The Unification of South Africa, 1902-1910

The Unification of South Africa, 1902-1910

The Unification of South Africa, 1902-1910

The Unification of South Africa, 1902-1910

Excerpt

The unification of South Africa was one of the last creative expressions of the age of optimism which was brought to a close by the First World War. This decisive step towards the elimination of imperial authority in South Africa, in favour of the white settlers of Afrikaner and British stocks, was considered to be justified by the hopes that the Anglo-Boer feud would disappear, that white South Africans would grow increasingly humane in their dealings with their non-white fellow countrymen, and that the Union would become a liberal democracy on the British pattern. Today it can hardly be said that those hopes have been realized. Most white South Africans have been actuated by racial sentiment rather than by the liberal traditions of their countries of origin. Consequently, besides being a striking example of the operation of political forces in a multi-racial society, the story of the unification of South Africa provides a salutary reminder of the limitations of human foresight.

Fortunately there is a wealth of private papers, most of them still unpublished, which help one to discover the motives and unravel the tactics of the men who played the leading parts in the story, and on many of the key issues I have been able to let them speak for themselves. Although the last word cannot yet be said on the policy of the British Government, since the official British records of the period, including the dispatches between the Colonial Secretary and the South African High Commissioner and Governors, have not been made available to the historian, the general tenor of that policy is clear enough from other sources.

Many previous publications bear upon the subject of this book. Some are essentially tendentious; a large proportion are biographies, which inevitably give an incomplete picture; and none appears to have been based upon a study of more than a fraction of the primary material which is listed in the bibliography at the end of this volume.

I have thought it desirable to provide thorough documentation, and to reserve comment upon the main assumptions of the period for a brief concluding section. Most of the issues which aroused strong feelings fifty years ago are still the stuff of political controversy in South Africa today.

One of the pleasures of historical research is the co-operation one receives from the owners of private papers, from librarians and . . .

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