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South African of Dutch (or sometimes French Calvinist, German or Belgian) extraction, speaking Afrikaans, a language derived principally from the Dutch of the 17th and 18th centuries, with borrowings today from African languages and English. Afrikaners (widely known until the 20th century as Boer (Dutch: "farmers") are descended mostly from white settlers who occupied the Cape of Good Hope during the period of administration (1652-1795) by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigte Oostindische Compagnie) and the subsequent period of British rule.

In the 1830s and 1840s an estimated 12,000 Boer pioneers (voortrekker) penetrated the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal in order to put themselves beyond the reach of British authority. Following the British annexation of the last two Boer republics (1900), the creation of the Union of South Africa (1910) went some way towards blurring the division between British settler and Afrikaner, though the black majority was excluded from equal participation in the affairs of the country until the ending in the early 1990s of the Afrikaner political leadership's policy of apartheid ("separateness" of black and white).