The South African general elections: 1948

The general election took place on 26 May 1948. Out of a total of 150 constituencies which were to send representatives to Parliament, twelve seats were unopposed, eleven of these were for the United Party (UP) and one seat was for National Party (NP).

The election centred upon the remaining 138 constituencies. The Native (Bantu) population was taken off the common roll in the Cape Province in 1936 and they had no voice in the elections. Of the remaining Black population, only the Coloureds in the Cape Province could vote. The elections were to be decided by the White population, which consisted of one-fourth of South Africa's population.

On 29 March 1948, Dr. Malan made a campaign speech in which, for the first time, Apartheid was projected as a policy of race relations. A month before the elections, Dr. Malan outlined the NP’s general election manifesto at a speech in the Paarl constituency, Western Cape Province. Dr. Malan’s election manifesto criticised the Smuts government for: a general neglect of the racial problem, with special emphasis on the problem of the ever-increasing influx of Natives and Indians in European areas, a lax policy towards Communism at home, the neglect of South Africa's economic interests, and a policy of liberal immigration which was threatening White South Africans. The manifesto then went on to say how the NP would correct these wrongs.

How would apartheid be implemented? First, there would be the introduction of a registration system for Whites and non-Whites. Native reserves would have to be built up and developed to accommodate Bantu [African] population. Only Natives [Africans] who were guaranteed work would be allowed to live in urban areas, but in line with the principle of residential segregation. In White areas, Natives could not have any political rights but could be represented in the Senate by Europeans. Non-whites could not attend Whites universities. The Coloureds would be separated and have their own areas, and they would have special representation in the Senate by a Senator nominated by the Government. As for Indians, residential segregation was also to apply.

After the manifesto of the NP, the UP put out its own manifesto which consisted of twenty-four clauses, most of them dealing with economic matters without reference to the Native question, location of Native labour force in separate townships parallel to industrial areas.

In the last days of the election campaign, Prime Minister Smuts began to take a more active part. Two days before the country went to the polls, Smuts declared that the UP’s colour policy is clear, and the UP stands for good treatment for the non-whites and it stands for the continuation of the White leadership in South Africa as in the past. If White leadership would be lost, then Whites lose South Africa. Smuts said that Apartheid, separate development and the Natives going back to the reserves was not good.  Before the elections, Smuts felt confident that all sections of the population would agree with his policy and would return his party to power for another five years. 

The Reunited National Party (RNP) and Afrikaner Party merged in 1940, forming the National Party (NP). The 1948 general election was contested by the Reunited National Party or Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP) led by D F Malan, the United Party (UP) led by Jan Smuts, the Labour Party (LP), and Independents.

The number of registered voters was 1 337 534, the total number of votes (voter turnout) was 1 073 364, the number of invalid or blank votes was 7 393, and the total number of valid votes was 1 065 971. The UP obtained 524 230 number of votes, the HNP obtained 401 834 votes, the LP obtained 27 360 votes, and the Independents obtained 70 662 votes.

In the 1948 general election, the National Party (NP) won the most seats on its policy of racial segregation, known as Apartheid. National Party (NP) led by DF Malan won 70 seats, United Party (UP) of Jan Smuts won 65 seats, Afrikaners Party (AP) of Nicolaas Havenga won 9 seats, Labour Party (LP) of John Christie won 6 seats, and Independents won 3 seats in the 153 seats House of Assembly.

<< Previous Next >>

• 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 : 24-Mar-2014

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

Support South African History Online

Donate and Make African History Matter

South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.

Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.