Home History 322 lecture list Wallace G. Mills Hist. 322 2 VOC period

The VOC period

Themes in VOC period
(1) Fate of Khoikhoi in interactions with whites;
(2) Kind of society—attitudes to colour and social and economic rights;
(3) Transition to pastoralism—emergence of Trekboers and their society.
Khoikhoi—early contact and impact
- initial contacts were not hostile; local clans were accustomed to occasional contacts and to small amounts of trade. Van Riebeck and his successors were under strict orders to avoid conflict and fighting (it was very expensive!). However, conflict and friction were almost inevitable.

- white settlement almost immediately began to expand. The whites wanted to start cultivation of food to supply the company’s ensemble (so as not to have to import food) as well as produce some surplus for provisioning ships and for trade. Local Khoikhoi quickly came to resent this encroachment; one response was to drive their cattle into the fields of the colony.

- one attempted solution to the friction was to try separation:
- van Riebeck demarcated a boundary and planted a hedge of thorn bushes as a barrier. However, the boundary was quickly ignored and violated by people on both sides. Attempts to demarcate boundaries recurred again and again in South African history; such attempts always failed.

[Proponents of apartheid in the 20th C pointed to this first boundary as evidence that right from the beginning, separation was the only way to prevent violence when such different peoples were in contact; critics replied that this ‘solution’ didn’t work in the 17th C, had never worked despite frequent trials in the 18th and 19th Cs, and was even less likely to work in the 20th C! See how different conclusions can be drawn from the same event.]
- the Khoikhoi had essentially only one commodity which was of interest to whites—cattle. The Khoikhoi were interested in a number of articles—blankets, knives, pots etc.

- some have argued that liquor was used, but I have never seen too much evidence that this was a major item. Alcoholism emerged later, once independence was lost, but it seems to be more of an effect than a cause of Khoikhoi loss of cattle and independence. Very high rates of alcoholism have been noted among the Khoikhoi and their descendants, the Coloureds.

- tobacco also was soon much in demand; Khoikhoi were users of dagga (a form of hashish), probably even before the coming of the whites; certainly, farther east they traded with the Xhosa for it.

Problem for the Khoikhoi: Cattle were wealth and the only way of making a living and providing for themselves. Loss of cattle meant loss of identity and independence.

- although the herds which white settlers could see so invitingly looked large, Khoikhoi do not appear to have had large surpluses (i.e., productivity was not sufficiently large that they could part with large numbers and still maintain viability).
- one of van Riebeck’s early successors outlined a 4 stage process that had begun to appear after about 30 years or so. (This was remarkably similar to the process in the fur trade in N. America). The stages were like rings radiating out from the settlement.
Stage 1—those closest to the Castle (and the colony) had engaged in trade and many had lost their cattle and, therefore, their independence.

- these tended to hang around the settlement doing little jobs (often not very good workers) and begging; many drank and were already creating the image of the degraded, drunken Hottentot.

- they were starting to be incorporated into colonial society at the bottom (were technically ‘free’ but were dependent on colonial society for survival; they would gradually be incorporated into its labour force. They did have high mortality rates during epidemics.

- women were sometimes cohabiting with male slaves, but with a very few exceptions, not with whites.

Stage 2—these lived slightly beyond the colony, still retained some cattle, but were actively engaged in trade.

- often they were engaged as middlemen; i.e., they were trading some of the goods which they had received in trade with the Dutch with those Khoikhoi who lived beyond them. Thus, they were introducing the latter to and starting a demand for European goods.

- this group was getting vulnerable because already they were becoming dependent on European goods and were depending on trade to help satisfy these wants. If the Europeans bypassed them, they tended to lose their cattle and be reduced to Stage 1.

Stage 3—these Khoikhoi were just beginning to acquire European goods and be involved in trade. As yet, they were not dependent and their independence was not threatened.

- as yet, they had little direct contact with whites; although it was illegal, white burghers (i.e., white settlers who were ‘free’ in not being employees of the Company) had a tendency to try to engage in clandestine trade with Khoikhoi in this group.

Stage 4—these were farther away still and were not affected to any considerable degree. Small amounts of European goods might reach them but only in minuscule amounts.
- there was a tendency for the rings of influence to move outward and for the Khoikhoi to gravitate from Stage 4 to Stage 1.

- some of these processes speeded up as the colony grew. Because of early experience of friction in trade, the VOC had tried to retain trade as a company monopoly and to exclude free burghers from trading; the free burghers were often less scrupulous in their dealings, with friction and conflict resulting. However, as settlement spread farther from Cape Town, the Company’s ability to control the white burghers diminished markedly.

- this economic process is a partial explanation of why the Khoikhoi succumbed.

- a more important factor was probably the introduction of the white man’s diseases, especially small pox.
- recent research has uncovered part of the story. We know how devastating several of these epidemics were in the Colony, wiping our large proportions of slaves and Stage 1 Khoikhoi; one plague is estimated to have wiped out 90% of Stage 1 Khoikhoi.

- officials got reports of devastating effects on nearby clans; there were also stories and rumours of similar effects on distant clans (there is no way to assess the impact accurately). The diseases spread far beyond the white settlement and affected Khoikhoi who had no direct contact with whites.
- technology (guns and horses) were a factor, but a relatively minor one.
- a couple of Khoikhoi leaders were able to muster substantial resistance for short periods, but then failed. Khoikhoi political structures were weak and political authority was limited; the Khoikhoi were not able to combine effectively or for prolonged periods.

- later in the 18th C, some who lived with whites (many were mulatto offspring) did acquire guns and horses. Some of these were able to establish independence by moving into the interior and across the Orange River. The most notable of these were the Griqua and Bergenaars (Mountain People). Oorlams were another small group which had a separate identity for a while in the interior and the Karoo.

- in the interior, society could be coherent, even if unequal. Some individuals of mixed parentage or even Khoikhoi became highly trusted servants, looking after farms and herds for the settler family.

- some whites, when called out on commando, would instead sent along one of their servants complete with gun and horse to take their place and would expect to get a full share of whatever booty (cattle or perhaps captives—especially children) was taken by the commando.

- however, the system rested on coercion and violence. Recently, historians have been examining conflict and resistance; knowledge we have of such instances usually comes from court records so they have tended to be regarded as something that happens in all human societies. But, careful analysis can reveal very important insights into relationships. Some of the instances examined show how these could escalate into a rebellion. It can be assumed that lesser resistance was dealt with in a much more summary fashion by whites themselves.

- the commando system was adequate to cope with most resistance. Much of the warfare was cattle-stealing; with guns and horses, whites had important advantages.

- the San, on the other hand, proved to be much more bitter and resisted incorporation. They often tried to drive away intruders by attacking and maiming the cattle; as a result, they were intensely disliked by Khoikhoi as well as whites.

- adult San were usually killed outright, but children were often taken captive. It was a war of extermination (even into the 1870s when the last commando raid took place; this case actually brought an end to jury trials in such cases in the Cape Colony because of the scandalous verdicts reached by white juries).
VOC Society
- the nature of early VOC society, especially in regard to colour consciousness and exclusiveness, has been the subject of a good deal of debate. A considerable element in this debate has been the role of Christianity, and of Calvinism in particular, in the evolution and development of colour consciousness and exclusivity. The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) was the established church and church and state were firmly interlinked with each other. The DRC was strongly rooted in the Calvinist tradition of Protestantism.

- MacCrone argued in Racial Attitudes in South Africa that colour was not a major factor in the early stages of the colony. He maintained that religion was more important, and indeed, that the distinction between ‘Christians’ (restricted to members of the DRC and perhaps other Protestants, especially Calvinists, and definitely excluding Catholics) and ‘heathens’ was a fundamental one. What MacCrone argued is that it was only later that this distinction came to be synonymous with skin colour—i.e., whites were ‘Christians’ and non-whites were ‘heathens’.

- arguing that baptism was a crucial test because it granted membership in the church and recognition as a ‘Christian’, MacCrone noted that initially the children of the slave women were baptised. This was accepted without debate in regard to babies with white fathers; because of the lack of white women, white males in the colony found their sexual partners in the female slave quarters and the majority of the children of slaves (about 75% or more in early years) were fathered by white men. The children of ‘Christians’ were entitled to and should be baptised.

- the others with slave fathers were a matter of some debate because neither parent was a Christian who could provide religious instruction; Company policy was to baptise these children also. However, in 1666, an incident occurred during a service when such baptisms were to be performed; a clergyman, who happened to be visiting from a passing ship, interrupted the service and objected to the baptisms. However, the objection apparently had nothing to do with skin colour; some Calvinists argued that children should be baptised only if there were Christian parents or guardians who would ensure that the children received proper religious instruction. After reviewing company policy, officials completed the baptisms the following Sunday. The position was that the Company itself stood as guardians to ensure that the children received religious instruction. Later, a compromise solution was adopted whereby the baptism of such children could be delayed until the parents had received religious instruction and could be baptised at the same time.

- the issue of baptism was tied up with another issue: Could Christians be held in slavery? The general view was that they could not and that generally they should be freed. The Company did feel that it was entitled to be repaid for its expenses in rearing the slave children fathered by white men, but that they should be freed at some point; eventually the policy was that males were to be freed at 25 year of age and females at 22. Certainly, such children could claim freedom by right of their fathers. Imported slaves could be freed after providing good service for 30 years and slaves born in the colony at age 40, provided that they could speak Dutch and had been baptised.

- initially, all the slaves brought into the colony were owned by the Company. Later, in encouraging the privatization of agriculture and the economy, the Company endeavoured to provide a labour force for the free burghers by importing and selling them slaves. Officially, the Company policy was that slaves owned by free burghers should be treated the same way as Company slaves in regard to baptism. However, the evidence is that this was rarely enforced. Because they might have to be freed, private slave owners did not favour the children of their slaves being baptised as Christians or their slaves becoming Christian. Many owners preferred that their slaves be Moslems.

- marriage was another area to test attitudes. Legal, recognized marriage was possible only between ‘Christians’ and thus baptised members of the DRC. In the early years, there were some instances of marriages between white males and freed slave women. This seems to have become rarer later and by 1685 was forbidden. However, the freed children of mixed background were accepted as Christian and had no restrictions. In the early decades, many of these, especially the females, married and were absorbed into the burgher population. (This makes it nonsense for Afrikaners to claim to be ‘pure’ whites. The magic of genealogy means that there can hardly be any Afrikaner without at least one ‘non-white’ ancestor.)

- by the 1680s or 90s, references began to appear in the records to ‘swart burghers’—black citizens. MacCrone argues that the adjective was descriptive, not qualifying; i.e., it did not seem to indicate that they were treated differently or had fewer rights; their crimes and misdemeanours were punished with no more severity than whites (pretty savage for either) and crimes against them were punished with equal severity if perpetrated by ‘wit burghers’.

- they were not high in society, but were as well off as many whites; some were tradesmen or operated small businesses, such as wagon owner or small pub keeper.

- this has frequently been a source of puzzlement for Afrikaner historians who have tended to believe that colour and racial consciousness are innate; they were surprised to find that their early forebears show little evidence of it. Also, the ‘swart burghers’ showed little tendency to concede any awe or superiority to ‘wit burghers’..

- Who were they? Most were ex-slaves who had been granted or purchased their freedom.

- some historians (e.g., see Elphick and Giliomee) feel that the examples used by MacCrone are exceptions and that their use exaggerates the relative lack of colour consciousness. MacCrone acknowledged that things changed later, especially as slave ownership became more widespread beginning in the 1690s, but especially in the 18th C. The use of dark-skinned slaves for menial, physical labour tended to lower the status of freed slaves and anyone with a darker skin. The coming of more white women, or more especially, a closer balance between the sexes among the white settler population, brought a hardening of attitudes about the acceptability of marriage and sex across the colour line. This was especially noticeable as one got farther away from Cape Town.

- Jonathan Gerstner—“A Christian Monopoly: The Reformed Church and Colonial Society under Dutch Rule,” in Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenport, eds., Christianity in South Africa, (1997), pp. 16-30—provides an analysis of Calvinism and the ways that it influenced developments in South Africa. Calvinism in the Netherlands had significant differences in theology. The DRC in the colony was the established church but more under the control of the Company (the state) than was the case in the Netherlands itself. The Company chose and appointed the clergy. As a result there was probably less diversity.

- a position adopted by most Dutch Calvinists (and very influential at the Cape) was the idea that the offspring of ‘Christians’ (i.e., the elect) were also elect. Thus, baptism of children of ‘Christians’ (even if only one parent was a ‘Christian’) was acceptable and the proper thing to do as they were Christians by birth. Slaves in Christian households should be exposed to Christianity and could be converted. Even more, their children should be reared to become Christians. This was the basis for the Company’s policies regarding its own slaves. However, as we noted, private slave owners were not at all eager to have their slaves become Christians. Many, again this was especially true farther away from Cape Town and from the ordained clergy, used various texts in the Bible to question whether it was possible for the ‘sons of Ham’ and people so different to be saved and become part of the elect. They argued that the ‘heathen’ were predestined by God to be damned and to be the servants of ‘Christians’. Such ideas were not orthodox Calvinism but certainly were rooted in Calvinist dogmas.

- another important point made by Gerstner is the influence of the widely used Dutch version of the Bible, the States Bible. In it, the term used to describe everyone who was not a Jew was translated as ‘heathen’. This had a very different, pejorative connotation of being uncivilised. Moreover, at the Cape where the indigenous population and the slaves were so different culturally, everyone who was not a ‘Christian’ was a ‘heathen’. By birth and definition, all whites were ‘Christians’; on the other hand, only a relatively few people of colour were ‘Christian’. Although the VOC tried to maintain a policy which did not distinguish on the basis of colour, increasingly in the interior away from Cape Town, the terms increasingly were used as synonymous with colour. We shall return to see further aspects of this development.
The influence of Interactions with Khoikhoi on attitudes to colour.
- as noted earlier, there was not much sexual mixing in the early decades with the Khoikhoi; there was considerable physical antipathy, partly owing to the fact that Khoikhoi hygiene differed from white hygiene (whites frequently complained about the odour but Khoikhoi probably felt the reverse was true also; 17th C Europeans in general did not bathe often). Also, the Khoikhoi who came to live in the white settlement had lost cattle, were demoralised, were prone to alcoholism and mostly survived by begging. The name ‘Hottentot’ came to be the epitome of human degradation.

- MacCrone did find a notable marriage early in the colony's history—Eva.
- van Riebeck had hoped to establish good relations with the Khoikhoi; Eva was the sister of one of the local ‘captains’ and van Riebeck arranged for Eva and 2 other little girls to come and live with his family. They were educated with his daughters, were baptised and accepted as members in the church.

- Eva was formally adopted by van Riebeck and she married the colony’s doctor, with her dowry being paid by van Riebeck himself. A great deal was made of the wedding.

- unfortunately, the doctor was sent off on an expedition to Madagascar and perished there. After that, Eva’s career went downhill very quickly. She had several children by different fathers and became an alcoholic.

- over the next years, she was in repeated trouble for drunkenness and scandalous behaviour and was eventually sent to Robben Island (it was used as a prison and leprosy asylum almost from the beginning of the colony); finally, she died in a drunken stupor. She did not become the kind of example and precedent that van Riebeck had hoped for. One of the other women committed suicide when she was jilted by her white suitor. Suicide was treated as a crime and sin; as a result, she could not be given a Christian burial. The third eventually renounced Christianity and returned to live with her own people. Thus, none of them were regarded as a success.

- this experiment does not appear to have been repeated. Eva and the 2 girls were assimilated (lived with and educated along with van Riebeck’s daughters, became Christians). Partly because of Eva’s example perhaps, but more from experience of other Khoikhoi, the image of Khoikhoi came to be a very negative one. Nevertheless, in the interior especially, over time there came to be, as we have noted before, growing numbers of people of mixed genetic background. I have referred to this several times, because genetic mixing—so-called ‘miscegenation’— became a fixation, even obsession, in the 18th C and remained so ever since; it became an even greater fixation in the 20th C with Immorality Acts and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Acts.
- in fact, this hardening of attitudes and growing colour consciousness was especially notable in the interior; as settlement moved farther from Cape Town, the Company’s ability to control things diminished and whites increasingly took matters into their own hands in determining who had what rights and who didn’t.

- it was especially in the interior, on the frontier, that the South African tradition developed—that is, the tradition where rights and privileges depend upon possession of a white skin. Before discussing the nature of that tradition, we shall look at the 3rd theme, the transition to pastoralism and the development of Trekboer economy and society.
- ‘boer’ = farmer and ‘trek’ = journey or trip; thus, literally, ‘trekboer’ means ‘traveling farmer’ or ‘migrating farmer’.

- in the original settlement at Cape Town to the west of the Hottentots Holland Mts., the emphasis was upon agriculture. However, the Company had been unable to prevent burghers from acquiring and keeping cattle.

- the mountains had become the boundary, but as herds grew in the Stellenbosch-Paarl area, some farmers began to take their cattle into and beyond the mountains for additional pasturage for at least part of the year. There was an evolution as the distances became greater and farmers would stay longer. Also, younger men who wanted to become independent and get married found that this was an alternative.

- eventually, some turned to stock farming as their main activity; such limited agriculture as they practiced was for their own use. A couple of factors dictated this: distance made it uneconomic to transport grain very far overland to Cape Town while cattle could be driven there to markets; also, as they moved further east and north, rainfall diminished and often most of the land was really suitable only for pastoralism.

- this development began an interesting process: trekboers had much fewer material and intellectual/cultural ties as distance increased;

- educational levels declined and many were illiterate or nearly so; they were thrown mostly on their own resources in regard to religious instruction and training.

- standards of living were reduced; most built only crude sod houses or even lived in wagons. Cash virtually disappeared as wealth became mainly cattle, trade was in exchange and barter, and self-sufficiency became the major rule for families.

- in these respects, they became more and more like the indigenous peoples—pastoralists and a bit footloose. Trekboers
- the nature of pastoralism and the dryness of the country meant that the trekboer population was very dispersed; farms were very large (6,000 acres or more); it was said that trekboers did not like to be able to see smoke from a neighbour’s farm.

- they tended to marry at an early age (17-19 for men and 15-18 for women—sometimes even younger) and as a result, they had large families; this resulted in rapid population growth.

- in the interior, it came to be accepted as a birthright that each male deserved to have his own farm; given the large size of farms, the result was a voracious appetite for land. In dry areas, they needed water holes so some areas were not suitable as farms.

- there was also a large demand for labour to tend stock and as servants, but trekboers had little cash and few could buy slaves; thus, they came to rely upon the Khoikhoi and to coerce them into providing the needed labour.

- in the struggle for land and water, Khoikhoi society had largely disintegrated and the Khoikhoi were largely on their own in relatively small groups; with the advantages of guns and horses, the commando system was adequate to overcome most Khoikhoi resistance.

- thus, Khoikhoi survivors were forced into becoming a subordinate labour supply; while nominally ‘free’, they were little better off (in some ways perhaps worse off) than slaves. We’ll elaborate on their position shortly.
The procedure for holding land
- initially (finally giving in to what was happening anyway) the Company had begun to issue permits to go beyond the boundaries claimed by the Company in order to use grazing areas.

- at first, the permits did not define specific areas or register specific areas with Company agents; the Company did charge fees or tithes for the use of the land; this suited pastoralists as there was no upfront capital charges to buy land and they could move off to new ‘greener’ pastures without loss.

- the system did potentially involve insecurity because theoretically the right to use the land had to be renewed every year and the Company could potentially refuse to do so. In practice, the Company did not and probably could not have refused.

- later in the 18th C, the system did change to define specific territories for which holders paid an annual quitrent; in theory this was not a big change, but in fact trekboers began to regard and to treat this as full ownership and title; they began to buy and sell these ‘farms’.

- trekboers did not recognise any title or claim of the Khoikhoi; such rights were only for ‘Christians’ which increasingly was synonymous with possessing a white skin. When trekboers saw land they wanted and if no whites already claimed it or were in possession, then they felt at liberty to claim it and take possession regardless of the fact that Khoikhoi might already be occupying and using it.

- if Khoikhoi offered resistance, the trekboer family would call for the assistance of others in a commando if the resistance was beyond the family’s resources; they could usually expect help because a commando was mainly an opportunity to rustle cattle or perhaps acquire land for oneself or one’s sons. In this way the Khoikhoi were driven out, or once dispossessed of their cattle, reduced to becoming labour for the trekboers; if they submitted, they would be allowed to keep some cattle, in return for providing labour services.

- as the century wore on, trekboers became more decided and determined in rejecting any idea than anyone other than a ‘Christian’ (white) could own land.

- there are other evidences of a growing intolerance by the last quarter of the 18th C; whites began to object to non-whites being in the same commando with whites; they began to insist that they be put into separate commandos (i.e., segregated). Some wanted to go even further to restrict their use of guns and shouldn’t allow them in commando at all. (This is when Griqua, Bergenaars and so on migrated north to escape this intolerance).

- various techniques were employed to dominate and to control those who were excluded from ‘Christian’ or white status:
(1) Vagrancy laws—all non-whites were presumed to have some master and those who didn’t were ‘vagrants’.

- all ‘servants’ were required to have a note or a ‘pass’ from their master stating that they had permission to be absent; anyone who did not have a pass was liable to be ‘arrested’ by any white person who would take them to the local veld cornet.

- the apprehended person could then be charged, convicted as a vagrant and sentenced to a term of punishment; the term would then be served in the custody of the person making the arrest!

- this precluded any freedom of movement for anyone not enjoying ‘white’ status.

(2) Debt bondage—employees would be given goods (food or alcohol) and when the period of service came to an end, the employer would declare that the employee owed money and would have to enter another contract of service.

(3) Apprenticeship of children—the rationale was that this was compensation to the farmer for the expense of feeding and rearing the children of his servants. This ‘apprenticeship’ might be extended until about age 25. This tied down the parents too as they would be reluctant to leave their children.
Legal status of Khoikhoi
- the company policy was that anyone who was not a slave was ‘free’ and therefore had the same legal rights. However, in the interior, company control was practically nonexistent. Trekboers did not recognise equal rights before the law; indeed, they tended to make their own law.

- lessor judicial matters were handled by local veld coronets who were themselves white farmers; in their handling of matters, it is clear that the standing of whites and non-whites were very different.

- more serious matters were supposed to be referred to Cape Town or the nearest Company administrative centre. However, crimes by whites against non-whites were rarely prosecuted and crimes by non-whites against whites were treated summarily—simply killing them without formal proceedings in serious cases or savage beatings.

- generally, trekboers became accustomed to little interference from the Company. Later in the 18th C, the Company attempted to extend its control and to collect fees and taxes; this was bitterly resented.

- a process developed and was repeated a number of times in the 18th and 19th Cs. Dissatisfaction with government attempts to control them would lead to dissent; the trekboers would declare their independence and declare themselves a ‘republic’. (Some news of the American and French Revolutions had filtered into South Africa by the 1780s and 1790s.)

- when the British invaded in 1795, a number of trekboers were in rebellion and had declared themselves a republic. It is important to remember that this tradition predated the coming of the British. Trekboer political notions were very close to anarchy. Please note that ‘anarchy’ is not a synonym for chaos. Anarchy involves a desire for little or no government or authority; it is a social and legal system where law and order are maintained by social pressures and informal means rather than authority figures or structures.
Trekboer confrontation with Africans beginning 1770s and 1780s
- the Xhosa had been slowly migrating westward and absorbing Khoikhoi for a long time; the eastward migrations of the trekboers brought the first conflicts in the the 1770s and 1780s.

-there had been sporadic contracts even earlier from whites who had trekked far into the interior hunting and/or trading (these guys were similar to the buffalo hunters in North America who preceded the coming of settlers). A couple of them had even married Xhosa wives.

- people on both sides were confident; early conflicts were extended skirmishes and cattle raiding. The first conflicts were also indecisive; whites had guns and horses which certainly surprised and amazed Africans. However, Africans soon learned the limitations of 18th C firearms and recognised the advantages of their greater numbers. They also learned that the advantages of horses were greatly reduced in bush areas in the Amatole Mountains and wooded areas along the coast. In the wars of the 19th C, these areas served as refuges and places for attack and ambush.

- Africans had strong political and social institutions (as compared to the Khoikhoi); also, whites were by no means united. For some decades, there was mostly a stalemate, but over the next 100 years, pressures built on both sides and hostilities escalated.

- traditionally, the conflicts have been listed as 9 Kaffir Wars (3 in the 18th C before the British arrived); others have sometimes referred to the 100 years’ war—1770s until the last (9th) Xhosa War in 1877-78.

- we shall return to analyse aspects of the wars and African responses to white intrusion; however, this inaugurated the most persistent theme in South African history—the confrontation and conflict between white immigrants from Europe and the Bantu-speaking Africans. At times in the 19th and 20th Cs, conflict between whites of Dutch and British background upstaged this theme, but it certainly came back to centre stage after 1945.
Trekboer culture and ethos
- this certainly had its origins in the VOC period; the coming of the British posed some important challenges for this emerging way of life and value system: liberalism, a foreign language, a different political system, the threat of assimilation and anglicization, etc.

- it is argued that the Great Trek (1837-1847) not only allowed the trekboer ethos to survive but also extended and deepened it.
Two areas of debate about the origins:
(1) Role of the frontier

- this explanation arose out of the application of the American historian Turner’s ‘frontier thesis’ to explain the development of American culture and society. He argued that it was the environment of the American frontier which had been the most important element in shaping American attitudes and values, especially of egalitarianism and democracy. (Again, the internet has a large number of sites reprinting Turner's famous 1893 article or discussing his thesis.)
[A digression is in order here. Other historians have disputed this all-embracing role of the frontier. They note that many of the ideas that sparked the American Revolution were derived from Britain and Europe, especially in the Enlightenment. In economic development too, they note that well into the second half of the 19th C, the U.S. was dependent on European (mostly British) capital and depended on trading networks that were organized and financed in Europe. Thus, they argue that many of the most important influences shaping American society and its economy were coming from the metropolitan centres of Europe to the newly created metropolitan centres in the U.S. As a result, interpretations which focus on and stress this flow from Europe and the role of urban centres are labeled ‘metropolitan’ interpretations. Similar debates between ‘frontier’ and ‘metropolitan’ theses have taken place in Canadian historiography also.]
- MacCrone is a prime example of an historian who applied the frontier thesis to explain the origin and development of trekboer ethos; by extension, he argued that the trekboer tradition was the main influence in Afrikaner nationalism in the 20th C.

- thus, the racial attitudes, feelings of superiority, etc. were formed first by the institution of slavery, but later by the experiences of conflict and competition with the indigenous peoples.

- even though living in isolation and surrounded by hostile peoples and in danger of losing their civilisation and culture, they developed a sense of identity and preserved their culture (only a few mingled with the indigenous people and became assimilated).

- in MacCrone, there is a rejection of many of the racial attitudes (MacCrone was a prominent white ‘liberal’ in the 1930s and 40s), but also a grudging admiration for many of their characteristics: independent spirit, resourceful, hardy, self-sufficient, etc. He does point out faults: resentful of outside interference with their behaviour, especially from governments, harsh racial attitudes, stubborn and strongly opinionated, violent and subject to uncontrolled rages.

- we should avoid either romanticizing or exaggerating the frontier and its effects; it is clear that trekboers were adapting to their environment but not as certain how admirable the results were (after all, many equate the Ramboesque propensities of US society to the frontier experience; however, the old wild west on which so many Americans pattern themselves is largely a myth which never existed).

- even less clear is the connection with Afrikaner nationalism. In fact, connections with Dutch and German nationalism in the late 19th C seem much more important in defining the nature of Afrikaner nationalism in the 20th C. [Here is the debate again: MacCrone gives a ‘frontier’ interpretation of Afrikaner nationalism while other historians tend to adopt a more ‘metropolitan’ interpretation.]
[What do we make of the two approaches? Rather than seeing the frontier and metropolitan approaches as watertight alternatives, we can perhaps recognize that the two could reinforce each other. It has long been noted that much of Enlightenment humanism was rejected in South Africa. The failure of ‘liberalism’ to catch on (indeed, it was generally rejected by Afrikaners) was seen as support for the frontier interpretation. However, as noted, a few ideas of the American and French Revolutions were adopted and became part of the Afrikaner republican tradition. They borrowed what was useful in their struggles against the VOC and British governments, but they rejected all other aspects implying equality of humans, human rights, etc.

We should recognize that different ideas were coming from Europe, from the metropole. People in South Africa ignored or rejected those ideas that did not fit in with what they wanted and needed. On the other hand, they did adopt or adapt those ideas that did fit in and which they found useful for bolstering their position and power. Their situation on the frontier influenced what they rejected and what they adopted.]
(2) Role of Calvinism

- this is an area of much dispute; certainly, simply attributing everything to Calvinism explains very little as Calvinism involves a spectrum of ideas.

- unquestionably, the idea of predestination was prevalent among many Calvinists, but by no means among all. Even less a part of Calvinism was the idea that being ‘elect’ or ‘non-elect’ was correlated with skin pigmentation.
- it’s true that in the context of the French and Indian wars, many New England Puritans also developed harsh attitudes to ‘savages’; however, there had been mission work even in the early period and in the 18th C, they too got caught up in the great missionary outburst which began late in the century.

- even in the Cape, some Afrikaners in the early 19th C supported and contributed to mission work, even though the majority were at least dubious and many were outright hostile.
[Predestination: This idea arose as one response of the Protestant Reformation. At the time, there was a strong reaction against some of the practices of the Catholic Church. Indulgences (in return for contributions to the Church, individuals were promised that time in purgatory could be reduced) were the most blatant and notorious practice, but Protestant reformers felt that the bigger issue was whether or not ‘good works’ could assist or enable one to get into heaven. Such good works included acts of charity, gifts, frequent saying of the rosary, penances imposed by priests as part of forgiveness in confessions, etc. Protestant critics argued that these were attempts to buy or earn one’s way into Heaven.

The extreme reaction against this was to argue that nothing the individual could do would make any difference; salvation was completely an act of grace by God. Long before the beginning of time and before individuals were born, God decided or elected—predestined—who would be saved. As well, almost everyone accepted the idea that God was omniscient; therefore, God knew even before a person was born whether or not they would be saved. This pre-knowledge could easily (though not necessarily) slip over into predestination. (There are many internet sites that discuss predestination and which include excerpts from Calvin on the subject.)]
- however, it seems clear that most trekboers thought that only whites could be ‘saved’; we noted already the tendency to use the terms ‘Christian’ and ‘heathen’ as synonymous with ‘white’ and ‘black’ which suggests this. The correlation of white—black, light—darkness with goodness—evil goes way back in Christian tradition and is not peculiar to Calvinism. Nor is the explanation that Africans were the descendants of Ham and that black skin is part of the curse for Ham’s sin unique to Calvinism. This myth was very useful in justifying the subordination of Africans to be servants of whites (supposedly the descendants of Shem). But again this myth was widely used by the ‘Christian’ (of all hues, not just Calvinist) defenders of the enslavement of Africans elsewhere.

- however, there was also a bit of ambiguity among trekboers. Some families had their servants in for the daily prayers with the family. Also, many Afrikaners remained very close with their nannies for the rest of their lives.

- most other elements of identification with Old Testament was more their own idea than Calvinism:
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