The course of southern Africa's history was profoundly affected by the establishment of a permanent settlement at the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) in 1652. The Dutch were not interested in colonization; they wished merely to establish a way station on the spice route to the East Indies. At the Cape the VOC’s ships could shelter and replenish their supplies. In the course of time a number of company employees were released from their contracts to establish farms that could produce grain, vegetables, fruit and meat for the VOC settlement. From this handful of farmers sprang the “white tribe”—the Boers or Afrikaners of South Africa. 

Besides the Dutch, the proto-Boer population was made up of some Germans, Scandinavians, and a few Huguenots fleeing from religious persecution in France. Gradually, the early Boers expanded into the southern African interior, establishing farms and villages as they advanced. At the Cape, where the VOC had begun to import slaves from Madagascar and Indonesia, many of the offspring of white and slave liaisons were also incorporated into the growing Boer population. The intermingling of the native population of the region, the Dutch and the imported slaves eventually produced South Africa’s Coloured population, as these people of mixed race are known today. 

The expansion of the Cape Colony and the migrations of the Boers led inevitably to conflicts with the native peoples of the interior. Another source of friction was the annexation of the Cape Colony by Great Britain in 1806. As English-speaking whites poured into the colony, the Boers grew increasingly disaffected. Though British rule in fact perpetuated the white supremacy to which the Boers had grown accustomed, the 1834 abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire came as a shock. Soon thereafter began the epic of Boer history, the Great Trek and the Zulu wars. Beginning in 1836-37, some 12,000 Boers (the Voortrekkers or pioneers) set out on a great migration intended to carry them beyond British control. As fate would have it, the Great Trek coincided with Zulu expansion from the north, setting the stage of a series of conflicts that would lead to the creation of independent Boer republics, the rise of Boer nationalism, war with Britain and, eventually, the establishment of the Boer-dominated, apartheid Republic of South Africa that lasted until 1994.



The flags of the Netherlands had a great influence on those later used by the Boers. Though by 1660 the orange-white-blue Princevlag (Prince's Flag) was beginning to give way to the red-white-blue Driekleur Vlag (Three-Color Flag), its memory influenced the design of the 1928 South African national flag. (Evidently, red replaced orange because the dyestuffs used to make Dutch flags in the late seventeenth century produced a color closer to red than orange.) Dutch maritime flags of the period were often made with the basic three-stripe pattern repeated, as in the example above (the tricolor pattern repeated twice, separated by a white stripe).  Besides the plain Dutch tricolor, a variant with the monogram of the Dutch East Indies Company may also have been used at the Cape of Good Hope settlement. The small 'C" was for the Cape of Good Hope.



Driekleur Vlag


Driekleur Vlag  •  Variant


Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie Vlag



The Voortrekker Boers established a number of settlements and republics in the years following their migration out of the Cape Colony. The first flag that can be characterized as the banner of a Boer republic is the Voortrekker Vlag, blue with a red saltire cross. Also known as the Potgieter Vlag after General A.H. Potgieter, a leader of the migration, it is known to have been used from the early 1830s to about 1840, and in a slightly modified form it was the flag of Potchefstroom (founded 1838), the town that later became the first capital of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal Republic). The Dutch colors (red, white and blue) figured in most of these flags. From the late 1830s to the 1880s, a spate of Boer mini-republics sprang into being. Some, like Natalia, were annexed by Britain; others. like the Klein Vrystaat  (Little Free State) were eventually incorporated into the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek.

Voortrekker Vlag


Potchefstroom  •  1838-52


Natalia  •  1838-43


Nieuwe Republiek  •  1881-84


Goshen  •  1884-85


Klein Vrystaat  •  1886-91



When the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic) was formed in 1852 it had no official national flag, though probably the Voortrekker Vlag and its variant, the flag of the town of Potchefstroom, were in common use. Finally, in 1858, the Volksraad (Parliament) passed a law establishing a national flag. Designed by Reverend Dirk van der Hoff, originally for the Klein Vrystaat, it combined the horizontal red, white and blue stripes of the Dutch flag with a vertical green stripe at the hoist, thus symbolizing the Republic's African locale and its fraternal ties to the Netherlands. This flag, called the Vierkleur ("four colors") remained in use (with one brief intermission) until 1902, when defeat in the Anglo-Boer War brought an end to the Republic. In 1874, on the initiative of President Burgers, the old flag of Potchefstroom was made the national flag. Burgers disliked the Vierkleur and felt that the Potchefstroom flag, which was based on the Voortrekker Vlag, was a more appropriate banner for a Boer republic. Few people shared his opinion, however, and the Volksraad restored the Vierkleur in 1875—reportedly while President Burgers was absent on a visit to Europe! Perhaps as a sop to Burgers, the Potchefstroom flag was made the presidential flag. But it remained unpopular and soon fell into disuse.

Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek  •  National Flag 1858-74 & 1875-1902

Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek  •  National Flag 1874-75

Like the South African Republic, the Oranje Vrijstaat (Orange Free State, established in 1854) at first had no official national flag. To remedy this situation, the Free State government petitioned King William III of the Netherlands for a grant of arms and a flag. The King agreed to this request and in 1856 his envoy arrived in the Free State's capital, Bloemfontein, to make the official presentation. The flag consisted of seven horizontal stripes, white and orange, with the Dutch flag as a canton. This design symbolized the Free State's name, its fraternal ties to the Netherlands, and the monarch of the House of Orange in whose name the flag was granted. It remained unchanged until 1902 when defeat in the Anglo-Boer War brought an end to the Free State.

Oranje Vrijstaat  •  National Flag  •  1856-1902



Though the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and the Oranje Vrijstaat had not always enjoyed amicable relations, they made common cause against the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1898-1902). Their alliance was symbolically expressed by the various flags that were used by the Boer forces during the war. Most were variants of the Vierkleur Vlag with orange added, thus combining the colors of both Boer republics.

Boer "Unity" Flags  •  1898-1902


When the various British colonies in southern Africa were united in 1910 to form the Union of South Africa, its official national flag was the Union Jack and the de facto national flag was the South African Red Ensign. This situation did not suit the Boers and in 1928 South Africa adopted as its national flag a horizontal tricolor of orange, white and blue—a variant of the old Dutch Princevlag (Prince's Flag). On the white stripe was a badge combining the Union Jack and the flags of the former Boer republics. The design was in fact a compromise that did not entirely satisfy anyone. South Africans of British origin opposed the abandonment of the Union Jack, while the Boers wanted to expunge all reminders of the hated British connection. Though there were various proposals to replace it in later years the 1928 flag was not changed, even when South Africa became a republic in 1962. It was abolished in 1994 when the apartheid regime came to an end.

National Flag  •  1928-94



With the end of the apartheid regime in 1994, the "white tribe" lost its dominant political and social position. This was reflected in the replacement of traditional national symbols, including flags and coats of arms, with new ones that did not recall the dark days of apartheid. The Boers, however, continue to display their traditional flags, particularly those of the former republics and variants thereof. A typical example of a variant flag is that of the Afrikaner Volksfront (Afrikaner People's Front), which is similar to the Vierkleur but with orange in place of red. Other contemporary Boer flags are frankly fascist in inspiration, such as those of the Boere Weerstandsbeweging (Boer Resistance Movement) and the Afrikaner Studentebond (Afrikaner Student Federation). Many of these Afrikaner political organizations advocate the creation of a separate homeland for the Boers.

Afrikaner Volksfront


Boere Weerstandsbeweging


Afrikaner Studentebond