In this study an investigation is undertaken of the contribution made to Afrikaner nationalism by a
history series, the “Ons Geskiedenis-Serie”, published between 1937 and 1948 by Nasionale Pers.
On the one hand the series aimed to promote Afrikaner nationalism, but on the other it also satisfied
a need among Afrikaner nationalists, and was an indication of the state of Afrikaner nationalism.
In order to provide the appropriate context, early Afrikaner historiography, the role played
by Nasionale Pers in this regard, and the rise of Afrikaner nationalism in the 1930s, are discussed.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, a number of Afrikaners produced examples of volksgeskiedenis, the history of their own people. Meanwhile, Afrikaner nationalism flourished
under the spectre of foreign oppression; for the republican Afrikaner the threat of British
domination and imperialism became increasingly real.
At the time of its establishment in 1915, Nasionale Pers had three main objectives. These
were to promote Afrikaans literature, language and culture and, closely linked to this, the promotion
of Afrikaner nationalism. Secondly, to make a profit to boost its meagre finances as far as possible.
A third aim involved publishing educational material for teaching purposes.
In 1918 a publishing section was set up by Nasionale Pers. In the same year the first of 24
volumes of a series called “Die Burgerleeskring” appeared to meet the now growing demand for
good Afrikaans reading material – literature as well as history – and to stimulate the Afrikaans
reader both culturally and intellectually. The first volume, entitled Voortrekkermense 1, was in fact
a source publication with documents of the Great Trek with footnotes and essays by Gustav Preller.
“Die Burgerleeskring” met with limited success and was discontinued in 1925 for financial
reasons. The series was nevertheless of great significance for the emergence of the Afrikaans book
because it laid the foundations for later development.
Meanwhile, Preller established himself as one of Nasionale Pers’ most popular authors,
gaining a reputation not only for his source publications but more particularly for his historical
works on the Great Trek and the Anglo-Boer War. His emotional involvement in the subject matter
struck a chord in Afrikaner hearts because by the 1930s a strong and clearly identifiable Afrikaner
nationalism had developed.
Under these circumstances, the suffering endured by the volk throughout Afrikaner history,
notably in the Great Trek and the Anglo-Boer War, began to gain new significance. All the more
so when the contemporary injustices experienced by Afrikaners under British supremacy could be
traced back to the Anglo-Boer War when their ancestors had doggedly resisted British domination.
The financial success experienced by Nasionale Pers after 1936 gave rise to a period of
remarkable entrepreneurial growth for the publishing house from 1937 to 1939. In the flush of this
emotional-historical climate, Nasionale Pers produced a ground-breaking historical series – one
that can indeed be described as a true renaissance of Afrikaans historiography. This was the “Ons
Geskiedenis-Serie”, which in 1937 saw its first of 21 publications, which was to last until 1948.
The main themes of the series were those that immediately come to mind. The settlement of
the volk when Jan van Riebeeck came ashore at the Cape in 1652; the Great Trek; the First War
of Independence (the Transvaal War); the Second War of Independence (the Anglo-Boer War); and
the fate of the Afrikaner in the twentieth century, were predictably chosen as the main turning points
in the history of the Afrikaner. Of the 21 books in the series, there was eventually one on the
settlement at the Cape; five dealt with the Great Trek; one was on the First War of Independence;
thirteen discussed the Anglo-Boer War; and one examined Afrikaner nationalism in the first four
decades of the twentieth century. The number of copies printed varied from 2 000 to 3 000, which
was quite considerable for the time. Some of the most popular works merited a second and even a
The year 1938 was undoubtedly the highpoint for the “Ons Geskiedenis-Serie”, when no less
than nine titles appeared – one on the settlement; four, understandably in its centenary year, on
the Great Trek; and four on the Anglo-Boer War. In 1939 two titles saw the light of day, both on
the Anglo-Boer War; while in 1940 one on the First War of Independence and two on the Anglo-
Boer War reached the bookshelves. In 1941 there were two on the Anglo-Boer War; and in 1942
one on the Anglo-Boer War and one on Afrikaner nationalism in the twentieth century. In 1943
there were again two works on the Anglo-Boer War; while in 1945 one title appeared dealing with
the Great Trek period. Significant contributions were made to the series by Gustav Preller, who contributed three
works on the Great Trek and three on the Anglo-Boer War. H.J.C. Pieterse compiled two
reminiscences by veterans of the First War of Independence and the Anglo-Boer War respectively;
while General Jan Kemp submitted two works of note, one on the Anglo-Boer War and another on
the first four decades of the twentieth century. The work by Mrs. E. Neethling, Mag ons vergeet?
is one of the most heart rending contributions. Dealing with the suffering of the Boer women and
children it provides an accurate depiction of the raw emotional baggage which was so characteristic
of the series.
The analysis of the objectives, content and nature of the 21 works forms an important part of
this article. Finally, the reasons why the series was discontinued in 1948 are examined. The author
comes to the conclusion that the series undoubtedly mirrored the spirit of the times and the ambient
level of Afrikaner nationalism in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but that it possibly, in turn, also
contributed to the rising spirit of nationalism.
Met hierdie studie word die rol ondersoek wat ’n geskiedenisreeks van Nasionale Pers, getiteld
“Ons Geskiedenis-Serie”, tussen 1937 en 1948 ten opsigte van Afrikanernasionalisme gespeel het.
Enersyds het die reeks beoog om Afrikanernasionalisme te bevorder, maar andersyds het dit ’n
behoefte by Afrikanernasionaliste bevredig en was die publikasies ’n aanduiding van die stand van
hierdie nasionalisme. Vooraf word daar ter wille van konteks gekyk na vroeë Afrikanergeskiedskrywing,
Nasionale Pers se rol in hierdie geskiedskrywing, en die opbloei van Afrikanernasionalisme
in die dertigerjare. Daarna kom die ontleding aan die beurt van die 21 werke wat in die reeks
verskyn het. Met die oog daarop word die aard van die hooftemas en die aard van die individuele
werke onder die loep geneem. Die hooftemas was die volksplanting, die Groot Trek, die Eerste
Vryheidsoorlog of Eerste Anglo-Boereoorlog, die Anglo-Boereoorlog van 1899–1902, en die
Afrikaner se ekonomiese en geestelike vernedering voor Brittanje ná die oorlog en in die eerste
dekades van die twintigste eeu.