The year 1902 represented the lowest point in Afrikaner fortune, following the surrender of the Boer commandos and the Treaty of Vereeniging, which extinguished the republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. High Commissioner Milner’s subsequent Anglicization policy, designed to cement the imperial connection, seemed to threaten the very essence of Afrikanerdom. Ironically, Milner’s policy had the contrary effect of provoking a popular movement for the protection of the Afrikaner language, culture and religion.
Aided by the magnanimity of the new Liberal government in Britain, Louis Botha’s moderate nationalist Het Volk party won power in the Transvaal whites-only election of 1907, on a platform of Anglo-Afrikaner reconciliation. J. B. M. Hertzog’s more radical Orangia Unie party won a parallel victory in the Orange River Colony’s (also whites-only) election of 1908. The decade closed with the formation of the Union of South Africa, hailed as a landmark in the process of British/Afrikaner reconciliation.
Meanwhile, the Afrikaner community was experiencing considerable social and economic change that was to bring into existence a more radical, less accommodating nationalism based on a continued animosity toward British imperialism, anxiety about nonwhite economic competition in urban areas, growing concern among middle-class Afrikaners about the condition of Afrikaner “poor whites,” and a continued determination to foster Afrikaner language and culture.
In political terms, this led to Hertzog’s secession from the governing South African Party (SAP) and the formation of his Nasionale Party (National Party, NP) in January 1914 with the slogan “South Africa First.” The NP won increasing electoral support and came to power in alliance with the (white racist) Labour Party in 1924. Hertzog’s first premiership (1924-1929) witnessed some reduction in hostility toward British imperialism, helped by contemporary movement toward imperial devolution. Further attempts to advance the cause of Anglo-Afrikaner reconciliation brought about the fusion of the NP with General Jan C. Smuts’s SAP in 1934 to create the United Party, but also witnessed the reemergence of radical nationalism in the form of D. F. Malan’s Gesuiwerde Nasionale (Purified National) Party.
In social terms, Afrikaner nationalism embraced a policy of strict racial segregation that brought it into alliance with white labor in the mid-to-late 1920s, and further developed the white protectionist racial pattern of South Africa’s industrial system. In the cultural sphere, it helped to engender institutions parallel to those of the English-speaking establishment, such as the Voortrekkers, an Afrikaner Boy Scouts movement. The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings, formed in 1929, coordinated this wide range of voluntary associations. Given the high incidence of church attendance among Afrikaners, the Dutch Reformed Church exerted a powerful influence; its theologians were beginning to refine the Biblical defense of racial separation later expressed in Dr. Gert Cronje’s A Home for Posterity (1945) and Justifiable Race Separation (1947). Work on an Afrikaans Bible and dictionary was completed, and in 1925, Afrikaans became an official language, alongside English. In economic terms, the interwar period witnessed the continued urbanization of Afrikaners and the development of volkskapitalisme, the mobilization of Afrikaner capital and the endeavor to bring Afrikaner employers and workers together in what Dan O’Meara (1983) calls a “national capitalism,” challenging the grip of “international capitalism” and its imperialist backers.
The Afrikaner Broederbond (AB) played what some commentators, such as J. H. P. Serfontein (1978), have regarded as a commanding role in the mobilization of radical Afrikaner nationalism, articulating the various political, economic, and social institutions of Afrikanerdom within the Purified National Party. Started in 1918 by working-class Afrikaners in Englishspeaking Johannesburg, the AB became a secret society with an exclusively male membership open only to “pure” Afrikaners recommended by existing members. Its enemies declared that it was a sinister organization aimed at dominating South Africa through a process of infiltration into key areas; its friends declared it was merely a cultural body. Nevertheless, the AB seems to have played an important political role, both directly and indirectly. O’Meara has demonstrated its success in helping the Purified Nationalists establish themselves in what became their Transvaal power base in the mid 1930s.
The ten years leading up to the Nasionale Party victory at the polls in 1948 witnessed further developments of these trends in Afrikaner nationalism, launched by the 1938 Great Trek centenary celebrations, which extreme nationalists had effectively hijacked. However, a new influence, from Nazi and fascist Europe, was to shape nationalistic Afrikaner thinking on race issues, leading to a greater emphasis on race separation and “purity.” Several future leaders, such as Hendrik Verwoerd, P. J. Meyer, and Nico Diederichs, had studied in Germany before World War II, and the term Volk began to appear regularly in the party’s political lexicon. In an extreme form it was expressed by the
Ossewa Brandwag (Ox-Wagon Sentinel), a paramilitary organization that had emerged in the wake of the Trek centenary and blended Nazi and Great Trek symbols. Although divided among themselves politically, radical nationalists were united in their determination to end the imperial connection, and some were not averse to the prospect of a German victory to secure this aim.
However, the imminent collapse of Nazism in Europe led to a gradual reassembly of Afrikanerdom behind Malan’s restyled Herenigde (Reunited) Nasionale Party, and a refiguring of nationalist philosophy into a “Christian Nationalism,” emphasizing the place of Afrikaners as a people placed by God in southern Africa. From this emerged the policy of apartheid, which became the official policy of the Reunited National Party at the end of the war. In preparing for the 1948 election that brought him to power, Malan decided to highlight apartheid as a solution to South Africa’s racial “problems.” He was helped by the growing threat posed to white workers by an increasingly urbanized and skilled black labor force. The result of the election was nevertheless a surprise to those who thought Smuts’s United Party would win again: the Reunited National Party and its allies secured a majority of eight seats over the UP and its allies, helped by Afrikaner working class voters in six key urban seats, and were to remain in power continuously for the next 46 years.
See also: Afrikaans and Afrikaner Nationalism, Nineteenth Century; South Africa: Apartheid, 1948-1959; South Africa: World Wars I and II.
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Davenport, T. R. H. South Africa: A Modern History, 4th ed. London: Macmillan/Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
De Klerk, Willem. The Puritans in Africa: A Story of Afrikanerdom. London: Rex Collings, 1975.
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