President Paul Kruger’s opinions and pronouncements in public and in the First Volksraad of the South African Republic (ZAR) had great influence and often swung decisions taken on various matters. That also applied to the all-important question of the franchise for the Uitlanders who had flocked to the ZAR after the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886. As early as 1887 a committee of Johannesburg gold-diggers welcomed him in the new township and emphasised that they wished to participate in decision-making in the Republic and thus wanted full civil rights. On this occasion he made it clear to them, however, that the franchise was meant only for the original burghers. After that Kruger addressed Uitlander audiences regularly until 1894 and made pronouncements on the franchise question. None of these satisfied the Uitlanders and the franchise problem started to loom large and was eventually to lead to war with Britain in 1899.
Kruger was often evasive when addressing Uitlander audiences on the franchise question. In many of these speeches he would dwell extensively on the history of the settlement of former Voortrekkers in the territory north of the Vaal River, and the sacrifices they made to settle there and to regain the independence of the ZAR after the annexation of the Republic by Britain in 1877. This argument – if it could even be called that – was dubbed by the English language newspapers the “blood and sweat argument” proffered by Kruger for not granting the franchise to the newcomers on the same footing as the already enfranchised burghers. In this process he used the biblical concept of the birth right of the original white inhabitants as justification to withhold the franchise from the new settlers on the goldfields.
The franchise law of the Republic was amended from time to time, but from 1882 a stay of five years in the state was required before newcomers could be naturalised. A new franchise act of 1890 stipulated that newcomers could be naturalised by taking an oath of allegiance in which their former nationality was renounced. Two years after naturalisation they received the right to vote for members of the Second Volksraad, which was instituted in that year as part of the legislative machinery. However, the right to vote for members of the First Volksraad and thus become full citizens could be obtained only after a further stay of 12 years. This meant that immigrants could become fully-fledged citizens only after a total stay of 14 years. Moreover, the Second Volksraad, to which unfranchised Uitlanders could elect members, had limited functions dealing with the city of Johannesburg’s municipal affairs and mining matters. It could also not vote the expenditure of money for any purpose whatsoever. A strict provision was added in Act No. 14 of 1893 that no extension of the franchise could take place unless the intention to do so had been published in the Staatscourant, the official government organ, for a year and unless two thirds of the enfranchised citizens signified their approval. A clause to this effect was included in the revised franchise act of 1894.
In the debate which preceded the adoption of the law of 1894 further difficulties were placed in the way of immigrants’ obtaining full citizenship. Naturalisation was made more difficult by a provision that applicants for naturalisation had to submit a declaration by a competent official to confirm that they did not have a sentence against them which precluded them from becoming citizens, and even more important, that children followed the status of their father, and if the father was unnaturalised they could not obtain citizenship even if they had been born in die Republic. These principles were accepted in spite of the fact that clause 1 of the resultant act specified that birth within the state was one of the central requirements for citizenship. Kruger supported the new requirements wholeheartedly and during the debate leading to the amended act used the false argument that citizenship was an inherited right and not a birth right. The result was that the law as approved contradicted not only itself but also the constitution, which stated that birth within the Republic was essential for obtaining citizenship. Kruger fully supported the stand taken by the conservative members in the Volksraad in spite of strong arguments to the contrary pointing out the danger of alienating the Uitlanders and making it almost impossible for them to become full citizens.
Meanwhile Kruger had also treated with disdain the approaches of the National Union after its formation in 1892 to plead the case of the Uitlanders for participation in the government. In a meeting with their representatives in September 1892 he acted extremely derogatively even when they intimated that they desired only four or five representatives in the First Volksraad. He sent them off with the statement that he would adhere to his stance with regard to the franchise in spite of agitation on their part. This was a decided snub and an opportunity missed to engage in meaningful and polite conversation with them. Henceforth the National Union’s leadership was to become much more radical.
Meanwhile Kruger’s use of the words “moordenaars en diewe” (murderers and thieves) in his speech at Paardekraal in 1891 was interpreted as a reference to the Uitlanders even though he denied this. However, the use of similar epithets in Volksraad debate of 1894 by members could not be misinterpreted. This applied, for instance, to the words “de schuim van ander volke” (the scum of other nations) used by A.D.W. Wolmarans in the debate. Kruger never denounced such expressions. This kind of expression in the legislature further estranged the Uitlanders from Kruger’s government.
Kruger’s thinking about full citizenship was rather simplistic. It made no provision for the possibility of Uitlanders’ becoming loyal citizens of the Republic. While foreigners would have qualified for citizenship in most other countries after a few years they had to wait a full 14 years for the same privilege in the ZAR. The right to vote for the members of the Second Volksraad certainly did not satisfy the Uitlanders, because the participation it gave them in political decision-making was negligible.
The final blow to the Uitlanders’ hope of becoming full citizens and sharing in decision-making was the resolution of the First Volksraad in 1894 and the resultant Act No. 3 of that year to exclude their sons who had been born in the Republic altogether from the franchise if the father was not naturalised. This provision in the law in the adoption of which Kruger played a central role is not mentioned in sources dealing with the franchise. The law disillusioned the Uitlanders to such an extent that the National Union which championed their cause became so militant that a peaceful settlement of the franchise question became impossible. The foundation of the alienation between the government and the Uitlanders was thus laid before 1895 and in that regard Kruger played a decisive role.
Keywords: alienation; franchise; Franchise Act, 1894; Johannesburg; National Union; Paul Kruger; Second Volksraad; Uitlanders