History of elections in South Africa

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The South African general elections: 1938

The Nationalist Party - United Party (the fusion of the former Nationalist and South African Parties), Purified National Party (GNP) (formed by Whites who did not want the fusion) led by D F Malan, the Dominion Party, the Labour Party, and Independents submitted their nominations for the general election for the Union Parliament.  The total number of candidates nominated was 360. The United Party, led respectively by General Hertzog and then General Smuts contested all the 150 seats. The former members of the Nationalist Party led by Dr. D F Malan had 103 candidates. The Dominion Party, led by Colonel Stallard, which consisted of former members of the South African Party who left the Fusion Party when the Constitutional Bills were introduced, had 33 candidates. The Labour Party had 37 candidates, and there were also 31 candidates for the Independents. Four members of the United Party returned unopposed.

Prior to the election, Dr. D F Malan confessed openly that the only solution to the racial struggle was a Republic. The Dominion Party advocated Empire unity, with the supporters of Hertzog who were regarded as manifestation of Afrikaner nationalism as free partners in it. The Prime Minister, General Hertzog, characterised the demand for a republic as an absurdity. General Smuts encouraged people to vote for prosperity.

Candidates contested 150 seats in the House of Assembly on 18 May 1938. The 1938 general election was contested by the Purified National Party (GNP), the United Party (UP), the Labour Party (LP), the Dominion Party (DP), the Socialist Party (SP) and the Independents. The number of registered voters was 1 052 652, the total number of votes (voter turnout) was 835 378, the number of invalid or blank votes was 6 481, and the total number of valid votes was 828 897. The United Party (UP) obtained 446 032 votes, Dominion Party (DP) obtained 52 356 votes, GNP obtained 259 543 votes, the Labour Party (LP) obtained 48 641 votes, the Socialist Party (SP) obtained 4 963 votes and the Independents obtained 17 362 votes. The House of Assembly had a total number of 153 Members. Out of 153, 150 Members were directly elected, and only 3 were reserved for “Native representatives” (White members elected by African voters in the Cape Province).  

In the 1938 general election, the United Party (UP) won the majority of seats in the Union of South Africa. The UP won 111 seats, the Purified National Party won 27 seats, the Dominium Party won eight seats, the Labour Party won five seats and Independents won one seat in the 152-seat House of Assembly. 

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References:
• Johnson, S. (1988). South Africa: No turning back. Macmillan.
• Tirykian, E.A. (1960). Apartheid and politics in South Africa. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22, No 4, pp.682-697.
• Stultz, N. M. (1974). Afrikaner politics in South Africa, 1934-1948. University of California press. Berkely/ Los Angeles/ London.
• Roger B. Beck. (2000). The history of South Africa. Greenwood press, Cape Town, South Africa. 
•  Butler, J and Stultz, N M.  (1963). The South African general election of 1961, in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 86-110.    
•  Heard, A. K. (1974). General elections in South Africa. London. New York. Toronto: Oxford University.  

Last updated : 14-Apr-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 24-Feb-2014