Many Dutch and German-speaking tourists to South Africa may be surprised to hear that the Afrikaans language (taal) is oddly familiar to their ear and that some sentences may be even be understandable to them.
This is because during the seventeenth century, Dutch colonists from the Netherlands (known as Boers) settled in South Africa, followed over the next 200 years by British, French, and German settlers who, in efforts to trade, work and eventually marry and have children together in new and shared spaces, developed their own unique cultural identity and language which became known as Afrikaans.
Historians tell us that over the next 300 years of settlement in South Africa, the Afrikaners clashed with African people and sought to establish independent republics in the country's interior. This led to two wars fought against the British known as the Anglo-Boer Wars.
Pioneering across Karoo mountainscapes
One of the most important happenings in the Afrikaans history is the Great Trek, the migration of early Afrikaans settlers who wanted to pioneer into the interior, travelling by wagon from the Cape Colony to the highlands of South Africa from 1836 onwards.
Visitors to South Africa's administrative capital of Pretoria can experience this part of the Afrikaans history and culture by visiting the Voortrekker Monument. Here, you’ll not only get insight into the history and everyday lifestyles and living conditions of the settlers, but the monument also hosts different exhibitions on other aspects of the Afrikaans culture and is home to an impressive art collection.
Gold to Inspire a Nation
In 1886, the Witwatersrand gold rush came about with the discovery of its main gold-bearing reef, lighting the fuse to an explosion of migrant workers, fortune seekers and good old-fashioned gold-diggers.
The population grew rapidly, and the area soon became the largest city in the country, called Johannesburg, expanding into the region that would ultimately become the Gauteng Province as we know it today. Johannesburg is still the largest city in the country and its highest gross domestic product (GDP) earner.
It wasn’t until 1910 that all battling territories were united and the country's 1.2-million square kilometer border made up of rolling hills, mountains, rivers and valleys became the Union of South Africa.
The Politics of History
In 1948 the Afrikaner-based National Party came to political power and first racial policies were established under the system of Apartheid which separated people along the lines of colour.
Afrikaans is an important part of the modern history of South Africa. The language became a political instrument and in June 1976, it led to one of the turning points in the struggle against apartheid. Visitors to Johannesburg can visit the Apartheid Museum where there is a permanent exhibition dedicated to this event.
Thanks to philanthropic political leaders such as Nelson Mandela who dedicated their lives to the struggle for democracy, equality for all was won relatively peacefully when negotiations between the then President FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela took place in the early 1990s which led to his release after 36 years’ incarceration and saw Mandela voted in as South Africa's first black president in the next general elections.
Today South Africa is often fondly referred to as the Rainbow Nation which was coined after the words of South African-born Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activits ArchBishop Desmond Tutu when he referred to “the rainbow children of God”.
A Nation Comes Together
Today there are 11 official languages in South Africa which represents the country’s many diverse cultures and traditions, including Afrikaans which remains rooted in the Dutch language.
Cultural festivals such as the Klein Karoo arts festival (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn around March/April, are held annually in honour of the rich Afrikaans heritage in the Karoo area. The event celebrates diversity in the arts with cutting edge stage productions, a variety of music stages, as well as visual art that is a treat for the connoisseur.
The Heritage Town of Prince Albert
In our home town of Prince Albert in the Great Karoo (Groot Karoo), the Fransie Pienaar Museum is a must visit offering artifacts of the Boer Trek and examples of the great high flying society that was Oudtshoorn, when it was the ostrich feather capital of the world.
Another not-to-be-missed activity in Prince Albert is a historical Ramble with Ailsa aka The Story Weaver suited to those with a deeper interest in the 250+ year history of the area and its unique community culture.
Like all nations worldwide, culture is dynamic and as new generations are born, so a new ethos is formed. For those interested in experiencing contemporary Afrikaans music and culture, the Innibos Lowveld National Arts Festival