The Boers

The “Boers” of Africa were a group of South Africans whose ancestors were of Dutch or German descent. Nowadays, we call the descendants of the “Boer” group the “Afrikaners.” The Boers were subsistence farmers (meaning that they grew enough food only to survive, nothing extra that they would sell) and because of this, were generally quite poor.

But despite this, they still felt superior to the other Africans they encountered. It was common for European visitors to treat the African people poorly when they came to visit the continent, and the European-descendant Boers were raised to behave in the same manner.

Sample of the Egyptian

The first European settlement established in South Africa was Cape Town. Cape Town was founded in 1653 by the Dutch colonist Jan Van Riebeek. As Cape Town grew in size and status, more visitors from Europe came to settle there, including French, Swiss and German people. As the Dutch colonization of South Africa became more successful, the European visitors found it harder and harder to get jobs.

With most of the manual labour being carried out by native African slaves, and the maintenance of the colony being controlled by a small number of government officials sent from the Netherlands, the European colonists were left with no choice but to take up the work of the “travelling farmer” and start their own nomadic tribes to survive. These people were the first Boers.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

The situation quickly turned hostile between the Boers, the Dutch colonists, and the native Africans. The Boers frequently fought with the native Africans in “range wars” (battles for control of the land) and argued with the Dutch colonies frequently due to the creation of anti-Boer laws that were intended to restrict their movements in the country.

Because of this, when Britain took control of South Africa at the beginning of the 1800s, the Boers were happy with the change in power at first. However, they soon realized that the British government wasn’t going to treat them any better than the Dutch had. The Boers also greatly disagreed with the British concept of freeing slaves.

From 1835 on, the Boers began to exit the areas around Cape Town and headed to new regions in the north, east, and west of South Africa. They established their own “republics” there, including the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region
For a time, the Boers lived happily in their free Boer republics. However, this all changed in 1868, when precious diamonds were discovered on Boer lands. A huge number of British explorers and miners moved into the Boer lands to take advantage of this discovery, and the British government attempted to claim the land as part of their colony in 1877. To do this, they sent in a great number of soldiers to seize it.

This led to a war between the British and the Boer people, – the First Boer War – which began in 1880 and ended in 1881. Though the British army was very well trained and well-armed for the time, they were beaten by the Boer forces. The Boer soldiers were skilled at shooting from far away and used “guerrilla” (hit-and-run/attack and retreat) tactics to weather down the British forces.

The British surrendered in 1881 and agreed to recognize the independence of both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

However, just five years later, this peace was broken yet again. In 1886, the discovery of gold in Boer lands led to the outbreak of the Second Boer War. In 1889, the British government began a war because they feared that the Transvaal would use their new wealth to take over the rest of South Africa. Though they first thought that the war would last only a few months, it actually took 13 years for the British to claim victory.

The war quickly became a huge conflict which attracted the attention of other countries besides South Africa and Britain; Australia and India fought with Britain, while Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands fought

with the Boers. When the war ended, the Boer republics became part of the British empire and lost their independent identity as a result. Their descendants, the Afrikaners, still live in South Africa today.

Facts about the Boers:

  • The Boers were South Africans of European descent.
  • ypically, Boers worked in subsistence farming.
  • The Boers were racist towards the native Africans and frequently fought with the Dutch colonists, whom they believed were trying to take away their freedoms.
  • The Boers first turned to nomadic farming at around the beginning of the 18th century.
  • After Britain took over the South African colony, many Boers migrated north. Two “Boer republics” were established outside of British control: the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State.
  • The Boer republics fought two wars with the British: the First Boer War (1880-1881) and the Second Boer War (1889-1902.) Both wars were fought for the control of precious resources (first, diamonds, and then gold.)
  • The Boer soldiers were skilled “marksmen” (good at using guns) and fought using guerrilla tactics.
  • After the Second Boer War, Britain took over the Boer republics, and the Boer lost their independent identity as a result. The modern descendants of the Boer people are called Afrikaners.

Kente cloth patterns


What people were the ancestors of the Boers?

– The first European settlers of South Africa, usually Dutch/German/French.

What kind of work did the Boer people typically do/what way did they typically spend their lives?

– Subsistence farming/as nomadic farmers, moving from place to place.

Name one of the Boer Republics.

– The Transvaal/The Orange Free State.

Who did the Boer people fight against in the First and Second Boer War, and why?

– Britain, for control of precious resources, and for the independence of the Boer states.
What’s the name given to the descendants of the Boer today?
– The Afrikaners.