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The National Party (NP) (Afrikaans: Nasionale Party), also known as the Nationalist Party, was a political party in South Africa founded in 1914 and disbanded in 1997. The party was originally an Afrikaner ethnic nationalist party that promoted Afrikaner interests in South Africa. However in the early 1990s it became a South African civic nationalist party seeking to represent all South Africans. It first became the governing party of the country in 1924. It was an opposition party during World War II but it returned to power and was again in the government from 4 June 1948 until 9 May 1994.
Beginning in 1948 the party as the governing party of South Africa began implementing its policy of racial segregation, known as apartheid (the Afrikaans term for "separateness"). Although White-minority rule and racial segregation based on White supremacy were already in existence in South Africa with non-Whites not having voting rights and efforts made to encourage segregation, apartheid intensified the segregation with stern penalties for non-Whites entering into areas designated for Whites-only without having a pass to permit them to do so (known as the pass laws), interracial marriage and sexual relationships were illegal and punishable offences, and blacks faced significant restrictions on property rights. Upon South Africa being condemned in the British Commonwealth for its policies of apartheid, the NP-led government had South Africa leave the Commonwealth, abandon its monarchy led by the British monarch and become an independent republic.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the NP-led government faced internal unrest in South Africa and international pressure for accommodation of non-Whites in South Africa. It resulted in policies of granting concessions to the non-White population, while still retaining the apartheid system, such as the creation of Bantustans that were autonomous self-governing Black homelands (criticized for several of them being broken up into unconnected pieces and that they were still dominated by the White minority South African government), removing legal prohibitions on interracial marriage, and legalizing non-White and multiracial political parties (however the outlawed though very popular African National Congress (ANC), was not legalized due to the government identifying it as a terrorist organization). Those identified as Coloureds and Indian South Africans were granted separate legislatures in 1983 alongside the main legislature that represented Whites to provide them self-government while maintaining apartheid, but no such legislature was provided to the Black population as their self-government was to be provided through the Bantustans. The NP-led government began changing laws affected by the apartheid system that had come under heavy domestic and international condemnation such as removing the pass laws, granting Blacks full property rights that ended previous major restrictions on Black ownership of land, and the right to form trade unions. Following escalating economic sanctions over apartheid, negotiations between the NP-led government led by P. W. Botha and the outlawed ANC led by then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela began in 1987 with Botha seeking to accommodate the ANC's demands and consider releasing Mandela and legalizing the ANC on the condition that it would renounce use of political violence to attain its aims.
In the 1989 South African general election, the party under F. W. de Klerk's leadership declared that it intended to negotiate with the Black South African community for a political solution to accommodate Black South Africans. This resulted in De Klerk declaring in February 1990 the decision to transition South Africa out of apartheid, and permitted the release of Mandela from prison and ending South Africa's ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid movements, and began negotiations with the ANC for a post-apartheid political system. However there was significant opposition among hardliner supporters of apartheid that resulted in De Klerk's government responding to them by holding a national referendum on Apartheid in 1992 for the White population alone that asked them if they supported the government's policy to end apartheid and establish elections open to all South Africans: a large majority voted in favour of the government's policy. With support for ending apartheid secured among White South Africans, the party opened up its membership to all racial groups and rebranded itself as no longer being an ethnic nationalist party only representing Afrikaners, but would henceforth be a civic nationalist and conservative party representing all South Africans. In the 1994 elections it managed to expand its base to include many non-Whites, including significant support from Coloured and Indian South Africans. It participated in the Government of National Unity between 1994 and 1996. In an attempt to distance itself from its past, the party was renamed the New National Party in 1997. The attempt was largely unsuccessful and the new party was decided to merge with the ANC.
Founding and early history
Flag of the National Party from 1936 until 1993
The National Party was founded in Bloemfontein in 1914 by Afrikaner nationalists soon after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. Its founding was rooted in disagreements among South African Party politicians, particularly Prime Minister Louis Botha and his first Minister of Justice, J. B. M. Hertzog. After Hertzog began speaking out publicly against the Botha government's "one-stream" policy in 1912, Botha removed him from the cabinet. Hertzog and his followers in the Orange Free State province subsequently moved to establish the National Party to oppose the government by advocating a "two-stream" policy of equal rights for the English and Afrikaner communities. Afrikaner nationalists in the Transvaal and Cape provinces soon followed suit, so that three distinct provincial NP organisations were in existence in time for the 1915 general elections.
The NP first came to power in coalition with the Labour Party in 1924, with Hertzog as Prime Minister. In 1930 the Hertzog government worked to undermine the vote of Coloureds (South Africans of mixed White and non-White ancestry) by granting the right to vote to White women, thus doubling White political power. In 1934 Hertzog agreed to merge his National Party with the rival South African Party of Jan Smuts to form the United Party. A hardline faction of Afrikaner nationalists led by Daniel François Malan refused to accept the merger and maintained a rump National Party called the Gesuiwerde Nasionale Party (Purified National Party). The Purified National Party used opposition to South African participation in World War II to stir up anti-British feelings amongst Afrikaners. This led to a reunification of the Purified Nationalists with the faction that had merged with the South African Party; together they formed the Herenigde Nasionale Party (Reunited National Party), which went on to defeat Smuts' United Party in 1948 in coalition with the much smaller Afrikaner Party. In 1951, the two amalgamated to once again become known simply as the National Party.