Louis Botha

(1862—1919) prime minister of the Union of South Africa and army officer

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(b. 27 Sept. 1862, d. 27 Aug. 1919).

First Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa 1910–19

Early career

A prosperous farmer from Vryheid (Transvaal), he was the youngest member of the Eerste Volksraad (Parliament) in 1896. He became a successful general in the South African War, winning one of the most astounding Boer victories at Colenso, 15 December 1899. He came to support the Peace of Vereeniging, realizing that as the war could not be won given British numerical superiority, it was better to give in to an honourable peace which protected Afrikaner interests. The practical and pragmatic politician formed a close partnership with the more intellectual and philosophical Smuts, and together they envisioned a South Africa with extensive state self‐government and reconciliation between the South Africans of English descent and Afrikaners. He became Prime Minister of the Transvaal in 1907. His conciliatory stance towards English‐speaking South Africans alienated many conservative Afrikaners, but mollified the English‐speakers, so that he became the natural choice for the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.

In office

Botha founded the South African Party (SAP) in 1911 with the policy of reconciliation with Britain, though it was this policy which split the party in 1913, when Hertzog left to found the National Party. In World War I he led his country in support of Britain, though his invasion of South‐West Africa (Namibia) was also motivated by opportunities for territorial gain. At the same time, the decision triggered an Afrikaner rebellion in 1914, whose suppression caused deep and lasting resentment of him among many Afrikaners. Bitter rifts between the Afrikaners who were more sympathetic to Germany, and the South Africans of English descent who demanded more involvement in the war for the sake of the British Empire, further weakened his authority. In the 1915 elections, he failed to get an absolute majority, the SAP gaining only 5 per cent more votes than the National Party. He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and gained a League of Nations Mandate for the South African administration of South‐West Africa. Just after his return he died of a heart attack.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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