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Chapter Five— Socio-Political Conflicts: Afrikaners Versus English
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Chapter Five—
Socio-Political Conflicts: Afrikaners Versus English

The struggle for power in South Africa cannot be dissociated from the country's ethnic and racial groups around which the political process has always crystallized. South African politics have, since their origin, taken the form of a struggle for the hegemony of one group over the others. The main protagonists in this struggle have been the Africans, the English, and the Afrikaners.[1]

It is customary to distinguish "White politics," centring around the English-Afrikaner conflict, from "non-White politics," i.e., the non-European struggle against White supremacy. The distinction is useful, and we shall follow it here for purposes of analysis; White and non-White politics each operate in their own sphere, and follow different methods of achieving opposed objectives. Nevertheless, these two levels of the power struggle constantly react against one another in a dialectical fashion. To view the two as independent of one another, or to ignore one of them, would lead to a complete distortion of reality.


Before turning to a more detailed analysis of socio-political conflicts in South Africa, we must first describe the major forces in presence and the evolution of their relationship to one another. In its simplest form, the South African power conflict could be schematized as a triangle of forces in which the Afrikaners, the English, and the Africans represent the three antagonistic poles. Africans have the power of numbers and, since the last two decades, the almost unanimous moral support of world public opinion. The English detain a greatly disproportionate share of economic power and of the daily press. Of 22 daily newspapers published in South Africa, only 5 are in Afrikaans. The 17 English daily newspapers, which support mostly the opposition United or the Progressive Party, accounted for a daily circulation of about 680,000 in 1959, compared to 168,000 for the Afrikaans dailies.[2] The Afrikaners, as the majority White group, and through the political settlement of Union in 1910, exert the dominant influence in the White parliamentary system and, hence, in the state apparatus (Tables X and XI).

This highly schematized outline hides, of course, a number of important complicating factors. The most important of them is that these three main groups do not directly compete with one another at the same level, since the Africans are excluded from the parliamentary process. The power struggle thus takes place at two levels. On the one hand, the two White groups compete within the constitutional framework for the control of Parliament and of the state apparatus, while, on the other hand, Africans and Europeans oppose one another on the extraparliamentary scene. The "Native policy" of the main European political parties has differed in details and in methods, but the vast majority of Whites, both Afrikaners and English, has always agreed on the perpetuation of White supremacy. Nearly all Africans, on their side, aim at the overthrow of the present system.

Another complicating factor is that White party alignments


have not strictly followed the Afrikaner-English cleavage. Splinter parties have subdivided each of these two ethnic groups, and the Afrikaner vote has traditionally been split between an "extremist" Nationalist wing and a "moderate" group in favour of co-operation with the English.

Finally, the Coloureds and the Indians, although they are relatively poor, disfranchised, minority groups, have nevertheless influenced the political scene. Indians have played an important leadership role in the non-White liberatory movements (especially in the Congress Movement), and the Ghandian influence has contributed much to political ideology and resistance methods. The Coloureds, as a group, have generally played a passive role, but they have been an important pawn in the White political game. All of these complicating factors will be discussed further in the course of the following chapters.

Returning to the basic triangle of forces in the South African power struggle, the relations between the three groups have not remained static. It is therefore necessary to trace the broad lines in the evolution of that conflict. The first two protagonists, namely the Dutch colonists and the African nation-states, only came into contact on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony in the second half of the eighteenth century, and the English only made their permanent appearance on the South African political scene during the first years of the nineteenth century.

The evolution in the power relations between the three groups can be divided into four main periods, keeping in mind that the dates are arbitrary. The first phase, beginning with the first "Kaffir War" of 1779 and ending with the Great Trek of 1836, is characterized by a policy of stabilization and defense of the frontier separating the White colonists from the Africans. The successive Cape governments wanted to contain the expansionist drive of the colonists, and to avoid military entanglements with the Africans. The second period from 1836 to approximately 1880 was dominated by the military conquest and subjection of the Africans living in the vast areas invaded by the Boers, and


in the British-dominated Natal and Eastern Cape. Once White supremacy was well established, the power struggle between English and Afrikaners came into the forefront of politics, leading to the Boer War, the compromise of Union, and White party politics from 1910 to the Second World War. The latter and its immediate aftermath mark the beginning of the fourth phase of the political struggle. The scene is now dominated by the demands of the African population which has become conscious of being oppressed, and whose political organization increasingly threatens the White machinery of government. In the light of this acute White-Black clash, the English-Afrikaner conflict is receding into the background, and the appeal for "White unity" is heard more and more frequently.

One of the most characteristic (though not surprising) features of South African power conflicts is the almost insignificant role played by class struggles in the political process. Here too, "race" has claimed the paramount place, and class has been relegated to a secondary position. To be sure, some small parties, notably the Labour Party, have had a class basis, but they too were pervaded by racialism, and failed to cut across colour barriers. All the major political organizations, White and non-White, have drawn their membership from all social classes, have been based on racial or ethnic membership, and have emphasized colour or linguistic issues, while relegating the broader social and economic aspects of their platform to a secondary position. Even the non-White liberatory movements are racially based, as we shall see later, and have concentrated on political emancipation, while allowing wide divergences of opinion on social and economic issues to exist within their ranks. Any ordering of political organizations on a spectrum from right to left is therefore difficult, except on the colour issue.

We shall turn now to a more detailed analysis of White politics, starting with the English-Afrikaner conflict, and continuing in the next chapter with the study of "Native policy," i.e., the White endeavours to "solve the Native problem." In previous


chapters, we have already related the first phases of the Anglo-Boer conflict: the Black Circuit of 1812; the 50th Ordinance of 1828; the abolition of slavery in 1834; the Great Trek; the annexation of Natal, Basutoland, and the Kimberley diamond fields; the occupation of the Transvaal; the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880; the Jameson Raid of 1895; and the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902. These events point to the persistent efforts of Britain to frustrate the expansionist and separatist moves of the Boers throughout the nineteenth century. Particularly since the days of Cecil Rhodes, one of the major figures in the scramble for Africa, the Boer Republics were regarded as a hindrance to northward expansion. Modern Afrikaner Nationalism is the direct product of, and counterreaction to, British nineteenth-century imperialism.

The South Africa Act of 1909 marked, as we saw, a decisive turning point in British policy. Great Britain hoped that the "Compromise of Union" would maintain an even balance of forces between Afrikaners and English, and would create a friendly self-governing White Dominion on the southern tip of Africa. From the foundation of Union in 1910, the conflict was thus no longer between the Boers and the British government, but between the two major groups of White settlers within South Africa.

The first two Prime Ministers, Louis Botha (1910–1919) and Jan Smuts (1919–1924), held to the spirit of the post-Boer-War compromise. Although they were both Boer generals who fought against Britain, they followed a policy of co-operation with the English, and resisted the extremist Afrikaner elements. At the outbreak of the First World War, an armed revolt of extremist Afrikaners who opposed South Africa's entry into the war on the British side was crushed. In 1922, when the White mine workers on the Rand struck in protest against the mines' policy of replacing White workers by cheaper non-White labourers in certain categories of skilled work, the Smuts government intervened on the side of English capital and repressed the White strikers.


The first Hertzog government (1924–1933) crowned the continuing rise of Afrikaner nationalism as a major political force, and marked a definite break with the policy of compromise. In 1924 Hertzog (likewise an old Boer-War general, who, in 1912, broke away from Botha and founded the Nationalist Party) formed a coalition Nationalist-Labour cabinet, in opposition to English big business, and to Smuts, whose repressive role in the Rand strikes had made unpopular. In 1926 Hertzog persuaded the Imperial Conference to specify in writing South Africa's dominion status, and, thereby, further secured his country's de facto independence. That period saw the passage of the first pieces of nationalist legislation (such as the Nationality and Flag Act of 1927), aiming at weakening the symbolic links with Great Britain. It also saw, in 1925, the substitution of Afrikaans for Dutch as one of the two official languages of South Africa.

In 1933 a rapprochement between Hertzog and Smuts led to the formation of a new coalition government with Hertzog as Prime Minister. The proximate consequence of this coalition between Hertzog's Nationalist Party and Smuts' South African Party (S.A.P.) was a drastic political realignment in 1934. As Hertzog had declared himself satisfied with the Statute of Westminster of 1931, his position had come closer to that of Smuts, but he had antagonized the militant republican wing of his party led by Malan. The latter split from Hertzog's party, and formed the "purified" Nationalist Party, while the Hertzog and Smuts groups fused into the United Party. Malan's "purified" Nationalists grew in strength, until they succeeded in gaining power by a narrow election victory over the United Party in 1948. By squashing other Afrikaner movements, such as the neo-Fascist Ossewa-Brandwag and New Order, Malan succeeded in rallying the great mass of the Afrikaner electorate under the banner of apartheid and nationalism, and assuring the political hegemony of Afrikanerdom.[3] But here we are anticipating the events.


The newly formed United Party represented the older line of English-Afrikaner compromise, and of co-operation with Great Britain and the Commonwealth. The issue raised by participation in the Second World War led to a renewed split between Hertzog and Smuts. Hertzog favoured neutrality, while Smuts wanted South Africa to enter the war on the British side. In 1939 a parliamentary vote of 80 to 67 in favour of Smuts led to the formation of Smuts' United Party war cabinet. The Malan and Hertzog factions reunited into the Herenigde Nasionale of Volksparty , but on Malan's terms.

Contrary to the confident expectations of the United Party, the Nationalist Party, led by Malan, won 70 parliamentary seats to the United Party's 65, although the United Party polled over 120,000 more votes (Table XI). However, Malan was not yet strong enough to rule alone; he was forced to enter into coalition with N. C. Havenga's Afrikaner Party which had won nine seats in the 1948 election, thereby giving the new government a narrow parliamentary majority of 79 to 74 for the opposition United Party, Labour Party, and "Natives' Representatives." Malan thus became Prime Minister (and Havenga, Deputy Prime Minister) of an all-Afrikaner cabinet. Three years later Malan was strong enough to rule alone, and the Afrikaner Party merged with the Nationalists. By rallying the mass of the Afrikaner electorate, the Nationalist Party eliminated the necessity of compromise with the English, gained control of the entire country, and opened the way for more extremist policies.

At first, the control of the Nationalist Party was precarious, but the new government lost no time in consolidating its position, and manipulating the parliamentary and elective machinery to the point where the Nationalists became practically unseatable by constitutional means. Through the loading of rural constituencies, the elimination of the Cape Coloureds from the common roll, the abolition of "Native Representatives," the reduction of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, the disproportionate representation of South West Africa, the enlargement of


the Senate, and the intensive indoctrination of their supporters, the Nationalists steadily grew in power. They increased their majorities at the elections of 1953, 1958, and 1961, and they now control over two-thirds of the seats in the House of Assembly (105 out of 156), although they have the support of, at most 55 per cent of the electorate. The opposition parties would have to secure a substantial majority of popular votes to gain a bare majority in Parliament.

As the position of the Nationalists became more secure, and that of the opposition United Party more impotent, government policies grew increasingly reactionary. The extremist Transvaal and Orange Free State elements within the Nationalist Party wielded an ever growing influence, as against the slightly more "moderate" Cape elements. Malan's successor Strydom was considerably more extremist than his predecessor, and Verwoerd, who became Prime Minister in 1958, gradually eliminated remaining "moderates" from positions of influence in the government.[4] The ultra-nationalist secret organization, known as the Broederbond , has increased its occult power in the government. The Broederbond is a relatively small, elitist body consisting of perhaps two or three thousand prominent members of the Dutch Reformed Churches, the professions, business, and the universities; it is led by an executive committee known as "The Twelve Apostles," and aims at the promotion of all the interests of Afrikanerdom by all conceivable means. Today practically all the leading members of the government belong to the Broederbond , and "The Twelve Apostles" constitute, in fact, a secret executive committee of the Nationalist Party, and, hence, of the government.


Afrikaner Nationalists gradually secured for themselves the leading positions in all branches of the civil service (notably in the police, the railways, education, and "Native Administration"), infiltrated diplomacy and the judiciary by political appointments, increased the importance of the Afrikaans language at the detriment of English in government and the schools, eliminated the last symbols of Commonwealth ties in the design of coins and stamps, extended the scope of government-controlled industries (such as ISCOR, the main South African iron and steel enterprise), encouraged the expansion of Afrikaner business, attacked the autonomy of the English-speaking universities, curtailed the activities of the Catholic Church and the English Protestant missions, heavily subsidized White farming which is predominantly in Afrikaner hands, and encouraged the Afrikaans press while threatening the English papers with censorship.

The final triumph of Afrikanerdom came in 1961 when the government declared South Africa to be a Republic after winning a bare 52 per cent majority of the all-White electorate in a referendum on the question. South Africa was subsequently forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth, thereby severing its last symbolic ties with Britain. The good old days of the Boer Republics had returned, and the bitter humiliation of defeat in the Boer War was wiped out. God had favoured His Chosen People and given them unlimited control over the Promised Land.

On first sight, it is surprising that the White English opposition has done practically nothing to combat the ascendency of Afrikaner Nationalism, except through futile protests in the English press, and in political speeches and meetings. The United Party, as the main official opposition group in Parliament, has supported the government on a number of issues, including many pieces of dictatorial legislation that vastly extended the power of the Nationalists. In the course of years the United Party, an ultra-conservative group, even followed the reactionary lead of the Nationalists, and gradually adjusted its policies


to those of the government in the hope of attracting the electorate. To be sure, a number of individual English churchmen, intellectuals, and political leaders, belonging to as disparate organizations as the Catholic and Anglican churches, the English-speaking universities, and the Liberal and Communist parties, have taken a courageous stand against the government, and have fought it through action as well as words. But the English, as a group, remained politically passive, and never constituted a really effective opposition to the Nationalists.

On closer examination, however, the political apathy of the English is comprehensible. In the first place, the traditional English respect for parliamentary legalism has militated against resort to extraconstitutional action. Even though most intelligent English politicians realize that the government cannot be unseated, nor even hindered, by parliamentary means, they do not consider the adoption of other tactics. Short of violence, and within the framework of legality, it is clear that the English possess sufficient economic power to exert considerable and efficacious pressure on the government, for example by means of industrial shutdowns.

The real crux of the answer, however, lies in the "Native problem." The English share all the privileges of the other Whites, and they do not want to change the existing system of White oppression. The dictatorial measures of the government do not effect the daily life of the English, as they are intended to suppress the non-White opposition. The government is prepared to tolerate the parliamentary White opposition because such opposition does not constitute a threat. At the same time, many English political and industrial leaders probably think that the Nationalists do a better job of keeping the Africans down than they themselves would. In order to maintain White supremacy and privileges, the mass of the English is willing to pay the price of increasing dictatorship, of gradual Afrikanerization, and of a measure of economic interference.

The economic cost of apartheid is one of the most common


complaints in the English press, but, while this cost is undoubtedly heavy for the country as a whole, the most powerful financial and industrial group in the country, namely the Chambers of Mines and the related Anglo-American Corporation, has, on the whole, to gain through the maintenance of the status quo . Indeed, all the mines, as well as other English-controlled undertakings such as the sugar industry, have become entirely dependent on cheap, migratory African labour, and, except for taxation, find little in government policy that affects them adversely.

The more intelligent English leaders are becoming aware of the ever increasing tension generated by Nationalist policies, but they also realize that any change of government is likely to entail very much greater political and economic upheavals than they are prepared to accept. Even those who advocate cautious, gradual reforms begin to understand that what they propose can only be implemented through extralegal action (violent or otherwise), and that such action would lead to a complete change in the social structure of South Africa. Rather than to unleash a rapid sequence of long-delayed change, the English prefer to acquiesce and even to collaborate behind the scenes with a government they despise. "White unity" and "swart gevaar "[5] are but two aspects of the same reality. As racial tension between Whites and Africans mounted, and as non-White political consciousness increased, the Afrikaner-English conflict receded in importance. From that point of view, the Nationalists are correct when they claim to have contributed to White unity. They have achieved the union of practically all Europeans in a retrenched camp against the "sea of colour."

A number of non-political factors that are often not sufficiently emphasized complicate and add to the bitterness of the Afrikaner-English conflict.[6] One of the most important of these is the


cultural factor. English, as a world language with an abundant literature, has an enormous advantage over Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch (itself a language of limited distribution), spoken nowhere else, and which only in the last century attained the status of a standardized written tongue. The Afrikaners' fight to develop their tongue into a medium of scientific, artistic, technical, and commercial expression that could compete with English has been a very uneven one, and English still retains an undeniable superiority in many fields, notably in business and in university education. The English are conscious of that superiority and some of them still look down on Afrikaans as a "kitchen Dutch," hardly worthy of being called a language.

Many Afrikaners, on the other hand, exhibit ambivalent feelings towards their culture. While they deeply resent the "superior" English attitude, they also suffer under a cultural inferiority complex vis-à-vis the English. In the past many Afrikaners have therefore sought to become Anglicized, and to educate their children in English in order to secure certain professional, intellectual, and commercial advantages. This fact was viewed with alarm by Afrikaner politicians who feared loss of cultural identity, and the Nationalist government introduced compulsory mother-tongue instruction in the schools to stop that trend.

Class differences further poison Afrikaner-English relations. While at present Afrikaners and English are represented at all levels of the White class hierarchy, the English still enjoy, on the average, a higher socio-economic status. In spite of the upward mobility of many Afrikaners, that group is still overrepresented in the lower income and educational brackets. This is in great part due to the rural background of many Afrikaners. During the 1920's and 1930's many Afrikaner farmers migrated to the cities without any industrial skills, and constituted the vast bulk of the "poor Whites." The government intervened energetically by means of farm subsidies, and the "civilized labour policy" whereby unskilled Whites where absorbed in public service at "civilized" (i.e., White) pay rates. While, today, the Afrikaner


"poor White" class has practically disappeared, big business is still largely English, and the Afrikaners are still overrepresented in farming and in manual occupations. In 1946, for example, 85.54 per cent of White farmers were Afrikaans-speaking; only 10.2 per cent of all engineers and industrial chemists in South Africa were Afrikaners.[7] A more recent estimate puts the Afrikaners' share of the country's professional personnel at 30 per cent.[8] In spite of the diminishing class difference between the two White groups, the class prejudices of many English against the Afrikaners continue to make for ill feelings. A number of English Whites condescendingly look on the Afrikaners as uncouth, uneducated, homely, simple, jovial, and hospitable countryfolk who speak a primitive but colourful dialect. Conversely, Afrikaners resent the English as snobbish, haughty, distant, and cool.

Finally, certain demographic factors make for mutual distrust. The English, as the minority White group, feel all the more "swamped" by the Afrikaners as the latter are slowly increasing their majority through a higher birth rate. The younger age of the Afrikaner population is symptomatic of a higher birth rate. The English Whites in 1936 were outnumbered 115.5 to 100 in the age group of persons 20 years and over, 180.2 to 100 in the 7 to 20 age group, and 215.0 to 100 in the group of children under 7.[9] In recent years, however, the Afrikaner birth rate has sharply declined. The Afrikaners, on their side, fear that urbanization and other factors already mentioned could lead to gradual absorption by the English, and loss of cultural identity.


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Chapter Five— Socio-Political Conflicts: Afrikaners Versus English
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