South African Party

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The South African Party (SAP) was a major political party in South Africa from 1910 until 1934, when it was dissolved and fused with the National Party to form the United Party.

South Africa's first government

The Union of South Africa held its first general elections in September 1910, when the national party system was still in its infancy. The South African Party was formed shortly after the election as a coalition government of 67 members of parliament elected from three provincial parties: the Transvaal's Het Volk (The People), the Orange Free State's Orangia Unie (Orange Union), and the Cape's Afrikaner Bond (Afrikaner Association). Its first leader and prime minister until his death in 1919 was Louis Botha, one of several Anglo-Boer War generals who played a prominent role in South African politics during the first half of the twentieth century. His successor was Jan Christiaan Smuts, another Boer general who led the SAP until its dissolution in 1934.

During its first five years in power, the SAP passed several notable pieces of legislation, including the Mines and Works Act of 1911 and the Natives Land Act of 1913.

The Rand Revolt and the SAP's ouster

The SAP was originally intended as a "big tent" party that would accommodate a diversity of ethnocultural and economic interests. Within two years of its founding, however, dissension over language policy led to the defection of Minister of Justice J.B.M. Hertzog, who led the establishment of the National Party (NP) as an Afrikaner nationalist counterpart to the SAP. Despite getting off to a slow start, the NP began picking up speed after the outbreak of World War I, which stirred up the traditional antagonism between Afrikaans- and English-speaking South Africans that the SAP had attempted to paper over. As a result, from 1915 on, the SAP's base came to be comprised predominantly of English-speakers while Afrikaners increasingly defected to join the National Party ranks.

The turning point came in 1922, when white mineworkers in the Witwatersrand region initiated a series of strikes that came to be known as the Rand Revolt.

Fusion

The SAP's fusion with the National Party to form the United Party in 1934 grew out of South Africa's experience with the Great Depression during the early 1930s.