Historical and literary re-iterations of Dutch settler Republicanism

Johnson, David (2010). Historical and literary re-iterations of Dutch settler Republicanism. South African Historical Journal, 62(3) pp. 463–486.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02582473.2010.519897


Historical and literary accounts of the Graaff-Reinet and Swellendam rebellions of 1795-1799 are analysed in relation to three consecutive myths of Afrikaner national identity. In terms of the British imperialist myth of the Afrikaner as rural degenerate, the rebels were semi-civilised burgher racists, who sought to dignify their killing and enslavement of the Khoikhoi and Xhosa by recourse to northern hemisphere republican discourses. In terms of the apartheid myth of the Afrikaner as God’s chosen volk, the rebels were a beleaguered Christian people who were beset by marauding African foes, and who resisted heroically the tyrannical Dutch East India Company and British governance from Cape Town. In terms of the post-apartheid myth of the Promethean Afrikaner, a brave minority of Afrikaners (most notably the Graaff-Reinet landdrost Maynier) opposed the racist violence of the frontier rebels, and stood up for equality and justice. In the same way that the image of the Afrikaner as rural degenerate should be related to British imperialism, and the image of the Afrikaner as God’s chosen volk to Afrikaner Nationalism, the myth of the Promethean Afrikaner must be related to the nation-building ideological project of the African National Congress.

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