The type of Boer

The type of Boer

I have been writing about a 22 February 1933 letter by C R Prance to a friend he had earlier worked with in a legal practice, George Findlay. It is one of thousands of letters in the Findlay Family Collection in Historical Papers at Wits University. It is one of the documents discussed in my lecture to the Scottish Highers history students specialising in South African History commented on in earlier blogs, for it raises interesting questions about the character of race and racism and its relationship not only with whiteness but other forms of prejudice. It includes the following two paragraphs:

I know just what you mean about the type of Boer whose evidence appeared in the book. Between ourselves, I’m sure that unattractive character arises from an admixture of Native blood; tho’ I have known men obviously Coloured (though officially ‘European’) who showed no trace of it. But I suppose, too, that it came from isolation & educational back-wardness? ……

I’d far rather have seen a slashing S.A.P. victory at the Poll; though certain to be followed by labour trouble fomented by the Nats. BUT, we have the Poor White on the List now, here & in Natal; & I’m doubtful if the S.A.P. as such wld ever get in again on a straight party struggle, with the Malans & Strydoms bellowing “Black Peril” & “English Peril”. That was a fatal blunder of Smuts, letting Hertzog enfranchise the Poor White Woman — If the S.A.P. had voted solid against it, I doubt if it would have gone through, as the Klerks misliked it. However, its done now, and if the Coalition fails (or when it breaks up & Super-Nats come in again) we shall see British ‘nationals’ disfranchised, and Malan in full power. Nice prospect?

Clearly Prance sees ‘Boers’ – at that date usually referred to as Afrikaners and only negatively as Boers – as having an ‘unattractive character’ and later in the letter he links this to political developments. He also hedges his bets, firstly by seeing this as caused by ‘an admixture of Native blood’, then by recognising that ‘obviously Coloured’ people may not have the same characteristics so there might be some other cause. In the later paragraph, ethnicity and race return to consideration mixed with misogyny and class attitudes to do with ‘the Poor White’ men and particularly women who had been then-recently given the franchise. For him the inconclusive election and formation of the coalition or pact Government by Smuts and Hertzog is down to the ‘Poor White Woman’, by implication supporters of the more extreme end of nationalism and in particular the ‘Super-Nats’. In another letter also to the same recipient, Prance expresses the view that often women as a category of people are not only hysterical but also mad and certifiable.

How to understand whiteness in this context? This is what has been wrestled with, not only for the Scottish Highers lecture, but also in analysing the Prance letter as a Trace which will appear later on the WWW website. Whitenesses is mentioned in this letter through the reference to ‘European’, and otherwise it is associated with ‘British “Nationals”’ and negatively with ‘the type of Boer’. And more strongly, it is also associated with negative comments about Poor Whites, a context-specific way of referring to rural and lower class Afrikaner people, and to the women among them in particular. For Prance, then, whiteness has a polar division within it, and his ethnic dislike or even hatred has a strong misogynistic aspect to it mixed with a form of class prejudice.

Was this Prance or was it South Africa or was it part of the 1933 zeitgeist and the rise of many hatreds? Doubtless all of these.

For the Trace discussing this letter in detail, go to here


Last updated: 28 November 2019