The National Party (Afrikaans: Nasionale Party) (with its members sometimes known as Nationalists or Nats) was the governing party of South Africa from June 4, 1948 until May 9, 1994, and was disbanded in 2005. Its policies included apartheid, the establishment of a republic, and the promotion of Afrikaner culture. Since 1994 the party has been involved in conservative politics but was dissolved and reunited into the New National Party, which then merged with the African National Congress in 2005. A party with the same name and sharing the principles of F.W. De Klerk's National Party of the early 1990's was established in September 2008.
Upon taking power, the National Party began to implement a program of apartheid — the legal system of political and social separation of the races - a policy intended to maintain and extend political and economic control of South Africa by the white minority.
In 1951, the Bantu Self-Government Act established so-called Homelands (sometime pejoratively called Bantustans) for ten different black tribes. The ultimate goal of the National Party was to move all Black South Africans into one of these homelands (although they might continue to work in South Africa as "guest workers"), leaving what was left of South Africa (about 87 percent of the land area) with what would then be a White majority, at least on paper. As the homelands were seen by the apartheid government as embryonic independent nations, all black South Africans were registered as citizens of the homelands, not of the nation as a whole, and were expected to exercise their political rights only in the homelands. Accordingly, the three token parliamentary seats that had been reserved for white representatives of black South Africans in Cape Province were scrapped. The other three provinces – Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Natal – had never allowed any black representation.
Coloureds (South Africans of mixed White and non-White ancestry) were removed from the Common Roll of Cape Province in 1953. Instead of voting for the same representatives as white South Africans, they could now only vote for four white representatives to speak for them. Later, in 1968, the Coloureds were disenfranchised altogether. In the place of the four parliamentary seats, a partially elected body was set up to advise the government in an amendment to the Separate Representation of Voters Act.
In a move unrecognised by the rest of the world, the former German colony of South West Africa (now Namibia), which South Africa had occupied in World War I, was effectively incorporated into South Africa as a fifth province, with seven members elected to represent its White citizens in the Parliament of South Africa. The White minority of South West Africa, predominantly German and Afrikaans, considered its interests akin to those of the Afrikaners in South Africa and therefore supported the National Party in subsequent elections.
These reforms all bolstered the National Party politically, as they removed black and Coloured influence – which was hostile to the National Party – from the electoral process, and incorporated the pro-Nationalist whites of South West Africa. The National Party increased its parliamentary majority in almost every election between 1948 and 1977.
Various segregation laws were passed before the National Party took complete power in 1948. Probably the most significant were The Natives Land Act, No 27 of 1913 and The Natives (Urban Areas) Act of 1923. The former made it illegal for blacks to purchase or lease land from whites except in reserves; this restricted black occupancy to less than eight per cent of South Africa's land. The latter laid the foundations for residential segregation in urban areas. Segregation laws passed by the National Party after 1948 included the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Immorality Act, The Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act, which prohibited nonwhite males from being in certain areas of the country (especially at night) unless they were employed there.
The republican ideal was not crushed, however: in 1914, the Afrikaners led a strong resurgence; in 1916, an NP congress called initially for a return to republicanism but then decided that it was too early; 1918 saw the founding of the Broederbond (Brother Bond), a cultural establishment with powerful Afrikaner nationalist and republican overtones. The Republican Bond was established in the 1930s, and other Republican organisations such as the Gesuiwerde Nationale Party (Purified National Party), the Voortrekkers, Noodhulpliga (First-Aid League) and the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (Federation of Afrikaans cultural organisations, FAK) also subsequently came into being. There was a popular outpour of nationalist sentimentality around the centenary of the Great Trek and the Battle of Blood River in 1838. It was seen to signify the perpetuation of white South African culture, and anti-British and pro-republican feelings grew stronger.
Hertzog's trip to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 was a definite (if failed) attempt to gain independence. In 1926, however, the Balfour Declaration was passed, affording every British dominion within the British Empire equal rank and bestowing upon them their own right of direction of foreign issues. This resulted the following year in the institution of South Africa's first-ever Department of Foreign Affairs. 1931 saw a backtrack as the Statute of Westminster resolved that British dominions could not have total control over their external concerns, but, in 1934, the Status and Seals Acts were passed, granting the South African Parliament even greater power than the British Government over the Union.
The extreme National Party members of the 1930s were known collectively as the Republikeinse Bond. The following organisations, parties and events pushed the Republican ideal in the 1930s:
When the National Party came to power in 1948 (making it the first all-Afrikaans cabinet since 1910), there were two uppermost priorities which it was determined to fulfil:
Between 1948 and 1961, Prime Ministers Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd were all to work very hard for the latter, implementing a battery of policies and changes in a bid to increase the country's autonomy. Divided loyalty, they felt, was holding South Africa back. They wanted to break the country's ties with Britain and establish a Republic, and many South Africans grew confident that a Republic was possible.
Unfortunately for its Republicans, however, the NP was not in a strong parliamentary position. Although it held the majority (only five) of seats, a large quantity of these was in rural constituencies, with far fewer voters than in the urban areas. The United Party held a 100,000-vote lead. Consequently, the NP had to rely on the Afrikaner Party's support. It did not, therefore, have the groundswell of public support that it needed to win a referendum, and only when it had that majority on its side could a referendum be held on the Republican matter. However, with a small seating majority and a total vote-tally minority, it was impossible for now for Malan and his ardently Republican Nats to bring about a Republic constitutionally. In the interim, the NP would have to consolidate itself and not antagonise the British.
Many English-speakers did not want to break their ties with Britain. However, in 1949 at the Commonwealth PM's meeting in London (with Malan in attendance), India requested that, in spite of its newly-attained Republican status, it remain a member of the British Commonwealth. When this was granted the following by the Declaration of London, it roused a great deal of debate in South Africa between the pro-Republican NP and the anti-Republican UP (under Strauss). What it meant was that, even if South Africa did become a Republic, she did not automatically have to sever all of her ties with Britain and the British Commonwealth. This gained the movement loads of support from the English-speaking populace, which was less worried about being isolated; and the republican ideal looked closer than ever to being fulfilled.
Although he could not yet make South Africa a Republic, Malan could prepare the country for this eventuality. In his term of office, from 1948 to 1954, Malan took a number of steps to break ties with Britain:
The 1953 ballot votes saw the NP fortify its position considerably, winning comfortably but still falling well short of the clear majority after which it hankered: it had 94 seats in parliament to the UP's 57 and the Labour Party's five. The Nats still did not have a clear majority, though.
Strijdom, however, had the support of Verwoerd and Schoeman, and it was he who was eventually voted in as Prime Minister. Strijdom was a passionate and outspoken Afrikaner and Republican, and he wholeheartedly supported apartheid. He was completely intolerant towards non-Afrikaners and liberal ideas, utterly determined to maintain white supremacy, with zero compromise. Known as the "Lion of the North", Strijdom made few changes to his cabinet and pursued with vigour the policy of apartheid. By 1956, he successfully placed the coloureds on a separate voters' roll, thus further weakening ties with the Commonwealth and gaining support for the NP.
He also took several other steps to make South Africa less dependent on Britain:
Anti-republican South Africans recognised the shift and distancing from Britain, and the UP grew increasingly anxious, doing all that it could to persuade Parliament to retain Commonwealth links. Strijdom, however, declared that South Africa's participation (or otherwise) in the Commonwealth would be determined only by her best interests.
To gain more English support, Verwoerd appointed to English-speakers to his cabinet, and their support for him grew rapidly. He also used the state of things in Africa as vindication of his belief that black and white nationalism could not work within the same system. He played a tremendous role in boosting white belief in apartheid and separate development. The NP was made to seem the best equipped to deal with the Total Onslaught of Communism.
By the end of his term (and, as a result of his assassination, his life), Verwoerd had made the NP stronger than ever before. In the 1966 elections, it won 126 out of the 170 seats in parliament. The English had started giving palpable support to the ruling party.
Back to 10 January 1960, however, with South Africa ripe for republicanism: she had a single flag, anthem and citizenship. It was decided that a Republican referendum was to be held in October. International circumstances made the referendum a growing necessity. In the aftermath of the World War Two, more and more British colonies in Africa and Asia were gaining independence and apostrophising the ills of apartheid. Commonwealth members were determined to isolate South Africa.
There were numerous internal factors which had paved the way for and may be viewed as influences on the result:
The opposition accused Verwoerd of trying to break from the Commonwealth and the West, thus losing South Africa all of its trade preferences. The NP, however, launched a vigorously enthusiastic political campaign, with widely-advertised public meetings. The opposition found it very difficult to fight for the preservation of British links.
There were numerous pro-Republican arguments:
There were also, of course, numerous arguments against the establishment of a South African Republic:
On 5 October 1960, 90.5 per cent of the white electorate turned out to vote on the issue. 850,458 (52 per cent) voted in favour of a Republic, while 775,878 were against it. The Cape, Orange Free State and Transvaal were all in favour; Natal, a mainly English-speaking province, was not. It had been, by no stretch of the imagination, a landslide victory for the republicans. Surprisingly, a considerable number of Afrikaners voted against it, too. The few blacks, Indian and Coloureds allowed to vote were decidedly against it.
English speakers who voted for a Republic had done so on condition that their cultural heritage be safeguarded. Many had associated a Republic with the survival of the white South African. MacMillan's speech had illustrated that the British government was no longer prepared to stand by South Africa's racialist policies.
Nevertheless, this was a strong boon for Afrikaner nationalism: it had won something for which it had been striving since 1902. The constitutional struggle was finally settled.
One question remained, however: would South Africa become a Republic outside the Commonwealth (the outcome which the Nats secretly favoured)? It would likely alienate English speakers and bring about a loss of friendship with several other countries. India, Ceylon, Pakistan and Ghana were all republics within the Commonwealth, and Verwoerd announced that his would follow suit "if possible".
In January 1961, Verwoerd began to establish legislation to turn the Union of South Africa in the Republic of South Africa. The constitution was finalised in April. It united the authority of the British Crown and Governor-General into a new post, State President. He would have rather little political power, serving more as the ceremonial head of the country. The political power was to lie with the Prime Minister and head of government. The South African Republic would also have its own fiscal system, employing Rands and cents.
In March 1961, Verwoerd paid a visit to the Imperial Conference in London to discuss his country's becoming a republic within in the Commonwealth, handing in the Republic of South Africa's application for a renewal of its membership to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth had earlier declined to predict how republican status would affect South Africa's membership. It did not want to be seen to be meddling in its members domestic affairs.
Many of the Conference's affiliates (prominent among them the Afro-Asia group and Canadian Premier John Diefenbaker) attacked South Africa's racial policies and rebuffed Verwoerd's application; they would go to any lengths to expel a South African Republic from the Commonwealth. In Britain, numerous anti-apartheid movements were also campaigning for South Africa's elimination. Some member countries warned that, unless South Africa was expelled, they would themselves pull out of the organisation.
Verwoerd discarded the censure, arguing that his Commonwealth cohorts had no right to question and criticise the domestic affairs of his country. On this he had the support of even his parliamentary opposition.
Thus, on 15 March 1961, ostensibly to save Britain an awkward decision and causing a split within the Commonwealth, but more likely to avoid further condemnation and embarrassment, Verwoerd withdrew his application and announced that South Africa would become a republic outside the Commonwealth. His decision was received with regret by the Prime Ministers of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, but obvious delight from South Africa's critics. Republicanism and independence had come at a very great price.
Verwoerd issued a statement the next day to the effect that the move would not affect South Africa's relationship with Britain. On his homecoming, he was met with a rapturous reception. Afrikaner nationalists were not at all deterred by the relinquishment of Commonwealth membership, for they regarded the Commonwealth as little more than the British Empire in disguise. They believed that South Africa and the United Kingdom had absolutely nothing in common, and even UP leader Sir De Villiers Graaff praised Verwoerd for his handling of the situation.
On 31 May 1961, South Africa became a republic. The date was a significant one in Afrikaner history, as it heralded the anniversary of a number of historical events -- the 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging, which ended the Anglo-Boer War; South Africa's becoming a union in 1910; and the first hoisting of the Union flag in 1928. The republican fantasy was finally reality.
The National Party (NP) had long wished to withdraw from the Commonwealth but was careful not to alienate South Africa's English-speaking populace and rile its allies. While many white South Africans supported the withdrawal, many others felt betrayed and isolated.
The significance of Commonwealth withdrawal turned out to be less than had been expected. It was not necessary for South Africa to amend its trading preferences, and Prime Minister Macmillan reciprocated Verwoerd's assurance that withdrawal would not alter trade between South Africa and Britain.
South Africa had now its first independent constitution, although the only real constitutional change was that the President, in charge for seven years, would assume the now-vacant position of the Queen as Head of State. CR Swart, the State President elect, took the first Republican oath as President of South Africa before Chief Justice Steyn (DRC).
Although white inhabitants were generally happy with the Republic, united in their support of Verwoerd, the blacks defiantly rejected the move. Nelson Mandela and his National Action Council demonstrated from 29 to 31 May 1961. The republican issue would strongly intensify resistance to apartheid.
Beginning in the early 1980s, under the leadership of State President P.W. Botha, the National Party began to reform its policies. Botha legalised interracial marriages and multiracial political parties and relaxed the Group Areas Act. Botha also granted a measure of political representation to Coloureds and Indians by creating separate parliamentary chambers in which they had control of their "own affairs." Black South Africans were not included, however, and over national affairs he ensured that the white chamber of parliament retained the last word in all matters: the representatives of the white chamber had a compulsory block-vote in the electoral college to choose the State President, who had the say over which of the three chambers, or which combination of them, should consider any piece of legislation. On the central issue of granting meaningful political rights to black South Africans, Botha and the National Party refused to budge, most black political organizations remaining banned, and prominent black dissidents, including Nelson Mandela, remaining imprisoned.
In the midst of rising political instability, growing economic problems and diplomatic isolation, Botha resigned as National Party leader, and subsequently as State President, in 1989. He was replaced 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 later. He 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, the African National Congress was legalised, and Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. A referendum in 1992 gave De Klerk plenipotentiary powers to negotiate with Mandela. Following the negotiations, a new constitution was drawn up, and multiracial elections were held in 1994. These elections were won by the African National Congress. The National Party remained in government, however, as a coalition partner to the ANC in the Government of National Unity until 30 June 1996, when it withdrew to become the Official Opposition.
In 1997, the National Party renamed itself the New National Party in order to distance itself from its past. The party merged with the Democratic Party (DP) to form the Democratic Alliance (DA) in 2000 but by 2001 the party had broken away from the Democratic Alliance. The Democratic Alliance retained its position of Official Opposition while the NNP started to disintegrate as a party. It lasted less than a decade before its federal council voted to dissolve the party on 9 April 2005, following a decision the previous year to merge with the ANC.
On 5 August 2008 a new party using the National Party name was formed by Juan Duval Uys and registered with the Independent Electoral Commission. The new party has no connection with the now defunct New National Party. The relaunched National Party of 2008 pushes for a non-racial democratic South Africa based upon the policies of F.W. De Klerk's National Party.