In 1853 the Cape Colony received representative government, but the governor, appointed in Britain, still called the shots. Parliament was dominated by the concerns of the English or anglicised section of the community in small towns and in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The main issue under discussion was the devolution of power to the eastern districts and the prospects of secession, of interest mainly to English merchants and speculators.
In 1872, the Cape received an advanced form of colonial self-rule with a prime minister heading a cabinet that was accountable to Parliament. Voters had become increasingly worried about excessive government expenditure on military expeditions that had landed the colony in heavy debt. In the absence of political parties, increasing strains de veloped in the 1870s between the executive and legislature.
These tensions came to a head when Gordon Sprigg formed a cabinet of politicians
from the eastern Cape and Cape midlands, with not a single Afrikaner nor western Cape politician. To cover the cost of new railways and colonial intervention in the war between two Xhosa factions, the Sprigg cabinet imposed a tax on brandy producers. On the day the excise law was published, some wine farmers met with Jan Hofmeyr (Onze Jan), editor of De Zuid-Afrikaan. He formed a farmers’ party, the Zuid-
Afrikaansche Boeren Beschermings Vereeniging (BBV), in October 1878. In the 1879 parliamentary election, the BBV won nearly half of the upper-house seats and a third of those in the lower house. But enthusiasm soon dwindled and the BBV failed to extend itself much beyond the western Cape.
Seizing the initiative in June 1879, S.J. du Toit, an Afrikaans predikant in Paarl, proposed the formation of an Afrikaner Bond with the slogan of ‘Afrika voor de Afrikaners’ and with branches across South Africa. On 14 August 1875, Du Toit and seven other Afrikaners had founded the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (GRA, the Society of True Afrikaners) in Paarl. They decided that there was an urgent need to persuade the Dutch and Afrikaans-speaking white people to see themselves as a distinct community, calling themselves Afrikaners. The GRA’s prime target was the large section of Afrikaners who were not particularly affluent and had received limited education.
To spell out its message, the GRA launched its own newspaper, Die Afrikaanse Patriot, its first issue appearing on 15 January 1876. Its style was clear, crisp and concise, with simple sentences and very short words. A team effort with Du Toit as its main author produced a nationalist history entitled Die Geskiedenis van ons Land in die Taal van ons Volk (The History of our Land in the Language of our People). The Patriot played on the Afrikaners’ common resentment of free trade in goods and money, and of the wealth of merchants, bankers and other agents of British capitalism. A prime target was the Standard Bank, depicted as a ‘gigantic devil fish’ that fleeced the colonists and sent a large part of its dividends to its London head office.
The Afrikaner Bond benefited from the upsurge of nationalist emotion when the Transvaal burghers rose against British annexation (1880–1881). Numerous Afrikaner Bond branches were formed across South Africa. Hofmeyr became a member of the Bond and soon began to plot to moderate its aims. In 1883 a congress at Richmond approved the amalgamation of the Bond and the BBV. Hofmeyr became leader of the new Afrikaner Bond. His political skills were formidable, and Cecil John Rhodes considered him the most capable politician in South Africa.
The first black political association was the semi-political Native Educational Association, founded in 1879 in the eastern Cape to promote the ‘general welfare of the natives’. In 1882 the Imbumbe Yama Nyama was founded in Port Elizabeth to join blacks together in fighting for national rights.