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The word Boer is best written with a capital, as it is a proper noun and epithet. British speakers realize the pronunciation in different ways, as 'bore' (IPA: /bɔːr/), 'BOE-er' ('BEAU-er', {{/'bəʊ ər/) and 'boor' (/ˈbuːr, sometimes ˈbuː ər/), and in its native Afrikaans as 'boor' (/ˈbuː ər/). Its root is a common Germanic word for 'peasant', 'countryman', 'farmer': it is cognate with the English boor (and in its first uses, in the early nineteenth century, was written 'boor', although according to David Livingstone (1857) "The word Boer simply means 'farmer', and is not synonymous with our word boor" (Missionary travels and researches in South Africa, London: John Murray: ii. 29, cited OED). ): the dismissive connotations of that word now only cling to Boer by accidental association. The meanings in English vary.

  • The basic denotation is '[descendant of] a white inhabitant of South Africa, usually of Dutch, German, or Huguenot descent', 'a Dutch-speaking (or later an Afrikaans-speaking) colonist in some of the colonies in southern Africa'. This meaning is now usually expressed by 'an Afrikaner'.
    • In early times, Afrikaner (Afrikaans: Afrikaaner, older and rarer Afrikander) was also occasionally applied to any white citizen of South Africa, an extension that does not seem to have survived the Boer Wars.
  • Specifically, the Boers were the colonists brought in by the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope (the southern tip of Africa), from 1652.
    • When the British seized the colony in 1795, many Boers were unhappy enough to migrate north-eastwards, in the population movement known as the Great Trek. The Boers called themselves voortrekkers, identifying themselves by their participation in the migration. Beyond the borders of British rule, they set up several Boer Republics, many of which were short-lived and unstable; but some survived well, including:
      • the Natalia Republic (1839-43), which later became Natal Province;
      • the Transvaal Republic (1852-1902), later Transvaal Province of the Union of South Africa (now the Republic of South Africa); and
      • Orange Free State (1843-1902), now the Free State province of the Republic of South Africa.
(Both the Orange and the Vaal are rivers in South Africa.)
  • The two Boer Wars (or Anglo-Boer Wars (1880-1 and 1899-1902, also known as the South African Wars) were attempts by the Boers to claim independence from the British Empire.
    • In the first, which lasted three months, the guerilla tactics of the Boer commandos defeated the British Army heavily in terms of casualties. The Pretoria Convention (1881) gave the Boers self-government, while leaving all foreign relations in the hands of London.
    • The Second Boer War (1899-1902) was an attempt by the British government to establish control and ownership of the immense natural resources found at Kimberley (diamonds) and Witwatersrand (gold) and the consequent outnumbering of Boer citizens by uitlanders ('foreigners', or non-Afrikaans-speaking newcomers). The possible alliance of Boers with Germany against Britain and the spectacular failure of the Jameson Raid (1895-6) led to increased tension, and in due course the Boer declaration of war. In the first part of the war (October 1899-May 1900), the Boer forces (mostly irregular volunteers) repeated their tactical guerilla victories of the First Boer war. Then large British reinforcements saw the war won in traditional terms: no large Boer force in concentrations; Boer capitals captured; and the government gone into exile. But effective harrying of the British forces by guerilla strikes denied the fruits of victory, until the British undertook a 'scorched earth' policy, with the rounding up of all combatants into concentration camps. In 1902, the last Boer units surrendered. In the Peace of Veereniging (May 1902) the Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State were assumed into the British Empire, and in 1910 into the Union of South Africa, where their continuing influence allowed the development of apartheid (racial segregation between black, white and coloured) to become state policy.