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IN South Africa we have two great problems of a racial nature. There is the conflict between the Boer and the Briton, or if you prefer, between the Afrikaans-speaking and the English-speaking South Africans. Then there is the conflict between white and black, the problem of two million Europeans seeking to postpone equality for eight million natives and a quarter million Indians.
The Afrikaner, the lineal descendant of the Dutch pioneers, differs essentially from the Englishman, whether of early stock or recently arrived. In character and outlook he resembles a member of some Old Testament tribe. He comes of pastoral stock, he has relied upon religious leadership through many generations, and he looks upon politics as almost synonymous with religion. In their isolation from the rest of the world the Afrikaners have developed an almost fanatical determination not to allow others to share in the formulation or direction of their race policy. Only reluctantly can they bring themselves to coöperate with the British. But it would be a mistake to assume that this conflict is merely an expression of racial differences or of resentment at hardships suffered at British hands. After all, the victors in the Boer War exercised their authority with remarkable restraint, as most Boers now freely admit; and less than eight years after the close of the struggle South Africa had already become a self-governing Dominion. We must therefore seek other causes if we are to explain the deep antagonism between the two peoples.
There is, for instance, the wide difference in their attitude towards the natives and other non-Europeans. The mentality of the Afrikaners allows no room for liberalism towards colored peoples. In their eyes white supremacy is the touchstone of all action, and from early times they have looked with grave suspicion upon the more liberal tendencies of the British in native affairs. This fundamental difference dominates South African politics. It also has acute economic and social implications. The Union's labor problem, for instance, is complicated by the presence of a reservoir of eight million blacks who can be drawn upon by agriculture, mining, and the country's growing industries.
Another important factor is the strong attraction which political life has for the Afrikaner. In his defense, it must be said that he shows a considerable facility for politics. For its size, South Africa has thrown up quite a number of statesmen of wide reputation; and with the exception of Cecil Rhodes they have all been Afrikaners -- Kruger, Botha, Smuts, Hertzog. The British have made their contribution in South Africa almost wholly in commerce, industry, banking and the like. These are only two of the lines of cleavage between the two branches of the white race in South Africa. There are others in language, religion, cultural background. The dual nature of the nation is also reflected in the insistence upon two official languages, the two songs that serve as national anthems, and the two flags that express respective loyalties.
By 1932, when the depression was reaching its very bottom, the conflict between Afrikaner and Britisher had to give way to immediate coöperation in order to save the country from economic collapse. Necessity and political realism called for the institution of a coalition government and for the creation of a new party which the overwhelming majority of the country, Boer and Briton, could support. The Hertzog Government which issued from this coalition -- or Fusion as it was called -- rewarded the country's confidence by the enactment of a spate of social and economic legislation.
General Hertzog became Prime Minister of the Fusion Government in the year Hitler acquired power in Germany. Under him South Africa pursued a policy emphasizing the Union's independent sovereignty within the Empire. The urgency of the European situation was not yet so imperative as to create dissension within the ranks of the coalition. Furthermore, the rising tide of world prosperity in the early thirties served as an impetus to coöperation among Cabinet Ministers as divergent in outlook as J. H. Hofmeyr, a utopian liberal, and Oswald Pirow, a "realist" conservative. Nevertheless, from each of the parties that had joined to form the Fusion Party, small blocs broke away to organize groups of their own. A few British diehards from the fringe of General Smuts' South African Party constituted themselves the Dominion Party under Colonel Stallard. The remnants of the Nationalist Party accepted the leadership of Dr. Malan, one of General Hertzog's former lieutenants, and proclaimed a policy of republicanism and rabid nationalism.
In the field of foreign relations the policy of the Union coincided with that of Britain in 1938 and early 1939. The Hertzog Government supported Mr. Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. This policy was reënforced as a result of the European trip of Mr. Pirow, Minister of Defense, a purposeful person of German extraction with a sympathy for the totalitarian order. On this trip, he met among others Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini.
However, the steady deterioration of the European situation, without any satisfactory statement from General Hertzog as to his attitude towards it, created doubts among many of his own supporters and in the Dominion Party; while among the purified Nationalists it gave rise to suspicions that the General was now an instrument of British policy. The coincidence of the Hertzog policy and the Chamberlain policy vanished when Britain guaranteed Poland. This was interpreted in South Africa as handing British destinies over to the decision of Warsaw and brought about a distinct change in the Union's foreign relations. Thenceforward General Hertzog answered questions in the Legislative Assembly by declaring that, when the question of peace and war arose "Parliament will decide," and that in the meantime "South Africa's interests are not affected by happenings in Europe."
The slogan "Parliament will decide" failed to placate the ultra-British section or to allay the suspicions of the purified Nationalists. There was a tendency for people to return to their racial allegiances. The approaching crisis found no helpful guidance from the Prime Minister, and uncertainty was the keynote of public comment after Mr. Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war. The Union Parliament hastily reassembled in entire ignorance of the General's intentions. "It is the greatest of libels to say that General Hertzog is out for neutrality," said one Minister three days before his leader rose in Parliament to advise it. The moment for Parliament to decide had arrived. It would decide on the basis of whether the war affected South African interests so vitally that they could only be defended by entering it.
General Hertzog insisted that South Africa, as an independent sovereign state, possessed the inviolate right of decision. The Afrikaner nation, he argued, had no linguistic, racial or sentimental ties with Britain. This war was a war in which another nation was trying to break the shackles of a treaty ("that monster Versailles"). The Afrikaner sympathized with that desire, even though he had no concern with the details involved. The Union of South Africa, General Hertzog continued, lacked maturity in the sense that the vast majority of its English-speaking people voted, not on the basis of an allegiance to South Africa, but out of a devotion to their homeland, Britain.
General Smuts recalled Parliament to the realities of the situation and it decided by a majority of thirteen to turn Hertzog out and put Smuts in. South Africa stood by Britain. The great experiment of "Fusion" was ended.
General Smuts immediately had to face the problem of what was to be the extent of South Africa's participation in the war. In armament, materials and equipment the country was far below the level required for safety, and prolonged debates on various war measures served only to emphasize the natural weaknesses of South Africa and its total inability to send expeditionary forces overseas. The question naturally arose as to whether the Union's strategic frontier lies on the Limpopo, the Zambezi, or the Nile. At present many oppositionists are against even sending troops to the defense of Rhodesia or Kenya. They simply have not yet grasped the realities of a total war.
Not since the Boer War has there been a greater determination among the Afrikaners to uphold their independence and maintain their national traditions. In forwarding this resolve, the predikant of the Dutch Reformed Church interprets God's command as Paul Kruger did a half century ago. Isolationist societies among the Afrikaners are also taking on a deeper significance. One of these is the Ossewa Brandwag (Sentinels of the Ox Wagon), an organization of military complexion designed to sustain and extend Voortrekker ideals of liberty and independence. To religious fervor and political zeal it has added economic action: it seeks to persuade its members to buy only from approved traders having the Ossewa Brandwag sign and to boycott "foreign" merchants. Such organizations are the outward signs of an inner conflict, not only with Britain but with the whole world. In weighing their import we must remember that sixty percent of the Union's European population of two millions is of Afrikaans descent, and that not only is the English stock in the minority, but its birthrate is lower.
The immediate future may be secure enough in the hands of General Smuts, who finds an ally in the return of prosperity, particularly in the gold mining districts of the Rand. But no amount of prosperity or industrial expansion is likely to erase from the mind of the Nationalist Party the conviction that South Africa was dragged into war at the heels of British jingos.
Despite the intensity of division -- and it is present even between the Loyal Dutch, as the Afrikaner supporters of General Smuts are called, and the extreme Nationalists -- one distinct advance in method can be recorded. In 1914 the extremists went into open rebellion to shake off the British yoke and establish a republic. In 1939 their leaders decided to rely on constitutional means. They are supported by a strong Afrikaner press and there are indications that shortly they will establish an English newspaper.
No account of the South African scene can neglect to mention the awakening Bantu. The political conflict passes him by; yet all the time he is there, in his millions, strangely loyal to the British Crown, working out an unknown destiny as the hewer of wood and the drawer of water for his European overlord.
From the start of the present war General Smuts probably had the support of 60 percent of the population. This figure was materially increased by the invasion of Holland. The war moved still nearer to Africa when Mussolini took a hand in it directly. In this connection the support which the Hertzog Ministry had given to the League effort to halt Italian aggression in Ethiopia was recalled, and the arguments used at that time by the Republican Nationalists were now turned back upon themselves. As the only sovereign state in Africa, the Union evidently has a special interest in the future of all the African colonies. It was immediately recognized that Mussolini's declaration of war carried a threat to the Union's continental position.
Today the Union has upwards of 100,000 men under arms. About half of these are stationed in Kenya, ready either for embarkation or to meet any offshoot of the main Italian drive into Egypt. The Air Force, which is growing rapidly, has been sharing honors with the British squadrons in attacks upon Ethiopia and British Somaliland, now under Italian occupation. The question of conscription has not yet been raised in Parliament. In view of the political division, it is not likely to be; nor is there any need that it should. Men are coming forward under the various voluntary schemes projected by the Government for the fighting forces and for industry. It is in the production field that the Government has to put forth its greatest efforts.
South Africa has but recently engaged in the manufacture of pursuit planes and cannot claim to be even approximately self-sufficient in the production of armaments. Previous sources of supply in France are now denied her. Britain needs her own production herself. In this situation the manufacture of armored cars, guns and the other paraphernalia of modern war has been rapidly extended in South Africa under the direction of a most efficiently directed National Supplies Board. As a result, the advance guard of South Africa's army in Kenya is efficiently equipped. Further, thanks to the British Navy the seaways between Cape Town and America remain free of major dangers. This is of special importance because South Africa lies outside the zone forbidden to American shipping. At the time of writing, a South African purchasing mission is visiting the United States.
Thus it can be said that many of the earlier difficulties due to the political divisions in the country and its state of unpreparedness are disappearing. The Government has recently been granted extensive emergency powers by Parliament. The Prime Minister has been able to disarm his opponents by ordering the collection of all privately owned rifles. His enemies may continue "to writhe like a toad under the harrow," but it is doubtful whether they will be able to obstruct the purposes of the majority of the nation. Not long ago General Smuts said that the world had given him "all he wished for." In 1900 he had led a Boer Commando against the British; in 1914 he was "the handyman of the British Empire." In 1940 he again upholds the cause of Britain. A statesman of international stature, he is yet a man without honor among many of his own people.
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