Even before the large-scale arrival of the Huguenots at the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century, a small number of individual Huguenot refugees settled there. They included Francois Villion, later known as Viljoen, and the du Toit brothers. In fact, the first Huguenot to arrive at the Cape of Good Hope was Maria de la Quellerie, the wife of governor Jan van Riebeeck, who started the settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 on behalf of the Dutch East India Company; however, she and her husband left for Batavia after ten years.
After a commissioner was sent out from the Cape Colony in 1685 to attract more settlers, a more dedicated group of immigrants began to arrive. A larger number of French refugees began to arrive in the Cape after leaving their country as a result of the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685), which revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598) that had granted religious toleration to Protestants.
On 31 December 1687 a group of Huguenots set sail from France as the first of the large scale emigration of Huguenots to the Cape of Good Hope, which took place during 1688 and 1689. In total some 180 Huguenots from France, and 18 Walloons from the present-day Belgium, eventually settled at the Cape of Good Hope. A notable example of this is the emigration of Huguenots from La Motte d'Aigues in Provence, France. After this large scale emigration, individual Huguenot immigrant families arrived at the Cape of Good Hope as late as the first quarter of the 18th century, and the state-subsidised emigration of Huguenots was stopped in 1706.
This small body of immigrants had a marked influence on the character of the Dutch settlers. They were purposely spread out and given farms amongst the Dutch farmers. Owing to the policy instituted in 1701 of the Dutch East India Company which dictated that schools should teach exclusively in Dutch, that all official correspondence had to be done in Dutch, and strict laws of assembly, the Huguenots ceased by the middle of the 18th century to maintain a distinct identity, and the knowledge of French diminished and eventually disappeared as a home language. This assimilation into the colonial population was also due to the fact that many Huguenot descendants married individuals from the Dutch population.
Many of these settlers were allocated farms in an area later called Franschhoek, Dutch for "French corner", in the present-day Western Cape province of South Africa. The valley was originally known as Olifantshoek ("Elephant's Corner"), so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français ("the French Corner"), and later to Franschhoek, with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabriere, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donne and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms-—most of which still retain their original farm houses today.
A large monument to commemorate the arrival of the Huguenots in South Africa was inaugurated on 17 April 1948 at Franschhoek. A museum dedicated to the Huguenot history in South Africa is located adjacent to the monument.
There are many families, today mostly Afrikaans speaking, whose surnames bear witness to their Huguenot ancestry. A comprehensive list of these surnames can be seen on the Huguenot Memorial in the Johannesburg Botanical Garden. Examples of the more common names are Blignaut (Blignault), Cronje (Cronier), de Klerk (Le Clercq), Visagie (Visage), de Villiers, du Preez, du Plessis, du Toit, du Randt, Fourie, Fouche, Giliomee (Guilliaume), Gous / Gouws (Gauch), Hugo, Joubert, Jordaan (Jourdan), Labuschagne (la Buscagne), Lange, le Roux, Leonard, Lombard, Malan, Michel, Malherbe, Marais, Nel, Nortje (Nourtier), Pienaar, Retief, Rossouw, Roux, Terreblanche, Taljard, Theron and Viljoen (Villion).
Some of the descendants of these original Huguenot families became prominent figures in South African society, most notably F.W. de Klerk, the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa.
List of prominent South Africans of Huguenot descent
Some of the original forms of the surnames have been put in brackets.
Aegidius Jean Blignaut, South African writer
Jan F. E. Cilliers, Afrikaans-language poet, essayist, dramatist and reviewer.