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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Rise of the South African Reich

by Brian Bunting


The Rise of the South African Reich, first published by Penguin Africa Library in 1964 and revised in 1969, analyses the period in which the political foundations of the apartheid regime were laid.

It traces the mobilisation of Nationalist Party power in the 1930s and 1940s around an ideology which had close affinities with that of Nazism. It documents the steps by which the Nationalist Party, having become the ruling party in 1948, consolidated its power: control of the trade unions, banning of mass political organisations, control of education and censorship of ideas, and the building of a massive armed machinery of repression.

After the writing of the book the apartheid regime shifted its social base, greatly expanded its repressive capacity and introduced new elements in its strategy for maintaining minority control. The political map of Southern Africa was redrawn by the advancing forces of liberation..

The book was written in the 1960s, a period which many observers labelled as one of 'political quiescence'. Bunting, however makes clear in his account of the regime's preparations for the defence of apartheid by military means, that the mass political mobilisation which later threatened the regime was built on an unbroken history of resistance.

Chapter 5

In the Shadow of War

The efforts of the Nationalist Party inspired and aided by the Broederbond, were beginning to bear fruit. By regrouping itself after the Hertzog-Smuts fusion on the basis of a firm and agreed ideology, the party had immeasurably strengthened itself. As compared with the huge and amorphous United Party, it was compact, solid, united. The Nationalist cadres busied themselves amongst all sections of the Afrikaner people and made steady progress.

In 1936 the party felt sufficiently encouraged by the response it was getting from Afrikaners throughout the country to incorporate in its constitution the republican ideal for the first time.

'The Party is convinced', read the constitutional provision which was adopted, that the republican form of State, separated from the British Crown, is best suited to the traditions, circumstances, and aspirations of the South African people, and therefore it will protect the republican ideal and strive to bring about a republic in South Africa.' This was the first time since the Boer War that republicanism had been officially proclaimed by the Nationalist Party, and it was an indication of the rising militancy amongst the Afrikaner people. With the obvious signs of war preparations in Europe, more and more believed that the time was not far distant when the opportunity would arise for their deliverance from the Empire.

At the same time the Nationalist Party began to devote greater attention to the details of its 'native policy'. In preparation for the 1938 elections, it worked out a programme providing for: '(1) Separate living areas, trade organizations, and, as far as possible, also separate work places for White and non-White. (2) Job reservation in certain directions for White labour and/or accordingly a fixed and just quota for Whites and non-Whites. (3) Separate representation in our legislative bodies for enfranchised Cape Coloured. (4) The extension of the Immorality Act of 1927 to all non-Whites and the prohibition of mixed marriages.' These points have remained basic to Nationalist policy ever since.

The Union Congress of the Nationalist Party in 1938 declared:

This Congress regards the dominant position of the White race in the spirit of guardianship as of vital importance to the future and welfare of South Africa. It declares therefore that it must be the earnest and determined struggle of that race to preserve its racial purity, to ensure the creation of a sound relationship between it and the non-White races, and also to avoid its economic destruction.

Dr Malan proclaimed at the Congress what was to become the basic slogan of the Nationalists: 'We want to make sure that South Africa remains a White man's country.' In 1939 a 'colour petition' organized by the Nationalists and signed by 230,619 Whites was presented to Parliament but not discussed. It demanded: (1) a ban on all mixed marriages; (2) all blood-mixing of White and non-White to be punishable; (3) all deurmekaarwonery (living of the various races side by side) to be ended; and (4) economic and political segregation of White and non-White.

The success of this policy may be gauged by the result of the 1938 election. The United Party won a huge majority, it is true, obtaining 111 seats, but the Nationalist Party increased its own representation from the nineteen seats it had retained when it broke away in 1934 to twenty-seven. The proportion of Afrikaners voting for the Nationalist Party had substantially increased. For those who cared to interpret the political drift of events, this was a significant portent indeed.

The year 1938 was to see the whole Nationalist movement given a tremendous fillip by means of the Voortrekker centenary celebrations. These took the form of an ox-wagon procession from Cape Town more or less along the original routes used by the Voortrekkers and culminated in a gigantic celebration at Pretoria, where it was decided to erect a memorial to the Voortrekkers on a hill dominating the city. The arrival of the oxwagon party was a historical event for Afrikaners in every little village and town on the way. Men and women dressed in Voortrekker costume - long trousers and an open-necked shirt with a knotted scarf round the throat for the men, and wide-sweeping Victorian dresses with the traditional kappies for the women. Such men as could develop them in time wore beards. The whole affair was organized with brilliant insight and imagination - on the initiative, according to Professor L.J. du Plessis, of the Broederbond itself. There was much speechifying and performance of traditional music and dances, with countless appeals to the glories of the past and calls for the renaissance of the Afrikaner volk, now scattered and disunited in the land of its birth and creation. Emotion flowed freely. Party politics ostensibly played little part in the celebrations, which were supposed to constitute rather a sort of vast national festival for all sections of the Afrikaner people.

But not all sections were welcomed. General Hertzog had been invited to lay the foundation stone of the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria, but there were objections and he withdrew. The greatest reunion of the Afrikaner volk since Union took place in the absence of the very man whose devotion to Afrikanerdom had led to the foundation of the Nationalist Party in 1914. Hertzog was too compromised in 1938, as leader of the United Party and a man pledged to cooperation with the English speaking section. By the more extreme among the Nationalists, he was regarded as a renegade, almost on a par with Smuts.

Despite the notable abstentions, the Voortrekker celebrations resulted in a tremendous upsurge of national feelings among the Afrikaner people and shifted the balance of power substantially in the direction of the Nationalist Party. The Broederbond cadres were inspired and threw themselves into the task of reuniting Afrikanerdom with renewed enthusiasm. Appeals were made to all Afrikaners to join together to achieve their national salvation.

The split in the ranks of Afrikanerdom represented by the existence of the United Party remained the greatest obstacle to Afrikaner unity. There can be no doubt that it was one of the main aims of the Broederbond at this period to smash the United Party, to rescue the Afrikaner from the clutches of the Englishman, and to drive the Afrikaner people into one laager. But the Broederbond had to deal with individual political leaders as well as the mass of the people, and while many reconciliation attempts were to be launched during the succeeding ten years, one after the other was shipwrecked on the rocks of personal ambition.

One Broederbond-inspired initiative took place early in 1939 when Professor A. C. Cilliers of Stellenbosch University produced a pamphlet entitled Quo Vadis and organized a reconciliation committee which in March 1939 issued a statement of objectives.

Coupled with the healing of the split in politics amongst the Afrikaans-speaking Afrikaners, [it] aimed at a united front which would include not only the entire Afrikaans-speaking community but also those English-speaking persons who had actually come to lay claim to South African citizenship and, in proof thereof, were prepared to collaborate on an equal footing with the former in putting into effect a clearly defined programme of principles and action.

Hertzog and Pirow were interested, but the Nationalist Party itself remained cool to the approach.

Two days before the publication of Quo Vadis, Hertzog's son Albert addressed an appeal for unity to his father in the form of a letter to the Nationalist newspaper Die Burger. Committees were formed with the name of 'Albert Hertzogkomitees' to forward reconciliation, but they were all on a basis which effectively ruled out English participation.

General Hertzog himself noted in reply to his son:

On their basis the Afrikaans-speaking section of the population would be the only section of the South African population that would be regarded as a nation, and the English-speaking section of Afrikanerdom would not be considered as a part of the Afrikaner nation. The position of power must therefore be vested in the self-constituted Afrikaner nation.

Hertzog added the prophetic commentary: 'Under no circumstances, I assure you, will I ever extend my collaboration in politics to persons who are not prepared to acknowledge and to accept the principle of absolute equality and equal rights for the Afrikaans and English-speaking sections of our people.'

The most powerful movement for forging unity amongst the Afrikaners at this period was, however, the Ossewa Brandwag (Ox-wagon Brigade), founded at Bloemfontein in October 1938 to embody and perpetuate the idealism to which the Voortrekker Centenary celebrations had given rise. The foundation members all came from Bloemfontein and its surrounding districts, and the first Chairman of the organization's Groot Raad (Grand Council) was the Rev. C. R. Kotze, a Bloemfontein predikant. Though ostensibly a 'cultural' body, the Ossewa Brandwag was organized on a commando basis, and its first units were recruited from the ranks of the South African armed forces. The first Kommandant-Generaal was Colonel J. C. Laas, an officer in the Permanent Force, and from its very inception the O.B. had a quasi-military character.

The aims of the Ossewa Brandwag as proclaimed by Laas were seemingly innocent.

They were:

The perpetuation of the spirit of the ox-wagon in South Africa; maintaining, amplifying, and giving expression to the traditions and principles of the Dutch Afrikaner; fostering patriotism and national pride, and harnessing and uniting all Afrikaners, men as well as women, who endorse these principles and are prepared to make energetic endeavours to promote them.... The modus operandi is as follows: celebrating Afrikaans national festivals and our heroes' birthdays, erecting memorials, laying wreaths at monuments, locating and keeping in repair places of historical interest as well as the graves of Afrikaners who perished on the 'Pad van Suid-Afrika' (Path of South Africa); organizing gatherings such as target-practice, popinjay, and vulture shooting, playing jukskei, etc.; doing folk dances and singing folk songs, holding processions, regular gatherings of an educational and social nature, dramatic performances, lectures on our history, literature . . . debates, camps for men and women, etc.

The 'etc.' turned out to involve military drill and manoeuvres and a host of other activities which it would be extremely strained to classify as 'cultural'. Even before the outbreak of the war, Defence Minister Pirow found Laas's activities too much to swallow, and dismissed him from the force. Union Defence Force officers were forbidden to belong to the O.B.

Laas was a cloak-and-dagger character who surrounded his activities with an atmosphere of mystery and proved himself eventually as little able to satisfy his friends as his enemies. In October 1940 he was relieved of his command in the Ossewa Brandwag and later replaced as Kommandant-Generaal by the former Administrator of the Orange Free State, J.F.J. van Rensburg, who was to bring about a drastic transformation in the character of the whole force.

Laas later came to life with a new organization, Die Boerenasie, but after a while abandoned that ship as well. Die Boerenasie rose to prominence for a short time under Manie Maritz (leader of the 1914 rebellion), but later sank back into obscurity, where it is now headed by one S. K. Rudman, of Natal, whose frenetic pronouncements on racial affairs occasionally figure in the columns of the Sunday Press.

Meanwhile the fortunes of the Nationalist Party had undergone a startling change, brought about by the outbreak of war in Europe. According to Colonel Denys Reitz in his book No Outspan, Hertzog had been anticipating this moment for some time, with plans to assume dictatorial powers and keep South Africa out of the war. Oswald Pirow, when Minister of Justice, had drawn up emergency regulations to be enforced as soon as war was declared, and under these regulations freedom of the Press and freedom of speech were to be severely curtailed.

'The last thing he (Hertzog) desired or expected was for the war to burst upon him whilst the House was sitting,' wrote Reitz. Yet that is precisely what occurred. War broke out in Europe on the Saturday, and Parliament was to meet on the following Monday. General Hertzog called his Cabinet together, but found that there was no unanimity. He himself, with the support of five Ministers, favoured neutrality, but Smuts and six others regarded a declaration of war against Germany as the only possible course for South Africa to take. Hertzog referred the matter to the Assembly, having taken the precaution of ascertaining beforehand that he could rely on the support of Dr Malan and the Nationalists, though without having presented the issue in the caucus of the United Party.

The Assembly debate was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Union. For once the issues were not cut and dried beforehand, and the outcome of the vote depended on the weight which the members would attach to the speeches of their leaders. Hertzog was curiously wooden and in an unimpressive speech maintained that Hitler's invasion of Poland, after his annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, was no evidence that he aimed at world conquest. As a people who had themselves been oppressed, the Afrikaners knew what it meant to struggle for the right of self-determination and to face the hostility of the outside world. Germany's actions constituted no threat to the security of South Africa, and a policy of neutrality under the circumstances was the only logical course to adopt.

General Smuts replied that, since the fate of South-West Africa would depend on the outcome of the war, South Africa's interests were vitally involved. Furthermore, South Africa was part of the Commonwealth, whose fate now hung in the balance, and to stand aside from the conflict would expose the whole civilized world to danger. Smuts's amendment to Hertzog's neutrality motion was carried by eighty votes to sixty-seven on 4 September 1939, and South Africa was formally at war. Hertzog resigned as Prime Minister at once, recommending that a general election be held to test the feeling of the electorate, but the Governor-General declined to follow his advice and called upon General Smuts to form a government.

Malan and his Nationalists had voted in the minority with Hertzog, and it seemed that the stroke of war had healed the breach in Afrikaner unity which had existed since the Smuts Hertzog fusion of 1934. On 8 September there was an enormous gathering at Monumentkoppie in Pretoria, where a year before the Great Trek centenary had been celebrated. The supporters of Malan and Hertzog came together in their thousands to celebrate the recreation of volkseenheid (national unity). To the Malan-led Nationalists the war was a vindication of the policy that they had pursued since 1934. A real union with the English-speaking for which Hertzog stood had been proved illusory. Now at last the occasion had arrived for cementing the unity of the Afrikaner volk.

'An Afrikaner', Dr Malan told the Nationalist Party Congress in November 1939, 'is one who, whether speaking the same language or attending the same church as myself or not, cherished the same Nationalist ideas. That is why I willingly fight against General Smuts. I do not consider him an Afrikaner.' An Afrikaner, in other words, was one who was prepared to accept the hegemony of the Nationalist Party. Was Hertzog such an Afrikaner? There were powerful figures within the Nationalist leadership who wanted no truck with Hertzog. They had regarded him as a renegade ever since 1934, and they saw no reason to change their opinion now. Hertzog was soon to feel a strong current of opposition to him flowing from the Swart-Strijdom faction in the Nationalist Party, who believed that the party should assert its claim to the leadership of all Afrikanerdom whether or not Hertzog saw fit to join it on its own terms.

On 23 November 1939, the Hertzogites and Malanites met in Pretoria to try and reach a basis of agreement, but they could not overcome their differences. The republican aim of the Nationalists constituted the main stumbling block. Hertzog felt that Afrikaner-English unity was a prerequisite for the establishment of a republic. The Nationalists felt that there could be no unity until the republic had been established and the allegiance of the English to the 'mother country' constitutionally destroyed once and for all. The clash of personalities also played its part. Neither Malan nor Hertzog would give away to the other.

A Broederbond-inspired reconciliation committee set to work and produced a new formula for unity. Hertzog and Malan accepted it, but Strijdom with his following fought bitterly against it. Nevertheless, on 27 January 1940, a declaration appeared in the Press over the names of Malan and Hertzog announcing that the parliamentary caucuses of the two groups had reached a basis of agreement and that it was proposed to establish a Herenigde Nasionale or Volksparty (Reunited Nationalist or People's Party). The hereniging agreement was subsequently accepted by the provincial congresses of the two parties. Hertzog became official Leader of the Opposition and Malan Deputy-Leader.

Superficially the stage was now set for an all-out effort by Afrikaner Nationalism to gain political victory, but the hereniging proved to be almost as superficial as the fusion of Hertzog and Smuts in 1934. There was continual friction and backbiting within the Nationalist leadership, and scandalous rumours about Hertzog were circulated amongst the Nationalist rank and file. One of the more curious stories was that of the so-called Freemason's Letters. A cabinet-maker named Joubert, employed at the Bloemfontein Hospital, came to one of the Nationalist leaders in the Orange Free State and reported that he had accidentally found in a chest belonging to the Freemasons letters from General Hertzog and Mr Havenga (former Minister of Finance in Hertzog's government who had followed his leader into opposition on the war issue) which revealed that the authors were in league with General Smuts to turn South Africa into a republic within the 'Empire'. Despite a commission of inquiry which was subsequently set up, the source of the story was never properly established, but Hertzog himself firmly believed that the Swart faction in the Orange Free State Nationalist leadership had deliberately circulated the canard with a view to discrediting him in the eyes of Afrikanerdom.

Hertzog met with other deliberate affronts from some of the Nationalist leaders. After Hitler's May 1940 offensive and the capitulation of Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France, Hertzog on 19 July 1940 addressed a public letter to General Smuts and followed it with a manifesto signed by himself and Dr Malan protesting against South Africa's continued participation in the war and calling upon Nationalist Afrikanerdom to hold meetings and demonstrate in favour of peace.

Dr N.J. van der Merwe, a leader of the Nationalist Party in the Free State, called a mass Republican Rally in Bloemfontein for 20 July ' to take active and immediate measures, on constitutional lines, to bring about a republic'. Hertzog condemned the rally, but a crowd variously estimated at between 15,000 and 70,000 attended. It resolved that the time had come for the creation of a free and independent South African republic on the basis of Christian-Nationalism and the maintenance of White civilization, and a committee of action was appointed to implement the resolution. In his speech at the rally, Dr van der Merwe said that 'a certain British-Jewish influence which played an important part in the fashioning of fusion . . . is again at work' implying that it expected support from Hertzog and Havenga.

The divisions finally came to a head at the Orange Free State Congress of the Nationalist Party which opened on 5 November 1940, one of four provincial congresses called to consider the adoption of a programme for the Herenigde Nationalist Party. Two drafts were placed before the Congress, one sponsored by General Hertzog and the other by the Federale Raad (Federal Council) of the H.N.P. Hertzog's programme was voted down and that of the Federale Raad adopted. Hertzog felt that he could take no more. In a dramatic speech he pointed out that the programme of the Federale Raad did not guarantee full equality for the English-speaking section of the population, a principle to which he was pledged to adhere. Taking his hat, he stepped down from the platform and walked out of the hall. The Congress was stunned. Instinctively everyone realized that this was the parting of the ways, and that the old general was being driven out of politics after a life-time of service to the nation. The whole audience stood up as the general left. Swart jumped to the microphone and tried to produce some explanation for what had happened, but nobody listened. An epoch in the history of Afrikanerdom had ended.

Hertzog immediately resigned his leadership and membership of the H.N.P. in the Free State, and was followed by Havenga, Brebner, and Edwin Conroy. Then there was a slight pause while the two groups took stock. The Hertzogites numbered thirty-eight M.P.s at the time, to twenty-seven Malanites. But the Malanites had control of the powerful party machine, with the support of the entire Afrikaans Press except the Vaderland. If it should come to open battle, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. On 12 December 1940, Hertzog accepted the inevitable. He and Havenga resigned their parliamentary seats, maintaining that the Free State and the Transvaal had shown bad faith and that the party was now set on a course which would lead to the destruction of Afrikanerdom. For Hertzog it was the end of a political career; for Malan, the establishment of his supremacy as leader of Nationalist Afrikanerdom.

Hertzog's followers made an attempt to rally their strength. On 30 January 1941, General Conroy announced in the Assembly the formation of the Afrikaner Party in all four provinces, but of the thirty-seven M.P.s who had followed Hertzog into opposition in 1939, only ten joined the new party, and two of these later seceded to the United Party. The seats vacated by Hertzog and Havenga were captured by Malanites. The remaining twenty-five members stood fast by the H.N.P., finding new leaders in Kemp and Pirow.

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