The Genootskap vir Regte Afrikaners (the GRA, the Fellowship of True Afrikaners) was launched in Paarl, Western Cape on 14 August 1875.
The society was dedicated to the recognition of Afrikaans as a language in Parliament, schools, the civil service and society in general. But more than this, according to Davenport, ‘the Afrikaans language was also the vehicle of a bigger idea, as yet only vaguely formulated, which involved the self conscious cultivation of a distinctive Afrikaner outlook rooted in the religion and history of the people, to be attained by an all-embracing programme of popular education’.
The society was formed after a meeting between SJ du Toit and a man named by Davenport only as Morgan, who was a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Society. The pair met to discuss the idea of translating the Bible into Afrikaans.
Du Toit had been influenced by a linguist, Arnoldus Pannevis, when he studied at the Paarl Gymnasium from 1867.
Earlier, in 1873, educationist CP Hoogenhout had launched a campaign for the recognition of Afrikaans. Hoogenhout and Pannevis had become convinced that Afrikaans needed to develop its own literature. Pannevis the linguist considered Dutch too far removed from the experience of the ordinary Afrikaner to serve as an educational medium.
Du Toit, his schoolmaster brother DF du Toit, Pannevis and Hoogenhout met on 14 August 1875 and formed the GRA.
At its first meeting, the GRA listed three types of Afrikaners, those with Afrikaans hearts, those with Dutch hearts and those with English hearts. It resolved to mobilise and strengthen those with Afrikaner hearts.
According to Davenport: ‘Members had to be professing Christians; they looked upon the Afrikaans language essentially as something God-given…’
Meanwhile, a rival campaign for the recognition of Dutch was initiated by JH Hofmeyr in 1878. While the two parties disagree over the appropriate volkstaal – Afrikaans or Dutch – they co-operated with one another.
The GRA faced various difficulties: a lack of funding, and the lack of a printing press with which to publish the various projects they had in the pipeline. SJ du Toit funded the projects with his own money while Hofmeyr allowed them to use his printing press in Cape Town.
The Afrikaanse Patriot
The Genootskappers launched their own newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot, which was first published on 15 January 1876. The newspaper espoused an anti-English, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist ideology, decrying free trade in goods, railing against merchants, bankers and agents of British financial capitalism. It targeted in particular the Standard Bank, accusing it of sending much of its dividends to its London head office.
The newspaper used a version of Afrikaans that was accessible to ordinary Afrikaners, and became immensely successful. By the early 1880s the newspaper’s circulation reached 3700.
Published as a monthly from January 1876, it became a weekly in January 1877, with the Du Toit brothers acting as editors. When SJ du Toit moved to the Transvaal to take up a position as an education officer, DF du Toit assumed full editorial responsibilities. He created a nom de plume, ‘Oom Lokomotief’, and encouraged readers to write to him, presenting lengthy correspondence columns in every edition.
The paper called for the establishment of a Huguenot memorial, while four editions between March and April 1892 mounted attacks on the Standard Bank.
Towards an Afrikaner Literature
SJ du Toit undertook to write a history of the Afrikaners, which he penned together with the other members of the GRA, but was its principal author.
Die Geskiednis van ons Land in die Taal van ons Volk (The History of our Land in the Language of our Nation), published in 1877, told the story of the Afrikaners in heroic mode, presenting Afrikaners as oppressed throughout their history, and hailing those ‘martyred’ after the Slagter’s Nek rebellion.
According to Davenport: ‘It was romantic history of an exaggerated kind, in which the hero was the Afrikaner Boer. He was pictured, first of all, trying to build a colony, caught between the upper and nether millstones of the Dutch East India Company and the “wild nations”; and was seen to prevail over both because the Lord was on his side. The Huguenots were discussed at considerable length, and their fusion with the Cape Dutch was likewise brought within the scope of the Providential plan. The writers’ emphasis moved to the Republics from the time of the Great Trek onwards, with the implication that from that time the spiritual home of the Afrikaner lay beyond the Orange River. The authors, partly to offset distortions in the English textbooks the n circulation, played down the contribution of English speaking people to the development of South Africa, and they sought to arouse the group patriotism of the Afrikaner by a skilful use of melodrama, best seen in their account of the Slagters Nek executions in 1815.’
The first edition of 500 copies was rapidly sold out, and a second edition was printed much later in 1895.
SJ Du Toit translated the Bible into Afrikaans, and also worked towards the standardisation of the language, publishing Eerste Beginsels van die Afrikaans Taal (First Principles of the Afrikaans Language).
The GRA also published a history of the Afrikaans language movement, an anthology of Afrikaans poetry, and picture books for children.
The GRA printed more than 93,650 Dutch and 81,000 Afrikaans books.
In an editorial of the Patriot printed on 20 June, 1879, Du Toit called for the formation of an Afrikaner Bond (Afrikaner League), with the slogan ‘Afrikaner voor de Afrikaners’. This call was followed by the establishment of the Afrikaner Bond and its flourishing over the next two decades which had an immense impact on South African politics and history. (See the dedicated article on the Bond)
The GRA was the beginning of this Afrikaner mobilisation. By focusing on the development of a literature, standardising the language and the manner in which it became written, the GRA forged the basis of an Afrikaner nationalism. This focus on the ‘material infrastructure’ of nationalism was accompanied by the development of political organisations.