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National Party (South Africa)
The National Party (with its members sometimes known as Nationalists or Nats) was the governing party of South Africa from 1948 until 1994, and was disbanded in 2005. Its policies included apartheid, establishing a republic and the promotion of Afrikaner culture.
Founding and ideology
The National Party was founded by Afrikaner nationalists soon after the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. It first came to power in 1924, with J.B.M. Hertzog as Prime Minister. The Hertzog government worked to undermine the Coloured (mixed race) vote by granting, in 1930, voting rights to white women, but not to Coloured women, effectively halving the voting power of the Coloured electorate. In 1934, Hertzog agreed to merge his National Party with the rival South African Party of Jan Smuts to form the United Party. A hardline faction of Afrikaner nationalists, led by D.F. Malan, refused to accept the merger and maintained a rump National Party. Opposition to South African participation in World War II, unpopular among Afrikaners (many of whom had some German ancestry), helped to revive the fortunes of the National Party, and it defeated Smuts and the United Party in 1948.
Upon taking power, the National Party began to implement a program of apartheid — a deliberate institutionalisation and extension of existing discriminatory racial legislation.
In 1951, the Bantu Self-Government Act established so-called "Homelands" (derisively known to the rest of the world as Bantustans) for ten different African tribes. The ultimate goal of the National Party was to move all Black South Africans into one of the 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 a White majority, at least on paper. As the homelands were seen by the apartheid regime 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, since 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 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 a move unrecognized 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 it in the South African Parliament. The White population of South West Africa, predominantly German, 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 generally hostile to the National Party – from the electoral process, and incorporated the pro-Nationalist Germans of South West Africa. Not surprisingly, therefore, the National Party increased its parliamentary majority in almost every election between 1948 and 1977.
A number of acts were passed to legalise the implementation of apartheid:
- The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and Immorality Act prohibited marriages and all sexual relationships between Whites and non-Whites, and existing mixed marriages were forcibly dissolved.
- The Population Registration Act required all South Africans to be officially registered as black, white, Asian or Coloured. Self-definition was not accepted; only proven unmixed European ancestry would count as White, unless the government granted an individual dispensation, which would be based on supposedly scientific blood tests, hair analysis, and nose measurements, reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The act also stated that in determining whether or not an individual was White, "his education, speech, habits ... deportment and his demeanour shall be taken into account."
- The Group Areas Act and the Influx Control Act prohibited "non-whites" from living or owning property in certain areas.
- The Suppression of Communism Act outlawed most major black political organizations, including the ANC, PAC and AZAPO. Despite the act's name, Communism was not its primary target.
- The Prohibition of Political Interferences Act banned multiracial political parties, with a view to ending even indirect "non-white" influence over white politicians. Parties that had accepted non-white members were ordered to either expel them, or dissolve. The Progressive Party (later the Democratic Party, currently the Democratic Alliance) reluctantly agreed to shed its non-white membership. The South African Liberal Party, led by the noted novelist Alan Paton, refused and was subsequently banned.
Another goal was achieved in 1960, when the white population voted to sever South Africa's ties with the British Monarchy and establish a republic, which led to South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth.
Beginning in the early 1980s, under the leadership of State President P.W. Botha, the National Party began to moderate its policies somewhat. Botha legalized 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.
Botha resigned as National Party leader, and subsequently as President of the Republic, in 1989. He was replaced by F.W. de Klerk. Although a conservative, De Klerk realized the impracticality of maintaining apartheid forever, and 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 itself 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 1990 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 1997, when it withdrew to become the Official Opposition.
In 1997, the National Party also renamed itself the New National Party in order to distance itself from its past. 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 join forces with the ANC.
- D.F. Malan (1934-1953)
- J.G. Strijdom (1953-1958)
- H.F. Verwoerd (1958-1966)
- B.J. Vorster (1966-1978)
- P.W. Botha (1978-1989)
- F.W. de Klerk (1989-1997)
- Marthinus van Schalkwyk (1997-2005) (as the New National Party)
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