National Party wins general election

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Thursday, 17 April 1958

General Barry Hertzog formed the National Party (NP) in 1914 in Bloemfontein after his split with the South African Party (SAP). Since its formation it has either been the official opposition, a member of a coalition government or the ruling political party in South Africa.

Hertzog had a serious difference of opinion with Prime Minister Louis Botha and his fellow leaders in the SAP. He was fiercely and publicly nationalistic, which offended English South Africans and stood in opposition with Botha's policies of national unity. He promoted South Africa's interests above Britain's and saw English and Afrikaans South Africans developing in two parallel cultural streams, separately. Some enthusiastic supporters of the British Empire's presence in South Africa described him as anti-British and called for his removal from government. Some even resigned rather than work with him, while he refused to leave his position. In December 1912 Botha formed a new cabinet and did not include Hertzog, a move that started the split in the SAP.

Initially the NP had most of its support in the Orange Free State (now Free State) and the Cape. Afrikaans people saw Hertzog as their representative and important political and cultural leaders supported him. In May 1913 his Orange Free State backers in the SAP insisted on his inclusion in the cabinet at the SAP Free State Congress, while the Transvaal members were behind Botha. At the national SAP Congress in November 1913 in Cape Town Botha won enough support to keep Hertzog out of cabinet. This was the last straw for Hertzog and he left the SAP.

From 1 to 9 January 1914 Hertzog's supporters met in Bloemfontein and the National Party's principles were laid down. The main aim was to direct the people's ambitions and beliefs along Christian lines towards an independent South Africa. Political freedom from Britain was essential to the NP, but the party was prepared to maintain the current relationship with the Empire. They also insisted on equality of English and Dutch, the two official languages. Because Hertzog's policies were so orientated towards Afrikaner nationalism most of his supporters were Afrikaans people. The SAP was now in the middle of two divergent groups. The NP drew Afrikaans people, while the Union Party (UP) drew only English South Africans. On 1 July 1914 the National Party of the Orange Free State was born and on 26 August the Transvaal followed. The Cape National Party was founded on 9 June 1915.

The NP didn't have a regular mouthpiece to promote its policies and campaigns like the SAP's Ons Land newspaper in Cape Town and De Volkstem in Pretoria. Die Burger newspaper was created in the Cape on 26 July 1915 for this specific purpose. D. F. Malan was its editor.

World War I, 1914 to 1919, and the Rand Rebellion of 1922 strengthened the NP. After the end of the Great War many of the SAP's supporters left the party as a result of General Louis Botha's death in 1919 and joined the NP. In the 1920 elections it became clear that the SAP would need the NP's cooperation to form a combined cabinet to maintain political stability. Members of both parties met a Robertson on 26 and 27 May 1920 to prepare for an agreement. On 22 September the two parties met again, but they could not see eye to eye. The main point of disagreement was the relationship with Britain. Hertzog wanted independence while Smuts was happy with the situations as it was.

The Rand Rebellion had led to cooperation between the NP and Labour Party (LP). Both parties wanted to protect white labour and decided to make a pact in April 1923 that would ensure that they would not oppose each other in elections and would support each other's candidates in certain areas. The pact resulted in the defeat of the SAP in the 27 June 1924 general elections. Afrikaans also became an official language and the country got a new flag.

In 1926 South Africa's position in relation to Britain was made clear in the Balfour Declaration, drawn up at the Imperial Conference of the same year. The Declaration became a law in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster. The Pact Government's greatest progress was made in industrial legislation and economy. Its protection of white workers and strict control over industry removed all problems in mines and factories and these industries grew enormously. In the 1929 general elections the NP won again, but the Great Depression, from 1930 to 1933, made the government's rule difficult. Britain also left the gold standard on 21 September 1931 and Tielman Roos returned to politics in 1932 to oppose Hertzog in his position to remain in the gold standard. His campaign was successful and the government met their demand.

With the passing of time the difference between the NP and SAP became smaller and in 1933 the two parties merged to form a coalition government. They became known as the United Party (UP) in 1934, but D. F. Malan and his Cape NP refused to join. He remained independent to form the new opposition, which was called the Purified National Party.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 caused an internal split in the UP. Hertzog wanted to remain neutral in the war and eventually resigned as Prime Minister and returned to the NP, which became the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP), as leader, with Malan as his deputy. The HNP was note effective as an opposition because it had constant internal disagreements regarding the war. By November 1940 the situation had worsened to the point where Hertzog and his supporters walked out of the Orange Free State Congress. He also left his position in parliament. The Afrikaner Party (AP) was formed, and on 26 May 1948 cooperated with the HNP to win the elections. In 1951 the two parties merged and adopted the original name, the National Party, with Malan as Prime Minister.

Malan's main aim was to find a solution for the "race problem" in South Africa by using separate development. Secondly, he wanted to make the country less dependent on Britain. In 1954 D. F. Malan retired and was succeeded by J. G. Strijdom. Under his leadership the NP won the general elections in 1958, enabling the party to further reinforce its Apartheid policies.

References:
• Potgieter, D. J. (ed)(1974). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Vol. 8, Cape Town: Nasionale Opvoedkundige Uitgewery.

Last updated : 16-Apr-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011