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Union of South Africa – Unie van Suid-Afrika 1932

South Africa National Flags and Coat of Arms
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Union of South Africa – Unie van Suid-Afrika 1932

Postby slaaibak » Tue Dec 06, 2016 11:11 am

Union of South Africa – Unie van Suid-Afrika

Independent state within the Commonwealth from 1930



Background to the 1932 drawing:
Brownell writes that the Jersey-born, London-based artist George Kruger Gray was commissioned and “produced a most attractive full achievement which was ‘recorded’ by the College of Arms on 21 September 1932 and came in to use in 1933, the same year that King George V opened South Africa House” on Trafalgar Square, London. This building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, which housed the South African High Commission in Britain (subsequently the Embassy, and now again the High Commission), features Gray’s work in its decoration. Sir Herbert had been instrumental in commissioning the Kruger Gray drawing.

The Kruger Gray design incorporates a helmet and mantling for the first time, has the supporters’ tails high, and adds floral emblems to the compartment. However, the oxwagon is still the mistaken transport wagon of 1910 (although better drawn), rather than the trek wagon (kakebeenwa) that it ought to have been.

The flowers on the dexter side are the national flower, Protea cynaroides,[1] while those on the sinister are not clearly drawn and could be any of the Cape sugarbush (Protea repens),[2] Protea longifolia or perhaps Protea magnifica [formerly P barbigera].

The lion crest in the Kruger Gray drawing is the most mediæval of the three lions, which in one sense is most appropriate, since it takes heraldry back to its origins, but in another is rather unfortunate, since the arms of an African country reflect an animal very unlike a natural lion.

Language development:
The Afrikaans language underwent a noticeable change which attained official recognition in 1933 when a re-release of the South African pictorial stamp designs of 1926 changed the spelling of the country’s name from “Suidafrika” to “Suid-Afrika”.

Constitutional development:
This version of the arms also marks an enhanced status for South Africa. In December 1931 the British Parliament had passed the Statute of Westminster, which in effect made independent states of the British Dominions – of South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland (which became a province of Canada in 1949) and Éire (the Irish Free State, or Saorstát Éireann, which in 1937 became the Dominion of Éire and in 1949 left the Commonwealth on becoming a republic, the Poblacht Éireann).

This new status was formalised in South Africa in 1934 with the passage of the Status of the Union Act (transferring sovereign authority to the Union Parliament) and the Seals Act (creating a Royal Great Seal and a Royal Signet, kept in the Prime Minister’s Office and distinct from the Great Seal of the Governor-General). South Africa was the first, and for some years the only, Commonwealth member to confirm the provisions of the Statute of Westminster in its own legislation.

Even before either Parliament had passed these laws, the British Crown had made two appointments which already signified a changed status: in January 1931 a new Governor-General was appointed (on the advice of the South African Cabinet alone) who was not High Commissioner, and in April a separate appointment was made to the office of High Commissioner. This meant that the protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland were the responsibility of an official serving in an ambassadorial capacity and representing the British Government, rather than the sovereign’s deputy as Head of State. The protectorates now set up their own postal services and issued postage stamps in 1932 (Bechuanaland, no longer using overprinted British stamps) and ’33 (Basutoland and Swaziland).

In 1937 the first South African Governor-General (a South African by domicile) was appointed, and in 1946 the first South African-born Governor-General. The last Governor-General, appointed in 1960, became the first State President of the Republic of South Africa the following year.

The first significant change to the Cape franchise came in 1936 when black voters were removed from the common voters’ roll and placed on a separate roll to elect so-called Native Representatives (who were white) to Parliament.

South Africa’s independence was demonstrated in 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany. South Africa’s status as a belligerent was not automatic, and was determined by a parliamentary vote (Parliament having been convened, coincidentally and for other purposes, the day after Britain’s declaration). General Hertzog, who wanted neutrality, was defeated, and Gen Smuts became Prime Minister.

At the end of the war, South Africa – and specifically Gen Smuts – was actively involved in the formation of the United Nations, Smuts himself writing the Preamble to the UN Charter. Gen Smuts had in this way played a key role in the foundation of three international organisations.

On 7 May 1945 the South African delegation to the United Nations expressed the opinion that the mandate over South West Africa had lapsed, and that the territory should be incorporated into the Union. The territory’s Legislative Assembly requested incorporation, and was supported by (disenfranchised) German population. An opinion survey among brown and black inhabitants produced an overwhelming majority also in favour. But at the United Nations India proposed that this proposal be turned down, and the territory was proclaimed a Trust Territory. South Africa was expected to submit annual reports, and further disputes arose over this requirement.

South Africa was thanked for its wartime contribution with an official visit in 1947 by the Head of State, King George VI, together with the Queen and their daughters the Princess Elizabeth (who was to become Queen in 1952) and the Princess Margaret. During this visit the South African Parliament was opened – the only time this happened – by the King, rather than by the Governor-General.

In 1948, Gen Smuts was removed from office with the victory of the National Party of Dr D F Malan, which planned a radical reorganisation of society, especially in that it wanted to entrench and enforce rigorously the segregation which had traditionally been part of South African life and which many now realised was outdated. Its early attempts to tamper with the franchise were defeated after voters had recourse to the courts, but after it had ensured a compliant (enlarged) Senate, the National Party succeeded in 1956 in removing Cape Coloureds from the common roll and creating Coloured Representatives in Parliament.

The parliamentary Act creating the enlarged Senate was challenged in the courts, but in affirming the Act the Appeal Court made a finding that Parliament was sovereign, and could pass any Act it wished. This was to remain a principle of South African law until 1994.

The National Party also passed the South West Africa Affairs Amendment Act in 1949, which made several changes to the administration of that territory. Significant for the Union was its provision of seats in the South African Parliament for members elected from South West Africa: six in the House of Assembly and four Senators.

Another development of 1949 was a consequence of India’s becoming a republic. Previously the King had been Head of State of all members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Declaration of that year recognised the King as the symbol of the free association of the independendent member states of the Commonwealth, with the style Head of the Commonwealth.

Under South Africa’s Royal Style and Titles Act of 1953 (passed by Parliament on 29 May that year), a separate title of Queen of South Africa was created, replacing (as far as this country was concerned) the previous designation Queen of the British Dominions beyond the Seas.

In 1959 the Bantu Self-Government Act abolished Native Representatives in Parliament and envisaged the creation of self-governing states in which black South Africans would have their citizenship, losing all rights in “white” South Africa. Coming as it did after a series of moves which had angered black South Africans, it set the scene for resistance against white domination which was to have far-reaching results.

The National Party, having mooted the idea of a republic for several years, held a referendum on the question in October 1960. The outcome was significantly skewed in that Cape Coloured voters, who still had a (limited) parliamentary franchise, were excluded from voting, while South West African voters were included in the poll, even though the territory had never been incorporated into the Union. The outcome – 850 458 votes for a republic, 775 878 against – was clearly the direct result of this tampering with the franchise. Prime Minister Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, anticipating an unfriendly reception for South Africa because of its racial policies, pre-empted any negative response from the Commonwealth by withdrawing unilaterally from that association of nations.

Flags of the Union:
In 1952 the Union Jack lost its joint status as national flag, and the Union Flag of 1928 became the sole national flag. The Red Ensign with the Union shield in the fly also fell away, and was replaced as merchant flag by the Union Flag. However in Natal, where the predominantly English-speaking white population was loyal to the British Crown, the Union Jack remained in use until 1961 as national flag (alongside the Union Flag), not only by private users but also by the Provincial Administration and municipalities (boroughs and corporations, as they were termed in Natal).

The changed status of the Governor-General also meant a change in this official’s flag, and a new flag was also brought into use for the now separate office of High Commissioner. The Governor-General’s flag was to change again (slightly) in 1953 when Queen Elizabeth authorised the use of St Edward’s crown as the symbol of the monarchy in place of the Tudor crown introduced by King Edward VII (as explained on this page).

Territorial expansion:
The creation of the Union in 1910 was not only the bringing together of four colonies, but a dream of incorporating further territory. Already in 1910 there was talk of Basutoland, Swaziland, Bechuanaland and Rhodesia. In 1918-19 sights were set not only on South West Africa, but also a scheme of Gen Smuts’s to hand 90% of German East Africa to Portugal in exchange for Mozambique south of the Zambezi. But because of Portugal’s (highly technical) status as an ally, this idea had to be dropped. As Gen Smuts had foreseen, South Africa’s not holding the port of Beira was a factor in Rhodesia’s 1924 decision to become a separate Crown Colony, instead of a province of the Union. Lastly, South Africa’s move to republican status under the NP’s racial policies was the last nail in the coffin of the idea of incorporating the three High Commission territories. All three were to take their independence in the 1960s – Basutoland (Lesotho) and Swaziland as kingdoms, and Bechuanaland as the Republic of Botswana. So South Africa ended its time as a British Dominion with exactly the same surface area and the same provinces as in 1910.


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