National Party (NP)


The first leader of the National Party (NP) became Prime Minister as part of the PACT government in 1924. The NP was the governing party of South Africa from 1948 until 1994, and was disbanded in 2005. Its policies included apartheid, the establishment of a South African Republic, and the promotion of Afrikaner culture. NP members were sometimes known as ‘Nationalists’ or ‘Nats’.

The feature includes a history of the National party, broken down into sections, according to significant periods of the NP’s history. An archive section listing and linking to relevant speeches, articles, documents and interviews. Featured is also a people section that lists all of the key figures and members of the NP, with links to their relevant biographies.

A history of the National Party

Founding and ideology (1910-1914)

In 1910 the Union of South Africa was established, and the previously separate colonies of the Cape, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange Free State became provinces in the Union. However, the union was established with dominion status, which effectively meant that South Africa was no longer a colony, but it was not independent and could not leave the empire or ignore the monarchy. After the 1910 elections Louis Botha became the first prime minister of the Union, and headed the South African Party (SAP) - an amalgam of Afrikaner parties that advocated close cooperation between Afrikaners and persons of British descent.

The founder of the NP, General JBM Hertzog, was a member of the Union Government, and was fiercely and publicly nationalistic. This offended English-speaking South Africans and stood in opposition to Botha’s policies of national unity. However, many Afrikaans people saw Hertzog as their representative and many important Afrikaans political and cultural leaders supported him- particularly people from the Orange Free State and the Cape. Hertzog often publicly disagreed with the opinions of his fellow leaders of the SAP, in particular, those of Prime Minister Louis Botha and General Jan Smuts. He promoted South Africa’s interests above Britain’s and saw English and Afrikaans South Africans developing in two parallel, but separate, cultural streams. Some enthusiastic supporters of the British Empire’s presence in South Africa described him as anti-British, and called for his removal from government. Some even decided to resign rather than work with him- while he refused to leave his position.

In May 1913, his Orange Free State supporters in the SAP insisted on his inclusion in the cabinet at the SAP Free State Congress, while the Transvaal members who supported Botha thought he should be excluded. At the national SAP Congress in November 1913, in Cape Town, Botha won enough support to keep Hertzog out of the cabinet. This was the last straw for Hertzog and he left the SAP to form the National Party.

From 1 to 9 January 1914, Hertzog’s supporters met in Bloemfontein to form the National Party, and to lay down its principles. The main aim was to direct the people’s ambitions and beliefs along Christian lines towards an independent South Africa. Political freedom from Britain was essential to the NP, but the party was prepared to maintain the current relationship with the Empire. They also insisted on equality of the two official languages, English and Dutch. Since Hertzog’s policies were orientated towards Afrikaner nationalism, most of his supporters were Afrikaans people.

On 1 July 1914 the National Party of the Orange Free State was born and on 26 August the Transvaal followed. The Cape National Party was founded on 9 June 1915.

The NP did not have a regular mouthpiece to promote its policies and campaigns like the SAP’s Ons Land newspaper in Cape Town and De Volkstem in Pretoria. Die Burger newspaper was therefore created in the Cape on 26 July 1915 for this specific purpose, with D. F. Malan as editor.

The National Party strengthens (1914-1923)

Most Afrikaners were against South African participation in World War 1 on the side of the British. Therefore, when South Africa was asked to invade German South West Africa (SWA) in August 1914 there was opposition from the ranks of the newly formed National Party (NP), and even from some who were part of the South African government. At their August congress the opposed invasion, and on 15 August there was a republican demonstration in Lichtenburg. Besides these protest efforts, it was agreed that South West Africa should be invaded.

The economic depression after the war and dissatisfaction from Black South Africans and other extra-parliamentary groups made the SAP's rule more difficult. The main reason for black anger was Smuts' acceptance of the Stallard report that stated:

”It should be a recognised principle that natives (men, women and children) should only be permitted within municipal areas in so far and for as long as their presence is demanded by the wants of the white population. The masterless native in urban areas is a source of danger and a cause of degradation of both black and white. If the native is to be regarded as a permanent element in municipal areas there can be no justification for basing his exclusion from the franchise on the simple ground of colour.” (This report later led to the passing of the Natives (Urban Areas) Act no 21 of 1923).

The Afrikaner opposition to WW1 proved to strengthen the, particularly after the death of General De la Rey (Afrikaners blamed Smuts and Botha). The death of General Louis Botha in 1919 pushed away more of the SAP supporters, and by the end of the Great War many of the SAP’s supporters had left the party and joined the.

In the 1920 elections it became clear that the SAP would need the cooperation to form a combined cabinet, in order to maintain political stability. Members of both parties met at Robertson on 26 and 27 May 1920, and made a potential agreement. On 22 September the two parties met again, but they could not finalize an agreement. The main point of disagreement concerned South Africa’s relationship with Britain - Hertzog wanted independence, while Smuts was happy with the situation as it was.

The Rand Rebellion of 1922 further strengthened the popularity, as it led to cooperation between the and the Labour Party (LP). The Rebellion was the result of severe labour unrest that had been simmering for some time. Both parties wanted to protect White labour, and decided to make a pact in April 1923 that would ensure that they would not oppose each other in the elections, and would support each other’s candidates in certain areas. This Pact resulted in the defeat of the SAP in the 27 June 1924 general elections. Afrikaans then became an official language and the country got a new flag.

The Pact Government (1924-1938)

After the Pact Government's 1924 election victory, South Africa had a new government. Hertzog was Prime Minister and also Minister of Native Affairs. His chief assistants were Tielman Roos (the leader of the National Party in the Transvaal), who was Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Justice. Dr D. F. Malan, who was the leader of the NP in the Cape, and became Minister of the Interior, Public Health and Education. Hertzog's close confidant, N. C. Havenga of the Orange Free State was made Minister of Finance. To express his gratitude to the Labour Party (for their help in getting him into power) Hertzog included two English-speaking Labour Party men in his cabinet, namely Colonel F. H. P. Creswell, as Minister of Defence, and T. Boydell, as Minister of Public Works, Posts and Telegraphs.

The Hertzog government curtailed the electoral power of non-Whites, and furthered the system of allocating “reserved” areas for Blacks as their permanent homes- while regulating their movements in the remainder of the country.

In 1926 South Africa’s position in relation to Britain was made clear in the Balfour Declaration, drawn up at the Imperial Conference of the same year. The Declaration became a law in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster, and the Pact Government’s greatest progress was made in industrial legislation and economy. Its protection of White workers and strict control over industry removed all problems in mines and factories, and these industries grew enormously more.

The Pact Government managed to keep the white voters happy, and five years later in the 1929 election, they were able to win again - therefore securing a second term, from 1929 to 1934. After the 1929 election Hertzog still gave his Pact partner, the LP, some representation in the new cabinet - with Colonel F. H. P. Creswell keeping the portfolios of Defence and Labour, while H. W. Sampson was named Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. The rest of the cabinet was made up of NP members, who gradually laid more and more stress on republican independence and Afrikaner identity.

The Great Depression, from 1930 to 1933, made the government’s rule difficult. Britain left the gold standard on 21 September 1931, and Tielman Roos returned to politics in 1932 to oppose Hertzog in his position to retain the gold standard. His campaign was successful and the government met their demand.

Over time, the difference between the NP and SAP became smaller, and in 1933 the two parties merged to form a coalition government. The two parties were named the United Party (UP) in 1934, but D. F. Malan and his Cape NP refused to join. He remained independent to form the new opposition, which was called the Purified National Party (PNP).

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 caused an internal split in the UP. Hertzog wanted to remain neutral in the war and by winning a crucial vote in parliament (September 1939), Smuts became prime minister again and brought South Africa into the war on the British (Allied) side. Hertzog then returned to the NP, which was reformed as the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP) [Reformed National Party] on 29 Jan 1940. Hertzog was the party’s leader, with Malan as his deputy.

NP Ascendancy and Apartheid (1939-1950s)

The split decision in 1939 to take South Africa into the war, and the disruption the war effort, caused Afrikaners to be seriously alienated from the UP. By 1948 there was growing irritation with wartime restrictions that were still in place, and living costs had increased sharply. White farmers in the northern provinces were particularly unhappy that Black labourers were leaving farms and moving to the cities, and therefore demanded the strict application of pass laws.

In the election of 26 May 1948, D.F. Malan's National Party, in alliance with N.C. Havenga's Afrikaner Party, won with a razor-thin majority of five seats and only 40% of the overall electoral vote. The alliance was formed during the war from General Hertzog's core support

Malan said after the election: “Today South Africa belongs to us once more. South Africa is our own for the first time since Union, and may God grant that it will always remain our own.” When Malan said that South Africa “belonged” to the Afrikaners he did not have the white-black struggle in mind, but rather the rivalry between the Afrikaner and the English community.

After the 1948 election, The NP that came to power was effectively two parties rolled into one. The one was a party for white supremacy that introduced apartheid and promised the electorate that it would secure the political future of whites; the other was a nationalist party that sought to mobilise the Afrikaner community by appealing to Afrikaans culture i.e. their beliefs, prejudices and moral convictions- establishing a sense of common history, and shared hopes and fears for the future.

Immediately after the 1948 election, the government began to remove any remaining symbols of the historic British ascendancy. It abolished British citizenship and the right of appeal to the Privy Council (1950). It scrapped God Save the Queen as one of the na­tional anthems, removed the Union Jack as one of the national ensigns (1957) and took over the naval base in Simon's Town from the Royal Navy (1957). The removal of these symbols of dual citizenship was seen as a victory for Afrikaner nationalism.

The NP's advance was the story of a people on the move, filled with enthusiasm about the 'Afrikaner cause'- putting their imprint on the state, defining its symbols, and giving their schools and universities a pronounced Afrikaans character. Political power steadily enhanced their social self-confidence. In the world of big business Rembrandt, Sanlam, Volkskas and other Afrikaner enterprises soon began to earn the respect of their English rivals.

However, apartheid policy steadily marginalised ethnic groups, and undermined their culture of and pride in their achievements. For others it seemed as if the Afrikaners were obsessed with fears about their own survival, and did not care about the damage and the hurt that apartheid inflicted upon others in a far weaker position.

The novelist Alan Paton made this comment about Afrikaner nationalism: “It is one of the deep mysteries of Afrikaner nationalist psychology that a Nationalist can observe the highest standards to­wards his own kind, but can observe an entirely different standard towards others, and more especially if they are not White.”

Malan was prime minister from 1948 to 1954, and was directly succeeded by J.G. Strijdom as leader and prime minister. This signalled the new dominance of the Transvaal in the NP caucus. Later, in the 1958 election, the NP won 103 seats and the UP just 53, with H. F. Verwoerd elected as the new Prime Minister.

The elected government greatly strengthened white control of the country, and apartheid rested on several bases. The most important were the restriction of all power to Whites, racial classification and racial sex laws. Laws also allocated group areas for each ra­cial community, segregated schools and universities, and eliminated integrated public facilities and sport. Whites were protected in the labour market, and a system of influx control that stemmed from Black urbanization lead to the creation of designated 'homelands' for Blacks. This was the basis for preventing them from demanding rights in the common area (timeline of Apartheid legislation).

Black South Africans had long protested their inferior treatment through organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC; founded in 1912) and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (founded 1919 by Clements Kadalie). In the 1950s and early 1960s there were various protests against the National Party's policies, involving passive resistance and the burning of passbooks. In 1960, a peaceful anti- pass law protest in Sharpeville (near Johannesburg) ended when police opened fire, massacring 70 protesters and wounding about 190 others. This protest was organized by the Pan-Africanist Congress (an offshoot of the ANC). In the 1960s most leaders (including ANC leaders Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu) who opposed apartheid were either in jail or living in exile, while the government proceeded with its plans to segregate blacks on a more permanent basis. (Liberation Struggle in the 1960s).

What the 1948 government meant to the English-speaking White population?

While retaining their economic dominance, English-speakers continued to hold the key to future domestic fixed investment, and to foreign fixed investment. By 1948 the per capita income of English-speakers was more than double that of Afrikaners, and their level of edu­cation was much higher. They also identified with a culture that was vastly richer and more diverse than Afrikaans culture.

After the 1948 election the English community in South Africa found itself in the political wilderness. Patrick Duncan, son of a South African governor-general, wrote: “English South Africans are today in the power of their adversaries. They are the only English group of any size in the world today that is, and will remain for some time, a ruled, subordinated minority. They are beginning to know what the great majority of all South Africans have always known - what it is to be second-class citizens in the land of one's birth.”

For English-speaking business leaders, the NP victory came as a major shock, as the Smuts government had been ideal for English business. After 1948, English business leaders contributed substantially to the United South African Trust Fund that funded the UP- with a view to unseating the NP government. Ernest Oppenheimer, the magnate controlling the giant conglomerate Anglo American Corporation, was the main donor. However, business was hardly liberal, and this fund refused to back the Liberal Party that Alan Paton had helped to form after the 1953 election - which propagated a programme of a multi-racial democracy based on universal franchise.

By the mid-1950s, English business leaders were beginning to accept the status quo, and were working with the government. Manufacturers enthusiastically welcomed the government's policy of promoting growth and boosting import substitution through protection. Mining magnates reaped the benefits of a very cheap, docile labour force, while blaming the government for the system.

International reactions to the results of the 1948 election and the introduction of apartheid

The result of the 1948 election dismayed Britain, South Africa's principal foreign investor and trading partner. But with the shadow of the Cold War falling over the world, the priority for Western governments was to prevent South Africa, with its minerals and strategic location, from falling under communist influence. The British Labour government under Clement Attlee concluded that this aspect was more important than its revulsion for apartheid. He would soon offer South Africa access to the intelligence secrets of Britain and the United States.

In the southern states of America, segregation still held sway. A survey in 1942 found that only 2% of whites favoured school integration, only 12% residential integration, and only one-fifth thought the intelligence of blacks was on the same level as that of whites. Even among northern whites only 30-40% supported racial integration.

The West did not insist on a popular democracy in South Africa, arguing that such a system was impossible for the time being. During the 1950s it was not uncommon for Western leaders to express racist views. In 1951 Herbert Morrison, foreign secretary in the British Labour government, regarded independence for African colonies as compar­able to “giving a child often a latch-key, a bank account and a shotgun”.

Still, the defeat of Nazi Germany and the horror of the Holocaust had discredited racial ideologies, and speeded up pressure for racial integration, particularly in the United States. The granting of independence to India in 1947 was a major turning point in world history that intensified the pressure to grant subordinated ethnic groups their freedom. The General Assembly of the United Nations became an effective platform for the nations of the Third World to vent their anger over centuries of Western domination, and apartheid soon became the focus of their wrath.

The Republic of South Africa and Racial Strife (1960-1984)

One of these goals was achieved in 1960, when the White population voted in a referendum to sever South Africa's ties with the British Monarchy, and establish a republic. On 5 October 1960 South African whites were asked: “Do you support a republic for the Union?”. The result showed just over 52 per cent in favour of the change.

The opposition United Party actively campaigned for a “No” vote, while the smaller Progressive Party appealed to supporters of the proposed change to “reject this republic”, arguing that South Africa's membership of the Commonwealth, with which it had privileged trade links, would be threatened.

The National Party had not ruled out continued membership after the country became a republic, but the Commonwealth now had new Asian and African members who saw the apartheid regime's membership as an affront to the organisation's democratic principles. Consequently, South Africa left the Commonwealth on becoming a republic.

When the Republic of South Africa was declared on May 31, 1961, Queen Elizabeth II ceased to be head of state, and the last Governor General of the Union took office as the first State President. Charles Robberts Swart, the last Governor-General, was sworn in as the first State President (see “People”section for more detail about this position).

The State President performed mainly ceremonial duties and the ruling National Party decided against having an executive presidency, instead adopting a minimalist approach - a conciliatory gesture to English-speaking whites who were opposed to a republic. Like Governor-Generals before them, State Presidents were retired National Party ministers, and consequently, white, Afrikaner, and male. Therefore, HF Verwoerd remained on as the Prime Minister of the country.

In 1966, Prime Minister Verwoerd was assassinated by a discontented White government employee, and B.J. Vorster became the new Prime Minister. From the late 1960s, the Vorster government began attempts to start a dialogue on racial and other matters with independent African nations. These attempts met with little success, except for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Malawi and the adjacent nations of Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland - all of which were economically dependent on South Africa.

South Africa was strongly opposed to the establishment of Black rule in the White-dominated countries of Angola, Mozambique, and Rhodesia, and gave military assistance to Whites there. However, by late 1974, with independence for Angola and Mozambique under majority rule imminent, South Africa faced the prospect of further isolation from the international community - as one of the few remaining White-ruled nations of Africa. In the early 1970s, increasing numbers of whites (especially students) protested apartheid, and the National party itself was divided, largely on questions of race relations, into the somewhat liberal verligte [Afrikaans=enlightened] faction and the conservative verkrampte [Afrikaans,=narrow-minded] group.

In the early 1970s, black workers staged strikes and violently revolted against their inferior conditions. South Africa invaded Angola in 1975 in an attempt to crush mounting opposition in exile, but the action was a complete failure. In 1976, open rebellion erupted in the black township of Soweto, in protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in Black schools. Over the next few months, rioting spread to other large cities of South Africa, which resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Black people. In 1977, the death of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko in police custody (under suspicious circumstances) prompted protests and sanctions.

The National Party increased its parliamentary majority in almost every election between 1948 and 1977, and despite all the protest against apartheid, the National Party got its best-ever result in the 1977 elections with support of 64.8% of the White voters and 134 seats in parliament out of 165.

Pieter Willem Botha became prime minister in 1978, and pledged to uphold apartheid as well as improve race relations. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government granted “independence” to four homelands: Transkei (1976), Bophuthatswana (1977), Venda (1979), and Ciskei (1981). In the early 1980s, as the regime hotly debated the extent of reforms, Botha began to reform some of the apartheid policies. He legalised interracial marriages and multiracial political parties, and relaxed the Group Areas Act.

In 1984, a new constitution was enacted which provided for a Tricameral Parliament. The new Parliament included the House of Representatives, comprised of Coloureds; the House of Delegates, comprised of Indians; and the House of Assembly, comprised of Whites. This system left the Whites with more seats in the Parliament than the Indians and Coloureds combined. Blacks violently protested being shut out of the system, and the ANC and PAC, both of whom had traditionally used non-violent means to protest inequality, began to advocate more extreme measures (Umkhonto we Sizwe and the turn to the armed struggle).

Regime Unravels (1985-1991)

As attacks against police stations and other government installations increased, the regime announced an indefinite state of emergency in 1985. In 1986, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, a black South African leader opposing apartheid, addressed the United Nations and urged further sanctions against South Africa. A wave of strikes and riots marked the 10th anniversary of the Soweto uprising in 1987.

In 1989, in the midst of rising political instability, growing economic problems and diplomatic isolation, President Botha fell ill and was succeeded, first as party leader, then as president, by F. W. de Klerk. Although a conservative, de Klerk realised the impracticality of maintaining apartheid forever, and soon after taking power, he decided that it would be better to negotiate while there was still time to reach a compromise, than to hold out until forced to negotiate on less favourable terms. He therefore persuaded the National Party to enter into negotiations with representatives of the Black community.

Late in 1989, the National Party won the most bitterly contested election in decades, pledging to negotiate an end to the apartheid system that it had established. Early in 1990 de Klerk's government began relaxing apartheid restrictions. The African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation organisations were legalized and Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment.

In late 1991 the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), a multiracial forum set up by de Klerk and Mandela, began efforts to negotiate a new constitution, and a transition to a multiracial democracy with majority rule. In March 1992, voters endorsed constitutional reform efforts by a wide margin in a referendum open only to Whites. However, there was continued violent protests from opponents of the process, especially by supporters of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu-based Inkatha movement - with the backing and sometimes active participation of the South African security forces.

The New South Africa and the New National Party (1993-2005)

Despite obstacles and delays, an interim constitution was completed in 1993. This ended nearly three centuries of white rule in South Africa, and marked the eradication of white-minority rule on the African continent. A 32-member multiparty transitional government council was formed with blacks in the majority, and in April 1994, days after the Inkatha Freedom party ended an electoral boycott, the republic's first multiracial election was held. The ANC won an overwhelming victory, and Nelson Mandela became president. South Africa also rejoined the Commonwealth in 1994 and relinquished its last hold in Namibia, by ceding the exclave of Walvis Bay.

In 1994 and 1995, the last vestiges of apartheid were dismantled, and a new national constitution was approved and adopted in May 1996. It provided for a strong presidency and eliminated provisions guaranteeing White-led and other minority party representation in the government. De Klerk and the National party supported the new charter, despite disagreement over some provisions. Shortly afterward, de Klerk and the National party quit the national unity government to become part of the opposition- the New National party after 1998. The new government faced the daunting task of trying to address the inequities produced by decades of apartheid, while promoting privatization and a favourable investment climate.

The liberal Democratic party became the leading opposition party, and in 2000 it joined forces with the New National Party to form the Democratic Alliance (DA). That coalition, however, survived only until late 2001, when the New National party left to form a coalition with the ANC.

Parliamentary elections in April 2004, resulted in a resounding victory for the ANC, which won nearly 70% of the vote, while the DA remained the largest opposition party and increased its share of the vote. The new parliament subsequently re-elected President Mbeki. As a result of its poor showing, the New National party merged with the ANC, and voted to disband in April 2005.