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Huguenots in South Africa

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Huguenots in South Africa

Commemorating 300 years of Huguenot history in South Africa

A large number of white people in South Africa are descended from Huguenots. Most of these originally settled in the Cape Colony, but were absorbed into the Afrikaner and Afrikaans population, because they had religious similarities to the Dutch colonists.


Huguenots building their homesteads

Even before the large scale arrival of the Huguenots at the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century, a small number of individual Huguenot refugees settled there. They included Francois Villion, later known as Viljoen, and the Du Toit brothers. In fact, the first Huguenot to arrive at the Cape of Good Hope was Maria de la Quellerie, the wife of governor Jan van Riebeeck, who started the settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 on behalf of the Dutch East India Company; however, she and her husband left for Batavia after ten years. After a commissioner was sent out from the Cape Colony in 1685 to attract more settlers, a more dedicated group of immigrants began to arrive. A larger number of French refugees began to arrive in the Cape after leaving their country as a result of the Edict of Fontainebleau which revoked the Edict of Nantes granting religious toleration of Protestants.

On 31 December 1687 a group of Huguenots set sail from France as the first of the large scale emigration of Huguenots to the Cape of Good Hope, which took place during 1688 and 1689. In total some 180 Huguenots from France, and 18 Walloons from the present-day Belgium, eventually settled at the Cape of Good Hope. A notable example of this is the emigration of Huguenots from La Motte d'Aigues in Provence, France. After this large scale emigration, individual Huguenot immigrant families arrived at the Cape of Good Hope as late as the first quarter of the 18th century, and the state-subsidised emigration of Huguenots was stopped in 1706.

This small body of immigrants had a marked influence on the character of the Dutch settlers. They were purposely spread out and given farms amongst the Dutch farmers. Owing to the policy instituted in 1701 of the Dutch East India Company which dictated that schools should teach exclusively in Dutch, that all official correspondence had to be done in Dutch, and strict laws of assembly, the Huguenots ceased by the middle of the 18th century to maintain a distinct identity, and the knowledge of French diminished and eventually disappeared as a home language.[1] This assimilation into the colonial population was also due to the fact that many Huguenot descendants married individuals from the Dutch population.


Franschhoek Valley

Many of these settlers were allocated farms in an area later called Franschhoek, Dutch for "French corner", in the present-day Western Cape province of South Africa. The valley was originally known as Olifantshoek ("Elephant's Corner"), so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français ("the French Corner"), and later to Franschhoek, with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabriere, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donne and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms-—most of which still retain their original farm houses today.

Museum and monuments

The Huguenot Museum in Franschhoek.
The Huguenot Monument of Franschhoek.

A large monument to commemorate the arrival of the Huguenots in South Africa was inaugurated on 17 April 1948 at Franschhoek. A museum dedicated to the Huguenot history in South Africa is located adjacent to the monument.

A smaller monument commemorating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Huguenots is located in the Johannesburg Botanical Garden.


Surnames of Huguenot Families on the Huguenot Memorial in the Johannesburg Botanical Garden

There are many families, today mostly Afrikaans speaking, whose surnames bear witness to their Huguenot ancestry. A comprehensive list of these surnames can be seen on the Huguenot Memorial in the Johannesburg Botanical Garden. Examples of the more common names are Blignaut (Blignault), Cronje (Cronier), de Klerk (Le Clercq), Visagie (Visage), de Villiers, du Preez, du Plessis, du Toit, Fourie, Fouche, Giliomee (Guilliaume), Gous / Gouws (Gauch), Hugo, Joubert, Jordaan (Jourdan), Labuschagne (la Buscagne), Lange, le Roux, Leonard, Lombard, Malan, Michel, Malherbe, Marais, Nel, Nortje (Nourtier), Pienaar, Rossouw, Roux,[2] Terreblanche, Taljard, Theron and Viljoen (Villion).[3][4]

Some of the descendants of these original Huguenot families became prominent figures in South African society, most notably F.W. de Klerk, the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa.[5][6]

Various French-language first names have also gained popularity amongst Afrikaners, examples being Francois, Jacques and Eugene.

Some Afrikaans writers have Huguenot surnames, and were involved in setting up the Society of Real Afrikaners.

The wine industry in South Africa was greatly influenced by the Huguenots,[8] many of whose families had owned vineyards in France. Many of the farms in the Western Cape province in South Africa still bear French names, such as Cabrière, La Bourgogne, La Bri, La Chataigne and La Roche.

See also:



  1. ^ History of the French Protestant Refugees, from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to our own days. M. Charles Weiss (Translated from the French by Henry William Herbert), 1854. New York: Stringer & Townsend.
  2. ^ van der Bijl, Johannes. Die Familie Roux.  
  3. ^ Ces Francais Qui Ont Fait L'Afrique Du Sud. Translation: The French People Who Made South Africa. Bernard Lugan. January 1996. ISBN 2-84100-086-9
  4. ^ "Genealogy". The Huguenot Memorial Museum. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  5. ^ Koinange, Jeff (21 December 2006). "De Klerk told Mandela: Timing of release not negotiable".  
  6. ^ "The new South Africa: F W de Klerk's long trek".  
  7. ^ De Savoye, Jaques. "Carte Blanche on Ruda's Family Tree". Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  8. ^ "Paths to Pluralism: South Africa’s Early History".  

Further reading

  • Lugan, Bernard (1996). Ces Francais Qui Ont Fait L'Afrique Du Sud ("The French People Who Made South Africa"). Bartillat. ISBN 2-84100-086-9.
  • Weiss, M. Charles (1854). History of the French Protestant Refugees, from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to our own days. (Translated from the French by Henry William Herbert) New York: Stringer & Townsend.
  • Memory and Identity: The Huguenots in France and the Atlantic Diaspora, Bertrand Van Ruymbeke & Randy J. Sparks, Published 2003 Univ of South Carolina Press, ISBN 1-57003-484-2
  • The Huguenots of South Africa 1688–1988, Pieter Coertzen & Charles Fensham, Published 1988 Tafelberg, ISBN 0-624-02623-X)
  • The French refugees at the Cape (1921), Botha, C. Graham, out of copyright on Internet Archive


External links

  • The Huguenot Society of South Africa

Huguenot families

  • Du Preez Family
  • Roux Family
  • Viljoen Family
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