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'A Boer and His Gun and His Wife Are Three Things Always Together': Republican Masculinity and the 1914 Rebellion

Sandra Swart
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue on Masculinities in Southern Africa (Dec., 1998), pp. 737-751
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637472
Page Count: 15
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'A Boer and His Gun and His Wife Are Three Things Always Together': Republican Masculinity and the 1914 Rebellion
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Abstract

In 1914, there was a rebellion against the young Union government by some 11,000 Afrikaans-speaking men. This social movement has primarily been understood as an Afrikaner Nationalist phenomenon. This article focuses on the gendered identity of the rebels in order to illuminate the Rebellion in a different light. In 1912, the introduction of the Defence Act threatened the identity of Boer men who had come to have their masculinity encoded and reinforced in the Republican commando system. The Defence Act was not a rarefied piece of legislation, but a law that touched people at the level of their religion, their language and their identity. Hardest hit was the Boer Republican self-conception of masculinity. The main focus of this article is on the period after 1912, when the Defence Act imposed modern training methods, uniforms, ranking system, disciplinary codes and promotional norms. In the build-up to World War I, Afrikaans-speaking males living on the periphery of the new locus of central state power began to turn to alternative authorities to express their grievances. In the western Transvaal and the northern Free State, farmers and bywoners who were alienated by the state's failure to alleviate the economic recession and increasingly anxious over issues of class and race, went into rebellion, with the hope of re-establishing a republic. Cultural images of commando may have corresponded little with the reality of warfare, but seductive imagery propagated by rebel leaders helped fuel the Republican nostalgia that centred on a particular understanding of Boer masculinity. The Defence Act was introduced into a context of anxiety over urbanisation, loss of control over black labour and social upheaval. Fear about the loss of manhood and its manipulation, was not the sole reason for rebellion: for some it was a prime cause, for others a final straw, a justification, or an articulation of otherwise inexpressible feelings. But the Act further distanced some Boer men from the new state and severed their already tenuous allegiance to the legislature. The 1914 Rebellion was the last battle for a threatened manhood in the complex of ideas and institutions that characterised industrialising society.

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