1942 – AFRIKANERS AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The Second World War had a polarising effect on the Afrikaner community in South Africa. Many Afrikaners joined the Union forces under General Jan Smuts and played a major role in the resistance against German forces in North Africa. However, many Afrikaners were also opposed to the idea of waging war against Germany. After all, the Germans were always helpful to the Afrikaners. The Ossewabrandwag played a leading role in the resistance against South Africa’s involvement in the Second World War. Was the Ossewabrandwag sympathetic to Germany? Or did they simply not want to fight with Britain, the Boers’ enemies of the Anglo-Boer War? Come visit the exhibition and decide for yourself.
Even today, the mere mention of the name Ossewabrandwag (OB) provokes differing opinions. There are quite a few misperceptions about the movement that usually stem from ignorance or prejudice. The OB was compared to the European fascist movements of the 1930s and 1940s and accused of Nazism. It has also been described as an underground terrorist movement. Even the roots of apartheid were sought in the movement.
It is largely forgotten that the OB in the early 1940s, at the height of its popularity, probably did not have an equal in Afrikaner history. With more than 300 000 members, the movement was the largest of its kind in the history of the Afrikaners.
The OB was initially established as a cultural organisation (with a men’s, women’s and youth section) in 1939, but under its charismatic leader Hans van Rensburg it was gradually politicised during the turbulent war years when there was a relentless struggle for control of the Afrikaner soul.
Although the movement adhered to distinctive national socialism, the main driving force was always Afrikaner nationalism and the establishment of a republic – which was regarded as justified aspirations in the struggle against British domination. In the aftermath of the suffering and grief caused by the Anglo-Boer War, as well as the disillusionment of the Rebellion, the OB was sympathetic to the Germans and hostile to the British during the Second World War. Its basis was anti-British rather than a pro-Nazi attitude.
During the Second World War, Afrikaners themselves were more divided, and their mutual bitterness was bigger than ever. The OB was caught up in an internal conflict and had to fight the battle on two fronts – on the one hand against the then National Party and on the other hand against the Smuts government, which decided to actively support Britain’s war efforts. In the long run, the OB, with its foreign ideological principles, would not be able to withstand all the onslaughts.
In addition to all the prejudices, there was also the reality that a smaller activist group, the Stormjaers, had emerged within the OB. The Stormjaers resorted to sabotage, while most members of the OB were opposed to any form of violence. Although the Stormjaers functioned independently, their acts of sabotage are often wrongly attributed to the OB.
In a nationwide wave of sabotage, explosives were illegally manufactured, strategic institutions were blown up and various connecting lines, as well as power lines and power stations, were destroyed on a large scale, while daring burglaries and robberies were carried out. They liaised with Nazi Germany and instigated a deliberate attempt to halt Allied shipping. They also carried out violent retaliation for those who were regarded as apostates of this Afrikaner cause. Many assassinations were planned but only a few were carried out.
In turn, the Smuts government detained thousands of Afrikaners suspected of subversive actions (sometimes unfounded) in the country, in internment camps in various locations. Hundreds were detained in prison without trial.
The OB’s spectacular rise and impressive boom in its early years stand in stark contrast to its infamous end at the beginning of the 1950s. However, his legacy to help create a nationalist and republican enthusiasm among Afrikaners was considerable.
THE OSSEWABRANDWAG AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The outbreak of the Second World War led to further division amongst Afrikaners. The government expected all citizens to join England and the Allied forces in the war efforts against Germany, but for many Afrikaners, the memory of the Anglo-Boer War and the Rebellion of 1914 was still too fresh.
THE REASONS FOR THEIR RESISTANCE WERE THREEFOLD:
- They saw the war as an opportunity to eventually be able to establish an independent republic.
- They had conscientious objections to cooperating with those seen as the enemy just a few decades ago.
- Germany was regarded as a friendly country following the moral support it provided the Boers during the Anglo-Boer War, and it was hoped that if Germany won the war, it would not interfere with South Africa’s internal matters.
The OB, with its well-established communication structures, was the ideal organisation to take the lead in this resistance movement. The membership grew rapidly, and it is reported that by 1941 about 350 000 members belonged to the OB.
PRESIDENTS AND PREMIERS
On 31 May 1961, South Africa became a republic. With this he declared his complete independence from the British Empire and detached himself from the long-arm government of London which even after the Union in 1910 still applied to South Africa. South Africa’s membership in the British Commonwealth was consequently suspended and he had to reapply for it. When it became apparent that the concessions demanded by member states before he was admitted to the body again, namely one man one vote – which would lead to a black majority government, were too much to ask, South Africa, led by its prime minister, Dr HF Verwoerd withdrew his application and thus maintained his self-respect.
ABOUT OLD UNCLES AND THEIR HATS: PROF. DANIE GOOSEN
History always challenges us. Unfortunately, the word “challenge” tends to discourage some. However, this is the wrong reaction. Challenges offer us enormous opportunities to come up with imaginative thoughts and actions. And to answer the challenges. An answer to the challenges is often accompanied by an enlivening of one’s own. Without challenges, we run the risk of sinking into the mediocre.
Our past leaders are a good example. During the 20th century, Afrikaners faced many serious economic, social and political challenges. The answer given by Afrikaners under the leadership of the old uncles was accompanied by almost incomparable achievements in every area of life. Seize the challenges and read the positive message from our leaders.
Amid the many challenges we face today, the battle for ideas is one of our greatest challenges. To sum it up in a single question: How do Afrikaners respond to the ideological “good versus evil” scheme that is passed on to our leaders and our history? A credible answer (which is historically, rationally and ethically well-founded) is vital for us as a self-respecting cultural community.