DF Malan and the Rise of Afrikaner Nationalism, Lindie Koorts’s recently published biography of former South African prime minister Daniël Francois Malan (1874–1959), is formed out of research that Koorts conducted for a project at the University of Johannesburg in 2004 for a research MA dissertation titled “DF Malan: an intellectual biography, 1874–1915”, taken further at the University of Stellenbosch in 2006 for her DPhil thesis, “DF Malan: a political biography”,as well as several academic papers that she prepared for presentation/delivery and publication. What readers have to look forward to, therefore, is a biography that spans DF Malan’s intellectual development before his entry into politics as well as his political career of 1915–1954 – essentially a biography from the cradle to the grave, except for the final five years of his life, which have not really been included.
It is interesting, although possibly not intended, that the book has appeared one year before the 100th anniversary of Die Burger, the newspaper of which DF Malan was the inaugural editor in 1915. This was a tumultuous year for the 41-year-old Dutch Reformed minister, as in that year he relinquished his work as minister in the church and entered the realm of combined journalism and politics, as editor of Die Burger and as the leader of the Cape Nationalists. In chapter 5, “The apprentice”, Koorts analyses the difficult years in South African history, 1915–1918, but soon points out that one of the important things around the life of DF Malan as editor was that his newspaper “would endeavour to reunite the torn and divided Afrikaner nation, and it would do so on a Christian basis – one that recognised God’s hand in the Afrikaner’s history”. Reverting to DF Malan’s own writings, in Afrikaner-Volkseenheid en my ervarings op die pad daarheen (Nasionale Boekhandel Beperk, 1959), it is clear that Malan was intent upon this “hereniging” (reuniting), as stated in the first chapter of the book, where he sketches the divisions that existed in Afrikaner ranks after the establishment of Union in 1910, even to the point where it had led to the shedding of blood.
Hermann Giliomee, writing in Rapport Weekliks of March 9, 2014, refers to Koorts’s biography as an “excellent, often spell-binding work that reveals the many dimensions of the man who dominated the Afrikaner nationalist movement”. These words from one of the country’s leading historians must surely be a feather in the cap for Koorts, and deservedly so for the great amount of work and many years of research that she has put in. Koorts’s biography should also be seen in the light of the two existing biographies on Malan, one by B Booyens, Die Lewe van DF Malan: Die Eerste Veertig Jaar (Tafelberg, 1969), and another by HB Thom, DF Malan (Tafelberg, 1980). In contrast to these, hers is more accessible to a greater readership, as it appears in English, unlike the others that were written only in Afrikaans; and then, unlike them, she has tried to place her study in a balanced context of time and place. By her own admission her studies at the Institute of Biography at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands “introduced me to the rich world of biographical writing, which brought Malan and the Nationalists to life – without this experience, this book would have been very different”. And then there are the rich South African archival collections which she was able to consult, such as at the University of Stellenbosch, the Archive for Contemporary Affairs at the University of the Free State, the State Archives in Pretoria, the Free State Provincial Archives, the Cape Provincial Archives, Unisa’s Archives and Special Collections and the University of Cape Town’s Special Collections. In writing up a biography of DF Malan Koorts has enabled the reader to form an understanding of the life of a person who played a significant role in shaping racial policy in South Africa for the period 1915–1954, and of the complex web, and particularly the very complicated nature, of Afrikaner nationalism of the first half of the 20th century. The external and internal factors, the continuity and changes in history, its causes and effects, are all factors examined by Koorts to provide important insights for this understanding to be possible. Her book even enticed the likes of well-known South African vocalist Steve Hofmeyr, to write a review of the book à la Hofmeyr (Die Burger, April 14, 2014).
The first few chapters of the biography deal with Malan’s youth. The factors that shaped his youth affected his later life, even his political life. Malan was born on May 22, 1874, into a family of landed gentry on the farm Allesverloren near the town of Riebeek-West in the Western Cape. Already from a young age Malan showed signs of being a scholar, although he would always proceed cautiously in whatever he attempted, and demonstrated signs of absent-mindedness, or as Koorts puts it, he was a “distracted thinker”. An example in his adult life was when (already the editor of a major South African newspaper) he left home forgetting he was still wearing his slippers.
While deeply religious Malan was wont to keep his emotions to himself, but from an early age believed he had a special religious calling. At the time General JBM Hertzog was in the process of establishing the National Party (NP) in Bloemfontein in January 1914, Dr Malan was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Graaff-Reinet. The religious calling did not remain a calling just for religion, but was further developed: even as a young student, as a devout Afrikaner nationalist he believed he was called to serve the Afrikaner. His nationalism must therefore be seen as inseparable from his faith and as a principle that rested on religious principles. His nationalist ideals, honed on South African soil and further sharpened while pursuing his studies in theology in The Netherlands, were to be propagated by him through the church.
The time in The Netherlands was an important era in the Western world for the development of the nationalistic spirit, and language and education would become important conduits for Malan to propagate his political ideas, at a time “when Afrikaner nationalism was stirring”.
In the aftermath of the 1914 Rebellion he became more decided to relinquish his position as a man of the cloth and to join Hertzog in the political arena. It was important to him that the Afrikaners should assert themselves as a single national community in the face of British cultural, political and economic hegemony. Afrikaner unity was to be the dominant theme throughout his political career and therefore he could not support the conciliation policies of General Louis Botha, the Union’s Prime Minister, and his deputy, JC Smuts. Exactly why Malan chose to change his career path from clergyman to politician is analysed in chapter 4 of the biography, “From pulpit to podium”.
Where Koorts’s study of Malan proves to be invaluable is the account of the 41-year-old Malan making this change in 1915. The biography by Booyens covers the period of Malan’s life before the move into politics, while Thom’s study covers the period from 1925 onwards, the time of the country’s flag crisis. Koorts fills this hiatus in chapter 5 of her biography, titled “The apprentice”. Her point is that this was a period in which Malan entered the political door as a novice. One of the first lessons he was to learn was that South African politics was bound up with the lives of personalities. There were the Botha and Smuts men and then there were the Hertzog men. The issues that faced Hertzog at the time included the relationship between English and Afrikaans speakers, as well as South Africa’s relationship with the British Empire. It was a complex situation and the challenge was discipline in the party, especially as views within the ranks varied greatly. The year 1912 had been a particularly trying year and its legacy from the polemical speech by Hertzog on topics including language parity and sovereignty, as well as the question of the imperial connection, ultimately led to the Botha-Hertzog schism and the formation of the NP in January 1914, with Hertzog as its leader. Soon after, Malan was requested to take up the position of editor of the newly formed newspaper De Burger in 1915, which for him, as Koorts discusses, was a decision that lay in his spiritual walk to unify his people in the face of great economic and other challenges for them. In the same year he was appointed chairman of the NP in the Cape. He had clearly moved from delivering homilies to delivering orations.
“Man of the party” is the term Koorts uses as the heading for chapter 6, in which she analyses the years immediately after the end of the First World War till the NP’s election victory in 1924 and DF Malan’s role in these years. It is also in this chapter, between pages 178 and 179, that 16 pages of illustrations are provided (there are more photographs in chapter 8). Photographs include ones of DF Malan as a serious-looking young man, always sartorially elegant.
Koorts discusses the strengthening of the NP in the 1920 elections as it eyed the prize of a future victory and how it broadened its base, emerging as the beneficiary as a result of the Rand Revolt of 1922. As the “party man” Malan carefully engineered the NP-Labour merge which would be instrumental in a victory for the Pact government which would come to power in 1924.
As a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and a previous minister of it, Malan was able to rally Afrikaner support at church conferences, as in July 1923, where the grave question of the poor white problem was revealed. A strategic move to gain voter support was to manifest the great danger cheap African labour held for Afrikaner poor whites, and this would be a danger for Afrikanerdom. It was at this conference that the principle of industrial segregation based on territorial segregation was adopted. Koorts carefully points out how the trend emerged for the NP to use “the pattern of tying race relations to white poverty”, and how it once again was the case at the Bloemfontein conference of 1923.
The sources in Koorts’s writing are well contextualised for the reader, which provides integrity to them, and their historical usefulness is an attribute. By integrating them like this, she makes the history more alive and as one reads the extracts one can form an understanding of the relationship between text and her own historical writing. She concludes chapter 7 by presenting a synopsis of how Malan finally came to present his segregationist scheme to his party conference in September of 1923 as an antidote to Smuts, who, instead of concentrating on the measures to save South Africa from the European civilization and focus on his country’s own affairs, was preoccupied elsewhere, to wit, with international affairs. In some ways, it might be argued, Malan’s plan of attack would lead to the 1924 victory for Hertzog’s Pact government and would be repeated 24 years later with a victory over Smuts in 1948.
Chapter 7, “The compromising corridors of power”, and chapter 8, “Coalition and fusion”, relate to the ten-year period of 1924–1934 in South African history. Malan’s appointment as minister of the interior and health and education was as new for him as for the civil servants under his administration. In the capacity of minister of the interior he was in a strong position to influence the language issue. He introduced a motion in the 1925 parliamentary session that a committee be appointed to investigate the desirability of the Afrikaans version of Dutch replacing Dutch “in all of the business of Parliament, as well as in legislation”. The bill was signed into law on Malan’s birthday, May 22 of that year.
Proposed legislation for a South African flag in 1926, by Malan, was not as easy to promulgate into law at the time as had been the case with the language issue, as other issues occupied the attention of parliament, not least the so-called Hertzog Bills, set to disenfranchise blacks who had remained on the common voters’ role, as well as the question of Indian repatriation to reduce their numbers. The question of possible Indian repatriation occupies several pages in the chapter, giving invaluable insights into the issue from Koorts’s meticulous research. Not only does she unravel the paramount role by Malan in this history, but she contextualises for the reader the great complexities around such issues. The same applies to the history around the introduction of the South African flag, as well as the complex question of segregationist legislation of the 1920s.
Malan’s role in the period 1932–1934 is well documented and discussed in chapter 8. It was a time of great political manoeuvring in South African politics. It was the time of the Great Depression and South Africa’s position with regard to the gold standard. The dire economic position led to an agreement between Smuts and Hertzog with a view to a coalition, which Malan refuted, and he would not serve in their government. Koorts describes how the shift in power from being a member of the government to now being the leader of the opposition with his own party, the Purified National Party (PNP), led Malan to review his leadership style, and never again to want to find himself as a shepherd without a flock. Chapter 8’s 50 pages provide a very comprehensive account of the political manoeuvring between Hertzog and Smuts, with the role of others, such as Malan, carefully analysed. As this essentially is a biography of DF Malan, obviously his role in the historical events of this period (1932–1934) will be the main thrust, but it is nevertheless so that the biographer contextualises the history for the reader to give an understanding of the complexities of the time.
Chapter 9, titled “Taming the Wilderness”, deals with the period 1934–1940 and this includes the publishing of the Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem (1934). According to the report poor whites “were forced to live in racially mixed slums with Africans coloureds and Indians” and this would result in inevitable miscegenation. Koorts explains how the threat to the poor whites “would mark a sea change in Malan’s approach to racial policy” and these developments gave him further ammunition to expose Hertzog and his party “as Hoggenheimer’s puppets” (in the hands of imperialist capitalists) “at the expense of the poor whites and Afrikaner farmers”. Therefore Malan and his party’s position on coloureds, Indians and Africans had to become clear. Koorts carefully unravels the complex unfolding racial policies at the time and shows the shift in Malan’s thinking away from accommodating the coloureds, of whom the intention by Hertzog (and at the time supported by Malan) was “to draw coloureds into the mainstream and to establish segregation between white and black”.
The new party principles adopted by Malan’s PNP were “the territorial, political and industrial segregation of the native and the separate political representation of the coloured”. In addition, Indian segregation was now a firm principle. The NP retained its principle of white Christian guardianship towards Africans and its opposition to miscegenation, a point that the Dutch Reformed Church emphasised. Koorts carefully contextualises Malan’s decisions in the light of changing factors, not least the need to preserve Afrikaner nationalism in the wake of a fluid social and economic situation. The key to understanding Malan’s position in his party at this time (1934–1940) was the way he was “taming the wilderness”, which included working with his own party and providing a clearer outline of racial policy for it. But it is more than that. As Koorts shows, it was clearly the time that Malan was asserting his own leadership over that of Hertzog on Afrikaner nationalism. This meant Malan could exploit his opposition, Smuts and Hertzog’s United Party (UP), and they in turn recognised that with Malan in that position, differences of view were being fomented in the UP.
Koorts brilliantly provides the reader with several of the factors that were present in South African social, economic and political history at the time from which Malan could gain political utility, such as the position of “greedy Jewish capital” and how Jewish immigration affected jobs for Afrikaners, “the public’s sympathy for racial segregation” which already has its origins in the 1920s, the issue of miscegenation, and how he always attempted to unite and reunite Afrikanerdom. As Koorts points out, in the 1938 election several of the policy issues that the NP had adopted were cunningly employed as means of attack against the UP. But due to the complex nature of the voting system at the time, the results as they turned out might not have revealed that in fact the PNP was breathing down the UP’s neck, and certain points, such as the question of poverty and miscegenation, as well as racial security, were strong issues on to which the NP would hold for the future.
The year 1938 was important for the PNP for another reason. It was the centenary of the Great Trek and Afrikaner sentiments were heightened as a result. It was also a time for Malan to strengthen his racial policies for the benefit of Afrikanerdom, and strive for a resurgent Afrikaner nationalism. From now mixed marriages should be punishable; to put an end to racially mixed residential areas; and to implement both economic and political segregation between whites and “non-whites”. There were not enough signatures on the petition to lobby parliament to pass legislation to implement these areas of concern, and the outbreak of the Second World War being imminent, these issues would be placed on the back burner for some time to come. But they show Malan’s clear racial ideas.
Added to his political capital at the time was his insistence on the urbanisation of the poor white, and the time was ripe, with Afrikaner nationalist fervour at a height. Further ammunition was the renewed debate over republicanism, not a sentiment sufficiently displayed by Malan’s once colleague, now political rival, Hertzog, who was soon to find himself in the wilderness.
But as the significance for Malan’s career of one political rival was to pale into submission, so the significance of a new one for Malan was to be noted: the Afrikaner North-South divide, the lines of which had already been drawn over the republican issue referred to earlier, was taking shape with its dominant proponent one of Afrikaner’s future leaders, JG Strijdom aka the Lion of the North.
This, however, was not the only obstacle facing Malan. The obstacle course to victory for Malan is set out in chapter 10 and one of the main issues that he had to deal with was to counter support for the German cause, which among Afrikaner ranks surfaced in the form of secret organisations. A German victory in Europe might consolidate plans for a republic. He foresaw very clearly the future failure of National Socialism in Europe and such a system was not for Afrikanerdom, he thought, and took measures to clean up the party and its image by putting the party’s members closer to the party itself in a desperate attempt to solve the division between the factions in Afrikanerdom and their domestic disputes as the 1943 elections were approaching. One of the ways he thought to guard his country against the outside influences of capitalism and communism was to promote the economy and continue his policies of paternalism and trusteeship through a familial relationship in the matter of black-white relations. It is in this sense that Malan came up with the term apartheid, used in September 1943 in an election speech and again, in parliament, in January 1944, the first time the term was used in parliament. The term itself might have already been alluded to earlier by Jan Kemp when he appealed to Doppers “to be effective Calvinists in all they did” (Irving Hexham). But it was in September of that year in issuing a statement in preparation for the provincial council elections that Malan gave an indication of what he meant by the term. It appears he meant that apartheid is a solution for “the just and a fair treatment of whites and non-whites, but each in his own terrain and on the basis of apartheid”.
The use of the word by Malan also marked a change in his policy: whereas previously he had by his admission “acted too negatively in order to fend off the danger to the white race, we have to become more positive”, and for this Malan believed that the principle of apartheid entailed “living space and justice to both sides”.
The first Sauer Commission report, which presented its findings in 1945, claimed that white labour was threatened by coloured labour, and in addition to this there was the thought that the coloured vote had cost Malan’s party six Western Cape constituencies in the 1943 election, and there was the danger of communist exploitation of enfranchised coloureds. The recommendations of the report appealed to Malan and his party, especially in the light of further division in South Africa caused by the Second World War. This just further entrenched Malan’s view that the battle was between nationalism and imperialism.
But it went further than just that. For Malan, imperialism usually stood in alliance with capitalism that “had always used political rights for coloureds and Africans as a weapon against the nationalist Afrikanerdom and, in so doing, had opened the door for communist agitators to instigate the removal of all colour distinctions”. This is in stark contrast to Malan’s own view of race, as he believed that colour distinctions were inherently natural and God-given.
Gradually, in the years 1944–1947, Malan was busy formulating his policy of apartheid and used the Sauer report as part of his election manifesto in 1948. The report concentrated on the position of the coloured community, African ethnicity, influx control and autonomous reserves and the repatriation of Indians. These proposals were in contrast to the Smuts government’s racial and economic policies as propagated by the liberal JH Hofmeyr. With a number of successes in by-elections, a war-weary people, shortages of provisions and unfulfilled promises for the Union’s soldiers, Malan swept to victory in the 1948 elections, mainly from the countryside vote and improving the Transvaal count from 11 seats in the 1943 election to 32 in 1948. With Havenga’s AP’s 9 seats and Malan’s 70 versus Smuts’s 65 and Labour’s 6, giving the UP and Labour 71 seats, adding the Native representatives’ three seats, Malan’s net victory still totalled five seats.
The final chapter, Chapter 11, which covers the period 1948–1954 in 25 pages, is intriguing to see how the 74-year-old Malan takes up his position as the prime minister of South Africa and how he presided over a cabinet rife with regional tension. Those below him complained that his advanced age made him an anachronism, and in 1954, after having led the NP to an increased majority in the 1953 elections, Malan resigned. His attempts to anoint a successor failed and, against his wishes, JG Strijdom, the leader of the Transvaal Nationalists, became the new leader of the NP and prime minister of the country.
Malan retired to Stellenbosch, where he died in 1959. Koorts relates how Malan in his position as prime minister had travelled abroad only twice. He fought the 1953 election on three principles: apartheid, the communist menace and the coloured vote. Foreign affairs included his handling of the question of South Africa’s entry into the Korean War, to stave off UNO criticism of his country’s racial policies. Malan’s views on race, especially as South Africa was a member of the Commonwealth, caused a stir in Britain. Malan and Strijdom continued their battles even inside parliament. Malan had to deal with the Defiance Campaign of 1952. All this and much more … But it was after the speech that Malan delivered on 11 October 1954 that he announced his resignation scheduled for 30 November. By this time, South Africa had become an apartheid state whereby only white men and women over the age of 21 could vote.
Lindie Koorts leaves no stone unturned to provide the reader with explanations for the external and internal factors that made DF Malan do what he did. In the art of biography-writing in South Africa, hers will be a tough act to follow. The name of DF Malan will always be associated with apartheid as the person who implemented it, causing the huge majority of people to suffer directly as a result. Reading Koorts’s comprehensive biography of the person in time and space will provide an outline of what DF Malan did and give reasons for his agency.
* Paul Murray teaches history and holds a DPhil in the historical sciences from the University of Pretoria. He is currently enrolled for a second doctorate, this time in biographical history, on the life of JD Du P (Japie) Basson, at Unisa.