In the Beginning There Was Dutch
Afrikaans began life as simply the Dutch spoken by sailors who arrived in the mid-17th century, but the Afrikaans of today is far from simply a variety of Dutch. Almost immediately, however, this Dutch began to be influenced by the large variety of other languages and cultures being spoken around it, from English, French, and Portuguese as well as the native languages they encountered there. As more ships arrived and more sailors wrecked off the coast, the Dutch settlers borrowed phrases and words from the other languages with abandon.
At the same time, they dispensed with some of the formal niceties of the Dutch language, paring it down and simplifying it. This was undoubtedly also a consequence of the influence of so many other languages. To incorporate words from languages that had no gender, the Afrikaners simply dispensed with gender in their own language. After centuries of these sorts of changes, Afrikaans emerged as a wholly distinct language, related to Dutch, but no longer truly Dutch.
The Modern Era
Afrikaans was, however, initially a spoken language only. Written works in South Africa were composed in standard Dutch. This situation persisted until the British took over South Africa in the early 19th century. The Boers resented and resisted the British, eventually entering into warfare. Before things turned violent this resistance manifested mainly as a new nationalism, and part of that movement was the drive to speak Afrikaans as opposed to English, and to establish an Afrikaans-specific writing system.
Shortly after attaining independence in 1910, a new writing system began to be taught in South African schools in 1914. Afrikaans had become a written as well as a spoken language at last!
Today more than six million people speak Afrikaans, mainly in South Africa. There are three main dialects of Afrikaans: Cape Afrikaans, Orange River Afrikaans, and Eastern Border Afrikaans, each representing a certain history of the influences on the Afrikaans language and the people who spoke it, and each requiring specialist translation services.