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French South Africans
  • Sud-africains français
  • Franse Suid-Afrikaners
Commemorating 300 years of Huguenot history in South Africa
Regions with significant populations
Western Cape · Gauteng · Free State · Limpopo
South African English · French · Afrikaans
Christianity (mainly Calvinism)
Related ethnic groups
French Canadians (Québécois), Afrikaners, Walloons, Cajuns, Caledonians, French, Louisiana Creoles, Pieds-Noirs, Romands

Many people of European heritage in South Africa are descended from Huguenots. Most of these originally settled in the Cape Colony, but were absorbed into the Afrikaner and Afrikaans-speaking population, because they had religious similarities to the Dutch colonists.

Early arrivals

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 (1685), which revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that had granted religious toleration to Protestants.

Mass migration

On 31 December 1687 a group of Huguenots fled from France (as a result of the Edict of Fontainebleau). This was part of 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 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. Emigrations took place mainly because of religious persecution by the Catholic rulers.

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, spurred by the Huguenots and Dutch sharing a common Calvinist religion.


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

Main article: Huguenot Monument

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.


French Huguenot descendants were also included in the exodus of frontier farmers that was called the Great Trek.[2]

Voortrekker surnames who were of French Huguenot ancestry include:[3]

(Original French spelling in brackets)


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, du Randt, Fourie, Fouche, Giliomee (Guilliaume), Gous / Gouws (Gauch), Hugo, Jacobs, Joubert, Jordaan (Jourdan), Labuschagne (la Buscagne), Lange, le Roux, Leonard, Lombard, Malan, Michel, Malherbe, Marais, Nel, Nortje (Nourtier), Pienaar, Retief, Rossouw, Roux,[4] Terreblanche, Taljard, Theron and Viljoen (Villion).[5][6][7]

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.[8][9]

List of prominent South Africans of Huguenot descent

Some of the original forms of the surnames have been put in brackets.

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

Some Afrikaans writers have Huguenot surnames, and were involved in setting up the Society of Real Afrikaners.[11]

The wine industry in South Africa was greatly influenced by the Huguenots,[12] many of whose families had owned vineyards in France.[13] Many of the farms in the Western Cape province in South Africa still bear French names, such as Haute Cabrière, La Petite Provence, La Bourgogne, La Motte, La Bri, La Borie, 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. ^ Bryer, Lynne and Theron, Francois. The Huguenot Heritage, The Story of the Huguenots at the Cape. Chameleon Press. Diep River. First Edition. 1987. Page 47.
  3. ^ Visagie, Jan C. Voortrekkerstamouers 1835 - 1845. Protea Boekhuis. Pretoria. 2011.
  4. ^ van der Bijl, Johannes (1978). Die Familie Roux. ISBN 0-86965-464-0.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ "Genealogy". The Huguenot Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 2 May 2009. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  7. ^ Watkinson, William Lonsdale; Davison, William Theophilus, eds. (1875). "William Shaw and South Africa". The London Quarterly Review. Vol. 44. J.A. Sharp. p. 274.
  8. ^ Koinange, Jeff (21 December 2006). "De Klerk told Mandela: Timing of release not negotiable". CNN. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  9. ^ "The new South Africa: F W de Klerk's long trek". The Independent. 18 March 2006. Retrieved 21 April 2009.[dead link]
  10. ^ De Savoye, Jaques. "Carte Blanche on Ruda's Family Tree". Retrieved 16 July 2009.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Coertzen, P. (29 September 2011). "The Huguenots of South Africa in history and religious identity". Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif. 52 (1). doi:10.5952/52-1-5. ISSN 2226-2385.
  12. ^ "Paths to Pluralism: South Africa's Early History". Michigan State University. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  13. ^ Fourie, Johan; Von Fintel, Dieter (2014). "Settler skills and colonial development:the Huguenot wine-makers in eighteenth-century Dutch South Africa". The Economic History Review. 67 (4): 934. doi:10.1111/1468-0289.12033. S2CID 152735090.

Further reading

Huguenot families