The Afrikaners: Biography of a People

In This Review

The Afrikaners: Biography of a People

by Herman Giliomee
University of Virginia Press, 2003
698 pp. $39.50
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This crowning work by one of South Africa's most prominent social scientists is likely to become a baseline for interpreting Afrikaner history for a long time to come. The first 15 chapters reflect on familiar themes but judiciously challenge some of the conventional wisdom about Afrikaner nationalism and the forces that shaped apartheid. The other two chapters, which deal with the end of Afrikaner rule and the post-apartheid period, are more contentious, particularly in their generosity to F. W. de Klerk; but overall, evenhandedness prevails. Without downplaying the influences of racial bigotry, power politics, and economic competition, Giliomee argues that from the nineteenth century onward, the fundamental force in Afrikaner political life was a fear of cultural obliteration. That same purpose underlies Giliomee's own scholarship, which he hopes will help bring young Afrikaners to terms with their heritage and better equip them to preserve their language and traditions.