An Afrikaner is a white South African of Calvinist Dutch (or sometimes French Calvinist, German or Belgian) extraction, speaking Afrikaans, a language derived principally from the Dutch of the 17th and 18th centuries, with borrowings today from African languages and English.
Afrikaners (widely known until the 20th century as Boers from the Dutch boeren: "farmers") are descended mostly from white Calvinist settlers who occupied the Cape of Good Hope during the period of administration (1652-1795) by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) and the subsequent period of British rule.
In the 1830s and 1840s an estimated 12,000 Boer pioneers (Voortrekkers) penetrated the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal provinces in order to put themselves beyond the reach of British authority, because they did not agree with the British restrictions on slavery. During this so-called great trek they fought with the Zulus, who at the time were attempting to conquer the very same areas the Boers were trekking into.
The Boers established independent states in what is now South Africa, Transvaal (the South African Republic) and the Orange Free State. The English wish to extend their colonial empire to the Boer areas led to the two Boer Wars of 1880-1881 and 1899-1902, which ended with the inclusion of the Boer areas in the British colonies. Following the British annexation of the Boer republics, the creation of the Union of South Africa (1910) went some way towards blurring the division between British settler and Afrikaner, though the black majority was excluded from equal participation in the affairs of the country until the ending in the early 1990s of the Afrikaner political leadership's policy of apartheid ("separateness" of black and white).