Racism is one of the ugliest evils in the world today and it has been a deplorable problem throughout history. It can be found in the hearts of men and women from every nation and every people group. It always causes the hurting of people. When racism is reinforced by political systems, it goes even deeper in the pain and injury that it causes. One country which has been known historically for issues of racism is South Africa. In this article, we will look at the history of Boer society and the racism and social Darwinism which sadly flourished within it in the 19th century and that led to an apartheid political structure. Boer society was a colonial society that, based on the untrue belief of white superiority, gave birth to an apartheid system of operations.
Boer society was a colonial society. In 1820, fifty thousand settlers came from the British Isles to set up farms in South Africa. They were from among the lower middle class and the British government awarded them 100-acre lots. Other Europeans, such as the Dutch, came as well. These settlers collectively became known as the Boers. Although they came to farm this new land, many of them switched to working as artisans, working in the production industry, working in the military or working in trading.i Some Dutch worked in producing wine and growing grain.ii
Many within Boer society believed in the superiority of white over non-white Africans. One contributing factor to this belief was that of the Boers having non-white Africans working for them as slaves. Slavery was banned in the British colonies in 1807. iii However, it did not end immediately and slavery led to the creation of a racial hierarchy. iv Because of an agricultural, social and polical crisis known as the Mfecane, many impoverished Basotho, Batswana, Msegnue and Xhosa tribes-people came to work for the Boers. This created opportunity for the Boers to expand their territories into lands previously occupied by these tribal people.v British success in war also contributed to the idea of white superiority. In a conflict between Cape Colony Boers and the Zulu, five hundred Boers killed three thousand Zulus. vi The Boer philosophy rested on the assumption that races form the fundamental divisions of humanity, and that different races inherently have different cultural and physical qualities. This led Boer Prime Minister, Hendrick Frensh Verraces, to say that white and non-white Africans should live in separate areas. vii This philosophy also led the Dutch East India Company to structure its company so that only white Africans could be officials. As well, the Boers forbade inter-marriage and made it hard for non-whites to hold land. viii
I am not saying that all Boers were racist. However, many within Boer society felt that non-white Africans were uncultured by European standards. Because non-white Africans mainly worked in agriculture and hunting, they had less time and energy to devote to aesthetic pursuits.ix These Boers interpreted this to be primitiveness on the part of non-white Africans. x The non-white Africans were also rumored to be cannibals.xi Some literature teaching forms of social Darwinism had much influence during this period, as it does today. .xii Darwin did not accept that man was created in God’s image. Instead, he believed and taught that man evolved from lower life forms to his present state through a process Darwin called natural selection. Many Darwinists philosophically followed through the theories of Darwin and arrived at social Darwinism. Webster’s defines social Darwinism as : “sociocultural advance is the product of intergroup conflict and competition and the socially elite classes (as those possessing wealth and power) possess biological superiority in the struggle for existence.”1 Many Boers, believing in social Darwinism, did not make much of an effort to learn the history of non-white Africans. Even school textbooks did not acknowledge much of their history before the arrival of the Europeans. These textbooks also depicted bushmen as savages and barbarians. xiii
Sadly, many within Boer society held racial sentiments against non-white Africans. These sentiments led to the creation of an apartheid system. In time, this apartheid system would be broken up in South Africa. Men can create and destroy political systems but only God, through Jesus Christ, can clean human hearts from the sin of racism.
1Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (U.S.: G & C Merriam Co., 1981, 1094.
iLeonard Thompson, A History of South Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 55.
viiLeonard Thompson, The Political Mythology of Apartheid (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 69.
ix Leonard Thompson, A History of South Africa, 14.
xLeonard Thompson, The Political Mythology of Apartheid, 71.
xiiiIbid., 77, 95-96.
Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Thompson, Leonard. The Political Mythology of Apartheid. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.