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The 1948 election and the National Party Victory

On 28 May 1948, the Herenigde Nasionale Party (Reunified National Party*) took power from Jan Smuts' United Party (UP) by the thinnest of majorities (5 seats). The HNP came to power in coalition with the Afrikaner Party, led by Nicholaas C. Havenga. D. F. Malan, became prime minister at the age of seventy-four and formed the first government dominated by Afrikaners. Havenga was made minister of finance.

When the 1948 election campaign started, the UP failed to see that it was in serious trouble. Afrikaners had been seriously alienated from the UP by the split decision in 1939 to take South Africa into the war and by the disruption the war effort caused. By 1948 there was growing irritation with wartime restrictions that were still in place. Living costs had increased sharply. White farmers in the northern provinces were particularly unhappy that black labour was leaving the farms and moving to the cities.

After the 1948 victory at the polls Malan said: 'Today South Africa belongs to us once more. South Africa is our own for the first time since Union, and may God grant that it will always remain our own.' When Malan said that South Africa 'belonged' to the Afrikaners he did not have the white-black struggle in mind but the rivalry between the Afrikaner and the English.

The NP that came to power in 1948 was two parties rolled into one. The one was a party for white supremacy that introduced apartheid, promising the electorate it would secure the political future of whites; the other a nationalist party that sought to mobilise the Afrikaner community by appealing to Afrikaans culture - their beliefs, prejudices and moral convictions, a sense of a common past and shared hopes and fears for the future.

Immediately after the 1948 election the government began removing the remaining symbols of the historic British ascendancy and began institutionalising their policies of segregation. Malan believed that Africans threatened the prosperity and purity of the Afrikaner culture. The South African prime minister based his policy on a system which became known as Apartheid by institutionalizing the already existing segregation policy. These policies arose from a history of settler rule and Dutch and British colonialism, which became policies of separation after South Africa gained self-governance as a dominion within the British Empire. It represented an oppressive system of laws and regulations that kept Africans inferior to Whites for years. The government separated and divided the races by instituting segregated schools, buses, work reservation, etc. Many discriminatory regulations were imposed such as the Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, the Population Restriction Act of 1950, and other racial classifications. Probably the most notable law that the Malan government passed was the Registration Act, which allowed the government to classify every individual by race. The Herenigde Nasionale Party and the Afrikaner Party merged officially in 1951 to become the National Party (NP).

It is now necessary to look at the actions of the first two NP Prime Ministers in the move towards the creation of the South African Republic.


DF Malan

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