White South Africans

White South Africans are South Africans descended from any of the white racial or ethnic groups of Europe and parts of the Middle East. 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 2016, 57.9% were native Afrikaans speakers, 40.2% were native English speakers, and 1.9% spoke another language as their mother tongue, such as Portuguese or German. White South Africans are by far the largest European-descended population group in Africa.
White South Africans differ significantly from other White African groups, because they can trace their ancestry back to the mid 17th century and have developed a separate cultural identity, as in the case of the Afrikaners, who established a distinct language, culture and faith.


The history of White settlement in South Africa started in 1652 with the settlement of the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company under Jan van Riebeeck. 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. The Cape Colony remained under Dutch rule for two more centuries, after which it was annexed by the United Kingdom around 1806. 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. However, beginning in 1818 thousands of British immigrants arrived in the growing Cape Colony, looking to join the local workforce or settle directly on the frontier. 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. Nevertheless, the population of European origin continued increasing in the Cape as a result of immigration, and by 1865 had reached 181,592 people. Between 1880 and 1910, there was an influx of immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe, including many Lithuanian Jews. Similarly, an influx of Arabs, particularly Lebanese, began arriving to South Africa in the late 19th century.
guerrillas during the Second Boer War
The first nationwide census in South Africa was held in 1911 and indicated a white population of 1,276,242. By 1936, there were an estimated 2,003,857 white South Africans, and by 1946 the number had reached 2,372,690. 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. 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.
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.
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 colonialists from most other African states during regional decolonisation. Whites continue to play a role in the South African economy and across the political spectrum. The current number of white South Africans is not exactly known, as no recent census has been measured, although the overall percentage of up to 9% of the population represents a decline, both numerically and proportionately, since the country's first non-racial 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 era

Under the Population Registration Act of 1950, 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 and social were used when the board decided to classify someone as white or coloured. This was virtually extended to all those considered the children of two White persons, regardless of appearance. The Act was repealed on 17 June 1991.

Post-apartheid era

In Employment Equity Act of 1994, legislation propagates employment of black South Africans. Black Economic Empowerment legislation further empowered 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 enterprises adhere to this legislation voluntarily. Some reports indicated a growing number of whites suffering from 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. This, combined with a wave of violent crime, has led to vast numbers of Afrikaners and English-speaking South Africans leaving the country.

Diaspora and emigration

Since 1994, there has been significant emigration of whites from South Africa. There are thus currently large Afrikaner and English-speaking South African communities in the United Kingdom, Australia and other developed countries. Between 1995 and 2005, more than one million South Africans emigrated, citing violent and racially motivated black on white crime as the main reason, as well as the lack of employment opportunities for whites.

Current trends

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 rate of emigration. In 1977, there were 4.3 million whites, constituting 16.4% of the population at the time. As of 2016, it is estimated that at least 800,000 white South Africans have emigrated since 1995.
Like many other communities strongly affiliated with the West and Europe's colonial legacy in Africa, white South Africans were in the past often economically better off than their black African neighbors and have 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".
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 and favours companies owned by black people. In 2010, Reuters stated that 450,000 whites live below the poverty line according to Solidarity and civil organisations, with some research saying that up to 150,000 are struggling for survival. However, the proportion of white South Africans living in poverty is still much lower than for other groups in the country, since approximately 50% of the general population fall below the upper-bound poverty line.
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. In a study, Dr. Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said that criminals were specifically targeting wealthier suburbs. Burger explained that several affluent suburbs are surrounded by poorer residential areas and that inhabitants in the latter often target inhabitants in the former. Burger alleged an entitlement complex among criminals: "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.
The global financial crisis slowed 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, emigration numbers had dropped by 10%. Meanwhile, he revealed that "people imports" had increased by 50%. These figures may be grossly unreliable due to legislation which does not allow South Africans to hold dual citizenships so many who emigrate let their citizenship remain dormant or lapsed while changing citizenship and no reporting method exists.
As of May 2014, Homecoming Revolution has estimated that around 340,000 white South Africans have returned in the last decade.
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.
At the end of apartheid in 1994, 85 percent of South Africa's arable land was owned by whites. The land reform program introduced after the end of apartheid intended that, within 20 years, 30 percent of white-owned commercial farm land should be transferred to black owners. Thus, in 2011, the farmers' association Agri South Africa coordinated efforts to resettle farmers throughout the African continent. The initiative was offered millions of hectares from 22 African countries that hoped to spur development of efficient commercial farming. The 30 percent target was not close to being met by the 2014 deadline. According to a 2017 government audit, 72% of the nation's private farmland is owned by white people. In February 2018, the Parliament of South Africa passed a motion to review the property ownership clause of the constitution, to allow for the expropriation of land, in the public interest, without compensation, which was supported within South Africa's ruling ANC party on the grounds that the land was originally seized by whites without just compensation. In August 2018, the South African government began the process of taking two white-owned farmlands. Western Cape ANC secretary Faiez Jacobs referred to the property clause amendment as a "stick" to force dialogue about the transfer of land ownership, with the hope of accomplishing the transfer "in a way that is orderly and doesn’t create a ‘them’ and ‘us’ ."


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. 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. The majority of white South Africans identify themselves as primarily South African, regardless of their first language or ancestry.


Approximately 87% of white South Africans are Christian, 9% are irreligious, and 1% are Jewish. The largest Christian denomination is the Dutch Reformed Church, with 23% being members. Other significant denominations are the Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church.


Many white Africans of European ancestry have migrated to South Africa from other parts of the continent due to political or economic turmoil in their respective homelands. Thousands of Portuguese settlers from Mozambique and Angola and white Zimbabweans emigrated to South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. However, the overwhelming majority of European migration correlated with the historic colonization of the region.
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, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and with others settling in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, France, Argentina, Israel and Brazil. However, the financial crisis has slowed 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.


According to Statistics South Africa, white South Africans make up 8.9% 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.
The following table shows the distribution of white people by province, according to the 2011 census:
ProvinceWhite pop. White pop. % province % province change 2001-2011% total whites
Eastern Cape305,837310,4504.94.7+0.2 6.8
Free State238,789239,0268.88.7+0.1 5.2
Gauteng1,768,0411,913,88418.815.6+3.2 41.7
KwaZulu-Natal482,115428,8425.04.2-0.8 9.3
Limpopo132,420139,3592.72.6+0.1 3.0
Mpumalanga197,079303,5955.97.5+1.6 6.6
North West233,935255,3857.87.3+0.5 5.6
Northern Cape102,51981,24610.37.1-3.2 1.8
Western Cape832,902915,05318.415.7+2.7 19.9
Total4,293,6404,586,8389.68.9+6.7 100.0


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." These remarks have led to the Centre for Constitutional Rights laying a complaint with the Human Rights Commission against Zuma. 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."
Former South African 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." The history of white people in South Africa dates back to the sixteenth 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. Some African Americans such as Max Yergan were granted an 'honorary white' status as well.


Historical population

Statistics for the white population in South Africa vary greatly. Most sources show that the white population peaked in the period between 1989 and 1995 at around 5.2 to 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 to 2013, the white population increased.
YearWhite population% of total populationSource
19041,116,80521.6%1904 Census
19111,270,000 22.7% 1911 Census
19603,088,492 19.3% 1960 Census
19613,117,000 19.1% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1961
19623,170,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1962
19633,238,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1963
19643,323,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1964
19653,398,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1965
19663,481,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1966
19673,563,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1967
19683,639,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1968
19693,728,000 19.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1969
19703,792,848 17.1% 1970 Census
19713,920,000 17.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1971
19724,005,000 16.9% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1972
19734,082,000 16.8% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1973
19744,160,000 16.7% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1974
19754,256,000 16.8% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1975
19764,337,000 18.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1976
19774,396,000 17.9% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1977
19784,442,000 18.5% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1978
19794,485,000 18.4% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1979
19804,522,000 18.1% 1980 Census
19814,603,000 18.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1981
19824,674,000 18.3% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1982
19834,748,000 18.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1983
19844,809,000 17.7% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1984
19854,867,000 17.5% 1985 Census
19864,900,000 17.3% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1986
19915,068,300 13.4% 1991 Census
19925,121,000 13.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1992
19935,156,000 13.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1993
19945,191,000 12.8% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1994
19955,224,000 12.7% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1995
19964,434,697 10.9% South African National Census of 1996
19974,462,200 10.8% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1997
19984,500,400 10.7% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1998
19994,538,727 10.5% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 1999
20004,521,664 10.4% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2000
20014,293,640 9.6% South African National Census of 2001
20024,555,289 10.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2002
20034,244,346 9.1% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2003
20044,434,294 9.5% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2004
20054,379,800 9.3% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2005
20064,365,300 9.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2006
20074,352,100 9.1% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2007
20084,499,200 9.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2008
20094,472,100 9.1% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2009
20104,584,700 9.2% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2010
20114,586,838 8.9% South African National Census of 2011
20134,602,400 8.7% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2013
20144,554,800 8.4% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2014
20154,534,000 8.3% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2015
20164,515,800 8.1% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2016
20174,493,500 8.0% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2017
20184,520,100 7.8% Stats SA: Mid-year population estimates, 2018
20194,652,006 7.9% Stats SA:
20204,679,770 7.8% Stats SA:

Fertility rates

among white South Africans is stable or slightly falling: 80% used contraception in 1990, and 79% used it in 1998.
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 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.
YearTotal fertility rateSource
19603.5 SARPN
19703.1 SARPN
19802.4 SARPN
19891.9 UN.org
19902.1 SARPN
19961.9 SARPN
19981.9 SARPN
20011.8 hst.org.za
20061.8 hst.org.za
20111.7 Census 2011

Life expectancy

The average life expectancy at birth for males and females
YearAverage life expectancyMale life expectancyFemale life expectancy



Average annual household income by population group of the household head.
Population groupAverage income Average income Average income
WhiteR 444 446 R 365 134 R 193 820
Indian/AsianR 271 621 R 251 541 R 102 606
ColouredR 172 765 R 112 172 R 51 440
BlackR 92 983 R 60 613 R 22 522
TotalR 138 168 R 103 204 R 48 385

Percentage of workforce



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.
- Christianity3,726,26686.8%
- Dutch Reformed churches1,450,86133.8%
- Pentecostal/Charismatic/Apostolic churches578,09213.5%
- Methodist Church343,1678.0%
- Catholic Church282,0076.6%
- Anglican Church250,2135.8%
- Other Reformed churches143,4383.3%
- Baptist churches78,3021.8%
- Presbyterian churches74,1581.7%
- Lutheran churches25,9720.6%
- Other Christian churches500,05611.6%
No religion377,0078.8%
Other or undetermined117,7212.7%

Notable White South Africans

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