LAST year the Government of the Union of South Africa dispatched an air squadron to Japan for operations in Korea with the United Nations armies under General MacArthur. Unremarked at the time, the dramatic quality of the occasion has since been lost in the tumbling events of the days. Very nearly the only comment that appeared upon it was a complaint by British South Africans that the contingent was too small to be anything more than a token of interest in the outcome of the struggle.

The significance of the event lies in the fact that for the first time in the history of South Africa a Nationalist Government has committed the nation to war, and that without reference to Parliament and without compulsions of any kind other than its obligations as a member of the United Nations. The interest of the matter does not end there. The Nationalist Government is itself unique in being the first one in South Africa to be exclusively Afrikaner in personnel. Generals Botha, Smuts and Hertzog each presided over cabinets of Afrikaner and British Ministers, not always equal in numbers but always equal so as far as possible, thereby accommodating the susceptibilities of the two white races which hold the destiny of the country in their hands. Dr. Malan, the fourth Prime Minister of the Union, differs from his predecessors in being a Doctor of Divinity and not a military leader. Botha and Smuts were essentially pro-British, attached to the British idiom, and prepared at all times to ally South Africa's cause to Britain's. Hertzog was an avowed republican who resisted the war decisions of 1914 and 1939.

South Africa does not go to war easily. Of all the Dominions, she is the tardiest to respond to the call: "We fight for world freedom." She does not know the unforced allegiance and spontaneous loyalty to Britain's crises which Australia and New Zealand and Canada feel. Two world wars found the Union seriously divided. The first threw a large and influential section of Afrikaners into armed rebellion; in the second, open and armed revolt stopped short only before the memory of the bloodshed and disaster of the earlier civil war. It is a chastening thought that on these two occasions South Africa was saved for the British cause at the risk of national disruption, and that for such salvation the British, inside and outside South Africa, had to rely on Afrikaner leaders, Botha and Smuts, and on their Afrikaner supporters. What is pertinent, however, is that the opponents of South Africa's participation in two world wars are now in command of the country. Some of them openly sympathized with Hitler's cause; one or two of them denounced Britain and all her works; while the more responsible of them withdrew to their farms in silent disapproval. Such, however, is the circumstance of history that those are the men who are responsible for the new commitment in Asia. The story reveals much about South Africa that is usually incomprehensible to the foreigner, and it loses nothing in drama from the fact that the crisis in Korea is a United Nations affair.

Nationalist Afrikaners did not take easily to the League of Nations, and in Afrikaner opinion the United Nations has shown itself a doubtful counsellor in the domestic policies of the Union. Indeed it was at the very top of the crisis in Korea that Dr. T. E. Donges, the Union's Minister of the Interior and leader of South Africa's delegation to the United Nations, uttered a warning regarding his country's continued membership in the organization, which had called for a postponement of an Act of the Union Parliament regarding the treatment of Indians in South Africa.

As a result of these and other issues, South Africa is not in good repute abroad. One might have expected that the decision to send aid to General MacArthur would have helped persuade foreign critics to examine Nationalist Afrikaner ideology more closely. The picture which emerges from such a study suggests that the Afrikaners, instead of being isolationists, reactionaries, Nazis and Fascists--the stock epithets of their traducers--are earnestly disposed, first, to order the heterogeneous communities of South Africa on sound and progressive lines; secondly, to bring South Africa to play her proper rôle in the world at large; and thirdly, to resolve the fundamental issues which still remain unsolved in the dual loyalties of Afrikaners and British.

Curiously enough, the fundamental differences between the Nationalist Afrikaners and the British in South Africa are identical with those which caused the first Americans to depart from England. Moreover, the Afrikaner volk and the Americans have another feature in common which decided the course of their histories. From the earliest days, European immigrants to the New World rejected their European motherlands and gave themselves to the task of becoming good Americans. Much of the subsequent isolationism which large sections of the American public expressed in the Kaiser's war, and to a less extent in Hitler's war, originates in this act of rejection. There is, here, a close parallel with the motives of the Afrikaner. The comparison is broken only by the fact that the Afrikaner nation lost its war of independence, the Anglo-Boer war, 50 years ago, whereas the Americans won theirs a century before that. The British remained in South Africa, and persisted in their attempts to "anglicize" the Afrikaners; they were driven out of America. The Americans could do what they liked with their new land; the Afrikaners were never allowed to do what they liked with theirs. For nearly 150 years they have sought--first by flight, in the Great Trek, second by war in the two Anglo-Boer wars (the first of which they won) and third by political and cultural measures--to resist the overlordship of the British and the pervasive influence of the British idiom.

With the defeat of General Smuts in the election of 1948, and his death in 1950, South Africa passed into hands that were exclusively Afrikaner. The departure of "the Boer enemy turned friend of Britain" served, in the words of a prominent Afrikaner, to indicate the depth of Nationalist Afrikaner feelings: "At last we have got our country back." The utterance is pregnant with meaning. It expresses the sufferings of the Boers on trek, the despoliations of the Basutu and Zulu tyrants, the intrigues of Rhodes, the tears of Paul Kruger, the slights in language and the invasions in religion. As for the trek boers when Piet Retief led them into the unknown just over a century ago, so for the Afrikaners of today: there is no way of escape if they fail in South Africa. There was and is no motherland to receive them. South Africa is the only Afrikaner-land. To lose South Africa, or to be submerged in its vast heterogeneity, is to lose all. The Afrikaner race must live or die in South Africa.

These are the considerations which explain and dictate the policy of Nationalist Afrikaners. They are the dominating themes in legislative action, in Afrikaner relations with the South African British, in the government and treatment of non-whites, and in foreign affairs. On the first of these, Nationalist policy seeks to attract the British to a conception of South African nationhood based on the republican idea. Chiefly as a result of the efforts of General Hertzog, South Africa is already a republic in all but name, an independent sovereign state within the British Commonwealth. Afrikaners, having no racial kinship with the British, are republicans at heart. It is generally believed among them that before South Africa can know the unity and the national maturity which other nations enjoy, the British in South Africa must bestow upon that country the feelings they now divert to Britain. The Afrikaners are persuaded that the only route to national unity is through a republic. Dr. Malan has promised that if possible the decision will be taken by the broad will of the electorate. But if necessary it will be done by a simple parliamentary majority such as the Nationalists now possess. Dr. Malan is quite frank on the subject. His party's aim is to establish in law what exists in fact--the essential republicanism of South Africa. It cannot pass unnoticed that Dr. E. G. Jansen, recently appointed Governor-General--the King's representative--is an avowed republican.

A revealing light was thrown on the same subject when Dr. Malan, on his first visit to London after his advent to power, helped in the construction of a new formula which made India's membership in the Commonwealth consonant with her republican constitution. Praised as an expression of political genius by the American press, it was frowned upon in South Africa only by the British section of public opinion and by General Smuts. He saw it as a precedent--which, of course, it is--whereby the Afrikaner Nationalists could turn South Africa into a republic and yet retain the Commonwealth association. This would neutralize one of the main objections of the British in the Union and leave them to face the accusation that, after all, their spiritual home is England.

Dr. Malan, it should be said, is not rushing his republican fences. He and his colleagues are watching the reactions of their English-speaking compatriots to less profound changes affecting British susceptibilities. And he is probably discovering that fundamentally the British, in their conservatism, hate change for its own sake but soon accommodate themselves to it. There have been many indications of this British characteristic in the past, particularly in the twenties and the early thirties, when, under General Hertzog's ministry, fierce battles raged over the substitution of a South African flag for the Union Jack, over the introduction of Afrikaans as an official language, and over the affirmation of the Statute of Westminster in parliamentary enactments. All of these changes impressed upon the British in South Africa the fact that they no longer live in a British colony, and all of them are now accepted by the vast majority as desirable features of a complex society.

Dr. Malan has introduced a citizenship act which disposes of the dual nationality of the British, and requires that British immigrants must wait five years before they can claim South African citizenship. The period is shortened by two years for those who are willing to learn Afrikaans. In addition, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the Board of which consists of Afrikaners and British, has abolished the B.B.C. news service relays. British hostility to these departures soon subsided, and would have done so even more quickly but for the useful ammunition they furnished to the United Party, which includes among its supporters almost all British South Africans. As if to emphasize the Party interest in these things, the champion of the retention of the B.B.C. news service was an Afrikaner United Party M.P. who stumped the country in protest. His campaign left his British fellows unmoved. Not so, it is true, with the decision of the Minister of Defense to change the uniforms of the men of the South African navy, for any interference with naval traditions touches the British to the quick. There was a storm of protest at the Minister's slighting references to the bell-bottomed trouser, but even this fell into its proper place in the public mind.

It is a grievous error to imagine, as many do in South Africa, that these occurrences, great and small, are intended as irritants to the British South African. Afrikaners are no longer anti-British in the sense that they were haters of the British before and during the Anglo-Boer war. Afrikaners have a very real regard for the British people, especially for leaders like Mr. Churchill. Mr. Churchill appeals to them as a British nationalist, a devout patriot and believer in the destiny of his race. It is this national pride and sense of community which they would have every British South African feel for South Africa. They feel that their task therefore is to impress a separate identity on South Africa, to give the country a character and form which, in its present duality, it does not possess.

At the same time, such innovations stem from a feeling among the Afrikaners that they are on the defensive. Although Afrikaners now outnumber the British by something like three to two in a white population of 2,000,000, and have triumphed politically, they are vulnerable economically. Their forebears of the landlocked republics of Paul Kruger and Steyn were propelled into nineteenth-century liberalism by the invasions of foreigners after the discovery of diamonds and gold. Only recently have they realized that political power is only half of a team of oxen, and that economic power is the other half. They have no accretions either in numbers through immigration, or in capital from outside funds, like those on which the British can rely. This accounts for the appearance in recent years of determined and successful efforts to establish Afrikaner capital enterprises in industry and commerce.

Deepest of all the defensive responses of the Afrikaners is the conception of the color bar. The trek-boers of the nineteenth century were intensely religious--strict Calvinists who placed a wide and deep gulf between themselves as white men and the natives of Africa as black men. Only a powerful concern for the purity of race could have kept a numerically smaller society from miscegenation in the midst of a vast majority of natives. This belief in the rightness of the color bar was untouched by the liberalism of the West. To attribute Apartheid legislation to a desire to crush and to oppress subject races is a distortion. The Afrikaner is certain that only in separation, justly ordered and faithfully undertaken, can the two conditions--the preservation of the white race and the welfare of the black--be assured in South Africa. The British South Africans now likewise believe this. Both hold that South African problems cannot be solved by applying the principles of homogeneous European countries. However selfish the Union's policy may appear to be to other Western peoples, it must be granted that South Africa does not ask military service of the Negroes whom it sets apart.

The foreign policy of the Union is much the same under Dr. Malan as it was before, and there is indeed more sense of Cabinet responsibility in his Government. There is no indication of any withdrawal from the responsibilities of the world's crisis, or from the obligations to the Commonwealth and to the grand alliance of the West. There are many Afrikaners who continue to maintain that had General Hertzog carried his neutrality motion in September 1939, and thus afforded the country a final act of independence, he would have taken the whole country spontaneously into the war a few months afterward. As it was, Afrikaner Nationalists, and General Hertzog himself, believed that General Smuts outwitted them. Today South Africa is confronted with a vastly different danger. The threat of Communism will unite the whole electorate for the first time in the nation's history.

The presence of so vast a majority of African natives makes the threat of Communism a far greater issue than in the Western democracies. It not only endangers a particular economic and social order, but raises the question of race survival. The Afrikaner Nationalists are often accused of the heresies of the Herrenvolk. To them, however, this is a superficial view. They believe that nationalism is a healthy instinct, intended by God to give expression to human purpose. They frankly refuse to accept the principles of liberalism as the final basis for the ordering of society. Their objection to the application of liberal principles to the government of African natives, for example, rests not only on a determination to preserve their own culture and nationality, but on the belief that in the process African natives would lose their own heritage. They insist that Apartheid will preserve for the Negro the very things for which they themselves have struggled in the past. They believe that only by a recognition of separate cultures and nationalities, and their accommodation in one territory, can some semblance of equality be assured. Hence they differ with British colonial policy, which maintains that once colonial peoples are trained in self-government they should be given political power.

It is these considerations which dictate the Afrikaner response to the crisis in the Far East. The dispatch of a contingent to Korea last year was not a new departure in Afrikaner Nationalist policy. South Africa is now convinced that she is the master of her own destiny, that she need no longer look to Britain for her policy, and that she need not share every commitment to war made by Britain. But whereas Afrikaner Nationalists refuse to go to war because Britain is at war, they will unite solidly in support of a war which, in their own opinion, touches the interests of South Africa. They will bring to it the same jealous regard for their prestige and their independence they have shown in other matters.

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  • G. H. CALPIN, former editor of the Natal Witness, contributor to the London Economist and other periodicals, author of "Third Parties in South Africa"
  • More By G. H. Calpin