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THE HUGUENOTS IN SOUTH AFRICA


Who were the Huguenots?


The protestant reformation that started with Martin Luther in Germany around 1517 (when he published his 95 theses which challenged the Catholic church) spread throughout Europe during the 16th Century. John Calvin lead the charge in France, and his followers are called the ‘Huguenots’. While no one is certain where the term actually came from, it is generally thought that the word is derived from a fusion of different dialogues, and was initially derogatory, as they did not use the term for themselves: they preferred to call themselves members of the ‘reformed church’.

What happened to the Huguenots in France?


The reformist movement grew quickly in France. By 1562, there were two million Huguenots in France with more than 2,000 churches. Inevitably, the Catholic Church felt the Huguenots were dangerous and led a charge against them, which resulted in plenty of moments of bloodshed such as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris in 1572, where thousands (about 3,000 in Paris) of Huguenots were slaughtered by soldiers and organised mobs. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre sparked 3 days of hideous violence (approximately 70,000 Huguenots were slaughtered throughout France), as Catholic citizens were organised into militia groups to better hunt down, torture, mutilate, and murder as many Huguenots as they could.

Over the following 2 months, the violence spread to other cities in France, resulting in the first mass migration of Huguenots to other countries. The cycle of persecution and fleeing continued well into the late 17th century.


Huguenots in Africa


Many Huguenot refugees fled to the Netherlands in the 17th century, where the Dutch East India company sponsored 178 families to settle in the Cape of Good Hope. Here, they were given good farmland and encouraged to bring their winemaking and other skills to the Dutch settlement of South Africa. They were well received in the colony, as unlike the Dutch and German settlers (who were generally poor and had come from dire situations at home), the Huguenot immigrants mostly belonged to the bourgeoisie, and so brought a strong, somewhat affluence culture to the area. A culture that is still very prominent in Franschhoek (which literally translates as ‘French Corner’) today.