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National Party (South Africa)
National Party (South Africa)
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Not to be confused with National Party South Africa.
National Party (Afrikaans)
Logo of the National Party during the 1980s
Leader J. B. M. Hertzog (1914–1934)
Daniel François Malan (1934–1953)
J. G. Strijdom (1953–1958)
Hendrik Verwoerd (1958–1966)
John Vorster (1966–1978)
P. W. Botha (1978–1989)
F. W. de Klerk (1989–1997)
Founded 1 July 1914 Dissolved c. 1997
Merged into United Party (1934–1939)
Succeeded by New National Party
Headquarters Cape Town, Cape Province, South Africa
Afrikaner minority interests
Conservatism Republicanism 1948–1990:
Apartheid Republicanism Anti-communism
Social conservatism White supremacy Racialism1990–1997:
South African nationalism
Political position 1914–1948: Right-wing1948–1990: Far-right1990–1997: Centre-right
Religion Protestant Christianity
Colours Orange, white and blue
(South African national colours)
Politics of South Africa
Political parties Elections
The National Party (Afrikaans: , NP), also known as the Nationalist Party, was a political party in South Africa founded in 1914 and disbanded in 1997. The party was an Afrikaner ethnic nationalist party that promoted Afrikaner interests in South Africa. However, in 1990 it became a South African civic nationalist party seeking to represent all South Africans. It first became the governing party of the country in 1924. It was an opposition party during World War II but it returned to power and was again in the government from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994.
Beginning in 1948 following the general election, the party as the governing party of South Africa began implementing its policy of racial segregation, known as apartheid (the Afrikaans term for "separateness"). Although White-minority rule and racial segregation were already in existence in South Africa with non-Whites not having voting rights and efforts made to encourage segregation, apartheid intensified the segregation with stern penalties for non-Whites entering into areas designated for Whites-only without having a pass to permit them to do so (known as the pass laws), interracial marriage and sexual relationships were illegal and punishable offences, and black people faced significant restrictions on property rights. After South Africa was condemned by the British Commonwealth for its policies of apartheid, the NP-led government had South Africa leave the Commonwealth, abandon its monarchy led by the British monarch and become an independent republic.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the NP-led government faced internal unrest in South Africa and international pressure for accommodation of non-Whites in South Africa. It resulted in policies of granting concessions to the non-White population, while still retaining the apartheid system, such as the creation of Bantustans that were autonomous self-governing Black homelands (criticised for several of them being broken up into unconnected pieces and that they were still dominated by the White minority South African government), removing legal prohibitions on interracial marriage, and legalising non-White and multiracial political parties (however the outlawed though very popular African National Congress (ANC), was not legalised due to the government identifying it as a terrorist organisation). Those identified as Coloureds and Indian South Africans were granted separate legislatures in 1983 alongside the main legislature that represented Whites to provide them self-government while maintaining apartheid, but no such legislature was provided to the Black population as their self-government was to be provided through the Bantustans. The NP-led government began changing laws affected by the apartheid system that had come under heavy domestic and international condemnation such as removing the pass laws, granting Blacks full property rights that ended previous major restrictions on Black ownership of land, and the right to form trade unions. Following escalating economic sanctions over apartheid, negotiations between the NP-led government led by P. W. Botha and the outlawed ANC led by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela began in 1987 with Botha seeking to accommodate the ANC's demands and consider releasing Mandela and legalising the ANC on the condition that it would renounce use of political violence to attain its aims.
In the 1989 South African general election, the party under F. W. de Klerk's leadership declared that it intended to negotiate with the Black South African community for a political solution to accommodate Black South Africans. This resulted in De Klerk declaring in February 1990 the decision to transition South Africa out of apartheid, and permitted the release of Mandela from prison and ending South Africa's ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid movements, and began negotiations with the ANC for a post-apartheid political system. In September 1990 the party opened up its membership to all racial groups and rebranded itself as no longer being an ethnic nationalist party only representing Afrikaners, but would henceforth be a civic nationalist and conservative party representing all South Africans. However, there was significant opposition among hardliner supporters of apartheid that resulted in De Klerk's government responding to them by holding a national referendum on Apartheid in 1992 for the White population alone that asked them if they supported the government's policy to end apartheid and establish elections open to all South Africans: a large majority voted in favour of the government's policy. In the 1994 elections it managed to expand its base to include many non-Whites, including significant support from Coloured and Indian South Africans. It participated in the Government of National Unity between 1994 and 1996. In an attempt to distance itself from its past, the party was renamed the New National Party in 1997. The attempt was largely unsuccessful and the new party was decided to merge with the ANC.
National Party (NP), in full National Party of South Africa, Afrikaans Nasionale Party van Suid-Afrika (1914–39, 1951–98), also called New National Party –(1998–2005), People’s Party or Re-united National Party (1939–51), South African political party, founded in 1914, which ruled the country from 1948 to 1994. Its following included most of the Dutch-descended Afrikaners and many English-speaking whites. The National Party was long dedicated to policies of apartheid and white supremacy, but by the early 1990s it had moved toward sharing power with South Africa’s Black majority. J.B.M. Hertzog founded the National Party in 1914 in order to rally Afrikaners against
political party, South Africa
Alternate titles: Afrikaans Nasionale Party van Suid-Afrika, Herenigde Nasionale Party, NNP, NP, National Party of South Africa, New National Party, Nuwe Nasionale Party, People’s Party, Re-united National Party, Volksparty
By The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica • Edit History
Date: 1914 - present
Areas Of Involvement: white supremacy apartheid
Related People: J.B.M. Hertzog Christiaan Rudolf de Wet Daniel F. Malan John Vorster F.W. de Klerk
See all related content →National Party (NP), in full National Party of South Africa, Afrikaans Nasionale Party van Suid-Afrika (1914–39, 1951–98), also called New National Party –(1998–2005), People’s Party or Re-united National Party (1939–51), South African political party, founded in 1914, which ruled the country from 1948 to 1994. Its following included most of the Dutch-descended Afrikaners and many English-speaking whites. The National Party was long dedicated to policies of apartheid and white supremacy, but by the early 1990s it had moved toward sharing power with South Africa’s Black majority.
J.B.M. Hertzog founded the National Party in 1914 in order to rally Afrikaners against what he considered the Anglicizing policies of the government of Louis Botha and Jan Christian Smuts. In 1924, after mild attempts to relax the colour bar, the Smuts government was defeated by a Nationalist-Labour coalition led by Hertzog, who in two terms sought to further emancipate South Africa from British imperial control and to provide greater “protection” for the whites from the Black Africans and for the Afrikaners from the British. From 1933 to 1939 Hertzog and Smuts joined a coalition government and fused their respective followings into the United Party. Some Nationalists, led by Daniel F. Malan, however, held out and kept the National Party alive and, in 1939, reaccepted Hertzog as their leader in a reorganized opposition party known as the Re-united National Party, or People’s Party (Herenigde Nasionale Party, or Volksparty). The new party was weakened by wartime factionalism; and Hertzog and others with Nazi sympathies eventually walked out and formed the Afrikaner Party (1941).
The Re-united National Party returned victoriously in the 1948 elections and subsequently enacted a mass of racial legislation that was designed to preserve white supremacy in South Africa; the National Party named its policy “apartheid.” The party went on to consolidate its power, absorbing the Afrikaner Party in 1951. It renamed itself the National Party of South Africa (1951) and gradually augmented its control of the House of Assembly—from 73 seats in 1948 to 134 seats (81 percent) in 1977. The party was led successively by Daniel F. Malan (1948–54), Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom (1954–58), Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1958–66), John Vorster (1966–78), P.W. Botha (1978–89), F.W. de Klerk (1989–97), and Marthinus van Schalkwyk (1997–2005). The National Party also broke South Africa away from the Commonwealth, making it a republic in 1961. From the premiership of Vorster on, the National Party attempted what it termed an “enlightened” (verligte) policy on the race question; but this meant hardly more than speeding up the formation of Black “homelands” and alleviating—selectively—some of the apartheid policies found inconvenient to general economic and cultural development.
In 1982 much of the party’s right wing broke off in opposition to the granting of limited political rights to Coloureds (those of mixed descent) and Asians (primarily Indians) and formed the Conservative Party. Under de Klerk’s leadership from 1989, the National Party began taking steps away from apartheid and toward a constitutional arrangement that would allow political representation to the country’s Black African majority. To this end, many repressive laws were repealed and Black antiapartheid political organizations were legalized. In 1992 a referendum called by de Klerk won a strong endorsement of the party’s reform policy and led to negotiations with the African National Congress (ANC) and other minority parties toward a new constitution. The National Party was defeated in South Africa’s first multiracial elections, held in April 1994, but remained a significant presence in Parliament, winning 82 seats. The party subsequently joined in the government of national unity formed by the ANC; it was awarded six cabinet posts, and de Klerk, along with Thabo Mbeki of the ANC, became deputy president of South Africa.
In June 1996 the National Party left the national unity government—its first time out of government since 1948. The party sought to recast its image by changing its name to the New National Party (NNP) in December 1998. In 1999, however, its support fell, and it won only 28 seats in Parliament. The following year the party formed the Democratic Alliance with the Democratic Party and the Federal Alliance, though the NNP withdrew in 2001. Later that year the party formed a pact with the ANC, its historic foe. After several years of declining popularity, in 2005 the party’s federal council voted to disband the party.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn.
Remembering South Africa's catastrophe: the 1948 poll that heralded apartheid
Apartheid has been removed from the statute books for almost three decades. But a de facto apartheid endures both economically and socially.
James Hamill, University of Leicester
Amid extensive media coverage of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel – commemorated by Palestinians as the naqba (catastrophe) – it’s important that the 70th anniversary of South Africa’s own tragedy should not pass unnoticed. That is the election of May 1948 which brought the National Party to power on a platform of apartheid.
That both events should fall in the same month is a neat coincidence given the close Israel-South Africa relationship from 1967. This was documented in detail by Sasha Polakow-Suransky in his 2011 book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.
Added to this is the contemporary view among Israel’s critics that the country increasingly resembles an apartheid state. This comparison was given added weight by the recent killing of 60 Palestinians by the Israeli army, which evoked memories of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.
May 1948 continues to cast a long shadow over South African life. Apartheid has been removed from the statute book for almost three decades. But there is widespread recognition that a de facto apartheid endures both economically and socially. After 24 years of democracy, millions of South Africans still await change.
The country may no longer be the two distinct nations – “one white and wealthy, the other black and poor” – captured in the words of former president Thabo Mbeki. The last two decades have witnessed a growing black middle class, but the disparities are still grotesque.
Black South Africans continue to be disadvantaged by unemployment, homelessness and inadequate provision of such basic services as water and sanitation. They have a lower life expectancy, and higher levels of absolute poverty compared to their white compatriots.
True, apartheid should not become an all-purpose alibi for failure and poor governance. And the record of the African National Congress (ANC), in power since 1994, has been distinctly chequered. But, it was always inevitable that such a pervasive ideology would live on after its formal legislative demise.
Even beyond the area of acute socio-economic disadvantage, apartheid retains a capacity to contaminate South African life. Voting is still heavily skewed by race and a polarised racial discourse continues around key issues such as land redistribution, affirmative action, education and even, on occasion, foreign policy.
In fact, apartheid itself remains the subject of dispute across racial lines as to the scale of its crimes and how best they might be atoned for.
The 1948 election
What remains bizarre about the May 1948 election is that it was surrounded by all the trappings of a supposedly democratic society. There were discussions of marginal seats, manifestos and campaigns. Yet it was all aimed exclusively at a narrow, racially defined, white segment of the population.
The overwhelming majority of South Africans were excluded on grounds of their skin colour. Black Africans, then over 70% of the population, were passive onlookers at an election which would shape their lives for generations. The National Party, led by Daniel Malan, campaigned on the platform of apartheid (apartness) which at that point was principally a slogan to mobilise white, particularly Afrikaner, voters.
It was unashamedly racist and played on white insecurities by raising the spectre of the “swart gevaar” (“black peril”); amid growing black urbanisation, bringing with it the triple threat of economic competition, demands for political rights, and the likelihood of racial mixing.
An almost Nazi like emphasis on preserving the “purity of the white race” was central to the NP campaign message in 1948. This was coupled with the view that that their opponents, the United Party led by Prime Minister Jan Smuts, had no “big idea” to place before the white electorate to rival the apartheid slogan.
There was also a class factor at work. The Nationalists argued that the United Party could afford to indulge in racial liberalism as its supporters were generally more affluent and cossetted than its core base of small farmers, blue-collar workers and “poor whites”. These groups found themselves at the sharp end of competition with black Africans and, in the Nationalists’s view, required statutory racial “protection” in the job market.
Much of this was grossly exaggerated to the point of outright fabrication. Smuts was never a racial liberal, still less an integrationist. He believed firmly in white supremacy which, in his political credo, was uncontroversial. But, crucially, Smuts recognised that the total separation of the races was a practical impossibility. It was this point which distinguished him from the delusional politics of the National Party.
He believed that the white-run economy, and the white population more generally, would always depend on black labour for their well-being. The flow of black Africans to the cities, so troubling to the National Party, could perhaps be regulated, to some degree contained, but it could never be reversed. As he said in a much quoted 1942 comment,
one might as well try to sweep the ocean back with a broom.
Smuts would eventually be vindicated when four decades later in the early 1980s, the National Party abandoned this central pillar of apartheid doctrine and formally accepted the permanence of the urban black population. This, while seeking to build a new “reform” policy around that reality.