United Party

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The United Party (UP) was a major political party in South Africa from 1934 until 1977. Formed by the fusion of the South African Party and the majority faction of the National Party subsequent to their 1933 general election coalition, the UP governed South Africa from 1934 through 1948 and was the official opposition party from 1948 until its dissolution nearly three decades later.


The formation of the United Party grew out of the political upheaval prompted by South Africa's gold standard crisis during the early 1930s. When Great Britain announced its abandonment of the gold standard in September 1931, National Party (NP) leader and Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog and Minister of Finance Nicolaas Havenga decided that South Africa would not go along. Hertzog and Havenga were roundly criticized for this decision, which had devastating effects on South Africa's already ailing economy. The result of a 1932 by-election in Germiston, a Transvaal constituency that had been considered safely Nationalist but suddenly fell into the hands of the South African Party (SAP), clearly signaled the extent of disillusionment with the NP government. This led Tielman Roos, an aging, founding member of the National Party, to come suddenly out of retirement and demand South Africa's abandonment of the gold standard. With 24 Nationalist politicians supporting him, Roos upped the ante by threatening to join forces with the SAP, oust the National Party, and save South Africa from economic ruin.

Finally, on December 28, 1932, Hertzog took South Africa off the gold standard, a move that would soon improve South Africa's financial situation substantially. By this point, however, the NP government was unlikely to rebound from the blow to its legitimacy, which led Hertzog to agree to SAP leader Jan Christiaan Smuts's proposal to form a unity coalition between their parties. Less than two months after South Africa's abandonment of the gold standard, the two party leaders announced that they had reached an agreement and formed a coalition government in which Hertzog continued on as Prime Minister, Smuts became his deputy, and twelve cabinet posts were split evenly between the National and South African Parties.

The new governing coalition swept the 1933 general election, winning 136 out of 150 total parliamentary seats.

The United Party in government

The UP remained in power from its formation in 1934 until 1948. Throughout this period, the party's overriding task was to maintain its broad base, which spanned traditional divisions to incorporate white South Africans from a variety of ethnocultural, socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds.

South Africanism

The Natives bills

The Neutrality question

Five years of cooperation between Hertzog and Smuts ended on September 4, 1939, when the question of South Africa's entry into World War II was brought to a vote in Parliament.

Wartime and postwar policies

The United Party in opposition

The UP lost political power in 1948, when it was unexpectedly ousted by a coalition government formed by the (Herenigde) National Party and the Afrikaner Party.