Union of South Africa
|Capital|| Cape Town (legislative)|
|Government||Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy|
• 1910–1936 (first)
• 1952–1961 (last)
• 1910–1914 (first)
• 1959–1961 (last)
|C. R. Swart|
• 1910–1919 (first)
• 1958–1961 (last)
|House of Assembly|
|31 May 1910|
|31 May 1961|
|1961||2,045,320 km2 (789,700 sq mi)|
|Currency||South African pound (1910–61), South African rand (1961)|
|ISO 3166 code||ZA|
|Today part of|
The Union of South Africa (Dutch : Unie van Zuid-Afrika, Afrikaans : Unie van Suid-Afrika
Following the First World War, the Union of South Africa was a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles and became one of the founding members of the League of Nations. It was conferred the administration of South West Africa (now known as Namibia) as a League of Nations mandate. It became treated in most respects as another province of the Union, but it never was formally annexed.
Like Canada and Australia, the Union of South Africa was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. Its full sovereignty was confirmed with the Balfour Declaration 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. It was governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with the Crown being represented by a governor-general. The Union came to an end with the enactment of the constitution of 1961, by which it became a republic and temporarily left the Commonwealth.
The Union of South Africa was a unitary state, rather than a federation like Canada and Australia, with each colony's parliaments being abolished and replaced with provincial councils.A bicameral parliament was created, consisting of the House of Assembly and Senate, with members of the parliament being elected mostly by the country's white minority. During the course of the Union, the franchise changed on several occasions always to suit the needs of the government of the day. Parliamentary supremacy was a convention of the constitution, inherited from the United Kingdom; save for procedural safeguards in respect of the entrenched sections of franchise and language, the courts were unable to intervene in Parliament's decisions.
Owing to disagreements over where the Union's capital should be, a compromise was reached in which every province would be dealt a share of the benefits of the capital: the administration would be seated in Pretoria(Transvaal), Parliament would be in Cape Town (Cape Province), the Appellate Division would be in Bloemfontein (Orange Free State). Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg (Natal) were given financial compensation.
The Union initially remained under the British Crown as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. With the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the Union and other dominions became equal in status to the United Kingdom, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom could no longer legislate on behalf of them.This had the effect of making the Union and the other dominions de jure sovereign nations. The Status of the Union Act, passed by the South African Parliament in 1934, incorporated the applicable portions of the Statute of Westminster into South African law, underscoring its status as a sovereign nation. It removed what remaining authority Whitehall had to legislate for South Africa, as well as any nominal role that the Crown had in granting Royal Assent. The Governor-General was now required to sign or veto bills passed by Parliament, without the option of seeking advice from London.
The Monarch was represented in South Africa by a Governor-General, while effective power was exercised by the Executive Council, headed by the Prime Minister.Louis Botha, formerly a Boer general, was appointed first Prime Minister of the Union, heading a coalition representing the white Afrikaner and English-speaking British diaspora communities. Prosecutions before courts were instituted in the name of the Crown (cited in the format Rex v Accused) and government officials served in the name of the Crown.
| Historical states |
An entrenched clause in the Constitution mentioned Dutch and English as official languages of the Union, but the meaning of Dutch was changed by the Official Languages of the Union Act, 1925 to include both Dutch and Afrikaans.
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Most English-speaking whites in South Africa supported the United Party of Jan Smuts, which favoured close relations with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, unlike the Afrikaans-speaking National Party, which had held anti-British sentiments and was opposed to South Africa's intervention in the Second World War. Some Nationalist organisations, like the Ossewa Brandwag , were openly supportive of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Most English-speaking South Africans were opposed to the creation of a republic, many of them voting "no" in the 5 October 1960 referendum. But due to the much larger number of Afrikaans-speaking voters, the referendum passed, leading to the establishment of a republic in 1961. The Afrikaner-dominated Government consequently withdrew South Africa from the Commonwealth. Following the results of the referendum, some whites in Natal, which had an English-speaking majority, called for secession from the Union.Five years earlier, some 33,000 Natalians had signed the Natal Covenant in opposition to the plans for a republic.
Subsequently, the National Party government had passed a Constitution that repealed the South Africa Act. The features of the Union were carried over with very little change to the newly formed Republic. The decision to transform from a Union to Republic was narrowly decided in the referendum. The decision together with the South African Government's insistence on adhering to its policy of apartheid resulted in South Africa's de facto expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations.
The South Africa Act dealt with race in two specific provisions. First it entrenched the liberal (by South African standards) Cape Qualified Franchise system of the Cape Colony which operated free of any racial considerations (although due to socio-economic restrictions no real political expression of non-whites was possible).The Cape Prime Minister at the time, John X. Merriman, fought hard, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to extend this system of multi-racial franchise to the rest of South Africa.
Second it made "native affairs" a matter for the national government. The practice therefore was to establish a Minister of Native Affairs.
According to Stephen Howe, colonialism in some cases—most obviously among white minorities in South Africa—meant mainly that these violent settlers wanted to maintain more racial inequalities than the colonial empire found just.
Several previous unsuccessful attempts to unite the colonies were made, with proposed political models ranging from unitary, to loosely federal.
Sir George Grey, the Governor of Cape Colony from 1854 to 1861, decided that unifying the states of southern Africa would be mutually beneficial. The stated reasons were that he believed that political divisions between the white-controlled states "weakened them against the natives", threatened an ethnic divide between British and Boer, and left the Cape vulnerable to interference from other European powers. He believed that a united "South African Federation", under British control, would resolve all three of these concerns.
His idea was greeted with cautious optimism in southern Africa; the Orange Free State agreed to the idea in principle and the Transvaal may also eventually have agreed. However, he was overruled by the British Colonial Office which ordered him to desist from his plans. His refusal to abandon the idea eventually led to him being recalled.
In the 1870s, the London Colonial Office, under Secretary for the Colonies Lord Carnarvon, decided to apply a system of Confederation onto southern Africa. On this occasion however, it was largely rejected by southern Africans, primarily due to its very bad timing. The various component states of southern Africa were still simmering after the last bout of British expansion, and inter-state tensions were high. The Orange Free State this time refused to even discuss the idea, and Prime Minister John Molteno of the Cape Colony called the idea badly informed and irresponsible. In addition, many local leaders resented the way it was imposed from outside without understanding of local issues.The Confederation model was also correctly seen as unsuitable for the disparate entities of southern Africa, with their wildly different sizes, economies and political systems.
The Molteno Unification Plan (1877), put forward by the Cape government as a more feasible unitary alternative to confederation, largely anticipated the final act of Union in 1909. A crucial difference was that the Cape's liberal constitution and multiracial franchise were to be extended to the other states of the union. These smaller states would gradually accede to the much larger Cape Colony through a system of treaties, whilst simultaneously gaining elected seats in the Cape parliament. The entire process would be locally driven, with Britain's role restricted to policing any set-backs. While subsequently acknowledged to be more viable, this model was rejected at the time by London.At the other extreme, another powerful Cape politician at the time, Saul Solomon, proposed an extremely loose system of federation, with the component states preserving their very different constitutions and systems of franchise.
Lord Carnarvon rejected the (more informed) local plans for unification, as he wished to have the process brought to a conclusion before the end of his tenure and, having little experience of southern Africa, he preferred to enforce the more familiar model of confederation used in Canada. He pushed ahead with his Confederation plan, which unravelled as predicted, leaving a string of destructive wars across southern Africa. These conflicts eventually fed into the first and second Anglo-Boer Wars, with far-reaching consequences for the subcontinent.
After the discovery of gold in the 1880s, thousands of British men flocked to the gold mines of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. The newly arrived miners, though needed for the mines, were distrusted by the politically-dominant Afrikaners, who called them "uitlanders", imposed heavy taxes on them and granted them very limited civil rights, with no right to vote. The United Kingdom, wanting the gold and diamond mines and highly protective of its own citizens, demanded reforms, which the Afrikaners rejected. A small-scale private British effort to overthrow Transvaal's President Paul Kruger, the Jameson Raid of 1895, proved a fiasco, and presaged full-scale conflict as diplomatic efforts all failed.
The Second Boer War started on 11 October 1899 and ended on 31 May 1902. The United Kingdom gained the support of its Cape Colony, of its Colony of Natal and of some African allies. Volunteers from across the British Empire further supplemented the British war-effort. All other nations remained neutral, but public opinion in them was largely hostile to Britain. Inside Britain and its Empire there was also significant opposition to the Second Boer War because of the atrocities and military failures.
The British were overconfident and under-prepared. Prime Minister Salisbury and his top officials, especially Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, ignored the repeated warnings of military advisors that the Boers were well prepared, well armed, and fighting for their homes in a very difficult terrain. The Boers struck first, besieging Ladysmith, Kimberly, and Mafeking in early 1900, and winning important battles at Colenso (15 December 1899), Magersfontein and Stormberg (10 December 1899). Staggered, the British fought back, relieved the besieged cities, and prepared to invade first the Orange Free State, and then Transvaal in late 1900. The Boers refused to surrender or negotiate, and reverted to guerrilla warfare. After two years of hard fighting, Britain, using over 400,000 soldiers, systematically destroyed Boer resistance, raising worldwide complaints about brutality. The Boers fought for their homes and families, which provided them with food and hiding places. The British responded by forcefully relocating all the Boer civilians into heavily-guarded concentration camps, where about 28,000 died of disease, while British military forces systematically blocked off and tracked down the highly mobile Boer combat units. The battles were small operations; most of the dead succumbed to disease. The war ended in victory for the British and the annexation of both Boer republics, which became the Transvaal Colony and the Orange River Colony.
In 1922 the colony of Southern Rhodesia had a chance (ultimately rejected) to join the Union through a referendum. The referendum resulted from the fact that by 1920 British South Africa Company rule in Southern Rhodesia was no longer practical with many favouring some form of 'responsible government'. Some favoured responsible government within Southern Rhodesia while others (especially in Matabeleland) favoured membership in the Union of South Africa. Politician Sir Charles Coghlan claimed that such membership with the Union would make Southern Rhodesia the "Ulster of South Africa".
Prior to the referendum, representatives of Southern Rhodesia visited Cape Town where the Prime Minister of South Africa, Jan Smuts, eventually offered terms he considered reasonable and which the United Kingdom government found acceptable. Although opinion among the United Kingdom government, the South African government and the British South Africa Company favoured the union option (and none tried to interfere in the referendum), when the referendum was held the results saw 59.4% in favour of responsible government for a separate colony and 40.6% in favour of joining the Union of South Africa.
The inhospitable coast of what is now the Republic of Namibia remained uncolonised up until the end of the 19th century.
From 1874, the leaders of several indigenous peoples, notably Maharero of the Herero nation, approached the Cape Parliament to the south. Anticipating invasion by a European power and already suffering Portuguese encroachment from the north and Afrikaner encroachment from the south, these leaders approached the Cape Colony government to discuss the possibility of accession and the political representation it would entail. Accession to the Cape Colony, a self-governing state with a system of multi-racial franchise and legal protection for traditional land rights, was at the time considered marginally preferable to annexation by Portugal or Germany.
In response, the Cape Parliament appointed a special Commission under William Palgrave, to travel to the territory between the Orange and Cunene rivers and to confer with these leaders regarding accession to the Cape. In the negotiations with the Palgrave Commission, some indigenous nations such as the Damara and the Herero responded positively (October 1876), other reactions were mixed. Discussions regarding the magisterial structure for the area's political integration into the Cape dragged on until, from 1876, it was blocked by Britain. Britain relented, insofar as allowing the Cape to incorporate Walvis Bay, which was brought under the magisterial district of Cape Town, but when the Germans established a protectorate over the area in 1884, South West Africa was predominantly autonomous.
Thereafter, South West Africa became a German colony, except for Walvis Bay and the Offshore Islands which remained part of the Cape, outside of German control.
Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Union of South Africa occupied and annexed the German colony of German South West Africa. With the establishment of the League of Nations and cessation of the war, South Africa obtained a Class C Mandate to administer South West Africa "under the laws of the mandatory (South Africa) as integral portions of its territory". Subsequently, the Union of South Africa generally regarded South West Africa as a fifth province, although this was never an official status.
With the creation of the United Nations, the Union applied for the incorporation of South West Africa, but its application was rejected by the U.N., which invited South Africa to prepare a Trusteeship agreement instead. This invitation was in turn rejected by the Union, which subsequently did not modify the administration of South West Africa and continued to adhere to the original mandate. This caused a complex set of legal wranglings that were not finalised when the Union was replaced with the Republic of South Africa. In 1949, the Union passed a law bringing South West Africa into closer association with it including giving South West Africa representation in the South African parliament.
Walvis Bay, which is now in Namibia, was originally a part of the Union of South Africa as it was a part of the Cape Colony at the time of Unification. In 1921 Walvis Bay was integrated with the Class C Mandate over South West Africa for the rest of the Union's duration and for part of the republican era.
The Statute of Westminster passed by the British Parliament in December 1931, which repealed the Colonial Laws Validity Act and implemented the Balfour Declaration 1926, had a profound impact on the constitutional structure and status of the Union. The most notable effect was that the South African Parliament was released from many restrictions concerning the handling of the so-called "native question". However the repeal was not sufficient to enable the South African Parliament to ignore the entrenched clauses of its constitution (the South Africa Act) which led to the coloured-vote constitutional crisis of the 1950s wherein the right of coloureds to vote in the main South African Parliament was removed and replaced with a separate, segregated, and largely powerless assembly.
The military of the Union of South Africa was the Union Defence Force until 1957, when it became the South African Defence Force.
Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans noun for "farmer". In South African contexts, "Boers" refers to the descendants of the proto-Afrikaans-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th and much of the 19th century. From 1652 to 1795 the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but the United Kingdom incorporated it into the British Empire in 1806.
Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it usually has more members and they are always directly elected.
The Cape of Good Hope, also known as the Cape Colony, was a British colony in present-day South Africa, named after the Cape of Good Hope. The British colony was preceded by an earlier Dutch colony of the same name, the Kaap de Goede Hoop, established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company. The Cape was under Dutch rule from 1652 to 1795 and again from 1803 to 1806. The Dutch lost the colony to Great Britain following the 1795 Battle of Muizenberg, but had it returned following the 1802 Peace of Amiens. It was re-occupied by the UK following the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806, and British possession affirmed with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814.
The Orange River Colony was the British colony created after Britain first occupied (1900) and then annexed (1902) the independent Orange Free State in the Second Boer War. The colony ceased to exist in 1910, when it was absorbed into the Union of South Africa as Orange Free State Province.
The year 1870 in the history of the Cape Colony marks the dawn of a new era in South Africa, and it can be said that the development of modern South Africa began on that date. Despite political complications that arose from time to time, progress in Cape Colony continued at a steady pace until the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer Wars in 1899. The discovery of diamonds in the Orange River in 1867 was immediately followed by similar finds in the Vaal River. This led to the rapid occupation and development of huge tracts of the country, which had hitherto been sparsely inhabited. Dutoitspan and Bultfontein diamond mines were discovered in 1870, and in 1871 the even richer mines of Kimberley and De Beers were discovered. These four great deposits of mineral wealth were incredibly productive, and constituted the greatest industrial asset that the Colony possessed.
The Boer Republics were independent, self-governed republics in the last half of the nineteenth century, created by the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape Colony and their descendants, variously named Trekboers, Boers and Voortrekkers in mainly the middle, northern and north eastern and eastern parts of what is now the country of South Africa. Two of the Boer Republics achieved international recognition and complete independence: the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The republics did not provide separation of church and state, and initially only the Dutch Reformed Church, then also other churches in the Calvinist Protestant tradition, were allowed. The republics came to an end after the Second Boer War which resulted in the British annexation and later incorporation into the Union of South Africa.
Griqualand West is an area of central South Africa with an area of 40,000 km² that now forms part of the Northern Cape Province. It was inhabited by the Griqua people - a semi-nomadic, Afrikaans-speaking nation of mixed-race origin, who established several states outside the expanding frontier of the Cape Colony. It was also inhabited by the pre-existing Tswana and Khoisan peoples.
Elections in South Africa are held for the National Assembly, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. Elections follow a five-year cycle, with national and provincial elections held simultaneously and municipal elections held two years later. The electoral system is based on party-list proportional representation, which means that parties are represented in proportion to their electoral support. For municipal councils there is a mixed-member system in which wards elect individual councillors alongside those named from party lists.
John Xavier Merriman was the last prime minister of the Cape Colony before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
The 1910 South African general election was held for the 121 seats in the House of Assembly of the Union of South Africa, on 15 September 1910. This was the first general election, after the Union came into force on 31 May 1910.
Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM was a prominent South African and Commonwealth statesman and military leader. He served as a Boer General duning the Boer War, a British General during the First World War and was appointed Field Marshal during the Second World War. In addition to various Cabinet appointments, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 to 1924 and from 1939 to 1948. He played a leading part in the post war settlements at the end of both world wars, making significant contributions towards the creation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.
The South Africa Act 1909 was an Act of the British Parliament which created the Union of South Africa from the British colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony, and Transvaal. The Act also made provisions for admitting Rhodesia as a fifth province of the Union in the future, but Rhodesian colonists rejected this option in a referendum held in 1922. The South Africa Act was the third major piece of legislation passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the intent of uniting various British colonies and granting them some degree of autonomy. Earlier, the British North America Act, 1867 had united three colonies and the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 had united the Australian colonies.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Cape Colony was annexed by the British and officially became their colony in 1815. Britain encouraged settlers to the Cape, and in particular, sponsored the 1820 Settlers to farm in the disputed area between the colony and the Xhosa in what is now the Eastern Cape. The changing image of the Cape from Dutch to British excluded the Dutch farmers in the area, the Boers who in the 1820s started their Great Trek to the northern areas of modern South Africa. This period also marked the rise in power of the Zulu under their king Shaka Zulu. Subsequently, several conflicts arose between the British, Boers and Zulus, which led to the Zulu defeat and the ultimate Boer defeat in the Second Anglo-Boer War. However, the Treaty of Vereeniging established the framework of South African limited independence as the Union of South Africa.
Sir John Gordon Sprigg, was a British administrator, politician and four-time prime minister of the Cape Colony.
Ethnic, political and social tensions among European colonial powers, indigenous Africans, and English and Dutch settlers led to open conflict in a series of wars and revolts between 1879 and 1915 that would have lasting repercussions on the entire region of southern Africa. Pursuit of commercial empire as well as individual aspirations, especially after the discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886), were key factors driving these developments.
The South African Party was a political party in Cape Colony.
Jacobus Wilhelmus ("J.W.") Sauer, was a prominent liberal politician of the Cape Colony. He served as Minister in multiple Cape governments, and was influential in several unsuccessful attempts to enshrine equal political rights for black South Africans in the constitution of the Union of South Africa. He was also a strong early supporter of women's rights and suffrage.
The Parliament of the Cape of Good Hope functioned as the legislature of the Cape Colony, from its founding in 1853, until the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, when it was dissolved and the Parliament of South Africa was established. It consisted of the House of Assembly and the legislative council.
The Palgrave Commission (1876–1885) was a series of diplomatic missions undertaken by Special Commissioner William Coates Palgrave (1833–1897) to the territory of South West Africa. Palgrave was commissioned by the Cape Government to meet with the leaders of the nations of Hereroland and Namaland, hear their wishes regarding political sovereignty, and relay the assembled information to the Cape Colony Government.
The National Convention, also known as the Convention on the Closer Union of South Africa or the Closer Union Convention, was a constitutional convention held between 1908 and 1909 in Durban, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. The convention led to the adoption of the South Africa Act by the British Parliament and thus to the creation of the Union of South Africa. The four colonies of the area that would become South Africa - the Cape Colony, Natal Colony, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Colony - were represented at the convention, along with a delegation from Rhodesia. There were 33 delegates in total, with the Cape being represented by 12, the Transvaal eight, the Orange River five, Natal five, and Rhodesia three. The convention was held behind closed doors, in the fear that a public affair would lead delegates to refuse compromising on contentious areas of disagreement. All the delegates were white men, a third of them were farmers, ten were lawyers, and some were academics. Two-thirds had fought on both sides of the Second Boer War.
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