IN MAY last, the Union of South Africa went to the polls to decide, in the last analysis, whether it would entrust its government for a new period to Field Marshal Smuts and his United Party. This was not a decision for or against liberalism: it was a decision between racial tolerance and good will on the one hand and a reactionary color policy on the other. To the complete surprise of all concerned the Nationalist and Afrikaner Parties -- the coalition opposing Field Marshal Smuts -- managed to secure a majority of five over all other parties in a House of 153. No leading politician or political observer in South Africa predicted this result. It came as a surprise not only to Field Marshal Smuts and his followers, but to the successful Nationalists as well. Dr. Malan, the newly appointed Prime Minister, took several days to form his Cabinet, so little prepared was he for power.

Does this change of government mean a permanent swing-over in South African politics? Will the new Government be able to maintain itself in office? At present it holds 79 seats out of 153 in the House of Assembly, but only 12 seats out of 44 in the Senate. So far as the House of Assembly itself is concerned, the successful parties polled considerably fewer votes than Field Marshal Smuts and his supporters. The small majority which they obtained in the Assembly was one of the consequences of the system by which rural constituencies may return a member on the basis of a total voting population as much as 30 percent below that of an urban constituency. As the Smuts supporters were strongest in the towns and the Malan supporters strongest in the country districts, it happened that a minority of voters elected a precarious majority of members.

The position of the Senate is important. Dr. Malan has the right to ask for a dissolution of the Senate within 120 days of the dissolution of the House of Assembly. Such a dissolution would alter the figures very much in his favor, but he would still not have a working majority in the Senate. It has been calculated that an immediate dissolution would give him 22 seats out of the 44. After the sensational results of the general election it would be a bold man who would prophesy about South African politics, but at the time of writing it does seem pretty certain that Dr. Malan will not avail himself of this opportunity for an immediate dissolution. If he does not, the present Senate will continue in existence until the expiration of its normal term of office, toward the end of 1949, by which time Dr. Malan hopes that his position in the Senate Electoral Colleges will have improved. The Electoral Colleges consist of members of the House of Assembly sitting with members of the Provincial Council of the province concerned, and Provincial Council elections are due to be held early next year. Dr. Malan is therefore likely to have to work with a strongly hostile Senate during the next two sessions of Parliament. This is a safeguard against drastic constitutional changes. It will be remembered that in the Union of South Africa nearly all constitutional changes can be effected by a simple majority in each House of Parliament on the basis of the British system. The constitutional safeguards of the United States of America, the Dominion of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia are missing.

In these circumstances, South Africa has a chance of reconsidering its position. Dr. Malan may in any case be forced to an early election and if he fails materially to better his position in the Senate he will have no alternative. Many political observers think that a second election will take place during the next 12 months. In the nature of the case it can hardly be expected that the masses of rural voters who went against Field Marshal Smuts in May last will swing over to his side. But there were some ten or twelve seats where the Nationalist majorities were very small, and where their success was due entirely to the "floating vote," mainly English-speaking. If these constituencies reverse their decision, Field Marshal Smuts will again be in office.

II

To decide whether or not this is a likely development, we shall have to consider why the coalition of Dr. Malan's Nationalist Party and Mr. Havenga's Afrikaner Party won the election. The major reason was that in the rural constituencies there was a very deep distrust of the United Party's color policy. Skillful Nationalist propaganda has linked it with the name of the Rt. Hon. Jan H. Hofmeyr, Field Marshal Smuts' acknowledged lieutenant, who advocates a color policy more advanced than that of many of his colleagues in the United Party.

To understand these issues of color and the part they have played in this election and may play in the next one, we must summarize the situation in South Africa. About 2,500,000 white South Africans have to discover a method of living in peace with a non-white population between three and four times their number without surrendering whatever is real in the values of the western civilization which they profess. That is South Africa's problem. There are, of course, striking analogies between it and the question of the Negro and his future in the United States, but the real difference is the fact that the white man in South Africa is in a very decided minority. The American reader will visualize the position in South Africa better if he regards it as a problem not of the United States of America, but of the State of Mississippi with the Negro population trebled and with no external government like the Federal Government of the United States to increase confidence by its overwhelming majority of white citizens.

The non-white population of South Africa is made up of many strata. There are the Indians, relatively few in number, concentrated very largely in one province, Natal, and able to exercise a political pressure out of all proportion to their numbers through association with Mother India, now virtually an independent state. There are the people of mixed race, to whom the term "colored" is usually confined in South Africa, numbering more than 800,000, concentrated mainly in the western Cape Province, speaking in general only the languages used by the white man (English and Afrikaans) and assimilating the ways of living of the poorer strata of the white population. And there are the Africans. The Africans are divided, not only tribally -- the writer was once intimately associated with a college in which nine African languages were spoken -- but also by the stage of development they have reached. Many are illiterate; some are educated; a few are highly qualified men holding degrees of reputable universities. South African policy has improved markedly during the nine years of Field Marshal Smuts' last administration, particularly in its provision for education, but broadly speaking the disability of the color bar remains. No man of color may be a member of Parliament; in practice all the higher posts and most of the lower posts of the public service are reserved for white men; the non-white groups find the higher posts in industry closed to them and professional opportunities largely restricted to what they can do among their own people.

Victories are won here or there on detailed points which, both individually and together, may be of great importance. A medical school is thrown open to non-whites on equal terms with whites, their education financed by government scholarships; a school feeding scheme is made applicable to children of all races; a great American missionary is assisted by public funds to found a school, named after Jan Hofmeyr, for training non-whites as professional social workers. New powers are offered to the local government bodies which operate in the Native Reserves. Appropriations for African education are separated from the tax resources of the Africans and drawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. All these developments are good: taken together they form an impressive record of progress during recent years. And yet the main citadel remains not only uncaptured but unscathed. The color bar is still the color bar. The man of color is still an inferior citizen. His color still means that the facilities provided for him, even if they are equal in theory, are always inferior in practice.

It must not be supposed that Field Marshal Smuts' followers include many men prepared openly to advocate the repeal or even the serious modification of the color bar. Those who feel strongly on this point are a disorganized and scattered minority. Intellectually they are a powerful minority and they have many friends who admire their forthrightness without themselves being willing to go so far. A large section of the daily press is sympathetic to them. Certain weekly or monthly publications of considerable influence support them. But politically they are weak. The Nationalists showed an insight as unerring as it was unscrupulous in exploiting the fact that a man in high political office, Mr. Hofmeyr, who up to the present has been Field Marshal Smuts' designated successor, was, judging from his public utterances, most sympathetic to this liberal point of view.

As a practical statesman and as one who realizes the possibilities and the impossibilities of the South African situation, Mr. Hofmeyr has not committed himself to anything more than a mild program of reform, and to this program Field Marshal Smuts is equally pledged. It includes not only the improvement of the local government of the Africans in their own areas, but particularly the recognition of the African as a permanent urban dweller, with a permanent part in the industrial system, to be treated as such, to be given certain opportunities of freehold ownership in urban areas, more adequate consultation, greater opportunities and, above all, to be dealt with in a spirit of friendly collaboration rather than regarded as a potential menace.

This mild policy has been far too liberal for the Nationalists and, as it would appear, for the bulk of the rural population of South Africa. Sentiment and emotion have been exploited to the full, and with these the economic factor that the higher wages offered in urban industrial employment have somewhat reduced the amount of labor available for the farms. The Nationalist propaganda has stressed the need for white supremacy and has argued that Field Marshal Smuts and Mr. Hofmeyr, particularly the latter, are a danger to it.

III

It is difficult to convey to American readers exactly what the Nationalist outlook is like. We may indeed say that there are two Nationalisms. The bulk of the Party leaders and particularly Dr. Malan are conservative, so conservative as to be reactionary, but they are constitutionalists with a due sense of responsibility and an intention not to go too far. Behind them is a semi-Nazi section of the Party, greatly influenced by European Fascist ideologies, willing to follow, if necessary, methods of direct action, and prepared to impose an even stronger white dictatorship on the non-white population. At present Dr. Malan can keep his unruly extremists in order. If he were given a substantial majority in both Houses, their pressure would be too strong for him. There is much in common between the older Nationalist attitude and certain attitudes to be found in the American Deep South. Boer generals, if not as common as Southern colonels, have been pretty common. There is the same loyalty to the lost cause and to the flag that may not be flown. On the other hand lynching is unknown in South Africa and there are few South African Bilbos. "Hypocrisy," it is said, "is the homage that vice pays to virtue." Most Nationalists think it necessary to clothe their propaganda for white supremacy in terms that have some faint liberal, humanitarian flavor. Perhaps they deceive themselves. The two sections have found a common slogan in the term "apartheid" (that is, the policy of separation). During the election they were unable to define this term with any exactitude. It is clearly in conflict with any real industrial development in the Union. Nevertheless it was used with great effect in the election.

Since the new Government assumed office, one of its Ministers has stated publicly that he would see to it that no more native artisans were trained. This statement was met with nation-wide protests, including some from moderate Nationalists, and has since been modified to the extent of supporting the training of native artisans for work in native areas, which accommodate some half of the African population. Another Minister has stated that the Native Military Corps will be disbanded and no more Africans used in the Army. These are evil omens in the early days of a government depending on a precarious majority. "If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"

A considerable number of English-speaking South Africans voted for the Nationalist or the Afrikaner Party. Many of these votes were obtained by open appeals to color prejudice. Other voters expressed by their vote their dissatisfaction with controls, with the United Party's taxation, with bureaucratic muddle and delay. They followed the traditional British outlook of "giving the other fellow a chance." This floating vote is most unlikely to remain Nationalist. The discontent and lack of political stability which lies behind it explains the loss of a sufficient number of seats to make all the difference. But the great swing-over of votes was due clearly and undoubtedly to the color prejudice in the rural districts. One of the tragedies of the election was Field Marshal Smuts' own defeat in the country constituency of Standerton. His return to Parliament for the Transvaal urban constituency of Pretoria East has partly counteracted the impression made by the Standerton defeat. The old warrior, at the age of 78, is going back to lead the Parliamentary Opposition and to fight those things against which he has been struggling for so long. Field Marshal Smuts first took office as a young man in the old South African Republic of Paul Kruger, just about 50 years ago. In the interval between 1898 and 1948 he has been in ministerial office for 28 years, and Prime Minister for 14 years. In the course of the half century of his public life he has been a daring enemy of the British, and their most effective friend; he has taken an active part in three wars, not to mention one or two general strikes and a rebellion. He helped to reshape Europe after the First World War, and assisted in the settlement of Ireland. He has written books, moved among learned men, as Chancellor of the University of Cape Town has conferred an honorary degree on Her Majesty the Queen, and has himself been elected to the life office of Chancellor of his old university of Cambridge. He has been, and is, a statesman, a fighting soldier, a noted mountaineer, a botanist, a philosopher, a founder of the League of Nations, one of the architects of the United Nations, and its first notable victim.

IV

Speaking of the United Nations, it seems necessary to review the position of South Africa on the two issues which have formed the subject of discussion before that august body. The first is the problem of the Indians in South Africa. On this point the new Government cannot be expected to make any substantial concessions. It is doubtful whether it will dare to agree to any kind of consultation with India. By so doing it would arouse a storm among its own supporters. The moderate Indian group which was in close touch with Field Marshal Smuts and was trying to pave the way to consultation between India and the Union has been put in an impossible position. The more extreme groups, having carried out a policy of passive resistance against the Smuts Government and contributed in some measure to its downfall, have adopted a more quiescent attitude to Dr. Malan, to whom, indeed, they sent a telegram of congratulation on his appointment, one of the most striking pieces of political ineptitude on record. Dr. Malan has no reputation as an international liberal statesman to look after and, short of duress, will do absolutely nothing to remedy the present situation. His party is committed to repeal the Smuts franchise law which the Indians rejected as not liberal enough, and to extend the restrictions of land purchase to the Cape Province.

What of South West Africa? This is the second issue on which South Africa has been indicted before the United Nations. Dr. Malan is not likely to be even as conciliatory as Field Marshal Smuts in this matter. He has already initiated discussions with a view to the European population of South West Africa being represented in the Union Parliament. He has hopes of winning that vote, a majority of which is at present against him.

There are a few factors about the South West African issue which should be understood by critics of the Union and which hold good irrespective of what party is in power in South Africa. It is not always realized that the boundaries of the Union of South Africa are geographically and economically impossible ones, and that the country has never reached the limits which nature seems to have intended for it. There is not only the question of South West Africa: there is the question of the British "High Commission Territories," and of Southern Rhodesia. The South West African issue cannot be considered entirely apart from these. To abandon the Union's claim to South West Africa is, in a large measure, to abandon all hope of the Greater South Africa toward which many sections of Union opinion aspire.

The High Commission Territories, which are under direct British control through the British High Commissioner, consist of Basutoland, the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland. Basutoland is surrounded by Union territory, and completely dependent economically on the Union. It was once a part of the old Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, but was disannexed at the request of the Cape Colonial Government in 1884. Swaziland has had intimate associations with the Transvaal, and is bounded on three sides by Transvaal territory. More than half of its land is owned by European farmers of South African stock. The Bechuanaland Protectorate is bounded on the south and east by the Union, on the west by South West Africa and on the north by Southern Rhodesia. It has no seaport and, like the other High Commission Territories, is in the South African customs union.

From every economic and geographical point of view these territories should be administered by the Union, and the South Africa Act of 1909, which embodies the Union's Constitution, made provision in its schedule for their future administration under Union control. The difficulty in the way of incorporation is the active hostility of the African population, particularly in Basutoland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate, to the Union and to what is felt to be its illiberal policy toward Africans. To force the issue would be to put Great Britain in a most humiliating position, for she has given pledges to the population of the territories and yet could not resist such action without the danger of losing the Union from the Commonwealth. Every argument of courtesy and statesmanship, therefore, lies in the direction of leaving things for the time being as they are.

There are not wanting those who accuse Field Marshal Smuts of lack of vision and energy in not insisting on the incorporation of these territories and formally annexing South West Africa during the war years, when he could have made almost any terms with the outside world, and when Russia was quietly annexing three full member states of the League of Nations. Field Marshal Smuts behaved with complete constitutional correctness, which has not reaped him very rich dividends in international circles.

The incorporation of Southern Rhodesia is a different question. Here we have a self-governing colony which a quarter of a century ago deliberately rejected by referendum the policy of incorporation in the Union. It can hardly stand forever alone. It often looks toward the north, but what would it gain by joining the huge native area of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland? The Zambezi has always been a goal of South African ambition. It may yet be that terms can be found which will induce Southern Rhodesia to enter the Union as a voluntary partner.

Before leaving this subject, we should note that one small area of South West Africa, the port of Walvis Bay -- incidentally, the only really good harbor on the whole coast of South West Africa -- is Union and not mandated territory, having been annexed to the old Cape Colony in 1884.

V

People sometimes speak of the South African "boom." This is not altogether a fair description. The banks have been much more restrained in issuing credit than they were after the First World War. Behind the commercial banks stands the South African Reserve Bank, a semi-governmental institution, which alone may issue notes, and which exercises a considerable influence on the other banks. The Reserve Bank, notwithstanding the recent loan of £80,000,000 in gold bullion to Great Britain, still has more than the legal minimum cover of gold behind its issues of paper currency. Inflation of the crude type is almost impossible under present conditions. The public debt of the Union is not excessive, and all but £13,000,000 of it is internal.

The gold mines of the Witwatersrand are slowly declining in output, and this decline is likely to be marked after 1950. The recent discoveries of gold in the northern portion of the Orange Free State will, however, according to competent authorities, compensate for this change, and there is not likely to be any decline in the total output of gold in South Africa for many years to come, by which time the position in manufacturing industries should have improved greatly.

The new developments in the Orange Free State are not only of great economic importance to South Africa, but will have their social and political effects. The Orange Free State will cease to be the purely agricultural and pastoral province which it has been for the whole of its existence. New towns will spring up. It seems unlikely that in the late 1950's the Orange Free State will return an almost solid bloc of Nationalists to Parliament.

Unless some unexpected or catastrophic change happens with regard to the world price of gold, it does not seem very likely that South Africa will experience an acute depression. Land values, it is true, are inflated. But prices generally, though considerably higher than they were before the outbreak of war, have not reached fantastic heights. So far as international trade and currency questions are concerned, South Africa does not appear to be in any danger; and, as a great gold-producing country within the sterling bloc, it can reach out hands of friendship to a very large variety of nations.

The accession to power of Dr. Malan has weakened South Africa's position in the international market, but not to any disastrous extent. Mr. Havenga, the new Minister of Finance, is a conservative financier with a good record. Whatever faults the new Government may have as regards its race and color policies, it consists very largely of able men, some of them trained economists, who are not likely to follow policies that will drive foreign capital away from the Union. Though superficially rich, however, South Africa is still essentially a poor country. Wealth is very unevenly distributed. The majority of the African population are poor by any standards, though not indeed plunged in such abject poverty as the poorest groups of India or China. There is much to be done in improving land use and in bringing to the masses of the non-white population minimum standards of comfort and health. If the Nationalists are able to entrench themselves in office and to attempt to carry out restrictive and repressive policies, South Africa will, even in the economic field, experience a great setback. Even the present tenuous majority is a danger in this respect. Nevertheless there is a vitality and a sense of realism which will probably prevent South Africa from going too far along the road to destruction, and among many disappointments one must be grateful for the law-abiding and constitutional qualities of Dr. Malan and some of his Ministers.

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  • EDGAR H. BROOKES, Senator in the Union of South Africa Parliament, representing the natives of Natal and Zululand; Professor of Public Administration, University of Pretoria; author of "The History of Native Policy in South Africa" and other works.
  • More By Edgar H. Brookes