The granting of self-government to the former Boer republics was the launching pad for a united South Africa, assisted in no mean part by Botha’s pro-British attitude.  One of his first acts as Premier of the Transvaal was to present the Cullinan diamond to King Edward VII on the occasion of his 66th birthday in November 1907.  The largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found was given to the King as a symbol of appreciation and friendship.

Botha’s tendency to consider the greater good also made him look, at times, more like a servant of the Crown than his own people.  Self-government had brought renewed expectations from within the former Boer states, and particularly the Free State, that British interlopers would be expunged from civil administrations and the old order restored.  When a deputation of farmers approached Botha with a request to repatriate Milner’s director of agriculture, F.B. Smith, the Premier replied, ‘wait till he has got rid of the cattle plague, then I may see about it.’[1]

More pressing was the need rationalise different rules and regulations across the four administrations.  At an inter-colonial conference in May 1908 attended by representatives of the four colonies, Botha moved a series of resolutions, the first of which was that ‘…in the opinion of this Conference, the best interests and the permanent prosperity of South Africa can only be secured by an early Union, under the Crown of Great Britain, of the several self-governing Colonies.’[2]  The resolutions were carried and representatives agreed to hold a Convention to decide on the form of government, eligibility for the franchise, how to draw electoral divisions, and the status of English and Dutch.[3]

The Convention that met in Cape Town in October 1908 was attended by an all-white delegation from the four colonies.  In May 1909, a draft constitution that became known as the South Africa Bill emerged from their efforts.  It modelled the future government of the country on the Westminster system, providing for a unitary state in which political power would be won by a simple majority and in which the parliament would be sovereign.  The question of voting rights for blacks would be left to each of the colonies to decide, and both English and Dutch would be official languages.  Because no agreement could be reached on the site of the capital, a compromise was struck making Cape Town the seat of parliament, Pretoria the administrative capital and Bloemfontein the judicial capital.  South Africa was to become the only country in the world with three capitals.

The Bill’s implicit denial of voting rights to black South Africans did not go unopposed.  In 1909, the South African Native Convention, which was attended by black representatives from the four colonies, agreed to send a delegation to London to campaign for the amendment of the Bill to extend the franchise to all South Africans.  The delegation included prominent black leaders and was led by William Schreiner, a former Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, who feared that Union would lead to removal of black voters from the existing franchise in the Cape.[4]  The mission failed and on 20 September, 1909, the South Africa Act passed through the British Parliament.  On 31 May 1910, South Africa became a unified country, exactly eight years to the day after the Treaty of Vereeniging had brought the second Anglo-Boer War to an end.  Louis Botha became South Africa’s first Prime Minister with Jan Smuts as his deputy.  It would not be long before Schreiner’s worst fears were realised.

In October 1910, Harry applied for admission as an attorney, notary public and conveyancer in the Transvaal Supreme Court.  The documentation tabled at the hearing on 25 November chronicled his career progression, including the periods of inactivity due to the Anglo-Boer War and the criminal conviction of 1904.  It noted that he was not now under any order of suspension and that he had passed the Transvaal Law Certificate Examination.  On that day, he was sworn in as an attorney of the Court.  He was now a fully fledged lawyer.

[1]              Williams, B., Botha, Smuts and South Africa Hodder & Stoughton London 1946, p59.

[2]              Fairbridge, D, A history of South Africa OUP London 1918, p309

[3]              Afrikaans would not be recognised as a language until 1925.

[4]              The only colony that permitted voting rights by (property-owning) black people.


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