World War I and Afrikaner Nationalism

South Africa Table of Contents

In August 1914, Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, amid much controversy, took South Africa into World War I on the side of the British. Botha and Smuts considered that South Africa, as a British dominion, had no choice in the matter, and they sent troops to conquer the German protectorate of South-West Africa (present-day Namibia, mandated by the League of Nations to South Africa following World War I). More soldiers, including a corps of coloured volunteers, were later sent to fight in German East Africa and in France. Many Afrikaners felt no loyalty to Britain and opposed going to war with Germany, which had aided them during the South African War. An attempted coup against Botha's government in September was aborted when one of the leaders, an Afrikaner hero from the South African War, was killed by police. An armed uprising of nearly 10,000 men in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal later in the year, led by another war hero, was crushed by Botha's forces.

The political opposition to Botha's entry into the war was led by J.B.M. Hertzog and his newly formed National Party of South Africa (NP). Hertzog was a former close ally of Botha who had split with the SAP over three issues: he felt that the SAP worked too closely with English mine owners (whom he considered "fortune-hunters"); he thought that only lip-service was being given to the policy of making Dutch equal with English as an official language; and he wanted more done to separate blacks and whites. The National Party was established in January 1914 to take up these issues. Support for the party grew, especially with South African entry into the war, and by 1915 there were branches in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State led by Hertzog and by Tielman Roos, respectively, and in the Cape, where Daniel F. (D.F.) Malan edited the party's newspaper, Die Burger (The Citizen ).

Hertzog and his allies took various steps to strengthen the basis of Afrikaner nationalism. They stressed the richness and importance of Afrikaans rather than Dutch, and supported publication of books and magazines in the former language. They also sought to alleviate the poverty that had become endemic among Afrikaners, many of whom had been driven off the land into the cities in the last decades of the nineteenth century and during the South African War. Because almost all commercial enterprises and banks were run by English speakers, these people had little success in obtaining jobs or loans from such institutions. Many found work as unskilled laborers in the mines, where their color alone assured that they got higher pay than blacks.

Using the concept of helpmekaar (mutual aid), initially adopted to assist the unsuccessful rebels of 1914 and their families, relatively wealthy Afrikaner wine farmers in the western Cape pooled their resources and in 1918 established the South African National Trust Company (Santam) and the South African National Life Assurance Company (Sanlam). These new companies, a credit institution and a life insurance business, respectively, acquired their capital from Afrikaners and invested their funds only with Afrikaners. Also in 1918, another exclusively Afrikaner organization was formed, the Afrikaner Broederbond (later the Broederbond, or Brotherhood--although this literal translation has never been used as a term of reference). This organization, which in 1921 became a secret society, was established by young professionals--teachers, clerks, and ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church--who believed that they, too, needed to act to protect and to celebrate Afrikaner culture.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress