National Party (South Africa)

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The National Party (NP) was a major political party in South Africa during most of the twentieth century. It was founded in 1914 by leading Afrikaner nationalists in what were then the Union of South Africa's four provinces. Under the leadership of General J.B.M. Hertzog, the NP first came to power in coalition with the Labour Party in 1924 and governed South Africa for nearly a decade. In 1933, it split into two factions: the Smelter (Fusionist) faction, which merged with the South African Party to form the United Party, and the Gesuiwerde (Purified) faction, which regrouped under the National Party label and became the United Party government's official opposition. In the election of 1948, the revitalized Herenigde (Reunited) National Party and its Afrikaner Party coalition partner unexpectedly won a majority of parliamentary seats, which enabled them to take control of the government and begin implementing the National Party's apartheid policy program. The NP remained in power from 1948 until 1994, when South Africa's first nationwide multiracial election resulted in its ouster by the African National Congress (ANC). In 1997, the NP recast itself as the New National Party, which dissolved itself into the ANC in 2005. In August 2008, the National Party emerged once again under the leadership of Juan-Duval Uys.

Founding and early history

The founding of the National Party might be traced to 1912, when then-Minister of Justice J.B.M. Hertzog came increasingly at odds with the South African Party (SAP) government over its approach to the relationship between South Africa's English-speaking and Afrikaner communities.

In December 1912, Hertzog was dropped from the cabinet. In response, he left the SAP altogether and resolved to establish a new party that would advance Afrikaner nationalist principles.

Hertzog and his supporters held a week-long meeting in Bloemfontein in January 1914 to plan the formation of the National Party. Six months later, they officially established the Orange Free State National Party.

The Pact government

The National Party formed its first government in coalition with the Labour Party in 1924.

The Great Depression and the Gesuiwerde (Purified) National Party

World War II and the Herenigde (Reunited) National Party

An opportunity for reasserting the NP's political dominance appeared to be in the making on September 4, 1939, when Parliament opted by a margin of just thirteen votes to enter World War Two and declared war on Germany two days later.

The apartheid regime

The Herenigde National Party, in coalition with the Afrikaner Party, unexpectedly won a majority of parliamentary seats in the 1948 general election, which enabled it to form a government and begin consolidating its power and implementing apartheid.

Decline and dissolution

The apartheid era National Party relied upon a diverse coalition of Afrikaner supporters whose divergent interests grew increasingly apparent during the 1970s and 1980s.

As early as the mid-1950s, the apartheid coalition began showing signs of strain when Malan's retirement in 1954 gave rise to an unprecedented three-way struggle for the party leadership. It was only after Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd's assassination in 1966 that the NP's internal divisions began to seep into the public electoral realm, though. By 1968, the two factions, verligte and verkrampte were known, the former translating to "enlightened" and the latter to "strict" or "cramped".[1] It was not clear, for a time, if and how the party might split.

The verligtes, who were far less adamant about strict apartheid and were open to immigration, might bolt to the United Party. It was also possible that the verkramptes might ally with the semisecret Broederbond. Instead, Verwoerd's successor, John Vorster, considered an extremely tough politician, threw his support to the verligtes, and forced the ouster of Albert Hertzog, a Nationalist Member of Parliament and Minister of Health and of Posts and Telegraphs who was disillusioned by the party's approach to implementing apartheid. [2]

Vorster and the verligtes kept control of the NP, while Hertzog and his supporters formed the Herstigte Nasionale Party (Reconstituted National Party; HNP). Prime Minister Vorster responded by announcing that an early election would be held in April 1970. The HNP garnered just over 3% of the popular vote but failed to pick up a single seat in Parliament, a pattern that was repeated in the 1974 and 1977 elections.

The HNP breakaway, however, did not neatly break off the dissent; there were still NP members of verkrampte ideology who maintained party loyalty, a valued asset in a parliamentary system. The NP's intraparty divisions became especially apparent during the 1981 general election season.

The next year, Andries Treurnicht, a Cabinet minister and leader of the Transvaal branch of the NP, led a breakaway faction in the formation of a new Conservative Party (CP). Unlike the HNP, which had been quickly contained and deprived of its parliamentary representation by the 1970 election, the CP defected at an inopportune time for the Prime Minister to call for an early election.


In August 2008, the National Party announced its reregistration with the Independent Electoral Commission.[3] In the 2009 election, it put up 23 candidates for membership in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, but garnered only .17% of the provincial popular vote and did not win any seats.


  1. W.J. de Klerk, "The Concepts 'Verkramp' and 'Verlig,'" in N.J. Rhoodie, ed. South African Dialogue. Johannesburg: McGraw-Hill, 1972.
  2. Edwin S. Munger (January 1969), Foreign Affairs
  3. Return of the Nats. National Party South Africa (2008-08-05). Retrieved on 2009-02-14.