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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VENTER, Albert. The political convictions of Hans van Rensburg (1898-1966): Continuity and change. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.1, pp.41-57. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article investigates and describes the political convictions of dr JFJ (Hans) van Rensburg (1898-1966). It offers an overview of Van Rensburg's political convictions since the 1914 rebellion in South Africa, his career in the civil service, his leadership of the Ossewabrandwag up to his participation in the apartheid administration towards the middle sixties of the last century. The research is based on his own written work and documented public speeches, as well as research based on archival material. The question of Van Rensburg's commitment to National Socialism is treated in some detail. In the analysis an argument is offered that Van Rensburg's political convictions can be depicted as being mainly Afrikaner nationalist, despite an allegiance to National Socialism in the years between 1938-1948. The article shows how Van Rensburg changed his view on Nazism after the horrors of the holocaust and other German atrocities became public knowledge after the War. In the examination of his political convictions, the question of the generally held stereotype in academic as well as partisan literature of Van Rensburg as being a dedicated and unreconstructed Nazi and Hitler admirer, is put to the test. The following examples, drawn from the literature, are representative of the commonly held view of Van Rensburg's faithfulness to the Nazi cause. According to Visser, a police officer who investigated Van Rensburg's alleged treason in 1946, he was "a shrewd and intelligent man, who was campaigning to establish a National Socialist state in South Africa while loyal South Africans were fighting and dying in North Africa to destroy the Nazis" (Visser 1976:45). According to Furlong (1991:79) van Rensburg was "a Hertzogite with unusually Radical Rightist views" and a "committed supporter of the German National Socialist state" (1991:141). O'Meara writes that van Rensburg was a "self confessed Nazi" (1982:127). Moll typecasts van Rensburg as a committed national socialist (Moll 1985:156). His Afrikaans political opponents, like Strijdom, Verwoerd and Malan often accused Van Rensburg of being a Nazi, dictator and "German Sap" (cf. Fourie 1991:357-364). The investigation finds that the Nazi tar brush is a simplistic judgement of a skilled and articulate politician. Van Rensburg did indeed have an admiration for the pre-Second World War Hitler government and its efforts to revive the German economy and reinstate Germany as a world power. He was also an admirer of the principles of its National Socialist policies. Moreover, Van Rensburg was a highly disciplined man and a trained colonel in the Union Defence Force. Therefore the Kaiser-type values of the Second German Reich of respect for authority, discipline, hard work, authoritarian government and a high regard for law and order in public policy were core principles in Van Rensburg' s political convictions. However, after the war he recognised and admitted that the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis were inexcusable and he wrote and said as much. He never accepted the anti-Christian tenets of the Nazis. After the war he was sceptical of the Allied war crime tribunals - mostly because in his view it represented the justice of the victor. Moreover, he found it unacceptable that little was done by the Allies to prosecute or at least denounce war atrocities by their own forces. For instance, the bombing of German civilians in Dresden or the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. A view vindicated, inter alia in 2006, by the Oxford Historian Niall Ferguson. The article shows that van Rensburg had been a consistent Afrikaner nationalist since his student days at the University of Stellenbosch, a committed supporter of the Hertzog two-stream policy regarding the two white "races" in South Africa, an apologist of the policy of separate development (apartheid) and a stringent opponent of communism as a creed as well as the Soviet communist dictatorship. Lastly, van Rensburg consistently held the view that the state has a social obligation to care for the poor, the weak and the marginalised working classes of an industrialised economy. A view not far removed from typical conservative Christian Democratic parties in post-war Europe.

Keywords : Hans van Rensburg; Ossewabrandwag; National Socialism; fascism; political convictions; conservative; authoritarian; Nazi; Afrikaner nationalism; Hertzog two-stream policy; social and institutional circumstances; anti-communism; Second World War; Smuts government.

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