James Barry Munnik Hertzog

James Barry Munnik Hertzog (1866-1942) was a South African soldier and political leader. His government isolated Africans from the political process and laid the groundwork for the separatist apartheid system, which allowed the white minority to oppress blacks.

James Hertzog was born in the Wellington district of the Cape Province on April 3, 1866, a descendant of German immigrants. Educated at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, Hertzog studied law in Holland, France, and Germany. Returning to South Africa in 1893, he served as reporter to the Transvaal High Court and subsequently became a judge of the High Court of the Orange Free State. Hertzog resigned this post when the Anglo-Boer war broke out in 1899, enlisted for service, and assumed command of the burgher forces in June 1900. The Treaty of Vereeniging, which ended the war, set him on a public career that was to make Afrikaner nationalism the most important influence in South African politics.

Advocate of Afrikaner Nationalism

At the time, an Afrikaner leader was judged mainly by his attitudes to the British connection, the relations between the Afrikaners and the English minority, and inevitably the race problem. Hertzog's thinking on these had developed during his student days. "A distinctive nation," Oswald Pirow, his confidant and lifelong friend, quotes him as having written from Europe, "has thus come into being, with a distinctive language of a separate and independent character." Hertzog, who had been pleased to speak Dutch in Stellenbosch, then rejected "the folly of trying to introduce into South Africa a highly synthetic language like Nederlands."

For Hertzog, the destiny of the Afrikaner was defined in terms of "a severe and sustained struggle for dominance in South Africa." What Hertzog really had in mind emerged during a heated session of the Vereeniging peace conference. Angered by Boer demands for the equal treatment of the English and Dutch languages, Lord Milner, the British administrator, shouted: "I want only one official language in South Africa!" Hertzog's retort was "So do I!"

Louis Botha invited Hertzog to join his Cabinet when the Union (now Republic) of South Africa was formed in 1910. The partnership was doomed almost from the beginning. Where Botha cooperated with Britain, conciliated the English minority, and treated the Africans with paternalistic benevolence, Hertzog preferred a different political style. He was in a hurry to free South Africa from domination by "foreign fortune seekers," wanted the Afrikaners and the English to develop along separate though equal cultural lines, and insisted on segregating the Africans.

A keen admirer of John Milton's puritanical sternness and an untiring reader of Carlyle's Frederic the Great, Hertzog moved to his goals with a rigidity and single-mindedness which thrilled his followers, exasperated his enemies, and finally brought about his downfall. His version of language equality created crises in the Free State's educational system, which forced Botha to resign (1912) and reconstitute his Cabinet—without Hertzog.

The Nationalist party, led by Hertzog, came into being in 1914. It formed an alliance with the mainly English-speaking Labour party after the Rand disturbances in 1922. The alliance emerged victorious from the 1924 elections. Hertzog became Afrikaner nationalism's first prime minister. Two years later he was in London, pressing the Imperial Conference for clarification of the status of members of the British Commonwealth. The Statute of Westminster (1931), which recognized South Africa's independence, and the legislation giving the country a separate flag constitute the crowning achievements in Hertzog's struggle to remove the humiliations of Vereeniging.

Apostle of Apartheid

Hertzog's attitude to the African was rooted in the long history of conflict between black and white and in the Afrikaner's fear of miscegenation. Urgency was given to it by his fear of an African-English alliance against the Afrikaner. In the Cape, where the Africans had the vote, they used it against Afrikaner nationalism. One of the three British columns which had harassed Hertzog's armies in the Free State had been African. The first Nationalist-Labour Cabinet had fallen (1928) because the English-speaking labor minister had met a black delegation from Clements Kadalie's Industrial and Commercial Workers Union.

Hertzog's government introduced the bans to isolate and silence political dissent, removed the Africans from the common voters' roll in the Cape, and passed legislation upholding the industrial color bar. His successors were to build on these foundations to cast apartheid in its present form.

The depression forced Hertzog to form a coalition government with Gen. Jan C. Smuts, who led the South African party. The coalition developed into the United party (1934). The clouds of war were rising in Europe. Hertzog advocated a policy of neutrality. He adopted this attitude, he told the Imperial Conference in 1937, "because England continues to associate itself with France in a policy with reference to East and Central Europe which is calculated to endanger Germany's existence or which refuses to eliminate any injustice flowing from the Treaty of Versailles." With this in mind he tabled a neutrality motion in Parliament on Sept. 4, 1939, which was rejected by 80 votes to 67. His government fell.

He later joined D. F. Malan to form the Reunited party, which split in 1940 when the militants rejected Hertzog's moderate policies toward the English in favor of what he had earlier termed Afrikaner "dominance in South Africa." The remnants of his followers formed the Afrikaner party and persuaded Hertzog to lead it. Speaking out for national socialism for the Afrikaners, Hertzog alienated both the Afrikaner militants and those fighting Hitler. Embittered and lonely, Hertzog died on Nov. 21, 1942.

Further Reading on James Barry Munnik Hertzog

The most authoritative work on Hertzog is Christian Maurits van den Heever, General Hertzog (1946). Oswald Pirow, James Barry Munnik Hertzog (1958), discusses the intrigues that brought about Hertzog's downfall. Lawrence E. Neame, General Hertzog: Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa since 1924 (1930), is an English view of the Boer statesman.

Additional Biography Sources

Coetzer, Alta, Generaal Hertzog in beeld, Johannesburg: Perskor; 1991.

Esterhuysen, Matthys van As., The era of the generals = Die era van die generaals: a portrayal of the medals and commemorative awards in honour of General Louis Botha, Jan Christiaan Smuts and James Barry Munnik Hertzog …, Pretoria: National Cultural History and Open Air Museum, 1974.

Nienaber, Petrus Johannes, 1910-ed. Gedenkboek Generaal J. B. M. Hertzog, Johannesburg, Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel, 1965.

Generaal J.B.M. Hertzog: sy strewe en stryd, Johannesburg: Perskor, 1987.

Meiring, Piet, Generaal Hertzog, 50 jaar daarna, Johannesburg: Perskor, 1986.

Scholtz, Gert Daniel, Generaals Hertzog en Smuts en die Britse Ryk, Johannesburg: Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit, c1974.