What is the future of Afrikaners in South Africa? Speculation ranges from the over-optimistic and rather naïve conviction of President de Klerk that Afrikaners will in some way continue to control, or at the very least check, power in the future South Africa, to the equally firm conviction, curiously shared by both the extreme left and the extreme right, that Afrikaners as a distinct tribe will be swept from the scene, leaving no trace of their history, political systems, language or culture.
The nature of Afrikaner political power and the way in which it has been established in South Africa make it significant for the future. In other ex-colonies, independence has brought a straightforward confrontation, peaceful or otherwise, between the colonizer and the colonized. But in South Africa at the time of the British occupation (temporarily from 1795-1803 and permanently after 1806), the Boers saw themselves, at least regarding the new colonizers, as part of the indigenous population. This does not diminish the fact that vis-á-vis the ‘real’ indigenous peoples, the Boers continued to fulfil in many respects the role of oppressors, but certainly their identification with other Africans was such that on several occasions during the nineteenth century Boers and Blacks joined forces against what to them was the common enemy, the foreign invader: the British. And after the British imposed their permanent presence, Afrikaners fought several wars of liberation against the colonizers – winning at least once, in 1881, before being temporarily crushed in 1902. For well over a century they regarded themselves as part of the oppressed; and by the time they finally won political power it was interpreted largely as the vindication of their right to rule the country in which they had been ‘stepchildren’ for three centuries.