South African republic referendum, 1960
A referendum on becoming a republic was held in South Africa on 5 October 1960. The Afrikaner-dominated right-wing National Party, which had come to power in 1948, was avowedly republican, and regarded the position of Queen Elizabeth II as head of state as a relic of British imperialism. The National Party government subsequently organised the referendum on whether the then Union of South Africa should become a republic. The vote, which was restricted to whites, was narrowly approved by 52.29% of the voters. The Republic of South Africa was constituted on 31 May 1961.
Prior to the referendum, H.F. Verwoerd — Prime Minister of South Africa since 1958 — lowered the voting age for whites to 18, and had also included the white voters of the ex-German colony of South West Africa, now Namibia, on the electoral roll. Afrikaners, who were more likely to favour a republic than English-speaking white South Africans, were also on average younger than them, with a higher birth rate. Similarly in South West Africa, the Afrikaners and German-speaking whites outnumbered English-speaking members.
Whites in the former Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State voted decisively in favour, as did those in South West Africa. In the Cape Province there was a smaller majority, while Natal, which had an English-speaking majority of whites, voted against. Following the referendum result, some whites in Natal even called for secession from the Union. Five years previous, some 33,000 Natalians had signed the Natal Covenant in opposition to the plans for a republic.
The opposition United Party actively campaigned for a 'No' vote, while the smaller Progressive Party appealed to supporters of the proposed change to 'reject this republic', arguing that South Africa's membership of the Commonwealth, with which it had privileged trade links, would be threatened.
Are you in favour of a Republic for the Union? (English)
Is u ten gunste van 'n Republiek vir die Unie? (Afrikaans)
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The National Party had not ruled out continued membership in the Commonwealth after the country became a republic, but the Commonwealth included new Asian and African members who saw the apartheid state's membership as an affront to the organisation's democratic principles. Consequently, South Africa left the Commonwealth on becoming a republic.
At the 1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference held after the referendum, Dr. Verwoerd raised the issue of continued membership after South Africa became a republic. This should not have caused too many problems, as India maintained its Commonwealth membership despite becoming a republic in 1950, but Verwoerd stirred up a confrontation, causing many members to threaten to withdraw if South Africa's renewal of membership application was accepted.
As a result, Verwoerd's plan worked, membership application was withdrawn, meaning that upon its becoming a republic South Africa's Commonwealth membership simply lapsed. Many Afrikaners welcomed this as a clean break with the colonial past. When the Republic of South Africa was declared on 31 May 1961, Queen Elizabeth II ceased to be head of state, and the last Governor General of the Union, Charles R. Swart, took office as the first State President.
Other symbolic changes also occurred:
- Legal references to the Crown were replaced by those to the State.
- Queen's Counsels became known as Senior Counsels.
- The Crown was removed from the badges of the military and police.
- The Royal title was dropped from the names of some South African Army regiments, such as the Natal Carbineers. However, some institutions retained the Royal title, such as the Royal Natal National Park and the Royal Society of South Africa
Other references to the monarchy had been removed before the establishment of a republic; in 1952, the title of South African Navy vessels HMSAS (His Majesty's South African Ship) was changed to SAS (South African Ship), and in 1959 the Crown in the SAN cap badge was replaced with the Lion of Nassau from the crest of the country's coat of arms.
However, the only notable difference between the Constitution of the Republic and that of the Union was that the State President was the ceremonial head of state, in place of the Queen and Governor-General.
The National Party decided against having an executive presidency, instead adopting a minimalist approach, as a conciliatory gesture to English-speaking whites who were opposed to a republic; the office did not become an executive post until 1984. Similarly, the Union Flag remained a feature of the Flag of South Africa until 1994, despite its unpopularity among many Afrikaners.
- South Africa, 5 October 1960: Proclamation of the Republic Direct Democracy (German)
- "Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd". South African History Online. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
On 5 October 1960 a referendum was held in which White voters were asked "Do you support a republic for the Union?" — 52 percent voted 'Yes'.
- Secession Talked by Some Anti-Republicans, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 11 October 1960
- Jeffery, Keith (1996). An Irish Empire?: Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire. Manchester University Press. pp. 199–201.
- Joyce, Peter (2007). The making of a nation : South Africa's road to freedom. Cape Town: Zebra Press. p. 120. ISBN 9781770073128.
- home page of Royal Society of South Africa web site
- South African Navy - Unlikely Ambassadors