A term originally used to describe a person born in South Africa rather than Europe; in the twentieth century it was used to denote a White person whose first language was Afrikaans. Afrikaners descended largely from the Boers (‘farmers’), mostly Dutch, but also French and Germans who immigrated before the advent of British rule in the Cape, 1806. While a minority assimilated, many retained their distinct culture, their Calvinist (Dutch Reformed) faith, and their language, which became more and more distinct from written Dutch. Afrikaner identity was emphasized by the emergence of Afrikaner nationalism. This was partly a response to the development of Afrikaans into a written language towards the end of the nineteenth century, partly to the British occupation of the Transvaal in 1879–85, and partly to the South African War (1899–1902), when the Afrikaner states (the Transvaal and the Orange Free State) were annexed by the British.
Afrikaner political identity was formed and expressed by the National Party (NP) and the Afrikanerbond. It was further strengthened by general approval of apartheid, which was partly inspired by a sense of religious destiny. Although Afrikaners could muster only a little more than 50 per cent of the White population, they managed to dominate South African politics and society after 1948 through a much clearer sense of unity and cultural identity than non-Afrikaners. This unity came under strain as pressures to change the apartheid system grew during the 1980s, leading to the formation, for instance, of the Conservative Party. Afrikaner culture and values were challenged even further by the end of apartheid. Following the establishment of a multi-racial democracy in 1994, Afrikaans became only one of eleven officially recognized South African cultures. The Afrikaner community was weakened further by emigration of some of its wealthiest members, as around 20,000, mostly Whites, left the country in the year 2000 alone.