Archive for the ‘Visual Theory – Common South African Historical Background’ Category

Why is the historical background to an an artist, art/style movement important?

All humans function within the limitations of time and space. An artist can make art on any topic, but can only do it from a personal perspective. This perspective is created by the circumstances, in which the artist lives – peace, war, wealth, poverty, etc. Every artist is a product of his time and he reflects the ideas of the time (zeirgeist – spirit of the time) either consciously or subconsciously.


Boere Oorlog (Anglo-Boer War1899 – 1902)

J McMaster [Soldier in a landscape 1901] painting from the South African War

J McMaster [Soldier in a landscape 1901] painting from the South African War

The two Boere Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Freestate fought Britian for their freedom. From March 1900 the Boers launched a guerrilla war against the British forces, during which the Boers raided targets such as British troop columns, telegraph sites, railways and storage depots. To cut off supplies to the Boere Commandos, the British, under the leadership of Lord Kitchener, responded with a scorched earth policy of destroying Boer farms and placing the women and children in concentration camps.

The conquest of the republics affected all Afrikaners, including those in the Cape and divided the English and Afrikaans speaking people. Not only did the war destroy Boer towns and farms, it destroyed the Boer way of life completely.

When the British resorted to the scorched earth policy of burning Boer farms, blacks were also removed from farms and accommodated in separate concentration camps. Although the Anglo-Boer War was initially termed a ‘white man’s war’, large numbers of black people became involved in the conflict, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The Anglo-Boer War affected all the people of South Africa.

A black despatch runner is prepared for sending a message to Ladysmith. Despatch runners played a vital role on both sides during the war.

The British attempt, after the war, to follow the military victory by a cultural one, was viewed by Afrikaners as an attempt at cultural genocide. Although Lord Milner’s attempt at wholesale anglicization was directed at Afrikaners in the OFS and Transvaal, it affected Afrikaners throughout South Africa and for the first time Afrikaners felt themselves united throughout the provinces and from all social structures, under one cultural identity. The years 1902 to 1910 were crucial in contributing to a growing nationalism among Afrikaners as the bitterness from their suffering in the war and resentments began to be voiced and Afrikaner movements were formed to promote all aspects of the Afrikaner culture. The destruction of the Afrikaner farms forced many Afrikaners to move to the cities after the war and was one of the contributing factors of the Poor White problem.

The Union of South Africa (1910)

All the South African colonies were united into one union under the rule of the British Crown, but the Union had their own government and could make their own laws. This was the end of the colonial era in South Africa and for the first time South African could start to develop their own identity .

Map of the Union of South Africa

Land Act (1910 – 1913)

This law made reserves for Blacks and did not allow the sale of White land  to Blacks, or Black land to whites. Over 80% of the land went to White people, who made up less than 20% of the population. According to the Act, Black people could live outside the reserves only if they could prove that they were in White employment, which led to the Pass Law so that black people did not have freedom of movement and always had to carry a pass or they could be jailed.

World War 1 (1914 – 1917 )

The Union of South Africa joined the war on the side of Great Brittian, but because Great Brittian was still seen as an enemy in the eyes of the Afrikaners who had suffered under the British during the Boer War, there was a lot of bitterness. The Rebellion that broke out was ruthlessly suppressed and some of leaders killed were heroes during the Boer War. The resentment that followed strengthened the support for the National Party and the contributed to the growth of Afrikaner Nationalism and support of the National Party which eventually led to Apartheid.

Poor White Issue/Problem (1915 – 1920)

Many unskilled whites were forced to move to the towns and cities to find work. Most of the poor whites were Afrikaners and felt that their culture was threatened in the cities. The Poor White problem led to the Rand Rebellion after which the National Party joined with the Labour Party and so the National Party won the elections in 1924 with Hertzog as leader. Hertzog represented the National Party to promote White South Africa and Afrikaner Nationalism. White and Black experienced poverty, but the government focused only on helping the poor whites.

In 1929, the South African government devoted 13 per cent of its budget to the eradication of white poverty. Much of this went to education, social welfare, and housing. The introduction of more stringent segregationist legislation progressively disenfranchised blacks, and reserved skilled work for whites. (Ref)

By the end of the 1920s, it was estimated that out of a total of 1,800,000 whites, 300,000 were ‘very poor’, and nearly all of these were Afrikaans.

World War II (1939 – 1945)

World War 2 further divided white South Africans. In 1934, the NP formed an alliance with the South African Party under Jan Smuts to win the elections. The Alliance remained in power until 1939 when it broke apart as a result of disagreements about neutrality in the Second World War and J.B.M Hertzog resigned from his position as Prime Minister. He then joined with D.F Malan in forming the Herenigde (Reunited) National Party (HNP). Jan Smuts took over. Thousands of members of the Ossewabrandwag (pro-Germany), including a future prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, were imprisoned for antiwar activities.

The war had a positive effect on the South African economy. Many black people moved to the cities so that after the war there were more black people in the cities than whites. Many of these blacks lived in squatter communities on the outskirts of major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Although this was necessary for war production, it clashed with separation policies that blacks should live in their rural locations and not become permanent urban residents. Black freedom organizations were born that demanded official recognition and better treatment of their members. They also formed their own trade unions and showed their growing strength by going on strikes. An awareness of Black Rights was growing.

Apartheid (1948 – 1993)

The Separate Amenities Act separated the residents of South Africa through forcing different races to use separate public facilities.

The HNP (The Reformed National Party) believed that black Africans should be viewed as only temporary dwellers in the cities and should be forced to return to the countryside to meet the labour needs of farmers (primarily Afrikaners). The HNP also declared that black Africans should develop independent political bodies in “their true fatherland,” their homelands or Bantustans, and should have no form of parliamentary representation in South Africa. They also called for the prohibition of mixed marriages, which made marriages and sexual relationships (Immorality Act) between whites and members of other racial groups illegal. They also wanted to ban the black trade unions, and have stricter enforcement of job reservation. It was the first time the word Apartheid was used to describe their policies of segregation.

During the 1948 elections the HNP defeated Smuts and the United Party. The HNP renamed the National Party (NP), ruled South Africa until 1994. Race classification was made law in 1952 and all South Africans had to be classified as white, coloured, or native (later called Bantu) people. Indians. or Asians. Strict Security laws were introduced to enforce the laws. Through these laws the Government was allowed to ban people and a Board of Censors was established to censor books, films, and other materials imported into, or produced in South Africa.

In 1960 a majority of white voters, irritated by growing world condemnation of apartheid, supported Verwoerd’s proposal to make South Africa a republic, and South Africa left the Commonwealth. May1961 South Africa Became a Republic.


Country Studies

Military History Journal – Vol 11 No3/4 – October 1999

South African History