The Boers

In 1652, a group of people from Holland settled in South Africa. Holland is a region of the Netherlands, a nation in northwestern Europe. The people of Holland speak “Dutch.” These settlers came to be known as Boers because Boer means farmer in Dutch, the language spoken in Holland.

When the Boers initially arrive in South Africa, they thought new home was empty. In fact, it was a homeland for the nomadic Bantu people. Nomads travel from place to place in search of food. They need a large area to dwell in because they do not cultivate crops. The Bantus attempted to fight for their land, but their spears were no match for the Europeans’ guns. The Boers enslaved many of the Bantus and forced them to work on the colonists’ farms.

Great Britain assumed control of South Africa in 1795, after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The Dutch settlers were unhappy with British rule and became even angrier when the British outlawed slavery in 1835. The British government paid owners for their slaves, but the Boers complained the payments were too small.

Large numbers of people from Great Britain settled in South Africa after gold and diamonds were discovered. The resulting tensions led to the three-party “Boer Wars” among the British, the Boers, and the Bantus. that lasted from 1899 to 1902. The superior training and weaponry of the British army brought victory, but at a terrible cost.

The wars destroyed the economy of South Africa. The British realized that war would continue unless they offered some self-government to the South Africans. In 1910, the British formed the Dominion of South Africa, granting rights to the white Boers and British settlers, but not to the Bantu majority.

White South Africans would impose repressive Apartheid laws on the Bantu majority in the years that followed. More than eighty percent of South Africa’s land was set aside exclusively for whites. Years of domestic violence and international pressure forced the South African government to dismantle the apartheid system in the 1990s. In 1994, all South Africans were allowed to vote for their first time. They selected Nelson Mandela, the first black leader of the nation since the beginning of the Colonial era.


Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on African History.

The Arrival of the Boers (painting)

A portion of a Charles Bell painting that depicts the arrival of Dutch colonial administrator Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652.

The Boer Wars (painting)

The Boer War by Richard Caton Woodville (1900).