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 became known as Boers because Boer means farmer in Dutch, the language spoken in Holland.

When the Boers arrived in South Africa, they thought their new home was empty, but it was a homeland for the nomadic Bantus. 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 Bantus and forced them to work on the colonists’ farms.

Great Britain assumed control of South Africa in 1795. 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.

The Arrival of the Boers (painting)

The _Arrival_of_the_Boers

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.

Many British 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 from 1899 to 1902. The superior training and weaponry of the British army brought victory but at a terrible cost.

The wars destroyed South Africa’s economy. The British realized that the 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.

In the following years, white South Africans would impose repressive apartheid laws on the Bantu majority, where more than eighty percent of South Africa’s land was set aside exclusively for whites.

After years of domestic violence and international pressure, the South Africans dismantled the apartheid system. In 1994, all South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time. They selected Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president since the beginning of the Colonial era.


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

The Boer Wars (painting)


The Boer War by Richard Caton Woodville (1900).