Republic Day is also Bitter End Day


By Barend van den Berg

The date 31 May has a rich background in our national history, a background of fame… but also of mourning. Why do we continue to commemorate the day 30 years after the old Republic of South Africa came to an inglorious end?

Let’s take a look at the history. The two names we have for the day each represent a separate event from two different periods of our history.

Firstly, Bittereinderdag, referring to 31 May 1902.

In the 1890s, the two Boer republics, the ZAR and the OVS, became a thorn in the flesh of British imperialism. The republics stand in the way of Rhodes’ dream of connected British territory from the Cape to Cairo, and then the ZAR’s land fields are on top of that another irresistible attraction for the British capitalists… As a result, the republics must be removed, and on 11 October 1899 The Anglo-Boer War, or the Second War of Independence, breaks out.

The Republics’ combined force at the beginning of the war was sixty thousand men, England’s standing force numbered 750,000. By the end of the war, 290,000 British soldiers were in the field, against 20,000 civilians. For almost three years the Boers resisted, but in 1902 the bitter end came for the men who were still standing (hence the name Bittereinders) with which the last commandos were described. To give an idea of ​​how bitter this end was – approximately 4,000 citizens paid the highest price on the battlefield and approximately 26,000 women and children died in concentration camps.

The peace negotiations were such a weighty affair that they lasted from the 15th of May to the 31st. On the evening of 31 May 1902, the peace as drawn up at Vereeniging was signed in the Melrose House in Pretoria by the Boer delegation and Lords Kitchener and Milner. The ZAR and OVS no longer existed.

General De Wet writes in his book, The battle between Boer and Briton, that he has experienced many a funeral of a father, mother, brother or friend, but that it is nothing compared to what he had to experience when the commandos laid down their weapons – the funeral of his people. That is why today we remember these men who persevered to the bitter end.

Secondly, we have Republic Day, referring to 31 May 1961.

After the Anglo-Boer War, the Boer republics may have been wiped off the face of the globe, but not the Republican ideal! As early as 1907, responsible management was given to the Transvaal and in 1908 to the Free State. On the day and date eight years after the conclusion of peace, the Union of South Africa came into being on 31 May 1910. The Union consisted of the two former Boer republics, the Cape Colony and Natal.

Under the Westminster system, the Union Parliament was independent in domestic affairs. In the politics that would follow, the British South African Party (SAP) and the Republican National Party (NP) were the main players. With the status increase of the Union in 1926 as a result of the Balfour declaration, men like adv. JG Strijdom actively works for becoming a Republic.

In 1936 Dr. DF Malan’s Purified National Party committed itself to obtaining a republican form of government for South Africa in its Program of Principles. In 1948, the National Party came to power, and legislation was put in place for the possibility of a republic independent of Britain. In 1953 Adv. JG Strijdom for dr. Malan as prime minister, and the battle continues. In 1958 adv died. Strijdom, and dr. HF Verwoerd succeeds him.

On 5 October 1960, a referendum (this is a popular vote) is held to decide on becoming a Republic. The result was 52% in favor of becoming a Republic. As a result, construction continued and South Africa officially became a Republic on 31 May 1961, with dr. Verwoerd as prime minister and adv. CR Swart as state president.

Under dr. Verwoerd’s leadership did grow the Republic and on 31 May 1966 the first five years were commemorated with a Republic Festival. On September 6, 1966, Dr. However, Verwoerd was killed, and from there the Republic was dismantled until the inglorious surrender in 1994, so different from the honorable surrender in 1902…

So why do we commemorate the 31st of May?

First, on Bittereinderdag, we commemorate those men and women who were willing to sacrifice goods and blood for freedom and for justice. Secondly, on Republic Day, we keep the republican ideal alive. The flame of this ideal has been extinguished, and now it is nice to point the finger at FW de Klerk or the ANC. However, if we are honest, this has happened because the majority of people have forgotten the God who made the Republic possible, who led our people there and in whom the Bittereinders of 1902 trusted. Because such despised the blood of the men and women on which our history was built. Only a glowing coal remained of the ideal.

Today it is our responsibility to rekindle this coal into a bright flame. Get up, look the world square in the eye, remember the sacrifices of the past, turn back to God, and persevere in the race of life to the end, even the bitter end if you must!

  • Barend van den Berg is a learner from the CVO school Pretoria.