The growth of a distinctive German South African minority that began during the midnineteenth century, is closely related to the arrival of German mission societies in the region and the Hermannsburg Mission Society (HMS) in particular. Influenced by the tide of nineteenth century German emigration, along with sentiments of ethnic German nationalism, the HMS was far more than an agent of Christian evangelism in that it offered the means for a new life abroad without the need to forgo a connection to the “old country” or Heimat. Accordingly, and as with other examples of what has since been dubbed part of the German diaspora, evidence suggests that a significant portion of HMS related immigration to South Africa was representative of a desire for improved opportunities and the promise of the continuation of a traditionally agrarian mode of life.
It follows that where the HMS inspired immigration must be regarded as an audacious undertaking, many of those involved in its venture were motivated to do so in pursuit of a conservative goal. It is within this context that this thesis uses the case study of the Behrens family from Hermannsburg in Germany to address the theme of German immigration, assimilation and identity as it presents itself over four generations of descendants. In doing so, it documents the origins, growth and decline of arguably South Africa’s most prominent German community during the twentieth century, the farming settlement of Kroondal, situated in the present-day North West province.
Characterised by the desire to retain its culturally German identity, the community provides a minority perspective of a century and half of South African history, including the South African War, the First and Second World Wars and the Apartheid era. They are events that the thesis narrates through the use of a substantial and largely unpublished collection of Behrens family life histories, autobiographies and written correspondence, together with primary resource materials that have been assembled in the Kroondal church archive. Placed together, they are sources that offer insights into the community's norms regarding gender-roles, racial-relations along with their overall experience of a changing and often challenging South African environment. Ultimately, however, the community’s conservatism worked to divorce it from the increasingly liberal sentiments of the post-war (West) German public which eventually served to erode the self-identification of Kroondal’s Germanness.
Keywords:German diaspora; diasporic identity; Kroondal; Hermannsburg Mission Society; Heimat; South African history; Behrens; immigration; identity; biography; nationalism; Apartheid