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White South Africans are people from South Africa who are of European descent and who do not regard themselves, or are not regarded as, being part of another racial group (for example, as Coloured).[3] In linguistic, cultural and historical terms, they are generally divided into the Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Dutch East India Company's original settlers, known as Afrikaners, and the Anglophone descendants of predominantly British colonists. In 2011, 61% were native Afrikaans speakers, 36% were native English speakers, and 3% spoke another language as their mother tongue,[4] such as Portuguese or German. White South Africans are by far the largest European-descended population group in Africa.

White South Africans
Total population

2014 Estimate: 4,554,800 (8.4% of South Africa's population) [1]

2011 Census: 4,586,838 (8.9% of South Africa's population) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Throughout South Africa, but concentrated in urban areas
Gauteng 1,920,000
Western Cape 980,000
KwaZulu-Natal 450,000
Eastern Cape 300,000
Free State 270,000
Mpumalanga 250,000
North West 240,000
Limpopo 110,000
Northern Cape 110,000
Afrikaans 61%, South African English 36%, other 3%
Christianity (87%), no religion (9%), Judaism (1%), other (3%)
Related ethnic groups
White Namibians
White Zimbabweans
British diaspora in Africa
South African diaspora

White South Africans differ significantly from other white African groups, because they have developed nationhood, as in the case of the Afrikaners, who established a distinct language, culture and faith in Africa.[5]



The history of European settlement in South Africa started in 1652 with the settlement of the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) under Jan van Riebeeck.[6] Despite the preponderance of officials and colonists from the Netherlands, there were also a number of French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution at home and German soldiers or sailors returning from service in Asia.[7] The colony remained under Dutch rule for two more centuries, after which it was annexed by Great Britain around 1806.[8] At that time, South Africa was home to about 26,000 people of European descent, a relative majority of whom were still of Dutch origin.[8] However, beginning in 1818 thousands of British immigrants arrived in the fledgling Cape Colony, looking to join the local workforce or settle directly on the frontier.[8] About a fifth of the Cape's original Dutch-speaking white population migrated eastwards during the Great Trek in the 1830s and established their own autonomous Boer republics further inland.[9] Nevertheless, the population of European origin continued increasing at the Cape as a result of immigration, and by 1865 had reached 181,500 people.[10] Between 1880 and 1910, there was an influx of Eastern Europeans of various nationalities, especially a large Jewish community from the Baltic region.[11]

The first nationwide census in South Africa was held in 1911 and indicated a white population of 1,276,242.[11] By 1936 there were an estimated 2,003,857 white South Africans, and by 1946 the number had reached 2,372,690.[11] The country began receiving tens of thousands of European immigrants, namely from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, and the territories of the Portuguese Empire during the mid to late twentieth century.[12] South Africa's white population increased to over 3,408,000 by 1965, reached 4,050,000 in 1973, and peaked at 5,044,000 in 1990.[13] The number of white South Africans resident in their home country began gradually declining between 1990 and the mid-2000s as a result of increased emigration.[13]

Today, white South Africans are also considered to be the last major white population group of European ancestry on the African continent, due in part to the mass exodus of colonials from most other African states during regional decolonization. Whites continue to play a role in the South African economy and across the political spectrum. Whites number approximately 4.5 to 5 million, or nearly 9% of South Africa's population. This represents a decline, both numerically and proportionately, since the country's first multiracial elections in 1994. Just under a million white South Africans are also living as expatriate workers abroad, which forms the majority of South Africa's brain drain.

Apartheid eraEdit

Under the 1950 Population Registration Act, each inhabitant of South Africa was classified into one of several different race groups, of which White was one. The Office for Race Classification defined a white person as one who "in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person." Many criteria, both physical (e.g. examination of head and body hair) and social (e.g. eating and drinking habits, familiarity with Afrikaans or a European language) were used when the board decided to classify someone as white or coloured.[3][14] This was ventral extended to all those considered the children of two White persons, regardless of appearance. The Act was repealed on 17 June 1991.

Post-apartheid eraEdit

The 1994 Employment Equity legislation favours employment of black (African, Indian, Chinese, Coloured population groups as well as disabled people) South Africans over the white population. Black Economic Empowerment legislation further favours blacks as the government considers ownership, employment, training and social responsibility initiatives which empower black South Africans as important criteria when awarding tenders. However, private enterprise adheres to this legislation voluntarily.[15] Some reports indicate a growing number of whites suffering poverty compared to the pre-apartheid years and attribute this to such laws — over 350,000 Afrikaners may be classified as poor, with some research claiming that up to 150,000 are struggling for survival.[16][17] This combined with a wave of violent crime has led to vast numbers of Afrikaners and English-speaking South Africans leaving the country.

Genocide Watch has theorised that farm attacks constitute early warning signs of genocide against White South African and has criticised the South African government for its inaction on the issue, pointing out that the murder rate for them ("ethno-European farmers" in their report, which also included non-Afrikaner farmers of European race) is four times that of the general South African population.[18] There are 40,000 white farmers in South Africa[citation needed]. Since 1994 close to three thousand farmers have been murdered in thousands of farm attacks,[19] with many being brutally tortured and/or raped. Some victims have been burned with smoothing irons or had boiling water poured down their throats.[20]

White South African diaspora and emigrationEdit

Afrikaner farmer in Georgia, Caucasus region, 2011

Since 1994 there has been significant emigration of white people from South Africa. There are thus currently large Afrikaner and English-speaking South African communities in the UK and other developed countries. Between 1995 and 2005, more than one million South Africans have emigrated, citing violent and racially motivated black on white crime as the main reason.[21] Farmers have emigrated to other parts of Africa (e.g. North Eastern Congo) to develop efficient commercial farming there.[22]

Current trendsEdit

In recent decades there has been a steady proportional decline in South Africa's white community, due to higher birthrates among other South African ethnic groups, as well as a high emigration statistic. In 1977, there were 4.3 million whites, constituting 16.4% of the population at the time. It is estimated that at least 800,000 white South Africans have emigrated since 1995.[23]

Like many other communities strongly affiliated with the West and Europe's colonial legacy in Africa, white South Africans are often economically better off than their black African neighbors and have only relatively recently surrendered political dominance to majority rule. There were also some white Africans in South Africa who lived in poverty—especially during the 1930s and increasingly since the end of minority rule. Current estimates of white poverty in South Africa run as high as 12%, though fact-checking website Africa Check described these figures as "grossly inflated", and suggested that a more accurate estimate was that "only a tiny fraction of the white population – as little as 7,754 households – are affected".[24]

Lara Logan is a television and radio journalist and war correspondent.

The new phenomenon of white poverty is often blamed on the government's affirmative action employment legislation, which reserves 80% of new jobs for black people[25] and favours companies owned by black people (see Black Economic Empowerment). In 2010, Reuters stated that 450,000 whites live below the poverty line according to Solidarity and civil organisations,[26] with some research saying that up to 150,000 are struggling for survival.[27]

A further concern has been crime. Some white South Africans living in affluent white suburbs, such as Sandton, have been affected by the 2008 13.5% rise in house robberies and associated crime.[28] In a study, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Dr. Johan Burger, said that criminals were specifically targeting wealthier suburbs. Burger revealed that several affluent suburbs are surrounded by poorer residential areas and that inhabitants in the latter often target inhabitants in the former. Burger also related to an entitlement complex that criminals have; "They feel they are entitled, for their own sakes, to take from those who have a lot". The report also found that residents in wealthy suburbs in Gauteng were not only at more risk of being targeted but also faced an inflated chance of being murdered during the robbery.[29]

The current global financial crisis has slowed down the high rates of white people emigrating overseas and has led to increasing numbers of white emigrants returning to live in South Africa. Charles Luyckx, CEO of Elliot International and a board member of the Professional Movers Association said that in the past six months leading to December (2008), emigration numbers had dropped by 10%. Meanwhile, he revealed that "people imports" had increased by 50%.[30]

As of May 2014, Homecoming Revolution has estimated that around 340,000 white South Africans have returned in the last decade.[31]

Furthermore, immigration from Europe has also supplemented the white population. The 2011 census found that 63,479 white people living in South Africa were born in Europe; of these, 28,653 had moved to South Africa since 2001.[32]


The Statistics South Africa Census 2011 showed that there were about 4,586,838 white people in South Africa, amounting to 8.9% of the country's population.[33] This is a 6.8% increase since the 2001 census. According to the Census 2011, South African English is the first language of 36% of the white population group and Afrikaans is the first language of 61% of the white population group.[4] The majority of white South Africans identify themselves as primarily South African, regardless of their first language or ancestry.[34][35]


Approximately 87% of white South Africans are Christian, 9% have no religion, and 1% are Jewish. The largest Christian denomination is the Dutch Reformed Church, with 23% of the white population being members. Other significant denominations are the Methodist Church (8%), the Roman Catholic Church (7%), and the Anglican Church (6%).[36]


Many white people have migrated to South Africa from other parts of Africa following the independence of those African nations or when those nations became hostile to them. Many Portuguese from Mozambique and Angola and white Zimbabweans emigrated to South Africa when their respective countries became independent.

Meanwhile, many white South Africans also emigrated to Western countries over the past two decades, mainly to English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, and with others settling in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Argentina, Mexico, Israel and Brazil. However, the financial crisis has slowed down the rate of emigration and as of May 2014, Homecoming Revolution has estimated that around 340,000 white South Africans have returned in the last decade.[31]


White South Africans as a proportion of the total population.
Density of the White South African population.

According to Statistics South Africa, white South Africans make up 8.9% (Census 2011) of the total population in South Africa. Their actual proportional share in municipalities is likely to be higher, given the undercount in the 2001 census.[37]

The following table shows the distribution of white people by province, according to the 2011 census:[38]

Province White pop. (2011) White pop. (2001) % province (2011) % province (2001) % change 2001-2011 % total whites (2011)
Eastern Cape 310,450 305,837 4.7 4.9 -0.2   6.8
Free State 239,026 238,789 8.7 8.8 -0.1   5.2
Gauteng 1,913,884 1,768,041 15.6 18.8 -3.2   41.7
KwaZulu-Natal 428,842 482,115 4.2 5.0 -0.8   9.3
Limpopo 139,359 132,420 2.6 2.7 -0.1   3.0
Mpumalanga 303,595 197,079 7.5 5.9 +1.6   6.6
North West 255,385 233,935 7.3 7.8 -0.5   5.6
Northern Cape 81,246 102,519 7.1 10.3 -3.2   1.8
Western Cape 915,053 832,902 15.7 18.4 -2.7   19.9
Total 4,586,838 4,293,640 8.9 9.6 -0.7   100.0


Romanticised painting of an account of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, founder of Cape Town.

White South Africans continue to participate in politics, having a presence across the whole political spectrum from left to right.

South African President Jacob Zuma commented in 2009 on Afrikaners being "the only white tribe in a black continent or outside of Europe which is truly African", and said that "of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word."[39] These remarks have led to the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) laying a complaint with the Human Rights Commission against Zuma.[40] In 2015 a complaint was investigated for hate speech against Jacob Zuma who said "You must remember that a man called Jan van Riebeeck arrived here on 6 April 1652, and that was the start of the trouble in this country," [41]

Former president Thabo Mbeki stated in one of his speeches to the nation that: "South Africa belongs to everyone who lives in it. Black and White."[42] The history of white people in South Africa dates back to the 16th century.

Prior to 1994, a white minority held complete political power under a system of racial segregation called apartheid. Some white people supported this policy, but some others opposed it. During apartheid, immigrants from Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan were considered honorary whites in the country, as the government had maintained diplomatic relations with these countries. These were granted the same privileges as white people, at least for purposes of residence.[43] Some African Americans such as Max Yergan were granted an 'honorary white' status as well.[44]


Historical populationEdit

Statistics for the white population in South Africa vary greatly. Most sources show that the white population peaked in the period between 1989-1995 at around 5.2-5.6 million. Up to that point the white population largely increased due to high birth rates and immigration. Subsequently, between the mid 1990s and the mid-2000s the white population decreased overall. However, from 2006-2013 the population increased.

Year Total population Annual % change Source
1904 1,116,805 N/A 1904 Census
1911 1,270,000   +2.3% 1911 Census[11]
1960 3,008,000   +2.7% 1960 Census
1965 3,408,000   +2.7% Stats SA
1970 3,792,848   +2.3% 1970 Census
1980 4,522,000   +1.9% 1980 Census[13]
1985 4,867,000   +1.5% 1985 Census[13]
1991 5,068,300   +0.7% 1991 Census
1996 4,434,700   -3.5% 1996 Census
2001 4,293,640   -0.6% 2001 Census
2006 4,365,300   +0.3% Stats SA estimate
2009 4,472,100   +0.8% Stats SA estimate
2010 4,584,700   +2.5% Stats SA estimate
2011 4,586,838   +0.05% 2011 Census
2013 4,602,386   +0.34% Stats SA estimate
2014 4,554,800   -1.0% Stats SA estimate
2015 4,534,008   -0.5% Stats SA estimate
2016 4,515,800   -0.42% Stats SA estimate

Fertility ratesEdit

Contraception among white South Africans is stable or slightly falling: 80% used contraception in 1990, and 79% used it in 1998.[45] The following data shows some fertility rates recorded during South Africa's history. However, there are varied sources showing that the white fertility rate reached below replacement (2.1) by 1980. Likewise, recent studies show a range of fertility rates, ranging from 1.3 to 2.4. The Afrikaners tend to have a higher birthrate than that of other white people.

Year Total fertility rate[46] Source
1960 3.5   SARPN
1970 3.1   SARPN
1980 2.4   SARPN
1989 1.9
1990 2.1   SARPN
1996 1.9   SARPN
1998 1.9   SARPN
2001[47] 1.8
2006[47] 1.8
2011 1.6   Census 2011

Life expectancyEdit

The average life expectancy at birth for males and females

Year Average life expectancy Male life expectancy Female life expectancy
1980[48] 70.3 66.8 73.8
1985[49] 71  ?  ?
1997 73.5 70 77
2009[50][51] 71  ?  ?


Province (strict) White unemployment rate
Eastern Cape[52] 4.5%
Free State
Gauteng[53] 8.7%
KwaZulu-Natal[54] 8.0%
Limpopo[55] 8.0%
Mpumalanga[54] 7.5%
North West
Northern Cape[56] 4.5%
Western Cape 2.0%


Average annual household income by population group of the household head.[57][58]

Population group Average income (2015) Average income (2011) Average income (2001)
White R 444 446 (321.7%) R 365 134 (353.8%) R 193 820 (400.6%)
Indian/Asian R 271 621 (196.6%) R 251 541 (243.7%) R 102 606 (212.1%)
Coloured R 172 765 (125.0%) R 112 172 (108.7%) R 51 440 (106.3%)
Black R 92 983 (67.3%) R 60 613 (58.7%) R 22 522 (46.5%)
Total R 138 168 (100%) R 103 204 (100%) R 48 385 (100%)

Percentage of workforceEdit

Province Whites % of the workforce Whites % of population
Eastern Cape[52] 10% 4%
Free State
Gauteng[59] 25% 18%
KwaZulu-Natal[54] 11% 6%
Limpopo[55] 5% 2%
North West
Northern Cape[56] 19% 12%
Western Cape[60] 22% 18%


Language 2011 2001 1996
Afrikaans 60.8% 59.1% 57.7%
English 35.9% 39.3% 38.6%
Other languages 3.3% 1.6% 3.7%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%


Religion among white South Africans remains high compared to other white ethnic groups, but likewise it has shown a steady proportional drop in both membership and church attendance with until recently the majority of white South Africans attending regular church services.

Religious affiliation of white South Africans (2001 census)[61]
Religion Number Percentage (%)
- Christianity 3 726 266 86.8%
- Dutch Reformed churches 1 450 861 33.8%
- Pentecostal/Charismatic/Apostolic churches 578 092 13.5%
- Methodist Church 343 167 8.0%
- Catholic Church 282 007 6.6%
- Anglican Church 250 213 5.8%
- Other Reformed churches 143 438 3.3%
- Baptist churches 78 302 1.8%
- Presbyterian churches 74 158 1.7%
- Lutheran churches 25 972 0.6%
- Other Christian churches 500 056 11.6%
Judaism 61 673 1.4%
Islam 8 409 0.2%
Hinduism 2 561 0.1%
No religion 377 007 8.8%
Other or undetermined 117 721 2.7%
Total 4 293 637

Notable White South AfricansEdit

Science and technologyEdit


Royalty and AristocracyEdit

Arts and mediaEdit

Emily Riodran, Author and Mother of Caspar Lee




Morne Morkel Albie Morkel


  • Mariette Bosch, murderer executed by the government of Botswana in 2001 for the murder of South African Ria Wolmarans

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ "Census 2011 Census in brief, Report No. 03-01-41" (PDF). Statistics South Africa. 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
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  7. ^ Keegan, Timothy. Colonial South Africa and the Origins of the Racial Order (1996 ed.). David Philip Publishers (Pty) Ltd. pp. 15–37. ISBN 978-0813917351. 
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  27. ^ Wood, Simon (22 January 2006). "Race against time". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 February 2013. some research claiming that up to 150,000 are destitute and struggling for survival 
  28. ^ Fourie, Hilda (2 July 2008). "Criminals feel 'entitled' to steal". Beeld. Johannesburg. Retrieved 25 February 2013. According to the police's latest crime statistics, which were announced at the Union Buildings on Monday, house robberies had increased countrywide by 13.5%. 
  29. ^ Fourie, Hilda (2 July 2008). "Criminals feel 'entitled' to steal". Beeld. Johannesburg. Retrieved 25 February 2013. According to the report, Gautengers who live in richer neighbourhoods "like Brooklyn, Garsfontein, Sandton, Honeydew and Douglasdale, have a bigger chance of being targeted or murdered in house robberies". 
  30. ^ Coming Home The Times. 21 December 2008
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