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It's another boiling morning in the Afrikaner heartland. Schalk Burger, a giant in shorts, is running around making wine. This is the first day in nearly 200 years that red wine is being pressed on his farm, Welbedacht, an hour's drive inland from Cape Town. As the husks of Pinotage grapes are shovelled into the wine press, Burger kneads my shoulder and exults: "You can say that in the African sun you witnessed some mad Afrikaners busy making wine - for the British market!"

This Schalk Burger isn't the Schalk Burger who was voted the world's best rugby player of 2004, however. He is his father. Schalk Burger senior played rugby for South Africa himself, and seeing him tower over his black labourers - better nutrition, he explains - you'd guess it at once.

Besides, rugby is an Afrikaner tradition. The white tribe that created apartheid still dominates South African rugby, despite accounting for just 7 per cent of the country's population. This weekend Afrikaners will gather around barbecues to watch the start of the Super 12, the rugby competition between the best dozen teams of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. You'd think Burger's people had survived apartheid's fall untouched, but in rugby, as elsewhere, the Afrikaners have had their most turbulent decade since the Boer war.

Burger shows me round his farm, practically an Afrikaner heritage site. The second oldest Afrikaans school stood here and the school's principal founded the first Afrikaans newspaper.

"Look," Burger says, emphasising almost every word as Afrikaners do, "you don't get much more Afrikaans than me. I'm a ninth-generation South African. I belong to the Dutch Reformed Church. I love sitting by the fire in winter, with port and nuts and eating biltong that I've hunted."

Hunting and fishing were the only sports he forced on his children, he claims, though Schalk junior excelled at all games. "From a young kid he was exceptionally talented. At three he could do a one-handed handstand. In true Afrikaner tradition, everyone says they can't believe he is so humble. That's how we have been taught: your deeds must talk, rather than your mouth. There has always been this feeling that the 'English' kids talked much better than they played."

So far, so traditionally Afrikaans. However, evidence that Afrikanerdom is cracking comes when we stride on to the farm's cricket field. Cricket definitely isn't an Afrikaner tradition. Burger's own father forbade it. The old man, born when memories of the Boer war were fresh, said: "I won't have my son playing an English game."

But by Burger's day the taboo on cricket had faded, and he expected Schalk junior to become a brilliant cricketer rather than a brilliant flanker. Gesturing towards the wicket, Burger says: "I thought I would grow old here watching him play cricket with his friends."

Burger is pleased that at least other Afrikaners have entered South Africa's cricket team. Conversely, rugby, once an Afrikaner domain, has been invaded by South Africa's "English", Coloureds and blacks. Burger insists he's no racist - he played for a non-white team in the 1980s - but, like many Afrikaners, he moans about non-white players being promoted nowadays to meet quotas. Each South African team in this season's Super 12 must have eight non-whites in its 30-player squad.

It feels like yet another threat to Afrikanerdom. Afrikaners no longer run the country. Some have sunk into poverty. Others have moved to cities or even emigrated, abandoning Afrikaner traditions. Their language may be dying. Burger sighs: "Afrikaners are adaptable. One of our biggest strengths is also one of our weaknesses."

But to visit Welbedacht is to see how much of Afrikanerdom survives. At lunch we hold hands while Burger recites a Dutch Reform prayer. Afterwards we drive in his pickup truck to Paarl, where Schalk senior and junior both imbibed rugby at their school, Paarl Gimnasium, which ranks first in South Africa for rugby.

Schalk junior is still in the Cape, representing the local Stormers in this Super 12. Burger says: "One of the nicest things Schalkie ever said, when they interviewed him after becoming rugby player of the year, they said, 'Would you ever want to come to a British club?' He said, 'I don't think so. Because I love South Africa. And by the way, I don't like the weather in Britain.'" Schalk junior's grandfather would have been proud: the spirit of the Boer war isn't entirely dead.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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