About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Conservative Party (CP)

Not all verkramptes (conservative supporters of the NP) left the National Party when the Herstigte Nationale Party was established in 1969. Many ultra right-wing NP office bearers and intellectuals remained in the party despite their close association with the ideals of the verkramptes. It was this group which formed the Conservative Party under the leadership of Dr Andries Treurnicht on 20 March 1982 in the Skilpadsaal, Pretoria. (Treurnicht was dubbed "Dr No" by the media be-cause of his consistent opposition to any political reforms.)

The founding of the CP had a long build-up. By 1969 it was obvious that Treurnicht, then editor of the daily newspaper Hoofstad and later chairman of the Broederbond, sympathized with the far right. Despite this he was later elected NP Member of Parliament for Waterberg, and in 1978 leader of the NP in the Transvaal. Since it was customary for provincial NP leaders to be members of the Cabinet, he was appointed minister in 1979.

In the late seventies the NP right wing became increasingly dissatisfied with what it considered to be the leftist trends in the party. This displeasure surfaced after P W Botha, Cape leader of the NP, defeated Dr Connie Mulder, NP leader in the Transvaal, in a leadership struggle following Vorster's resignation. Even after Mulder was compelled to resign in the wake of his involvement in the Information scandal (when state funds were irregularly applied to improve the image of the country locally and abroad) his supporters remained critical of Botha. They suspected him of having ideological ties with the so-called "Cape liberalists". The first outburst of verkrampte dissatisfaction came in February 1980 when it was announced that coloured boys would be participating in the Craven Rugby Week. Treurnicht publicly stated his displeasure at this, but was repudiated by Botha. Only the direct intervention of ministers such as F W de Klerk and Hendrik Schoeman averted a rift in the party.

By 1981 it was clear that the interpretation NP leaders gave to the 1977 constitutional resolutions (coloured and Indian participation in decision-making) differed dramatically from the interpretation by the party's right wing. By this stage a core group of ultra right-wingers, siding with Treurnicht, had become clearly identifiable. This group held secret meetings to consolidate its position in the party. The event which led to the biggest split in the National Party in nearly half a century was an article in the February 1982 issue of one of the party mouthpieces, Nat 80s, saying that a state could have only one government. Treurnicht attacked this notion by saying that it implied a mixed government with coloured and Indian ministers. P W Botha defended the article and elaborated on his notion of "power sharing" as a political solution the first time that a National Party politician had explained this concept in the context of the NP's constitutional policy.

At a parliamentary caucus meeting on 24 February 1982, a motion was carried supporting P W Botha as leader and his interpretation of "healthy powersharing". When the votes had been counted, it transpired that 22 members of the caucus 20 from the Transvaal and two from the Cape opposed the motion. The position of the renegades subsequently became intolerable. Treurnicht hoped he could retain the leadership of the NP in the Transvaal. This would have been possible because the NP has a federal structure and each province thus functions independently. But on 27 February 1982, an emergency meeting of the Transvaal executive committee of the NP was held and Botha's stand was re-affirmed.

Treurnicht and his only supporter in the NP Cabinet, Dr Ferdi Hartzenberg, resigned their seats on 1 March 1982. On 6 March 1982 Treurnicht was replaced as provincial leader by F W de Klerk, and on 9 March 1982 he was suspended from the party a fate shared by many of his supporters in the months to come. When the Conservative Party was founded on 20 March 1982 in the Skilpadsaal (ironically the same venue where the HNP had been founded 13 years earlier) the party had the support of 17 Members of Parliament. The new party absorbed the National Conservative Party, established by Dr Connie Mulder in 1979, and Aksie Eie Toekoms, formed by right-wing intellectuals before the 1981 election.

Since its inception the Conservative Party has gone from strength to strength. Many of the branch organisations of the NP, particularly in the Transvaal, were taken over by the CP because the office bearers had left the NP. By not calling an election after the split in his party, Botha gave the renegade Nationalists the opportunity to organise themselves into a strong political power group within the Afrikaans-speaking community. The CP strongly opposed the 1983 constitutional resolutions of the NP. In the November 1983 referendum nearly 691000 people (33,5 per cent of the electorate) voted against the implementation of the new constitution. A large number of these votes came from liberal opponents of the government, but the majority of negative votes came from CP sup-porters. The CP alleged that 8o per cent of the votes against constitutional reform came from its members. It was clear by that stage that the CP had the potential to be-come the official opposition. Opinion polls also indicated that support for the CP totally overshadowed support for the HNP.

The CP has links with other ultra right-wing organisations, including, according to some, militant movements such as the AWB. After initial resistance the CP worked more closely with these organisations during 1985/1986. Paradoxically, this co-operation with other organisations wrecked cooperation between the CP and the HNP. There were, however, a few by-elections where the CP and HNP cooperated. In one such in-stance it even led to the victory of HNP representative, Louis Stofberg, in Sasolburg in 1985. Stofberg thus became the HNP's only representative in Parliament. (He later joined the CP.)

A weakness of the CP is its lack offunds. Rumours of the financial crisis the party is experiencing are rife. Since the party receives no public support from large business or capitalist organisations, it relies mainly on contributions from individual members. Nor has it been able to gain control over any sector of the media. Its mouthpiece, Die Patriot, has a limited print run, and poses no threat to the daily press. Dissatisfaction with what is described as the prejudiced reporting of the SABC has led to a number of protests, including a licence boycott.

After initially declaring that it sup-ported the 1977 constitutional model of the NP (or at least a certain interpretation of it), the party slowly moved towards a more Verwoerdian analysis of politics.

The CP policy can broadly be summarized as follows:

The party does not accept the need for social and economic integration in South Africa. Its primary political philosophy can be described as "self-determination". This concept includes geographic separation.

If it were to come to power, the CP would revert to the situation concerning the position of whites before 1983.

The coloured and Indian population will be accommodated in "hartlande" or group areas, and they will be able to exercise their political rights only in these areas. The "hartlande" will eventually gain independence. This means that only whites will qualify for South African citizenship.

A Those homelands which are not yet independent will be granted their independence as soon as possible. Blacks will have no political rights in South Africa, nor will they be able to demand permanent residence rights. They will be allowed in "white" South Africa only if they fulfil an economic function.

Christian-national education will be the norm for the white population. Education will be strictly segregated, and where integration has already occurred, segregation will be enforced.

Integrated sport will be allowed only at international level.

Separate amenities will be reintroduced.

Employers will be responsible for the housing of their workers. The government will no longer fulfil this function.

A system of job reservation will be introduced whereby whites will be given preference for jobs in white areas. All trade union rights for blacks will be suspended.

Regional cooperation will be encouraged.

Afrikaans and English will remain the official languages.

The Civil Service and Defence Force will be segregated.

All sport and public entertainment on Sundays will be prohibited.

The first general election after the founding of the CP was held in 1987. The party put forward 126 candidates. They were opposed by the HNP in 75 constituencies. This meant that the right-wing vote in these constituencies was divided. Consequently the NP won eight seats in constituencies where the combined far-right vote outnumbered the NP vote. The CP won 22 seats; the HNP none. In total the far right won 30 per cent of the votes. The CP se-cured no more than 26 per cent of the voters' support. The election clearly indicated that support for the CP was regional: the party's strongest support came from the Northern and Western Transvaal, and the Free State. Support in the Cape and Natal was limited. Subsequent by-elections and the October 1988 municipal elections indicated that the CP's strongest support came from rural areas.

The encouraging results of the municipal elections in 1988 boosted the CP's confidence for the September 1989 general elections. Problems in right-wing circles, however, dampened much of the enthusiasm. The leaders of the HNP, AWB and Boerestaat-Party tried to convince the CP to establish a united election front against the NP. By July 1989 all attempts to do so were dropped. Dr Treurnicht invited all right-wingers to vote for the CP, since, ac-cording to him, there was sufficient proof that right-wing unity was to a large degree vested in the CP.

During the preceding parliamentary session, which ended in May 1989, it was clear that the main concern of all parties was the issue of political rights for blacks. The election would in effect be a referendum on whether or not there should be negotiations about civil rights of blacks. A further important factor in the election was the voters' concern with economic deprivation.

The Conservative Party put for-ward 129 candidates in a total of 166 constituencies. The HNP had candidates in just over 20 constituencies, which meant that the vote to the right was divided. Shortly after nomination day the CP's national secretary predicted a strong electoral performance and victory in between 55 and 6o seats. The CP had, how-ever, not contended with the strong media support for NP policy. The non-viability of CP policy was also highlighted. A week before the election the Supreme Court set aside a decision by the CP-controlled Carletonville municipality to enforce "petty apartheid". This served to stress the impracticable nature of CP policy. Other incidents given wide media coverage to the detriment of the CP included:

A statement by a Krugersdorp magistrate that the local CP candidate was a racist.

Attempts by a CP Member of Parliament to evict a Chinese couple from their home in Pretoria.

The conviction of the CP candidate for Vanderbijlpark on counts of fraud.

The use of religion (including a racist parody of Psalm 23 which was prohibited by the Publications Control Board) by CP supporters.

A combination of these factors and the appearance of F W de Klerk on the political scene in the role of acting State President probably lost the CP some middle-class support. Sup-port for the party is mostly among the urban working class and lower middle class and in rural constituencies in the Transvaal and the Free State. "Tactical voting" by DP sympathizers contributed to the support for the NP in constituencies where the NP, CP and DP opposed each other in a triangular struggle.

The CP won 39 seats in the September 1989 election, representing only just over 30 per cent of the total number of votes cast. Interesting regional differences in the support for the party emerged. In the Transvaal it won more than 40 per cent and in the Free State 46 per cent of the voters' support. It appears that more than 50 per cent of Afrikaans-speaking people in these two provinces voted for the CP. During this election the traditional hold the NP had on the Afrikaner was finally broken by the CP.

The following practical applications of the CP's policy as discussed above can be distinguished:

The NP is accused of "selling out" whites in South Africa, and of "betraying the volk". An example of this, alleges the CP, was the granting of independence to Namibia.

The CP alleges the NP is in the process of taking over the DP's liberal policy, with the inevitable consequence of a black government in South Africa. "Swart gevaar" tactics are thus high on the CP agenda.

The CP alleges that the NP's policy has led to the impoverishment of the ordinary white. In this respect the CP often quotes government spending on services for blacks.

The CP boasts that the party's policy of geographic partition will re-store the exclusive rights of whites which existed in Verwoerd's era.

The CP stresses the fact that South Africa has different nations, each with its own culture. It is not afraid of stating that the rights of the whites should come first. According to the CP this right stems from God's creation of a diversity of nations. Discrimination is accordingly not racist since each group will positively discriminate in favour of its own members this type of discrimination is obvious and natural, alleges the CP.

The CP believes that the diversity of nations necessitates a policy of apartheid (or partition), since this is the only way in which groups will be able to realize their right to self-determination. This means that each nation must have its own fatherland, even though this involves the expensive process of consolidating the homelands.

The CP stresses that the "major problem with the economy is that the white horse cannot carry the enormous black rider". It stresses the necessity of a free-market economy and rejects the "socialist policy" of the NP.

The CP believes that state intervention in the economy is necessary to create ways of moving blacks out of the so-called white areas. Their policy of preferential labour areas will give the different ethnic groups preference in their traditional areas. There are many similarities between the economic policy of the CP and that of the NP during the sixties and seventies.

At local government level the CP aims at total racial exclusivity. This policy was applied in two Transvaal towns, Boksburg and Carletonville, after the 1988 municipal elections.

Owing to the violent reaction unleashed by its policy of total apartheid, the CP was compelled to make certain concessions.

At regional level the CP is an unwilling participant in the Regional Services Council system. It rejects the "mixed" participation of whites, coloureds, Indians and blacks in these councils, but due to the required two-thirds majority for binding decisions the CP has no real influence over decisions made in the council. It does, however, have considerable influence in nine of the 12 councils in the Transvaal.

F W de Klerk's 2 February 1990 speech was described by Treurnicht as the most "revolutionary speech" he had ever heard in Parliament. Ac-cording to the CP, the NP had no mandate to unban the ANC, the PAC and SACP. They demanded that De Klerk call an election which they claimed they would win hands down. It also launched campaigns to expose the alleged illegitimacy of the NP government. For this purpose it resorted to protest demonstrations, a call for a three-day stay-away and the collection of one million signatures on a petition calling for an election. In the process of mobilizing support, Treurnicht alienated other right-wing groups such as the AWB and the Afrikaner-Volkswag from the CP.

Speeches made by CP leaders after 2 February 1990 became increasingly militant. Treurnicht insisted on "the right to use whatever is necessary,

including violence, to protect our yolk and our property", and threatened to launch a "third liberation struggle". At the same time, how-ever, he warned his supporters not to take the law into their own hands. The party also established neighbourhood watch committees.

At the series of CP party congresses in 1990, Treurnicht, referring to the reform process of the NP, made it clear that the CP "would turn back the clock" should it come into power. He stated that:

The CP would "fight" if the country were handed over to an ANC government.

The voters had not given De Klerk a mandate to negotiate with the ANC, and the latter was like an "albatross" around the neck of the government.

It was not treason to remove a weak government.

The Bible did not support revolutionaries, socialists or tyrants who denied national rights and freedoms and destroyed laws protecting the nation.

If the law of the government contradicts the natural law of national freedom, it is not only admissible but also proper to disobey the authorities (Treurnicht relied on the Bible and Calvin for these views).

In the case of an armed take-over of the government, "it is legitimate to use violence to prevent violence".

During these congresses CP leadership was repeatedly requested to clarify the practical aspects of partition. Treurnicht, however, would only state that all land currently in the possession of the whites would remain in their possession and in that of the white state. The practicability of the CP's policy of partition still troubled the party's supporters. In order to allay doubts CP leaders stated that the party "would apply it-self" to finding a place for the "other people" in the white state.

By the end of 1990 the CP had also entered into discussions with some black leaders, because, as Treurnicht expressed it, "the CP must also progress, it cannot go back to 1948 or 1988". He added, how-ever, that the CP would only talk to black leaders who "recognized the rights of whites". To put this point of view into practice, the CP held talks with the Inkatha Freedom Party in November 1990. The debate about the area of land which the CP would want for a future South Africa flared up anew. The "enlightened" people in the CP believe the CP should adapt its policy and be satisfied with a smaller section of the present so-called white South Africa. In the meantime the Randburg by-election, held in November 1990, in which the CP candidate lost her deposit, indicated that the party had probably al-ready reached its ceiling with regard to its growth potential in middle-class constituencies.

The new reforms announced by De Klerk on 1 February 1991 were labelled the "destruction of the self-determination" of the Afrikaner nation. De Klerk was accused of executing a "coup" against his own people. The CP again threatened to organise a series of protest actions, strikes and stay-aways to prove to the government that the claims of conservative whites could not be ignored. This, however, was never realized.

Since the widely publicized February 1990 initiative taken by De Klerk, political anxiety in the ranks of the Conservative Party has in-creased. CP leaders not only advocate resistance politics at every opportunity, but also "skietpolitiek" (violent politics). Although the latter re-quires a bolder approach, it appears to be accepted as a viable option in ultra right-wing ranks. A small number of the CP's "moderate" leader-ship corps is considering participation in the negotiation process as an option. This group fears that the political shift in the land issue which is at present taking place in South Africa will shunt the CP and its sup-porters onto a political sideline.Signs of this restlessness are to be found in the "Koos document", which was released in April 1991. This document, which was compiled by Mr Koos van der Merwe, head of the CP's information section, admits that, among other things, the NP government has a mandate for its current reform programme, that blacks form a permanent group in South Africa and should have a voice at the highest political level and that it would be impossible to ban the SACP and ANC ever again. Koos van der Merwe was forced by the CP leadership to relinquish his position as information officer of the CP in June 1991.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.