No, Afrikaners do not have British or English ancestry

Update: Some people are taking this post as a criticism of 23andMe. Really it’s not. It’s just to point out that customers sometimes overinterpret the granularity of these regional tests. There just isn’t the power to discern between British and Dutch too well (there are other ways to do this genealogically….). And, it really matters in the case of Afrikaners since their Dutch (and German and French) national origins are well known.

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In my post below on the non-European ancestry of Afrikaners, several readers mentioned that friends of Afrikaner background were rather chagrined to have reported British ancestry from genetic tests. The cultural reason for this is well known: many Afrikaners exhibit hostility toward British imperialism due to the deprivation and death which was the consequence of their resistance to the expansion of the Empire during the Second Boer War. This is above and beyond the antipathy which was manifestly made obvious by the fact that with the transfer of the Cape Colony to the British in the early 19th century thousands of white farmers migrated into the hinterlands to escape the new power (in part to preserve their customs, such as slavery).

By the 20th century, this anti-British aspect of Boer identity manifested itself in pro-German sentiments, as can be seen in the film The Power of One.

But the reality is that it is strange for Afrikaners to have British ancestry. Yes, they are not exclusively Dutch, with substantial German and French (Huguenot) components in their background. And there has been some recent intermarriage with English speaking whites. But presumably that’s recent enough that people would know.

Rather, I think what is happening is that genetic tests do not have the power to distinguish well between English and Dutch ancestry. In fact, the minority ancestry from Anglo-Saxons in southeast Britain would have stronger affinities with the Dutch than most of the island.

To figure out what was going on I asked people on Twitter for 23andMe profiles. I got a response from someone whose results I posted above. This individual has Boer ancestry, mostly Dutch, going back to the late 17th century on his mother’s side and late 18th century on his father’s side. And you see 17% “British” ancestry. He also provided his wife’s 23andMe output. Her ancestry dates back to the late 17th century on both paternal and maternal sides, so it is not a surprise she has more non-European ancestry:

She is 18% British. In fact, the European ancestry fractions of both these individuals are rather similar when it comes to “French-German”, British, and Scandinavian. I suspect what we’re seeing here is what the algorithm pops out quanta wise for Dutch.

I took the South African individuals who had some non-European ancestry, and ran them on Admixture and projected a PCA with British and Dutch individuals. You can make your own judgment, but I think these are definitely people who are of mostly Dutch ancestry.

9 thoughts on “No, Afrikaners do not have British or English ancestry

  1. 23andme is not reliable on the intra-European scale. Especially not if its about different Germanic ethnicities. It all comes down to the reference sample they use. If they don’t have the proper reference for a specific German speaking region, the algorithm tries to put it into known categories which often results in higher levels of non-Germanic, but especially British and Scandinavian ancestry.
    So if Eastern Germans and ethnic Germans from CEE get British on a regular basis, for sure the same will be true for Dutch and Boers with higher percentages which should be taken with a grain of salt.

  2. This Dutch lady came out as 37.7% French and German, 28.2% British and Irish:
    https://www.dutchgenealogy.nl/what-dutch-dna-looks-like/

    Everyone from Denmark to the Atlantic coast of France score as heavily British in 23andMe’s algorithm. People from Normandy or thereabouts usually score as more British than French. My mother is 3/4ths Norwegian, 1/4th Schleswig German and yet came out in the test as 25% British and Irish, 2.5% French and German.

    They’ve got some work to do.

  3. I don’t think the question is well framed to begin with. There are of course a huge number of white South Africans who are Afrikaner/English crosses, or Afrikaner/Irish crosses (like myself). But because of the importance of identification and ascription, many such will self-identify as English, even when they have 50% Afrikaans ancestry, and be thought as such. More rarely, they will cluster as Afrikaans: English South Africans have higher income, a few points higher mean IQ and have had generally higher social status for most of the last 200 years. If you grow up there you can recognize this immediately: Van der Byl is an Afrikaans name but many of them are ascriptively (and self-identify as) English. This is more prevalent in the Cape. They grow up speaking English, they do not go to the Afrikaans churches, they do not usually eat pap (though they might eat wors), they do not learn those silly dances, they are politically liberal etc. etc. Conversely you will find more than a few Afrikaners called Roberts or Smith, descended from British soldiers not that long ago.

    So if you are surveying Afrikaners, the group is already preselected, both by self-identification and ascription, for ancestry. The English admixture mostly skims off in this way. A good example is JM Coetzee, often called an Afrikaner by people who don’t know any better, and he certainly has major Afrikaner ancestry, but he is culturally and socially 100% English (and now an Australian). Or, to take another writer, Herman Charles Bosman, who spoke Afrikaans rather badly and wrote almost entirely in English.

    With this knowledge, testing that doesn’t identify mixed ancestry is definitely a function of test limitations. You could get pretty good results just by looking at surnames and regions as covariates.

  4. gavan, who the fuck cares about ppl with part-afrikaner ancestry? lots of cape coloureds and afrikaners have khoi ancestry, but they aren’t khoi. you count the khoi who remain culturally and mostly genetically khoi.

  5. Gavan Tredoux,

    A good example is JM Coetzee, often called an Afrikaner by people who don’t know any better, and he certainly has major Afrikaner ancestry, but he is culturally and socially 100% English (and now an Australian).

    Well, my Afrikaner friend certainly thought Coetzee’s “Disgrace” was a very “English” piece of work. Obviously he meant no compliment by this.

    Halvorson,

    They’ve got some work to do.

    This lack of “granularity” reminds me of the earlier post that dealt with Euny Hong’s Korean ancestry, i.e. “pure” Koreans being identified as partly, but significantly Chinese and Japanese on 23andme. I found that on DNA.Land, there is no separate Japanese or Korean category (simply a single Japanese/Korean category).

    So, Ms. Hong can rest assured now that it’s not some dastardly white supremacist reason that the East Asian granularity is lacking on 23andme. It happens to Afrikaners too! And they are about the most horribly vile white supremacist people (apartheid!) in the imaginations of many (nonwhite) Americans… even if many of them have not an insignificant fraction of African and/or Asian ancestry.

    Anyway, I will continue to rib my Afrikaner friend about his mongrel part-English, part-Cape Malay (well, Southeast Asian) and part-black African children (“Hey, buddy, MY children have 0% black African ancestry”). Funny thing about him (and other Afrikaners I know in the States) – he and they are fairly conservative personally, rail against the ANC and black rule in general in RSA, but are quite liberal by American political standards, and most of them voted for Hillary in the last election! I asked (almost yelled at) them several times, “Why would you vote for the American version of the ANC?”

  6. The point is that the Afrikaners and Brits are closely enough related as to share much common ancestry, they are kin. Whatever the politics and recent animosities over the Boer war, British concentration camps and scorched earth policies from nearly 120 years back.

    And these animosities can be strong – perhaps more so from the Afrikaner side. I’m a native Brit from the SE of England. I moved to SA in 1993 and was a little surprised to discover so many Afrikaners still effectively fighting the Boer wars. Anyway, I married one and have a half-caste son.

    I suspect you will find much the same common ancestry underpinning a colourful history when comparing Turkish and Greek ancestry.

    thousands of white farmers migrated into the hinterlands to escape the new power (in part to preserve their customs, such as slavery).

    Indeed, it’s unlikely a coincidence that the Great Trek, perhaps the defining event in establishing Afrikaner identity and sense of nationhood, started in 1835, and the UK parliament passed the The Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, enforcing it in Cape Colony from 1834.

  7. “The point is that the Afrikaners and Brits are closely enough related as to share much common ancestry, they are kin.”

    It’s stronger than that. Though flow had been predominantly Afrikaner -> English, there has been plenty of English -> Afrikaner flow, just less of it. It is certainly *not* a recent phenomenon, it stretches back beyond the Battle of Blaauwberg, and the 18th Century Cape was far more of a melting pot than the 20th Century RSA. There was even a little Jewish -> Afrikaner flow, the well-known “Boerejood”. Of course that doesn’t negate endogamy. Both groups remained approximately endogamous, after the arrival en bloc of the English 1820 settlers, helped by *considerable* ongoing sorting.

    The label “Afrikaner” here is really rather misleading, as it is a modern, aspirational invention, like all other ethnic labels (the first to call themselves “Afrikaners” were actually Hottentots, as in Jonker Afrikaner, his father Jager, and their father Klaas.). Nevertheless there is an underlying reality of predominantly Dutch/Huguenot/German ancestry with British admixture and much smaller traces of native admixture from those isolated trekboer days.

    The slavery meme is not historically accurate. It is true that the trekkers resented British Rule, and the abolition of slavery was an example of that to them, but the Boer Republics did *not* reinstitute it—in fact they imposed taxes to compel the natives to work for money. See Du Toit and Giliomee’s History of Afrikaner Political Thought. Nor was their Native Policy all that different from the Cape, where the Pass Laws were first invented. They mostly wanted to get away, and had all sort of motivations related to that, like being on the run for serial bankruptcy, crazy religious visions etc. The true function of the trek was retrospective myth-making, just like clan tartans in Scotland. Indeed all ethnicity is aspirational.

  8. There is also quite a bit of Portuguese admixture in the Afrikaners. For example Ferreira (which in Portuguese means Smith) is not uncommon as an Afrikaans surname. The routes for this are obvious, as in the Dorsland trek wanderings up to Angola and back, and interchange between Mozambique and the lowveld.

  9. > who the fuck cares about ppl with part-afrikaner ancestry? lots of cape coloureds and afrikaners have khoi ancestry, but they aren’t khoi. you count the khoi who remain culturally and mostly genetically khoi.

    That wasn’t my point. Today’s intermarriages are no different from those in 1790, with subsequent sorting. This is a matter of public notoriety within South Africa, but there is plenty of documentary evidence, which I have handled myself in the Cape Archives and at the South African Library in Cape Town. The half-Afrikaners become nominally full Afrikaners very quickly, or more commonly nominally full-English, as Foster migrates to Vorster, or vice versa, or Smith migrates to Smit, or just stays put as the Afrikaans Smith. C. Louis Leipoldt, one of greatest of the Afrikaans literati, wasn’t even an Afrikaner at all if you calculate direct descent, his parents were missionary transplants—that’s how ascription works. In areas like South West Africa there was huge interchange due to relative imbalances, and I’d wager that most of the original English traders there (Lathams, Dixons, etc.) were absorbed into the larger Afrikaner influx. After the Boer war many British soldiers stayed or came back, and married Afrikaans women, and maybe 20% (here I am guessing again) of those sorted into Afrikanerdom. And don’t forget that rather a lot of Cape ‘Afrikaners’ actually fought for the British in the Boer War, or sold them horses. So there was continuous admixture, with masking sorting, since the 18th Century Cape days right up to the present day, and modern divisions were partly, though never wholly, projected back in time. Any “genetic test” that claims otherwise just lacks the required resolution. Pedigree analysis and time in the Cape Archives will easily establish that. No educated Afrikaner would ever dispute that.

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