Boer is the Dutch (and Afrikaans) word for farmers which came to denote the descendants of the Afrikaans-speaking pastoralists of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 1700s as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 1800s to settle in the Orange Free State, Transvaal and to a lesser extent Natal. Their primary motivation for leaving the Cape was to escape British rule as well as the constant border wars on the eastern frontier. The Trekboere, as they were originally known, are descended mainly from Dutch Calvinist, Frisian Calvinist, French Huguenot, Flemish and German Protestant origins dating from the 1650s and into the 1700s.
Smaller but significant numbers of Scandinavians, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Scots, English, Irish, Welsh, Indian, Malay and Khoisan people were absorbed as well. Those Boers who trekked into and occupied the eastern Cape were semi-nomadic. A significant number in the eastern Cape frontier later became Grensboere or Border Farmers who were the direct ancestors of the Voortrekkers. When used in a historical context, it may refer to an inhabitant of the Boer Republics as well as those who were cultural Boers.
The Boer Nation (Boerevolk) in Southern Africa is an indigenous nation which has been internationally recognised as a nation in its own right for approximately two centuries. This is the small nation who defended their nations, the republics of the Transvaal (the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, or ZAR), and the Orange Free State (OFS) against British imperialism on two occasions during the 19th Century.
The nations were devastated in the Second Boer War (1899 – 1902), and were forced, through concentration camps in which 27 000 non-combatant women and children were killed, and through the destruction of tens of thousands of farmsteads, livestock, and crops, to surrender to the United Kingdom administration and to have their country administered by the cape colony government.
Over time the obvious differences between Cape Afrikaner and Boer would subside and the terms “Boer” and “Afrikaner” would eventually be erroneously used as synonyms.
Some of these modern Boers argue that they were forced to accept the apartheid establishment and that they were suppressed whenever they attempted self-determination as was the case during the Boer Revolt or Maritz Rebellion in 1914 as well as their marginalization due to their smaller numbers within the greater Afrikaner designation.
Boer not Afrikaner
In more recent times, mainly during the apartheid reform and post-1994 eras, a number of white Afrikaans-speaking people, mainly with “conservative” political views and of trekker descent, have preferred to be called “Boers”, rather than “Afrikaners”. They feel that there were many people of Voortrekker descent who were not co-opted or assimilated into what they see as the Cape-based Afrikaner identity which began emerging after the Second Anglo-Boer War and the subsequent establishment of the Union of South Africa.
They contend that the Boers of the South African (ZAR) and Orange Free State republics were recognized as a separate people or cultural group under international law by the Sand River Convention (which created the South African Republic in 1852) , the Bloemfontein Convention (which created the Orange Free State Republic in 1854), the Pretoria Convention (which re-established the independence of the South African Republic 1881), the London Convention (which granted the full independence to the South African Republic in 1884) and the Vereeniging Peace Treaty, which formally ended the Second Anglo-Boer War on 31 May 1902. Others contend, however, that these treaties dealt only with agreements between governmental entities and do not imply the recognition of a Boer cultural identity per se.
Nonetheless, the Boer cultural grouping which began among the trekking pastoralists of the eastern Cape frontier to the modern day descendants of the Voortrekkers is a distinct cultural group which was historically and culturally set apart from those White Afrikaans speakers who remained in the Western Cape region.
The supporters of these views feel that the Afrikaner designation (or label) was used from the 1930s onwards as a means of unifying (politically at least) the white Afrikaans speakers of the Western Cape with those of Trekboer and Voortrekker descent (whose ancestors began migrating eastward during the 1690s and throughout the 1700s and later northward during the Great Trek of the 1830s) in the north of South Africa, where the Boer Republics were established.
The supporters of the “Boer” designation view the Afrikaner designation as an artificial political label which usurped their history and culture turning “Boer” achievements into “Afrikaner” achievements. They feel that the Western-Cape based Afrikaners — whose ancestors did not trek eastwards or northwards — took advantage of the republican Boers’ destitution following the Anglo-Boer War and later attempted to assimilate the Boers into a new politically based cultural label as “Afrikaners.”