census on religious denominations for town and district put 72 per cent of the white population as belonging to the three Dutch Reformed churches.[20] In the nineteenth century, Cradock and its district had had its substantial Afrikaner families, some of them headed by notables who had served in the Cape parliament or played their part in the affairs of the Afrikaner Bond party before Union in 1910.[21] Members of such families frequently had a dorpshuis, a town house, to be used during shopping expeditions, for the education of children, but particularly for the long weekend which accompanied nachtmaal (holy communion) four times a year. These houses had another function: they could be taken over as retirement homes when fathers decided to give their sons their heads on the farm. But more important for the town, they gave these farmers a say in the affairs of town and district, creating a conservative, parsimonious constituency—the so-called 'nachtmaal vote'—when it came to expenditure on urban facilities. And retired farmers were an important source of members of local government bodies.

Not all Afrikaners in town and district were comfortable farmers or former farmers. There was a great deal of white poverty in the district but it is extremely difficult to devise a precise measure of it. In 1916, at the first conference on poor whites sponsored by the Dutch Reformed Church, held in Cradock, the Minister of Agriculture, H.C. van Heerden, Cradock's M.P., had made one of the early estimates of the scale of the problem nationally, arriving at a figure of 106,000 'abjectly poor' and 'less poor'.[22] The Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa in 1932 regarded this figure as a serious underestimate, calculating that about 21 per cent of Afrikaners in 1931, about 220,000, could be regarded as poor white.[23] If we apply that proportion to the Afrikaans population of Cradock and its district we would have a poor white population of 927, or approximately 244 income earners.[24] Using the 1931 Voters' List, and looking for what the Carnegie Commission called 'lowliest occupations', we find in town and district that 112 Afrikaners registered themselves as labourers (93 of them living in town), 53 as foreman or opsigter (watchman); 5 as transport riders; 3 as gardeners and one each as general help, milkman and bywoner (sharecropper), a total of 176, 57 of them in the countryside.[25] Such a figure is extremely conservative, leaving out of account those who claimed to be farmers and no longer were—479 Afrikaners claimed to be farmers on the 277 farms held by Afrikaners.[26] Cradock appears to have had a poor white population in town and district of about 650, with roughly only 210 living in the countryside. The major rural exodus was already over in the Cradock district by 1931: the first leap to urban status, the shift to the nearest dorp, had already been made.

There were many reasons for poverty in the Cradock district. It is a Karoo area, a thirstland suitable for ranching only, especially if there is no irrigation. It lies between the 10" and 12" annual rainfall contours, one of a group of Midland


districts hard hit by frequent droughts.[27] Furthermore, it suffered after World War I, like the rest of the eastern Cape, from the collapse of ostrich farming, the rapid decline of horse breeding, and then during the depression from the fall in the prices of wool, its long-term staple, and lucerne (alfalfa).[28] It was not, however, in the condition of the very poorest districts along the Cape coast, or in the far northwest, but nevertheless it lost 9 per cent of its white population between 1911 and 1918, a period of severe drought.[29] It is difficult to arrive at the actual process of depopulation and urbanization, but in addition to drought, the Karoo was undergoing a major change in the extension of fencing which limited casual access to land, and reduced the demand for labour, white as well as black. Whites with limited resources had to leave the land; some were expelled. The Carnegie Commission collected information on 13 men in Cradock who had been 'independent stock farming tenants . . . nearly all' of whom had been given notice to quit between 1918 and 1923. Some became bywoners, eight migrated to town and of those 'only two or three succeeded in making a decent living'.[30] Such pressures were in addition to those 'usual' in a Karoo district, according to Macmillan, which generally had a small number of 'really progressive' farmers, a large number in 'reasonable comfort . . . but always also a considerable and even a large proportion very near the margin'.[31]

The population of town and district did not change steadily in one direction and at equal rates. Between 1921 and 1926 the white population of the town increased by 3.88 per cent, and the district by 7.61 per cent.[32] These figures can be compared with a 12.44 per cent increase in urban population and 7.51 per cent in the rural population of the Union. The low rate of urban growth suggests that many were using the town as a way station between country and urban living, staying in Cradock only briefly. Perhaps partly because of the construction of large irrigation works in the district from 1921 to 1926, partly because the bulk of bywoners had already left the land, Cradock was not listed as a heavy contributor to the Afrikaner population of Port Elizabeth, 182 miles to the south, as were the neighbouring districts identified by Grosskopf in 1932.[33]

It seems, therefore, that Cradock acquired most of its poor white population before the 1920s. As we shall see, white poverty had exercised the town's fathers for some time. The poor were dispersed throughout the town, most of them living in an area of mixed occupation and ownership on the borders of the 'location' where Africans and coloureds could rent but not own sites. It was into the mixed area that many poor whites moved, before they began to be rehoused in new subsidized and segregated public housing from 1939 onwards.

Local white poverty had been serious enough for long enough to lead to a distinction between fee-paying schools and poor schools. In 1864, a church school was established under one G.W.D. Wilson. It appears that the school was open to all whites, but soon 'a stigma became attached to [it] because it attracted chiefly the poorer element'.[34] In 1870, a group of farmers and local businessmen opened a secular school for boys, with Wilson as a teacher, and in 1875 a similar one for girls. Both schools were fee-paying and, therefore, excluded indigent children. But Wilson made the education of poor white children his life's work and later left the boys' school and opened one for indigent children.[35] In 1894 it gained a municipal subsidy on the condition that parents had 'both' to be 'entirely European.' In 1898 and 1902, coloured parents, and in 1903 one Asian parent, applied for entry for their children, but all were refused.[36] The school, named 'The Wilson School', continued as a school for poor whites paying no fees until 1938 when it was the scene of a dramatic 'sit in' organized by a faction of local Afrikaner nationalists.[37] In addition, a few Afrikaner notables took up the issue of


education of indigent children in the countryside by establishing two central farm schools and an agricultural school for boys in 1930, a set of policies which were part of the controversy over an attempt to get poor whites 'back to the land'.[38]

Afrikaner Women and Their Concerns After 1900

For Afrikaners the period after 1899 had been politically traumatic. Cradock was part of the Midlands, a zone that the British Army tried and failed to keep clear of commandos from 1900 on. Already in July, 1901, a rebel had been sentenced to death in the market square with all adult males required to be present.[39] In October, two (perhaps four) more rebels were sentenced in the square.[40] Next morning, these rebels were executed within earshot of the town. These issues were revived in 1907 when a memorial was erected in the local cemetery to those Afrikaners who had died 'in this district' during the war, including Cape rebels and men from the OFS and Transvaal.[41] In its attempt to keep a potentially rebellious district in order, the army had resorted to less drastic methods as well. In mid-1901, some 40 men and 41 women, most of them from Cradock and its district and described as 'undesirables', were sent to Port Alfred to live at their own expense until the war was over. The 'undesirables' were certainly unrepentant, had themselves photographed while in Port Alfred, men and women separately, and some of them returned to Cradock to play a vigorous role in the new institutions and debates of the future.[42]

The significance of the Anglo-Boer War for Afrikaner politics has usually been written about in terms of the subsequent loyalties of men and their relations with their leaders in that war.[43] We have long known, however, that at particular moments, Afrikaner women have had a major role in politics, as when they rejected their menfolk's acceptance of the British annexation of Natal in 1843.[44] Both John X. Merriman and Olive Schreiner believed that women had played a major role in the 'first war of independence' in 1881.[45] In the Anglo-Boer War itself many women in the Transvaal and Orange Free State were active—at least one served with a commando—but most took on the considerable responsibility of running farms in the absence of the men. There is little evidence that they were ever a force for surrender or accommodation, and much that they were a force for militancy.[46] British soldiers and policy-makers frequently commented on the behaviour of the women, and evoked the image of a 'Boer woman in [a] refugee camp who slaps her protruding belly and shouts "When all our men are gone, these little Khakis will fight you." '[47]

Afrikaner women in the republics were continuing a tradition of selfstandigheid —self-reliance—characteristic of women on the expanding frontiers of the nineteenth century.[48] They were soon joined politically by their sisters in Cape Colony. Farm burning had begun at least as early as March, 1900, and with the coming of Boer prisoners of war to Cape Town in large numbers, 'Dames Comites' ('Ladies' Committees') were set up throughout Cape Colony to make collections of cash and clothing on their behalf.[49] In October 1900 there was a meeting of women at Somerset East, only fifty miles from Cradock, and a much larger one—2000 - at Paarl in November.[50] At the latter meeting they heard a message of denunciation of farm burnings by Marie Koopmans de Wet, a grande dame from Cape Town who seems to have presided over a salon and been active in cultural affairs, particularly in promoting use of the Dutch and Afrikaans languages, and in politics.[51] These Cape women were identifying with Afrikaners elsewhere and a sense of having escaped farm burning probably increased their resentment and militancy. The shooting of rebels and the forced hearing of


sentences inevitably involved friends and relatives; perhaps many women attended the grisly proceedings in the Cradock market square with a grim determination to avenge.

At this stage, it is possible to make a brief comment on the probable class character of the women participating in these public activities as a result of the war. The Afrikaner community at the turn of the century was nowhere near as economically differentiated as it subsequently became: if one had subtracted rural occupations, the church, and the law from the total Afrikaans-speaking community, little would have remained. Within the group of rural origin, there was a distinction between the comfortably off and the struggling, and it was the former who must have had the leisure and the resources to travel to meetings, and the social and intellectual self-confidence to protest against government policies. From biographical literature we can identify a 'more than comfortable' leader like Mrs de Wet, but we have no material on the rank and file at large gatherings like that at Paarl in November, 1900. It seems highly unlikely, however, that many of them could have been described as 'poor white'.

Afrikaner Women Organize in Cradock

In the existing literature on South African history, the mobilization of Afrikaner ethnicity is written of at great length, but the crucial agents are invariably male—teachers, professors, ministers, politicians and, much later, businessmen and financiers. Indexes rarely have the entry 'women', even in sophisticated recent work.[52] Yet the material to be presented here suggests that women were crucially important in the creation of Afrikaner ethnic consciousness, crucial not merely in their roles as wives and mothers, but as initiators of organizations and performers in the public arena.

In such societies as South Africa, with its complex divisions of colour, religion, and language, women in dominant, and perhaps in subordinate, groups played an important role in policing boundaries which did not have to be legal ones to be effective.[53] Those boundaries were ones of culture as well as race. As internal class divisions would obviously pose a threat to the persistence of a cultural group largely defined by language, Afrikaner women were sensitive to such threats. Fortunately we have the records of one group of Afrikaner women in Cradock who organized themselves into the Afrikaanse Christelike Vrouwe Vereeniging (Afrikaans Christian Women's Association, or ACVV). We shall investigate their role in blunting such class divisions through their work, particularly in education and social welfare, concluding with a brief examination of their role as maintainers of racial and ethnic boundaries.

The organization of Afrikaner women in Cradock began as a result of concerns over farm burning in the republics and the prisoner of war camps in the Cape. On 13 March 1900, five months into the war, De Middelandsche Afrikaander published a letter from Elizabeth Jordaan urging the women of Cradock to form a committee. By July one had been formed.[54] Further meetings followed in Cradock to discuss the formation of an organization of women to take up a wider range of issues. On 20 November, four women issued a call in De Middelandsche Afrikaander to a general meeting on 1 December. Soon thereafter, in March 1901, the four women—Hannie Michau, Pollie Michau, Levina van Heerden and Emmie Venter—were sent as 'undesirables' to Port Alfred, to return soon after the signing of the peace treaty in May, 1902.[55] From the beginning of 1901, the name Afrikaander Vrouwen Vereeniging (Afrikaner Women's Association, or AVV) appears, and the organization apparently functioned successfully, helping


with war orphans and sending clothing to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The first president, Mrs Reyneke, wife of the dominee, died in July 1902, shortly after the execution of her brother. This local sadness, however, did not sustain the movement: with the end of the war, enthusiasm apparently began to wane.[56]

In November 1902, Elizabeth Jordaan wrote to Mrs Koopmans de Wet, asking for support for the establishment of a landwye (country-wide) organization of Afrikaner women. Mrs de Wet replied, supporting the idea and urging respect for domestic life and for age, a sense of honour in being an Afrikaner, an awareness of having a history like any other people, following the tradition of European nationalism, and anticipating much in Africa.[57] Above all, continuing with an interest in the Afrikaans language movement which she had shown all her adult life, she stressed that 'woman and girl must prize their language; if they always speak it to each other, then the men will do the same . . . English must be learnt and read, but not at the cost of our own dear language'.

The Cradock committee decided to publish this letter, and after meetings in Mrs de Wet's house in Cape Town, the rules of the Cradock AVV were adopted with few amendments for a colony-wide organization. In September 1904, the Zuid Afrikaansche Christelike Vrouwen Vereeniging (South African Christian Women's Association) was established, and in 1906 the annual congress was held in Cradock, after which the 'Zuid' was dropped and the modern form ACVV adopted.[58] There was a political issue here: 'South African' and 'Afrikaans' are hardly synonymous except to an ardent Afrikaner nationalist. Furthermore, Mrs de Wet objected to the conversion of a women's movement into an ethnic one: she wanted it open to all Christian women, including Roman Catholics, and withdrew when she failed to carry the point. There was also a religious issue because some members objected to adding 'Christelike,' preferring the earlier secular form.[59] Mrs de Wet's more inclusive, more strictly feminist, position parallels that taken earlier by J.H. Hofmeyr in his differences with such contemporaries as Paul Kruger in the Transvaal; for Hofmeyr it was not necessary to be an Afrikaner to be a South African.[60]

The ACVV, therefore, quickly became an ethnic and a Christian movement, closely committed to the Dutch Reformed Church, but not controlled by it. Something of its spirit can be felt in the words of Elizabeth Jordaan who rapidly became an important person in the provincial organization, and in 1930 completed a term as president. Addressing the 21st congress in 1930 in Cape Town, she echoed themes dear to Dr Malan and other Afrikaner nationalists from the founding of the National Party in 1914.[61]

We feel that we are together, because we belong together; and this feeling of belonging togetherness is in the final analysis the deepest foundation of our association. I trust that we shall never abandon that and that the ACVV, true to its motto, through love of Volk, Language and Church, will always be inflamed (aangevuur ) . . . . Our work is so wide, like the social, cultural and spiritual welfare of the Afrikaner wife and mother . . . . [We try] to mitigate distress, to help the sick and the weak . . . to care for abandoned children . . . to give lodgings and bring children to adequate care in schools. We help them with books. We nourish their love for what is their own. We guard over the interests of our language.[62]

In Cradock, the ACVV seems to have followed closely the spirit of Mrs de Wet's letter, concentrating heavily on religious, moral and cultural issues: in 1905 it sent £30 to support a teacher in Rhodesia; it offered prizes for 'Hollands' in


local high schools and sharply criticized the English-speaking principals in 1906 for not publicizing the prizes sufficiently; in 1907, in a resolution for Congress, it pressed for mother-tongue instruction; in 1910 it asked the school board to open schools at the beginning of term on a Tuesday, not a Monday, so that pupils would not have to travel on Sunday; in 1913, it complained to the municipality about 'mixed bathing'—a mixing of sexes, not races—and asked the principal of Rocklands, the girls' high school, for reports in both languages.[63]

The Social Concerns of the A C V V

From early on there was an enlargement of activity to include the social problems of poor whites, reducing the predominance of purely cultural issues. The shift was almost certainly a consequence of the accelerating depopulation of the countryside throughout South Africa and the increasing attention being given to it by the church. The Cape Dutch Reformed Church had established a 'labour colony' at Kakamas on the Orange River in 1897, and a Cape Select Committee on poor whites had reported in 1906.[64] Presumably the ACVV of the Cape took up these social issues partly because they were dramatized for Cradock members by the holding of the church's conference on poor whites there in 1916, at which W.M. Macmillan gave a paper and Dr Malan, a future Prime Minister, gave an address.[65] It was an appropriate platform for Malan. As a Nationalist he had stood for parliament in Cradock in 1915, but had been defeated. At the conference on poor whites the following year, however, he showed that he appreciated the political possibilities of the issue. From then on the theme of Afrikaner poverty and the great exodus was central to his activity as shown in his speech to another church congress in Bloemfontein in 1923, and his major speech on the Second Great Trek to the cities in 1938.[66]

The social issues relating to poor whites—poverty, housing, clothing, care of children—were ones that could be kept separate from those ostensibly dividing the political parties—constitutional symbolism, language, and relationship to Britain. There was locally a great deal of cooperation between English-speakers and Afrikaners in helping the poor. For example, Toc H, a veterans' group born in Flanders in 1916, its women's section (the 'Toc-Emmas') and the Boy Scouts, all overwhelmingly English-speaking, ran summer camps for poor white boys and girls in the 1930s.[67] It is important not to read later divisions into earlier periods. In 1910 the ACVV 'made up' the graves of the rebels, a touchy issue, and voted £10 for flowers to be placed on the graves each week; in 1914 it erected railings round the graves.[68] But in 1911 it presented an address of welcome to Louis Botha, the prime minister of the new Union (Afrikaners had not yet split publicly in politics), and in 1914 provided beskuit (rusks) for the Cradock Commando which had been called up for service in the Rebellion.[69] In 1923, the ACVV provided refreshments for the visit of the Governor-General and, in 1924, sent representatives to a local committee to plan the visit of the Prince of Wales.[70] Throughout its history up to 1939, and even beyond, the ACVV trod a careful, non-party, line between securing the interests of Afrikaners and identifying itself with the National Party: one could, in fact, be ethnic in orientation without being Nationalist in a party sense.

The ability to straddle the political fence can be seen in the personnel of the executive. There must be few organizations where there has been such continuity. The formidable Elizabeth Jordaan (1859–1950), who played such a role in founding the organization, was president from 1904–6, and then after terms by others of three and two years, she became president in 1911 and remained so for 33


years. She was much feared; even today, she is a woman one has to talk of with care. She joined Miss Minnie van Rensburg (1883–1955) who had been elected secretary in 1908 and remained in the post to 1950. Then in 1912 they were joined by Mrs J. J. van Rensburg, (1874–1947) a young widow who became vice-chairwoman and held that position to 1944, when she became chairwoman until 1947. As if this were not enough, the treasurer, Minnie van Deventer (1884–1974), joined the organization in 1911, gained office in 1920 and remained there until 1957. There was, therefore, effective continuity of personnel in the executive from 1911 to 1948.

There is evidence that the executive was non-partisan as well as long-serving. Mrs van Rensburg was a loyal Smuts supporter, i.e. not an Afrikaner nationalist but a believer in Anglo-Afrikaner 'conciliation', an important person locally, a town councillor, mayor from 1936 to 1938, and for long president of the Vroue Sendingsbond (Women's Missionary Association). And the ACVV's evenhandedness on social welfare issues can be seen in the admission from the early days of white English-speakers to its old people's home.[71]

The connections between the ACVV and the growing Afrikaner nationalist movement were nevertheless close, even if informal. In 1914, the rebellion produced yet another set of events about which Afrikaners could differ on the basis of their attitudes to the 'British connection', a polarizing agent which was a boon to the newly-created National Party. One of the immediate consequences nationally was the founding of Helpmekaar (Help together), an organization to pay the fines of those found guilty of rebellion, another example of Afrikaners in the Cape, few of whom rebelled, sympathizing with and aiding those to the north who had. Helpmekaar put out a lavishly illustrated book, giving the executives, with photographs, of each district. In the section on Cradock, we find some familiar faces: Mrs E. Venter and her husband, both 'undesirables' in 1901, Elizabeth Jordaan, A.J. de Kock (chairman), manager of the local Afrikaner multi-purpose shop, De Cradock Handels-Maatskapy, Mrs J.C. Reyneke, second wife of Cradock's dominee, and several other notables—all, except Mrs Reyneke, already active Nationalists.[72] After the fines were paid, Helpmekaar found it had money to spare and became in the 1920s an important source of funds for scholarships for Afrikaner children. But, however close the connection of individuals to organized Afrikaner nationalism, the ACW remained an organization devoted to Afrikaners generally: its motto became ' Vir Kerk, Volk en Taal ('For Church, People and Language'), and it worked steadily for maximum coordination with the activities of the state, especially after the establishment of the Department of Social Welfare in 1937.[73]

On the basis of this material on Cradock we can draw two preliminary conclusions. First, these women were, in Gramsci's terms, to a limited degree playing the role of 'organic' intellectuals, especially in creating a 'homogeneity and an awareness . . . in the social and political fields'.[74] They were defining cultural symbols, particularly in religion and language, both wrapped up in the powerful notion of the volk, protecting the community from loss by acculturation into other groups, and preserving an Afrikaner cultural base which could be defended in the political realm by the men. They were doing more than being wives and mothers—they were actively involved outside their homes, serving their community as they defined it.

Second, their relation to class interests may be more problematic, especially if we follow Gramsci in defining the organic intellectual as essentially giving a social group 'an awareness of its own function . . . in the economic field'.[75] The leadership in Cradock was undertaken by a group of women who paralleled in their social position those active in Cape Colony affairs at least from the


Anglo-Boer War onwards. The Cradock bestuur (executive) and those attending meetings seem to have been a reasonably comfortable, but not a wealthy, lot. Mrs Jordaan was the wife of a retired farmer, active in local politics; Mrs van Rensburg was the widow of a farmer who had gone into government service; the Misses van de Venter and van Rensburg were the daughters of farmers, and two active members were the wives respectively of a primary school teacher and an auctioneer. The ACVV in Cradock, therefore, was certainly not an organization of the poor in which the poor played an active role, however much the organization worked for their welfare. However, there is no evidence in its records of class antagonisms in the Afrikaner community, and it is difficult to define the specific class in whose interests these comfortably-off women of rural origin might have been acting.

Fortunately the minutes of the ACVV's bestuur from 1903 on have survived. A reading of them gives one an impression of an organization run with an iron hand—Elizabeth Jordaan's—and based on an extremely effective use of ad hoc committees. Little time seems to have been spent on gesellige (conversational) activities—discussing recipes, sewing, and domestic matters generally. The business of each meeting was some aspect of the cultural and material affairs of the volk .[76] If information was lacking, an ad hoc committee was appointed at once, to report back by the next meeting. The meetings themselves were arranged frequently on an ad hoc basis: in 1925, for example, there were four quarterly regular general meetings, three special general meetings, four regular bestuur meetings, and three special bestuur meetings. Attendance at these meetings was always small, but the important people were always there, and so the distinction between general and executive meetings was not of much significance. The practice of holding meetings on Saturdays had obvious advantages. The town had its own bestuur of eight members, the dorpsbestuur (town executive), and each of five wyke (church wards) in the district had a representative on the district bestuur . It was not difficult for town members to be in touch with each other, and by meeting on a Saturday, it was possible for the town members to communicate, even to hold brief meetings, with those wyk members who came into church on Sunday, a convenience especially valuable at nachtmaal, four times a year.

The ACVV did not believe in undertaking its errands of mercy unaided by the state. Throughout its proceedings there is an awareness of government subsidies, and continuous pressure on local authorities to act—its old ladies' home, hostels for indigent children, and commercial school were all subsidized. And because of its effective committee and reporting system, its executive members had a detailed knowledge of its beneficiaries such as is possible in small urban communities, an important resource when dealing with officials with Gladstonian ideas of economy. It was also efficient in raising money for its activities and for the church generally. It made itself responsible for the annual dankfees (thanksgiving) bazaar, a device for local money raising used by all white churches in Cradock. In addition, they became unofficial public caterers, taking on luncheons, teas, and dinners for the municipality, the divisional council, or for congresses, at times driving a hard bargain with the mayor, and generally realizing considerable profit, because frequently members would donate ingredients.[77] In doing this work for a fee, they seem to have had little competition from their Englishspeaking Methodist and Anglican counterparts who lacked the numerical and economic resources to do more than run their own annual bazaars and one picnic for their respective Sunday schools.[78]

Although the ACVV was, and remained, a women's organization, it made a good deal of use of the voluntary services of men. As we shall see, they frequently


differed with the men and by no means regularly deferred to them. In the old people's home which they opened in 1928, the treasurer was Elizabeth Jordaan's husband, and for years the books were audited by an Anglican English-speaker of impeccable Smutsite credentials, J.A. Cull, who had, however, married into the Nationalist branch of the Michau family.[79] Similarly in the girls' hostel, Cypressenhof (Cypress Court), run by the ACVV, the treasurer was Max de Kock, managing director of the Cradock Handels Maatskappy.[80] These men certainly did not control the organizations they assisted, however deferentially women appeared to behave; within this small-town bourgeois world, the free technical assistance by qualified men was always readily available.

Some sense of the flavour and content of proceedings can be gained from these two abbreviated entries in 1926:

10 July 1926. Saturday. Regular Bestuur . Ten blankets for boys' hostel. A few members said Mrs Barnard was sending her children out to beg. Mrs Hattingh and Miss Haarhoff to go and see her. Some think the Fourie family does not need so much help. . . . Resolved: to ask the Kerkraad (church council) to give £30 out of the Susan Schoeman Fund to Wilson School feeding.

31 July 1926. Saturday. Regular Bestuur . Fourie family need food. Husband denies he has TB and is careful about the risk of spreading it. Mrs Barnard denies begging. Says she's in a tiny room in backyard of Mrs van Heerden who promises to see Mr O'Connor (the building inspector).

These minutes show a Dickensian world of middle class charity, the enforcement of the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor by timely inquiry into whether so-and-so was behoeftig (needy) enough. It was also charity within a specifically ethnic context—the charity was directed towards the Afrikaner poor.[81] Such work to some extent bridged the social gulf between the comfortable and the needy within the volk, and if successful would surely rescue them from ontvolking (denationalization), at the hands of either the English, the coloured minority, or the black majority, or some alien ideology transcending ethnic and racial differences. Unfortunately for the historian, the legitimacy of the activity was taken for granted by these actors, so that there was no discussion of the merits of the policies of rescuing the Afrikaner poor. No factions appeared which can be correlated with class antagonism, and the charitable work seems to have gone far towards encapsulating such possible conflicts.

The quotations from the minutes show the organization's preoccupation with the problems of the Afrikaner poor, especially in the town, but not only there. It is well known that a great deal of the debate on poverty among South African whites was couched in terms of 'back to the land' policies, and much of the debate on education was determined by a belief that education would somehow be able to make opportunities in the countryside for landless whites.[82] The ACVV in Cradock, however, seems to have come early to the view that the Karoo countryside was no place for the children of the Afrikaner poor, particularly for its girls, and that Afrikaners faced an increasingly urban future, views which placed them in interesting opposition to their menfolk.

The history of 'back to the land' policies and their demise is a subject in itself. Afrikaners, men and women, were divided on the issue, though the debate was seldom clear, and it tended to cross party lines. Important English-speakers in mining, such as Percy Fitzpatrick and the influential Lionel Philips, became ardent proponents of agricultural development schemes for British settlers, partly because they saw a limited future for white labour in the mines and wished to


replace it with cheaper black labour, but partly also to increase the English-speaking population.[83] Among Afrikaners there were fanners, including Cradock's MP from 1924 to 1929, G.C. van Heerden, a Smutsite, who attacked the sheltered employment of poor whites on the railways, referring to the benefits of working on farms and using the familiar argument of the 'perks' available to the farm worker.[84] Presumably such men were also ambivalent about government subsidized irrigation settlements for poor whites such as those at Hartebeestpoort in the Transvaal and on the Orange River at Upington and elsewhere.

'Back to the land' was more a cry of anguish than the basis of a coherent set of policies. Nationalist politicians did not have a rurally based strategy: as early as 1916, Dr Malan spoke of the necessity of urbanization.[85] When the Nationalists came to power in 1924, they took the incipient protectionism and related industrialization of the Smuts government much further, and by expanding the use of 'civilized labour' in government departments and local bodies, created jobs off the land.[86] The Afrikaner farmers who opposed such policies locally do not seem to have faced the fact that they, as large farmers, were probably part of the problem. Eastern Cape agriculture had long been commercialized—it is virtually impossible to have a small subsistence holding in the Karoo. But it was the Cape wool farmers particularly who were contributing to the urban drift by fencing, by dispensing with the services of the bywoner, and by ending tenancies.[87] Their position, therefore, seems to have been based on a fear for future labour supply and, perhaps, on a traditional Afrikaner antipathy to cities as corrupting and alien places, rather than on a clearly thought out programme to support a larger white population in the countryside.

The A C V V and Afrikaner Education

Such a policy would have had educational implications. From before Union there had been attempts in the Cape to enforce the attendance of white children at school, and immediately after Union in 1910, a committee of the Cape Provincial Council inquired into the problem of attendance in the poverty-ridden northwest Cape where the population was highly dispersed.[88] In the Cape there were two approaches: one was to set up single-teacher day schools to meet the needs of a few farms, which had the advantage of limiting the demands on daily transport; the other was to develop 'central' schools outside of town, a device to keep children in the countryside, but to achieve some concentration of pupils—50 to 100—by building hostels where children were to receive some agricultural training and to work on the school farm in the afternoon, hopefully to supply the hostel with its vegetables and dairy products. Two such schools were established in the Cradock district, one twelve miles to the west at Kaalplaats founded in 1916, the other thirty miles to the east at Elandsdrif and founded in 1927. In addition, in 1930, at Marlow, six miles north of Cradock, an agricultural school for boys was founded, presumably to train the skilled labour, and particularly the foremen, for South Africa's white owned and managed farms. In all three cases, the cause had been advanced by Izak B. van Heerden, the owner of Kaalplaats, a farm of 3084 morgen (8000 acres), and member of a genuinely notable family which had been granted farms when two of their holdings at Cradock had been expropriated in 1812 to provide for the new town.[89]

A further device had been used—the urban hostel—to give children access to the even larger schools in the town. In Cradock were two Goeie Hoop (Good Hope) hostels, one, Toekoms (Future), for boys; another, at Cypressenhof, for


girls. These two hostels, extremely spartan institutions, made possible the attendance of boys and girls at the Wilson School where no fees were charged but education stopped at Standard 6 for boys, the end of primary school, and Standard 8 for girls. The boys' hostel was run by a committee of men from the Kerkraad (the all-male church council), and the girls' hostel by the ACVV, both of them subsidized by the Cape Education Department. In 1926 an inspector commented with some asperity on the contrast between the girls' hostel—excellently run—and the boys'. The crestfallen Kerkraad invited the ACVV to take the boys' hostel over, which they agreed to do.[90] But when the Elandsdrif central school opened in 1927, the Kerkraad, with the support of the School Board and the Cape Provincial Administration, appealed to the ACVV to close the boys' hostel down because they feared that there would not be enough boys. The ACVV bestuur refused: there were, they said rather tartly, enough poor whites to go round.[91]

Behind this debate was not only a difference about the nature of the future facing Afrikaners, i.e. an urban or a rural one. There was another, related to the preservation of jobs for whites. At first, Afrikaner men and women in this debate in Cradock looked to place whites in jobs already being done by blacks and coloureds. In the early 1920s, the ACVV had planned to open a school of domestic science for girls and later received some land from the Town Council for it.[92] Thus in 1926, Elizabeth Jordaan appealed to white employers to use Afrikaner girls as domestic servants, especially as nannies, in a straightforwardly racist appeal not to leave the raising of white children to blacks.[93] The whole 'civilized labour' policy carried within it an implied recognition that Africans were competitive with whites and involved the actual displacement of blacks in jobs they already held. In agriculture, this meant that the employment of whites on farms would at least be stabilized, perhaps even expanded, at the expense of blacks.

The women of the Cradock ACVV seem to have seen earlier than the men that education for an urban future in fields then largely held by English-speaking whites was the more realistic and sensible policy. Specifically, they realized that there was no future in South Africa for the white nanny, in town or country, except in the homes of the very wealthy. Whatever jobs were available in the countryside for young white males who were not in line to inherit a farm, there was virtually nothing available for young white women.[94] Young white men on farms were seldom placed in the ambiguous position which faced the white nanny in the farm kitchen. As one speaker protested at the ACVV Congress in Cradock, in April, 1926: '[white domestic servants] are treated on the same footing of equality and during the lunch hour are forced to have their lunch in the same room [as non-Europeans] or go into the street'.[95]

This muted conflict over education policy did not take place in a vacuum. The women of Cradock were members of a Cape-wide organization which was linked with the Afrikaner women's organizations in other provinces, and of the Vroue Nasionale Party (Women's National Party).[96] The Carnegie Commission in 1932 drew attention to the far greater mobility of young women than young men out of the rural areas, especially from the 1920s onwards; frequently it was daughters who preceded the males in the shift of a family to town.[97] Furthermore, the Commission noted the strong preference of young women for factory work over domestic service because of the shorter working week, and the greater freedom in leisure time.[98] From the mid-1920s, these married women in small towns showed an interest in, indeed anxiety over, the fate of young women in the cities, and became aware of the difficulty of finding work for the young women of rural


origin, who were not well qualified for nursing or for teaching, and who even lacked the skills for adequate housekeeping. By 1924 the ACVV had appointed its first full-time social worker and a leading member, M.E. Rothmann, was a member of the Carnegie Commission on the poor whites which reported in 1932.[99]

The new Nationalist government in 1924 faced major problems in education largely because of the impending breakdown of the system which left the financing of education to the provinces. To relieve them, the Union Department of Education, established in 1910 to look after education other than primary and secondary, had taken over technical and vocational education in 1923, and in 1925 expanded its role to include agricultural schools for boys.[100] The policies adopted by the Nationalist government provided for intervention by the central government in local communities through subsidies for 'technical' and 'vocational' education, which included shorthand, typing and bookkeeping—fields important for women. And it may have helped the cause in Cradock that in 1927 Dr S.F.N. Gie, Elizabeth Jordaan's son-in-law, became Secretary for Education.[101]

Coincidentally or not, in 1927 the Cradock ACVV turned its attention to the founding of a handelskool, a commercial school, initially offering evening classes to give those already in clerical work a chance to improve their qualifications in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.[102] There is some evidence that some of the impetus for this school came from the fact that the only commercial education available in Cradock was at the Dominican convent for white girls: in December, 1928 the Cradock ACVV passed a resolution for its coming Congress drawing attention to the ' Roomse gevaar' ('the Roman danger').[103] The school opened in mid-1929 and by August it had 30 pupils, and 'full time day' as well as evening classes.[104]

In general then, the ACVV devoted its major energies to the future of poor Afrikaner youth, helping them to get to school in town, providing for commercial education and for some feeding of children at school. Presumably, in school feeding the ACVV had its eye particularly on the poor children at the Wilson School who were not in the ACVV hostels but who lived in Cradock, and were poorly fed.[105] The activities in relation to the children went further: the ACVV pressed for state medical assistance to the poor; arranged with Dr Stewart, a specialist in Port Elizabeth, for free eye testing; persuaded Gert Jordaan, Elizabeth's husband, to provide transport; and paid for the spectacles.[106] It is important to emphasize that all this work on behalf of the children was not done with an explicit and public ethnic objective. The fact that schools and school feeding were subsidized would have precluded that. But because of the structure of white poverty in Cradock and its district, the beneficiaries were almost entirely Afrikaans-speaking.

This is, then, the story of a group of bourgeois women, urban and rural, taking on some of the problems of poverty within their own ethnic group, reaching across the gulf separating the poor from the well-to-do, and adopting policies which in retrospect appear to have been appropriate to the ends they had in view. Those ends were not only the mitigation of the consequences of landlessness and poverty: the ACVV was concerned with the preservation of 'people, church and language', and their activities contributed to the heightened sense of ethnic awareness that at all levels of Afrikaner society was so crucial in the election of 1948. It was a maternalism that concentrated on their 'own', a concentration which necessarily implied attitudes to the 'others' in South Africa; it is to that broader context that we now turn.


Women and the Maintenance of Ethnic Boundaries

There were areas in the activity of Cradock women in which ethnic and racial issues were explicitly raised. In a society like South Africa, the definition and maintenance of racial and ethnic boundaries is a central activity; in South Africa it is a major preoccupation of the state. Unlike much of the recent revival of ethnicity in the United States and in Europe, it has not had its origins in subordinate groups;[107] South African boundary maintenance is undertaken by a racially and ethnically defined minority which since 1948 has attacked an earlier British ascendancy, gained control of the state, and further enshrined racial divisions in the law.

The use this dominant minority has made of its power has provoked sustained criticism and hostility, and, understandably, a tendency by outsiders to exaggerate the monolithic character of the dominant group.[108] This tendency takes the form of either underestimating the amount of debate and conflict within that group, even only among its men, and of assuming that women and men think alike on all questions, or that, if women think differently from men, they are invariably overruled. These are, however, not positions that can be assumed. Women and men play different roles in any society, particularly in the raising of children and consequently in the choice of marriage partners: 'Any ethnic confrontation touches family . . .', as William Foltz has written.[109] Even if the society is effectively dominated by men on most issues most of the time, women are likely to have their own views on many issues and to support agreed positions with greater, or with less, intensity than the men.[110] And, of course, agreement cannot be taken necessarily to imply subordination.

There are several areas where these differences can appear in South Africa. There are ethnic distinctions from groups like the English, Jews and Lebanese ('Syrians'), all defined in South Africa as 'white', and therefore sub-groups of the white 'race'. Many Afrikaner men, having fought in the Anglo-Boer War, returned with a veteran's often grudging but real respect for his enemy and were, therefore, prepared to listen to Afrikaner proponents of conciliation like Generals Botha and Smuts.[111] Many Afrikaner women came out of the war with a consuming bitterness and a suspicion that their men were possibly unreliable on ethnic issues. Thus we saw that Mrs Koopmans de Wet regarded men as not to be trusted to insist on using the language.[112] She probably feared that the men, respecting power after a military defeat, might become English-speakers through self-interest and the daily activity of a market place dominated by English-speakers.

Married women in ethnically divided capitalist societies were far more confined within their ethnic segment than were their men, especially in South Africa, where domestic service was almost entirely an occupation for Africans and coloureds (but not Asians) and consequently had a stigma attached to it. White women were, therefore, largely confined to the home and to the company of servants and children, and outside the home often to church-related bodies which in South Africa were all ethnic ones. But virtually all married women had to shop, for themselves as well as for their families, and so commerce became the one multi-ethnic white area that they could not avoid. Similarly, Afrikaner women bought their clothes or materials in shops run by English-speakers and in commerce were likely to be employed by them, using English as the language of trade and still of government, though this was changing rapidly in the 1920s. In industry they were employed by English-speakers, and if unionized were likely to be led by English-speaking trade unionists, in one noted case a Jewish one.[113] The


fact that Jews, prominent especially in small town commerce, were English-speaking in South Africa probably reinforced a growing anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

The resentment by Afrikaner women at the refusal of English-speaking shop assistants to talk to them in Afrikaans was part of a revolt against the English ascendancy, and their pressure for equal treatment of their language, enshrined in the South Africa Act of 1909 (South Africa's constitution) was more than a cry for bilingualism for its own sake. Understandably Afrikaner women saw the unilingual shop assistant and the unilingual civil servant as not merely arrogant and insulting but as barriers to their children in the future. It is possible that Afrikaner women were less willing than their men to acknowledge the current importance of English in commerce and the professions, and they may well have looked forward to a time when the dominance of Afrikaans was complete enough for bilingualism to become a synonym for the preference of Afrikaans over English, i.e. the replacement of one ascendancy by another.[114] Nationally, the fight for bilingualism outside the schools could be seen in frequent resolutions at the National Party conferences which continue to be submitted, although with declining frequency, to this day.[115] In Cradock from early on, the ACVV took stands on language issues in the schools and at the training college. As recently as 1978, a young Afrikaner woman, a member of the ACVV, complained vehemently of her treatment in a shop in Port Elizabeth, the regional 'capital'.[116]

It has already been stressed that the ACVV was careful to keep itself out of party politics. In the 1920s that distinction was probably easier to sustain than after 1948. In Cradock one of the major patrons of the school feeding scheme was Alfred Metcalf, the local grandee, a lawyer and supporter of good causes—the Afrikaaner poor, public health for Africans, support of the Anglican church, and university scholarships for girls as well as boys. Thus the ACVV was prepared to fight for language rights, but was careful to acknowledge handsomely the help it received from English-speakers in relation to white poverty.[117] But in one area, they showed that they believed that some whites were more equal than others, and in 1926 they adopted an explicitly anti-Jewish position, the more remarkable because it was in a religious, not an economic or political context, and because it seems to have caught Afrikaner men by surprise.

The relation of Afrikaners to Jews has always been complex, especially in small towns where Jews played a central part in marketing the farmer's product. Although Jews were no longer the traditional smouse, or itinerant traders, they were frequently speculators in stock, travelling around the district, making offers for small lots of stock, useful to a farmer temporarily out of cash.[118] In small towns they ran butcher shops, hotels, general dealerships and the shops catering to the poor, black and white alike. There were enough Jews in Cradock—148 according to the 1926 census—to support a synagogue whose foundation stone is dated 1928.[119] In 1927, apparently before it was ready, the Jews applied to the Kerkraad for use of the Dutch Reformed church zaal (hall), and the Kerkraad agreed. In what must have been a considerable surprise and embarrassment to the Kerkraad, the ACVV executive wrote to deplore the fact that the Raad had allowed the hall to be used by 'die Jode1 —the Jews.[120] This developing anti-Semitism among Afrikaner women was also taking place among men: the Carnegie Report on rural impoverishment by an Afrikaner, J.F.W. Grosskopf, has references to the 'cunning means' by which poor whites were exploited by shopkeepers in towns, especially by Jews whose 'influence . . . was often pernicious'.[121]

With relation to blacks and coloureds, there are few allusions in ACVV minutes to race attitudes: the preoccupation with poor whites excluded the black and


coloured poor, and no cases, such as a 'doubtful' application for entry to the Wilson School, appear. There is, however, abundant evidence that nationalist Afrikaner women in the 1920s were taking a militant line on segregation. Both major political parties had separate parties for their women, and the Vroue Nasionale Party met annually and debated resolutions on a wide range of subjects. In 1928 the Party called for the training of 'native' nurses and doctors to be segregated at any hospital; at their 1929 congress they took a hard line against the employment of white nurses to nurse African and coloured patients, especially males.[122] This sexual and racial issue involved a piece of irrationality on the part of an organization that was prepared to use the state to protect access to particular jobs in favour of its own ethnic group.

The Cradock ACVV did, however, express itself on the necessity of segregation. In the 1920s, it had been given some land by the municipal council as a site for a school for domestic science for girls, but the site was returned to the council, partly because the school project was abandoned in favour of an old people's home and a commercial school, but partly also because the site was too close to the African location.[123] In 1928 also, when the council was considering a subsidized housing scheme for poor whites, the ACVV showed that they regarded rehousing as a means to ensure racially homogeneous neighbourhoods.[124] In doing so, they were simply reflecting what was happening in one town after another—with the coming of the Afrikaner poor to town, demands began to be made for segregation in housing. This was a new demand to be added to those from white temperance advocates who wanted the segregation of coloureds from blacks: under South African law, coloureds had freer access to liquor than did blacks, and as Cradock's 'location' housed both groups, coloureds did a brisk trade as couriers.[125]

In schools these pressures were strong, particularly in the western Cape, where, in the 1920s and 1930s, the changing school populations in the Cape peninsula brought a series of controversial cases on the admission of coloured children to schools, and the attempted elaboration of distinction between 'fully coloured' and 'slightly coloured'.[126] There were two kinds of dispute: one where a coloured child was seeking admission to a school, as had happened in the Wilson School in 1898;[127] the other where parents objected to the presence of children already in school, as happened in the cases in the Cape peninsula cited above. In Cradock there is no record of the former type after 1906 and no record at all of cases of the latter. It might be, therefore, that the mechanisms of exclusion worked effectively enough in Cradock to avoid such cases by operating in such a way as to prevent the claim to entry formally being made, and, therefore, leaving no documentary record behind. This is basically an argument from silence and subject to all the weaknesses of such arguments.

We are dealing here with a society in which women were playing the role of culture brokers, incidentally creating an ethnic self-consciousness and policing a social boundary. One consequence of the intimate knowledge that these middle class members of the ACVV executive had of the Afrikaner poor was an ability to define the boundary between white and brown Afrikaners. Membership of the white church, regular attendance, and acceptance as behoeftig (needy) by the ACVV would have been sufficient to put any doubts as to racial status to rest. There is no way of knowing whether any judgments by the executive as to lack of need were really ones of racial categorization, but it is highly unlikely that the ACVV would have helped a multiracial household. It would be interesting, moreover, to find out if there was any correlation between aid from the ACVV and church attendance. What is clear is that there was no appeal against the


judgments of the ACVV bestuur, and there is no record in these minutes, or in the local press, of protests from the poor.

There is another area of social welfare in which the acknowledgement of racial boundaries became increasingly clear. As a result of the anxieties raised by the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918–1921, which was particularly severe on coloureds, anxieties exacerbated by a serious plague scare in 1926, white women began to organize in a Women's Civic Association (WCA), hoping to organize across ethnic boundaries. The major issue taken up by the WCA was public health, particularly for the location, the result partly of a fear that the black and coloured poor were a major source of diseases which recognized no racial boundaries. The initial meetings were bi-ethnic and the WCA proceeded to persuade the Town Council to subsidize a nurse, and Alfred Metcalf anonymously put up £300 to pay for the building of a dispensary in the location.[128]

Without a major public split, the WCA gradually became a body representing English-speaking middle class women. At first, the ACVV was sympathetic to the health project, but cooperation was never really achieved because the ACVV kept its attention on the Afrikaner poor.[129] The location nurse, who was originally to have served white, black, and coloured poor, became by 1927 one to serve blacks and coloureds only. At a meeting of the ACVV on 6 September 1930, a delegation from the WCA asked for help with the nurse's salary, but in December, the wife of the Nationalist mayor, Mrs Hattingh, reported that she had persuaded the WCA to withdraw the request.[130] The ACVV remained an ethnic organization preoccupied with the white poor, which in Cradock meant Afrikaner poor, moving the Town Council to establish a clinic for whites and later, in 1949, appointing a social worker of its own, an operation which continues to this day. According to a black informant, in about 1950 a deputation from the location appealed to the ACVV to take up some of the activities of the long defunct WCA and its successor, the Joint Council. The reply, he said, was: Africans should organize themselves and mobilize their resources as Afrikaners had done.[131]


The material in this essay shows a group of Afrikaner women organizing themselves to protect and enhance the institutions which were fundamental to the survival of the Afrikaners as a separate cultural group—church and language. The ACVV had as its raison d'être the perception of its middle class leadership of the multiple threats facing Afrikaners as a separate racial and ethnic group. Those threats were made dramatically manifest in the Anglo-Boer War, and they persisted. There was a racial threat insofar as it was feared that many Afrikaners, locked into chronic poverty, would become coloureds unless uplifted and protected by segregative devices, such as separate housing, adequate social work, free education, and public health: the Carnegie Commission acknowledged miscegenation between poor whites and coloureds and urged policies to counteract it.[132]

The second threat was an ethnic one, a threat on the white side of the racial divide, which persisted even if Africans, coloureds, and Asians were all kept in their place. Looking to the future, they seem to have said that the poor Afrikaner youth would have a future only if they were educated to take advantage of the opportunities in an urban economy, thereby competing effectively with English-speakers; and that they would remain Afrikaners culturally only if the battle for bilingualism—which came to mean a victory for Afrikaans—was fought and won. This applied particularly to young women for whom there was even less work than


for men in the countryside, then or now. In taking this view, the ACVV showed an acute strategic sense and an impressive degree of public spirit within an ethnic context which led them to put in a great deal of work for which they received no material reward.

The rewards which these women received were political and cultural. But the link to politics was indirect. They made Afrikaners their special care, and by playing such a public and such an important role in cultural affairs and in social welfare, they ensured that the poor were helped, and were seen to be helped, by an organization most of whose leading members were also highly visible and active Nationalists. There was no need for the ACVV as a body to take explicit public stances on political issues: the members could do that equally well in political parties. Their position was comparable to that of the Dutch Reformed Churches in the period after the Anglo-Boer War: domiaees gained great influence because of their activities on behalf of the poor.[133]

In these social welfare activities, the ACVV had no competition from their political opponents in the South African (later the United) Party. English-speakers had no large body of poor in their own communities: new English-speakers were relatively wealthy and had little interest in the Afrikaner poor, or even in local politics generally. English-speaking women were indeed interested in social welfare: there was the problem of policing drunkenness—drunkenness by coloureds and Africans in the streets—on which whites could easily agree. It was also a licensing matter as to whether a local authority should have the right to declare its area 'dry'. This was a burning issue for white Methodists and Baptists, most of whose women were active in the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and to some Dutch Reformed Church members, but not to most Anglicans. There was, however, little political capital to be made from it among the white poor, urban and rural, English and Afrikaner.

What then was the role of the ACVV in politics? As an organization it had no role. But, as we have seen, the gaining of the franchise by white women in 1931 certainly did not initiate an active role by Afrikaner women in politics, as John X. Merriman's statement recognized.[134] Busy though they were in church matters, in the ACVV, and in the education of Afrikaner children, they were important in political organizations as well. They were always ready to put on suitably sober receptions to celebrate political victories, and National Party parliamentary candidates thanked them for their aid.[135] That aid was certainly more than simply providing tea; by the 1920s it was already clear that the local National Party was far more efficient in its attention to the voters' roll than its South African Party opponents. Much of the tedious clerical work required was probably done by women, leaving to the men the filing of applications for the vote with the magistrate and the challenging of names already on the roll in the registration court, public activity where male status would clearly be of value.[136] In addition, Cradock had its branch of the Vroue Nasionale Party, an active body which passed resolutions for annual congresses and raised local issues.[137] After they had been given the vote, the Vroue party disappeared, but the role of women was by no means diminished. One informant told me that when in 1938 the Malanite Gesuiwerde (purified) National Party candidate was defeated by a United Party man, a livid Elizabeth Jordaan castigated one unnamed male member of the party over the telephone, assuring him that 'We shall begin tomorrow at my house organizing for the next election.'[138] The National Party did win the seat in 1943, whether from Elizabeth's house or not is unclear, but the anecdote is wholly plausible.

In looking at the recent history of Afrikanerdom, scholars have frequently


commented on the mobilization of Afrikaners in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly through the exploitation of such historic events as the celebration of the Great Trek in 1938.[139] The idea of Afrikanerdom, as a touchstone by which to judge all sorts of public activity, became in a sense 'hegemonic' among Afrikaners, an overall means of judging whether a person was a ware Afrikaner, a 'true Afrikaner', or not.[140] Before the 1930s it was possible to be a good Afrikaner by being a good churchman and guarding the equal rights accorded to Afrikaans in the South Africa Act. As the mobilization of Afrikaners proceeded, the notion was extended in two directions: the patronage of Afrikaner business—with only moderate success[141] —and the support of the National Party where it was crucial in providing the narrow margin of victory in 1948.[142]

This use of 'hegemonic' differs from that of Gramsci, who coined it in relation to dominance by the state: modern states, he argued, had within them 'dominant groups' who elicited ' "spontaneous consent" caused by the prestige which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production'.[143] In South Africa the hegemony by 'spontaneous consent' was achieved only within the ethnos ; outside, its various forms of direct domination were used to achieve compliance from other whites as well as non-whites. Thus Afrikaner mobilization did not, as Greenberg writes, simply involve the inclusion of a wider range of class actors.[144] That inclusion took place only within Afrikanerdom and the 'spontaneous consent' was achieved with the object of cutting across class alignments which divided Afrikaners from each other. To what extent the successful creation of what can be called an 'ethnic envelope' was due to prestige derived by a set of actors from their 'position' in 'production', is another question altogether.

Yet the question of class alignments within Afrikanerdom cannot be so cavalierly pushed aside. As Van Onselen and Giliomee have shown, there was genuine class conflict among Afrikaners.[145] As early as 1913, however, Afrikaner trade unionists were already heeding the call of the volk rather than that of the working class on the mines.[146] Yet the middle class character of the ACVV in Cradock itself suggests the need for further inquiry. Why do certain individuals participate in public activity, what are the economic roots of such impressive public spirit, and why do comfortably-off families divide on political questions? So far, the Cradock material has not shown any class alignments, or publicly expressed resentments, based on the migration of poor whites from the countryside. Nor does it suggest that the Afrikaner members of the middle class saw the depressed poor whites in town as a threat in the sense that that they might join a self-conscious proletariat dedicated to overthrowing the bourgeois capitalist order. Rather, the evidence collected thus far suggests that they saw poor whites in characteristically South African terms, as a group on the way down to racial perdition, to miscegenation and therefore exclusion from the volk . That approach was adopted in the context of their bitterness at their conquest by Britain; in working for the opheffing (uplift) of poor whites, and for the integrity of church and language, they were meeting the racial and the ethnic, i. e. cultural, threats at the same time. More detailed work on the economic history of such communities may help us yet to explain better how and why these women combined present threats with shared experiences to preserve, in church and language, the living hand of the past.


2— Afrikaner Women and the Creation of Ethnicity in a Small South African Town, 1902–1950

Preferred Citation: Vail, Leroy, editor. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. London Berkeley:  Currey University of California Press,  1989.