The South African general elections: 1961

In 1959, the United Party (UP) in Parliament split with 11 of its members forming the Progressive Party (PP). Later the National Party (NP) Member of Parliament, Japie Basson, was excluded from the NP caucus. Japie Basson was excluded from the Party because he refused to accept the decision of the leadership of the NP to remove the three Natives Representatives from the House of Assembly. Japie Basson crossed to the opposition side of the House of Assembly and later became the Parliamentary representative of the newly formed National Union Party (NUP).

In 1961, the House of Assembly was divided as follows: NP -102 seats, UP - 42 seats, PP -11 seats, National Union Party _ 1 seat, and the Independents - 4 seats. The Liberal Party (LP) and Conservative Party (CP) contested the election. Republicanism and apartheid have remained the two pillars of National Party policy.

After the separation, the UP’s electoral support came mainly from English-speaking people. However, some Afrikaners have provided the UP with its leaders and important electoral support. Approximately 15 to 20% of Afrikaners have supported the UP in the 1961 general elections.

The PP was formed in November 1959. Eleven of the twelve 25 Members of Parliament  who broke away from the UP immediately joined the PP and assumed leading positions in the Party. The aim of the PP was to challenge the policy of "white supremacy," and proposed the multi-racial cooperation. As a result, a more vigorous debate on Apartheid in the House of Assembly was made by the PP. The membership of the PP was mainly English-speaking, but there were a small number of Afrikaners in the party, one of whom, Dr. Jan Steytler, was elected as a party leader. The PP has received support from Harry Oppenheimer, an industrialist and one of South Africa's wealthiest men.

During the campaign, the PP rejected the subordination of the interests of Black South Africans (Africans, Coloured and Indians) to the interests of Whites as morally unacceptable and politically impossible. The PP’s policy was the achievement of three major goals: the gradual political liberation of the Black population, a change in South Africa's political institutions so as to prevent the political domination of any racial group and the more rapid development of the material and human resources of the country.

In April 1960, the National Union Party (NUP) was formed by moderate Nationalists who were not happy with Verwoerd’s leadership under the leadership of J D. du P. Basson and ex-Chief Justice Fagan. The origin of the party may be said to lie in the exclusion of Japie Basson from the caucus of the Parliamentary members of the NP in 1959. The aim in the creation of the NUP was to create a political division between the NP and the UP that would provide a basis for a political reunion of the English and Afrikaner speakers. The leader of the NUP was former Chief Justice H. A. Fagan.

In 1953, the Liberal Party (LP) was formed when a small group of individuals decided that the NP and the policy of apartheid could be best opposed outside of the UP. It challenged the NP and the thinking of the White community, on a wide range of matters, but its attention centred on South African race relations. The LP was the only South African political party with a substantial multi-racial membership. Its small White membership was mainly English-speakers as well as scholars, artists and professional people.  However, since 1959 some of them left to join the PP.

 The president of the LP was the South African author, Alan Paton. The LP’s policy rested on the principle that discrimination on the basis of race was incompatible with the moral and political foundations of the Western World. The LP called for the full and immediate integration of all elements of the population into the political, economic and social life of South Africa. The policy involved a demand for the abolition of all legislation discriminating on the basis of race.

The Conservative Party (CP) was formed as a breakaway from the National Party, and drew it support from Afrikaners in rural heartland of South Africa. It was formed prior to the general election of 1961 to represent the grievances of White workers on the Witwatersrand, many of whom had been supporters of the NP and who, in 1961, suffered a high rate of unemployment. It was a single-issue party of limited aim led by Andries Treunicht. It hoped to bring pressure upon the NP-led government to alleviate depressed economic conditions in particular industries, especially the building and textile trades.

On 2 August 1961, Dr H F Verwoerd announced that the general election would be held on 18 October 1961. On 18 October 1961, the White electorate, voting in the fourth South African general election since the end of World War II, returned Dr H F Verwoerd’s NP to power and the policy of Apartheid continued. The NP not only increased their majority in the House of Assembly but also their share of the popular vote. The NP obtained 370 431 votes, the UP obtained 302 875 votes, the PP obtained 69 042 votes, the NUP obtained 35 903 votes, the CP obtained 6 229 votes, the LP obtained 2 461 votes, and the Independents obtained 10 704 votes.

The National Party Government organised a referendum on whether the then union of South Africa should become a Republic. The referendum was held on 5 October 1960. The vote, which was limited to Whites only, was approved by 52.29% of the voters. South Africa became a Republic on 31 March 1961.

In the 1961 general election, held on 8 October, Verwoerd’s NP won the most seats of 105 out of 156, the UP of Sir de Villiers Graaf won 49, the National Union Party of H A Fagan and Progressive Party (PP) of Jan Steytler won one seat each in the 156-seat House of Assembly.    

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• 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

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