South African republic referendum, 1960

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South African republic referendum
5 October 1960
Are you in favour of a Republic for the Union?
Votes  %
Yes check.svg Yes 850,458 52.29%
X mark.svg No 775,878 47.71%
Valid votes 1,626,336 99.52%
Invalid or blank votes 7,904 0.48%
Total votes 1,634,240 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 1,800,426 90.77%
Results by province
South Africa 1960 referendum result by province.svg
  Yes —   No

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.[1][2] The Republic of South Africa was constituted on 31 May 1961.


Prior to the referendum, H.F. VerwoerdPrime Minister of South Africa since 1958 — lowered the voting age for whites to 18, 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. Also included on the electoral roll were white voters in South West Africa, now Namibia, where the Afrikaners and ethnic Germans, who outnumbered English-speaking whites, were strong supporters of the National Party.[3]

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.[4] Five years previous, some 33,000 Natalians had signed the Natal Covenant in opposition to the plans for a republic.[5]

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.


Ballot paper used in the referendum. Ballot reads on the upper row: IS U TEN GUNSTE VAN 'N REPUBLIEK VIR DIE UNIE in Afrikaans and on the bottom row: ARE YOU IN FAVOUR OF A REPUBLIC FOR THE UNION in English.[6][7]
Choice Votes %
For 850,458 52.29
Against 775,878 47.71
Invalid/blank votes 7,904
Total 1,634,240 100
Registered voters/turnout 1,800,426 90.77
Source: Direct Democracy

By province[edit]

Province For Against Invalid/
Total Registered
Votes % Votes %
Cape of Good Hope 271,418 50.15 269,784 49.85 2,881 544,083 591,298 92.02
Natal 42,299 23.78 135,598 76.22 688 178,585 193,103 92.48
Orange Free State 110,171 76.72 33,438 23.28 798 144,407 160,843 89.78
South-West Africa 19,938 62.39 12,017 37.61 280 32,235 37,135 86.80
Transvaal 406,632 55.58 325,041 44.42 3,257 734,930 818,047 89.84
Source: Direct Democracy


The National Party had not ruled out continued membership in the Commonwealth after the country became a republic, but the Commonwealth by now included new Asian and African members who saw the apartheid state's membership as an affront to the organisation's new 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:

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),[9] 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.

The new decimalised currency, the Rand, which did not feature the Queen's portrait on either notes or coinage, had already been introduced before the establishment of the Republic.

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.


  1. ^ South Africa, 5 October 1960: Proclamation of the Republic Direct Democracy (German)
  2. ^ "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'. 
  3. ^ Afrikaner Politics in South Africa, 1934-1948, Newell M. Stultz, University of California Press, 1974, page 161
  4. ^ Secession Talked by Some Anti-Republicans, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, 11 October 1960
  5. ^ Jeffery, Keith (1996). An Irish Empire?: Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire. Manchester University Press. pp. 199–201. 
  6. ^ Statutes of the Union of South Africa, Government Print and Stationery Office, 1960, page 666
  7. ^ Guelke, Adrian (2005). Rethinking the Rise and Fall of Apartheid. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 101. Retrieved 18 August 2016. 
  8. ^ home page of Royal Society of South Africa web site
  9. ^ South African Navy - Unlikely Ambassadors

External links[edit]