Monday, June 15, 2009

Hans Strijdom

Our school emblem
There are two secondary schools in Naboomspruit, a hot little town two hours up the highway that links Johannesburg to Zimbabwe. Hans Strijdom Hoerskool (high school) in the centre of town sprawls across several acres of smooth green lawn shaded by large trees. Blocks of classrooms, laboratories and assembly halls open out on to verandahs. The grounds are dotted with tennis courts, playing fields, athletics tracks and a swimming pool. Its rugby team dominates the provincial schools league. Its academic record is impressive.

This is where I received my High School education from 1993 – 1997. These were the years that shaped me into the young lady I am today. I think back fondly on those days. The red brick buildings, the teachers and the friends…

But this post isn’t about my school days its more about its namesake.

Johannes “Hans” Gerhardus Strijdom (15 July 1893 - 24 August 1958) was Prime Minister of South Africa from 30 November 1954 to 24 August 1958. He was an uncompromising Afrikaner nationalist and was vigorous in extending the apartheid program of racial segregation initiated by his immediate predecessor, Daniel Malan.

Early life
He was born on the family farm Klipfontein near Willowmore, Eastern Cape and trained as a lawyer at Victoria College (which later became the University of Stellenbosch. After his studies, Strijdom settled in Nylstroom, Northern Transvaal. He identified strongly with this area and its people and became a local community leader among the Afrikaners. In 1929 he became the Member of Parliament for Waterberg for the National Party (NP) headed by General J. B. M. Hertzog. Strijdom was also leader of the NP in Transvaal, by far the most important province of South Africa, and as such had a strong power base.

After the National Party merged with the South African Party of General Jan Smuts and formed the United Party (UP) during the World Economic Crisis in 1932, Strijdom was part of the break-away faction of the NP (named the Gesuiwerde Nasionale Party and later, after the UP was formed, again the National Party) under the leadership of Dr. D. F. Malan. Malan, Strijdom and their followers distrusted Smuts and opposed his pro-British policy. Most of the NP's MPs stayed with Hertzog and Strijdom was the only MP for Transvaal to go with Malan.
Strijdom's highest ideal was the achievement of an Afrikaner dominated Republic free from ties with Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. In this, he was radical and made no compromises.

Apartheid era
After the surprising victory of the National Party in 1948, won on the program of implementing a strict program of apartheid or racial segregation and white minority rule, Malan became Prime Minister of South Africa and Strijdom became Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation. Although it was not one of the classic portfolios, it was apparently Strijdom's choice since he had a keen interest in agriculture and was a part-time farmer. Strijdom was not so pleased with the portfolio although he was fond of farming. Malan gave him the portfolio due to the fact that his young wife disliked Strijdom. That was also why Malan tried his best to get Havenga to succeed him as Prime Minister, rather than Strijdom.

Prime Minister
On 30 November 1954, he was elected leader of the National Party and became Prime Minister of South Africa after the resignation of Malan and against the latter's will, who preferred the more moderate NC Havenga, Minister of Finance, as his successor. However, Strijdom was popular among NP party members and people trusted him to push things smoothly forward towards a republic, something Malan was considered to be only luke-warm about. During Strijdom's term as Prime Minister, he moved full steam ahead to remove ties with the British Empire and deepened the Afrikaner ascendency in South Africa and strengthened the policy of apartheid.

With regard to racial policies, he believed strongly in the perpetuation of white minority rule and in his term "Coloured" voters were removed from the common voters roll and put on a separate Coloured voters roll, something that Malan started to do but could not push through. The extended 'treason trial' of 156 activists (including Nelson Mandela) involved in the Freedom Charter, happened during Strijdom's term in office. He also managed to further extend the NP's parliamentary seats during the general election in 1957. Strijdom's government also severed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
During his last year in office, his weak health (thought to be cancer) lead to long terms of absence and he died on 24 August 1958 in Cape Town and is buried in Pretoria in the Heroes Acre.

Private life
JG Strijdom was known for being very dedicated, absolutely honest and incorruptible, but also stubborn and not open for change of course. He was nicknamed "The lion of the north", because he could be rather frightening as a political opponent, although he always remained a gentleman.
He was married to the actress Marga van Hulsteyn, but the marriage broke up after a short time. His second wife was Susan de Klerk, aunt of the last white President F W de Klerk. Two children were born to Strijdom by his second wife, Johannes and Estelle. Susan Strijdom died in 1999, but Estelle still lives today.

There are still various monuments dedicated to him in South Africa. One monument in central Pretoria, which featured his bust, collapsed in 2001 injuring 2 people. His house in Nylstroom (now Modimolle) is now a museum, which holds parts of the collapsed bust.

Nylstroom is about 40km from Naboomspruit so Hans Strijdom lent his name to our school. These days there’s a lot going on around this name. Ever since the end of apartheid in South Africa the Government has been trying to get rid of all things connected to it. All town, Road and now building names have been changed. Now they’re trying to change our school name to.

Now I’ve never been a big apartheid supporter but I am a sentimentalist, and my school name changing is a little sad though. What will be will be but I’m not going to be too happy about it anytime soon.
the bust of Hans Strijdom
that's outside the main school building

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