20 MARCH 1920, Page 5


THE results of the General Election in South Africa are worth careful watching. for the future relations of the political parties in South Africa are now being determined, and upon the decision will depend the stability and progress of the whole country. Although when we go to press the figures of the General Election are not quite complete, it is evident that there is no single party sufficiently strong to carry on the work of government without an affiance or accommodation with some other party. The great problem of South African politics has in fact not been solved. This problem is so important and so interesting that we shall try briefly to describe it.

There are four main political parties in South Africa. First, there is the South African Party, chiefly composed of Dutch-speaking men who are loyal to the British con- nexion. This is the party which was led with brilliant success by that great South African figure, General Botha, and which is now led by General Smuts, who succeeded General Botha as Prime Minister. Secondly, there is the Unionist Party, mainly composed of men of British birth. As every one knows, throughout the war the South African Party was supported generously and uncon- ditionally by the Unionists in order that South Africa might do her best to help to win the war. Thirdly. there is the Nationalist Party, composed of Dutch speaking men and led by that champion and philosopher of racial distinctions, General Hertzog. The Nationalist Party is frankly separatist ; General Hertzog denounces the British connexion and would like to establish a Republic in South Africa. Finally, there is the Labour Party. appealing more to the manual workers of the towns than to the farm workers of the veld, presided over by Colonel Creswell. So far as the figures of the General Election go, they indicate that General Smuts and the South African Party have lost a quarter of their strength instead, as they hoped, of gaining a little. The Unionists have also lost a third ; and though the Nationalists have nearly doubled their numbers, they have utterly failed to make good their declaration that eighty per cent. of the Dutch-speaking population were with them. A feature of the elections is the greatly increased strength of the Labour Party.

Since the General Election in 1915 the Government, drawing their leadership and their main support from the South African Party, had really depended for existence upon the co-operation of the Unionist Party. As we have said already, that co operation was given without reserve. There was no question of a coalition. The two parties • simply worked together to help the Empire and to bring South Africa, safely through the crisis. But co operation on such terms—rather a state of no-terms for the Unionists— was not a thing which could continue in the days of peace, and the issue to be settled was whether at the General Election one of the parties would become strong enough to stand on its own feet. Suggestions of the coalition or fusion of two parties before the election had all ended in smoke. It is easy to say that there are enough people in South Africa anxious to be loyal to Great Britain, and anxious to obliterate as far as possible racial rancour, for a fusion of parties to be the obvious and practical policy But when one comes to look into the matter closely all kinds of difficulties appear. As the South African correspondent of the Round Table points out in the March number, the Unionist Party as such would be committing political suicide if it continued to support a South African Party Government without any voice in the determination of policy. If the Unionists and, the South African Party are to work closely together in future, they must either form a carefully considered working alliance, or one party must wholly absorb the other. At the General Congress of the Unionist Party last October Sir Thomas Smartt, the leader of that party, announced that he was willing to agree to the formation of a new organization under the leadership of General Smuts having as its main object the maintenance of the Constitution and giving fair consideration to Unionist principles He was not prepared to advocate the absorption of his party in the South African Party. Sir Thomas Srnartt's policy of moderation and conciliation for the good of the Union was received with enthusiasm, as it deserved to be for its virtues. Every one in South Africa awaited with eager suspense the answer of General Smuts. To pretend that it was easy for General Smuts to give his answer would be to misunderstand the whole situation in South Africa. It was not for him simply a question of accepting a fine offer and governing in strengths and happiness ever after- wards. The South African Party, though it contains a certain number—probably an increasing number—of dwellers in the towns, and also rather more members than formerly of British race. draws its real strength from the Dutch-speaking people of the country districts. Many of these last were kept in the South African Party entirely by the personal influence of General Botha, but they are under varying degrees of temptation to listen to the unceasing Nationalist propaganda and to swing over to the side of General Hertzog. To such men the whole idea of combination with the Unionist Party—a combin- ation which would divide them still more markedly from their own kin--is distasteful. Racial instinct makes them wish to be at one with the Nationalists even when they disapprove of the Nationalist ideal of separation as wrong and unpractical. In trief, the first effect of an attempt on the part of the South African and Unionist Parties to draw more closely together was to stir a movement for reunion between the South African and Nationalist Parties. Any such reunion. or a strong tendency towards it, wou'd be, according to the degree of its success, a calamity. It would be an encouragement to General Hertzog in his advocacy of the hateful doctrine of the two streams " —the British and Dutch streams—in South Africa. General Smuts therefore came to the conclusion that combination with the Unionist Party would be to make a gift of strength to the Nationalists. That was why he decided to fight the General Election on the old party lines. The old party groupings have been the sport of everybody because they were notoriously inadequate to the needs of South Africa. Nevertheless General Smuts's arguments were honest and intelligible enough. The disappointment of the General Election is that it leaves matters where they were. South Africa still has her unsolved problem. Very likely there will have to be some amalgamation or coalition after all. It may be that the dangers and difficulties of such a thing have been exaggerated. Apparently everybody expects that there will have to be another General Election before long. The chief thing for South Africa in the view of all those who recognize that she already has at once real independ- ence and real security in the British Empire, is to avoid the aggravation of racial differences. General Hertzog, who seems to have little sense of the value of words, has said that the alternative to Republicanism is " the status of a Crown Colony " under Great Britain. General Smuts knows better ; and we hope that nobody here will be disposed to quarrel with him when he emphasizes the fact that all the British Dominions have become sister States of Great Britain • The South African problem ought to be settled. While white men dispute and fail the great multitude of natives, far outnumbering the whites, look on with wonder, and perhaps harbour restless and perilous thoughts.