Boers, or Afrikaners, South Africans descended predominantly from the early Dutch colonists. Many Boers are also descended from French Huguenot or German settlers. Boer is the Dutch word for “farmer.” Afrikaans, one of the official languages of the Republic of South Africa, developed from 17th-century Dutch. Boers form the majority of the white population of South Africa.

Dutch colonization of South Africa began in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company brought farmers to the Cape of Good Hope. They raised food to supply the company's ships on the long voyage to India. After 1685 the Dutch were joined by Huguenots who had fled religious persecution in France. The Huguenots adopted Dutch customs and the Dutch language.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna gave the Cape to Great Britain. Boer resentment of British rule and of British colonization, which began in 1820, was intensified when the British abolished slavery in 1834. During 1835–37, some 10,000 Boer cattlemen, farmers, and their families left the Cape in the Voortrek, or Great Trek, seeking new lands and freedom from British authority. They migrated north and east, founding the Orange Free State, Natal, and the Transvaal. Friction between Great Britain and the Boers over the rights of British settlers in Boer territory led to the Boer War (1899–1902). Great Britain annexed the Boer States—the Orange Free State and the Transvaal—following its victory in the war. (Natal had been made a British colony in 1843.) In 1910 they became parts of the Union of South Africa (now the Republic of South Africa).