Formation of the Union of South Africa, 1910

South Africa Table of Contents

Accepting the fact that English speakers would never constitute a majority in white South Africa, the Liberal government sought to come to terms with the Afrikaner majority. In 1907 the British granted limited self-government to both the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, and in subsequent elections, Het Volk and the Oranje Unie swept to victory. In the following year, the South African Party (SAP), led by an English-speaking critic of British imperialism and dependent on the support of the Afrikaner Bond, came to power in the Cape Colony. Reassured by the readiness of Het Volk's leaders, Botha and Smuts, to assist the gold-mining industry in obtaining larger supplies of cheap black labor (although without the Chinese workers who were repatriated in 1908) and in repressing militant white miners (who protested conditions of labor and job competition from blacks), the British government encouraged negotiations in South Africa among white representatives of the four self-governing colonies with the aim of establishing a single state.

Negotiations held in 1908 and in 1909 produced a constitution that embodied three fundamental principles: South Africa would adopt the Westminster style of government and would become a unitary state in which political power would be won by a simple majority and in which parliament would be sovereign; the question of voting rights for blacks would be left up to each of the four self-governing colonies to decide for itself (the Cape and Natal based their franchise on a property qualification; the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal denied all blacks the vote); and both English and Dutch would be official languages. The constitution also provided for future incorporation of the British-governed territories of Southern Rhodesia, Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana), Basutoland (present-day Lesotho), and Swaziland into the union.

In May 1910, Louis Botha became the first prime minister of the newly established Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire, and Jan Smuts became his deputy. Just eight years earlier, both men had been generals in Kruger's army; now, through the SAP, they governed a country of 4 million Africans, 500,000 coloureds, 150,000 Indians, and 1,275,000 whites.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress