“Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag

History is always a three-way prism. As with South African statute forces fighting “communism” on two fronts – the Angolan Border “Bush” War and the internal “struggle” movements in the 70’s and 80’s – so it was during the Second World War as well, this time the “struggle” movement was a little different and South African statute forces were fighting Fascism and Nazism (National Socialism) on two fronts, both on the international stage and on the domestic front at home.

Little is known of the domestic conflict during World War 2 as it was effectively shielded and even erased from the state’s educational history curriculum – to the point that little is known about it by subsequent generations of South Africans even to this day. By far the biggest of all the domestic pro Nazi organizations in South Africa at this time was a movement called the “Ossewabrandwag” (abbreviated to “OB”).

The feature image shows a Ossewabrandwag rally and its leadership along with an inserted emblem of the organization. Read on for a fascinating and relatively unknown part of South African military history.

Background and formation

screen-shot-2016-03-05-at-16-38-42The Ossewabrandwag (OB), meaning in English “Ox-wagon Sentinel” was an anti-British and pro-Nazi German organization in South Africa during World War II. It was officially formed in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939.

As a background to it, in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), Britain conquered the Boer Republics. Germany supported the Boer cause. After the war, there was a general reconciliation between Afrikaners and Britain, culminating in the formation of the ‘Union of South Africa’ in 1910, under the leadership of former Boer fighters, Louis Botha and Jan Smuts (who was of Cape Dutch origin fighting on the side of the Boers). South African troops, including thousands of Afrikaners, served in the British and South African Union forces during World War 1 and again in World War 2.

Nonetheless, many Boers from the ex Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics remembered the extremely brutal tactics used by Britain in the Boer War and remained resentful of British rule. They were especially resentful of the concentration camp and scorched earth policies engaged by the British to bring to bring an end to the guerilla tactics used by “Bitter einders” at the close of the war.

In the 1930’s the chief vehicle of Afrikaner nationalism was the ‘Purified National Party’ of D. F. Malan, which later became the ‘National Party’. As in 1914, the Second World War appeared to a relatively small group of far right-wing Afrikaner nationalists as a golden opportunity to establish Afrikaner nationalist rule and move to make South Africa a republic independent of Britain.

‘We are now ceaselessly on the road to our goal: the Republic of South Africa – the only status under which we can truly exercise the right to self-determination as a country,’ said D.F. Malan on 6 September 1939 at the on-set of the Second World War.

Prior to this, 1938 was also the centennial anniversary of the ‘Great Trek’ (the migration of Boers to the interior). The Ossewabrandwag was established in commemoration of this ‘Great Trek’. Most of the migrants traveled in ox-drawn wagons, hence the group’s name. The group’s leader was Johannes Van Rensburg, a lawyer who had served previously as Secretary of Justice and was an admirer of Nazi Germany.  The OB at the on-set of the centennial was loosely associated to Malan’s National Party.

The relationship with the National Party 

There were however sharp differences between van Rensburg and D.F Malan over the right course of action to be followed when South Africa declared war on Germany in 1939. Both believed that everything depended on the outcome of the war, both believed that Germany would win it, however Malan relied on negotiation with Germany to achieve his objectives, van Rensburg on the other hand believed that at some stage freedom would have to be fought for and began to formulate a militant opposition to the South African government to undermine South Africa’s war effort.

At first, relations between the National Party and the Ossewabrandwag were cordial, with most members of the Ossewabrandwag belonging to the party as well. At the higher levels, National Party leaders like P.O. Sauer and F. Erasmus (later to be made Cabinet Ministers when Malan came to power) were members of the OB.

Three future National Party South African Prime Ministers/State Presidents held key leadership positions in the Ossewabrandwag. ‘Generals’ like C.R. Swart (later South Africa’s first State President) was a member of the Groot Raad (Chief Council) of the Ossewabrandwag, B.J. Vorster (later to become Prime Minister of South Africa) was a keynote OB leader and formed the OB’s Cape Branch and even PW Botha (future South African State President) joined the Ossewabrandwag and worked with Vorster to establish the OB’s Cape branch.

Other National Party stalwarts where also prominent in the Ossewabrandwag organisation, Eric Louw, for example – who later to become the National Party’s Foreign Minister.  That to say the National Party and the Ossewabrandwag were, to coin a phrase, “two peas in the same pod” is an absolute truism.

Combining the impact of the war and the very dynamic personality of van Rensburg, the Ossewabrandwag soon grew into a significant force, a mass movement whose membership at its peak was estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 members.

The relationship between the Ossewabrandwag and National Party at first was very well-defined and D.F. Malan even met with OB leaders in Bloemfontein which resulted in declaration known as the ‘Cradock Agreement’. It specified the two operating spheres of the two respective organizations. They undertook not to meddle in each others affairs and the National Party endeavoured to focus on Afrikanerdom in the party political sphere, while the Ossewabrandwag was to operate on the other fronts of the ‘volk’ (white Afrikaans people’s).

‘Nazification’ of the far right 

In 1940 the Ossewabrandwag created within in structures an elite organization known as the Stormjaers – the storm troopers of Afrikanerdom. The formation of the Stormjaers (English meaning: Assault troops) was in essence a paramilitary wing of the OB. The nature of the Stormjaers was drawn upon the lines of Nazi Germany’s army “Storm troopers”, as were the fascist rituals and salutes, this is evidenced by the oath sworn in a by new recruits (in some instances a firearm was levelled at them whilst they read the oath): “If I retreat, kill me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me” (Afrikaans: As ek omdraai, skiet my. As ek val, wreek my. As ek storm, volg my).

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Johannes van Rensburg been sworn into the Ossewabrandwag

The Stormjaers were deployed in variety of military operations ranging from the defence of Nationalist political platforms to pure sabotage, they dynamited post offices and railway lines and cut telephone wires. Van Rensburg even wrote “The Ossewabrandwag regards itself as the soldiery of the (South African) Republic . . . the Ossewabrandwag is the political action front of Afrikanerdom.”

The ideologies of the Nazis were penetrating deep into right-wing Afrikaner political identity.  In 1940, directly after Nazi German decisive victories in Europe, Otto du Plessis (later to become Administrator of the Cape under the National Party) published a pamphlet – The Revolution of the Twentieth Century – in which he openly espoused the Ossewabrandwag’s policy of totalitarianism.

B.J. Vorster’s brother, Rev. Koot Vorster, who was a Dutch Reformed Church minister, was also a predominant Ossewabrandwag leader. He summed up the pro-Hitler and Pro-Nazi standpoint of the OB during an address to a student group on September 15, 1940:

book_mein_kampf_verlag“Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ shows the way to greatness – the path of South Africa. Hitler gave the Germans a calling. He gave them a fanaticism which causes them to stand back for no one. We must follow this example because only by such holy fanaticism can the Afrikaner nation achieve its calling.”

Kowie Marais, an OB member, years later recalled in an interview the admiration he and his friends held for Hitler: “We thought he (Hitler) might rejuvenate western civilization…against the communist-socialist trends that were creeping in from the east. We thought it was the dawn of a new era.”

Oswald Pirow also publicly identified himself with National-Socialist doctrines and Nazi Germany and established the Nazi expansionist ‘New Order’ movement inside the ranks of the former Hertzogites.

There even existed South Africa’s own Nazi party called the SANP and it’s militant wing the “Greyshirts” led by Louis Theodor Weichardt (who later became the National Party Senator for Natal). This pure Nazi movement had 5000 odd loyal followers.

Van Rensburg from the OB had always professed been a National Socialist, as an open admirer of Nazi Germany and Adolph Hitler, and the ideas and rituals of membership put forward by his organization had a distinctive Nazi leaning as a result.

According to OB political thinking, Afrikaans would be the only official language in a free, independent, Christian-National Republic. The English-speaking South Africans, regarded as an “un-national” element, would be condemned to an inferior status. Anti-Communism was an important backbone of OB policy in line with Nazi hatred of communism.

The emphasis of the OB was also on race and racial purity. Members were exhorted to ‘think with your blood’, and the Nazi creed of ‘Blut und Boden’ (Blood and Soil) was promoted as an OB value. ‘Family, blood, and native soil – that is, next to our religion and our love of freedom, our greatest and our most sacred national heritage’ (Die O.B. 28 October 1942).

The OB always displayed an exaggerated interest in physical culture and the need for dictatorial discipline. “Give us a master ! Give us bonds which tie us to a stable way of life” wrote van Rensburg.

On issues of family value, the leaders of the OB proclaimed that the duty of the man was to work and fight and the duty of the woman to create and tend the home and family.

In essence the Ossewabrandwag was based on the Führer principle, fighting against the British Empire, anti capitalist – they called for the expropriation of “British-Jewish” controlled capital, the communists, the Jews and the system of parliamentarism. All based on the principles national socialism.

An irony is not lost here, in modern South Africa the African National Congress (ANC) now call this ‘British-Jewish controlled capital’ a new name – ‘white monopoly capital’ and call for the same capture of this elusive capital as a justification for their cause too.

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Johannes van Rensburg at a Ossewabrandwag torch rally

Insurrection 

From the outset of the war a series of violent incidents took place between statutory force South African soldiers and the Ossewabrandwag. This was to cumulate on Friday 31 January 1941, when van Rensburg was due to hold a meeting at the Johannesburg City Hall when a riot broke out between OB Stormjaers and South African Union Defence Force soldiers who were determined not to allow van Rensburg to have a platform for his support of Nazi Germany – with whom they were now at war with.

The Stormjaers were armed with sticks,pipes, batons, knives, sjamboks and even bicycle chains, while the soldiers were for the most part unarmed and the battle raged in downtown Johannesburg for two days. Armoured cars were brought in while enraged UDF soldiers set fire to Nationalist newspaper offices and set police vans alight. Tear-gas canisters were hurled in every direction between the two antagonists and the Police.

Before a commission of inquiry on the Johannesburg riot, van Rensburg declared that it was only OB discipline and restraint which had prevented reinforcements in outlying areas from being brought into town and broadening the scope of the battle.

In support of OB activities the National Party even came out in direct support of the OB against Smuts’ government resolution to detain and ban members of the OB. Dr D.F. Malan defended the OB in a speech on 5 March 1941, saying:

“The Ossewabrandwag has been accused of lending itself to subversive activities and also of encouraging them. Now I say: Carry out your threat. Ban it. Prevent it and prevent its meetings. If the Ossewabrandwag decides to be passively disobedient and refuses to be dissolved . . . I shall share the consequences with the Ossewabrandwag. At this stage I am prepared to say to you that if the government decides upon that act and the Ossewabrandwag decides not to submit, I shall keep my pledge”.

It was a clear sign to Smuts’ government that unity in the ranks of the Afrikanerdom movements was as unified as ever since the outbreak of the Second World War.

To give an idea of sabotage and violent attacks, at the height of the Second World War – 1942, Ossewabrandwag Stormjaer activities included:

Explosions over a large area of mines at Klerksdorp, Vereeniging, Delmas and in Potchefstroom the OB blew up power lines – 29 January 1942. All telegraph and telephone communication between Bloemfontein and the rest of South Africa were dislocated in one attack in February 1942.

Railway, telegraph and telephone lines in various parts of the Free State were destroyed in February 1942. Fifty-eight Stormjaers were eventually charged with high treason, and a quantity of hand grenades were found. Stormjaers also blew up two telephone poles behind the Pretoria Central Jail, but were never captured.

10402583_560135767489493_4510500168473141319_nTwo other Stormjaers, Visser and van Blerk were convicted of a bombing at the Benoni Post Office, as a result of which an innocent bystander was killed, they were both sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

A few members of the OB were shot while trying to escape from internment camps or jails, the most known was the dramatic pursuit OB General, Johannes van der Walt, who was shot while on the run near Krugersdorp.

A number of arms cache’ and hiding places for the Stormjaers can still be found, the inserted picture shows Ossewabrandwag graffiti in a cave in the Excelsior area.

B.J. Vorster

One very predominant leader of the Ossewabrandwag was Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, South Africa’s future Prime Minister. Along with like-minded OB colleagues he regarded the war as an opportunity to get rid of the hated domination of the United Kingdom of South Africa and welcomed the Nazis as allies in their fight.

The firebrand nature of the Ossewabrandwag appealed to Vorster more than the National Party, so while South African troops were helping to make the world safe from Hitler’s National Socialism, Vorster was appointed as a ‘General’ in the Ossewabrandwag for the Port Elizabeth district to promote the National Socialism doctrine back home. On his politics he famously announced the Ossewabrandwag’s position on Nazism and said in 1942:

‘We stand for Christian Nationalism which is an ally of National Socialism. You can call this anti-democratic principle dictatorship if you wish. In Italy it is called Fascism, in Germany National Socialism and in South Africa, Christian Nationalism”.

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BJ Vorster addressing a OB meeting

Vorster was eventually arrested under the emergency regulations in September 1942, he immediately went on hunger strike and after two months was transferred to Koffiefontein internment camp as prisoner No. 2229/42 in Hut 48, Camp 1. B.J. Vorster was eventually released on parole in January 1944 and placed under house arrest.

Interned alongside BJ Vorster was another Ossewabrandwag member Hendrik Johan van den Bergh who eventually went on to found the Bureau of State Security (B.O.S.S.), an intelligence agency created under the National Party on 16 May 1969 to coordinate military and domestic intelligence. Van den Bergh was to become known as the “tall assassin” given his physical height.

Direct German intervention

The German Nazis themselves saw the activities of the Ossewabrandwag as very positive to their fight. Van Rensburg was even played up over Zeesen radio as the real leader of the Afrikaner people.

In June 1941 Robey Leibbrandt was landed from a German yacht on the Namaqualand coast with 10,000 dollars, a radio transmitter, and instructions to make contact with van Rensburg and investigate the possibilities of joint action with the Ossewabrandwag. His mission, overseen by German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was Operation Weissdorn, a plan for a coup d’état to overthrow the government of General Jan Smuts,

Leibbrandt was a South African Olympic boxer who later came a fervent Nazi follower. He joined the German Army, where he became the first South African to be trained as a Fallschirmjäger (paratrooper) and glider pilot. Leibbrand was trained with comrades of the Brandenburgers at a sabotage training course of Abwehr II (Abwehrschool “Quenzgut”) near Brandenburg an der Havel, west of Berlin.

Once in South Africa he soon made contact with the Stormjaers and was brought to Pretoria to see van Rensburg.

Nothing, however, came of the negotiations. Leibbrandt’s megalomania was enough to deter anyone from cooperating with him, and van Rensburg refused to be drawn. At the same time Leibbrandt’s fanaticism attracted a number of members of the Ossewabrandwag over to his side, and within a short while Leibbrandt was leading his own group, whose members were bound to one another by a blood oath which partly read:

“All my fight and striving is for the freedom and independence of the Afrikaner people of South Africa and for the building up of a National Socialist State in accordance with the ideas of Adolf Hitler.”

The quite truce between Leibbrandt and van Rensburg quickly developed into open hostility. Leibbrandt, disappointed that the OB did not officially support his mission and its resultant failure began to openly attack van Rensburg as an ‘agent’ of Smuts. This sealed his fate. After a few months in South Africa he was ‘sold out’ by OB insiders, his location now known to the Smuts government, he was arrested, together with a number of leading Stormjaers.

Placed on trial Leibbrandt was sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after much lobbying from Afrikaner Nationalist organisations.  Mindful of the deep-seated split in his own Afrikaans community, to quote Jan Smuts at the time his sentence was commuted to life “I did not want the blood of another Jopie Fourie on my hands”.

The Stormjaers sabotage activities were getting too violent for DF Malan’s National Party policy of negotiated settlement with Germany when (and if) they won the war. Many of these acts of violence were going too far for the majority of moderate Afrikaners, and Malan ordered the National Party to break all ties with the OB later in 1942.

The South African Union government then cracked down heavily on the OB and the Stormjaers, placing thousands of them in internment camps for the duration of the war.

Summing up the achievements of the Ossewabrandwag’s campaign of sabotage, van Rensburg wrote this in his autobiography which was published after the war:

“I fought (Smuts’) war effort and I fought it bitterly with all the means at my disposal – which were considerable…. There is no doubt that they (the Ossewabrandwag) seriously hampered the government’s war effort. Hampered it because the government was forced to draw off considerable manpower to guard many strategic points and essential services. A not inconsiderable military element also had to be retained in South Africa as a strategic reserve for possible emergency.”

At the end of the war, the Ossewabrandwag was absorbed back into the National Party and ceased to exist as a separate body, many of its members achieving political notoriety as members of the National Party government on their accent to power with the National Party electoral win over Smut’s United Party in 1948.

Returning war veterans react

Imagine the sheer frustration felt by the veterans after “The War for Freedom” (as WW2 was known) had been fought with the massive cost in South African lives (literally tens of thousands), to rid the world of Nazism and Fascism in the “good fight” – only to come home in 1945 and within three short years find the “home grown” pro Nazi Germany and pro Nazi philosophy politicians swept into government. The very men and their philosophy they had gone to war against in the first place.

By the early 1950’s the South African nationalist government was littered with men, who, prior to the war where strongly sympathetic to the Nazi cause and had actually declared themselves as full-blown National Socialists: Oswald Pirow, B.J. Vorster, Hendrik van den Bergh, Johannes von Moltke, P.O. Sauer, F. Erasmus , C.R. Swart, P.W. Botha and Louis Weichardt to name a few, and there is no doubt that their brand of politics was influencing government policy.

Louis Weichardt – left, Oswald Pirow, right

Louis Weichardt was the South African Nazi ‘grey-shirts’ founder (later became a National Party MP see earlier Observation Post Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – the SANP “Greyshirts”) and Oswald Pirow (Nazi ‘New Order’ founder in South Africa) inspecting German Luftwaffe troops on a “unofficial” visit to Nazi Germany – later he became a key Public Prosecutor under the National Party (See earlier Observation Post South African Pro Nazi movements – Oswald Pirow’s New Order )

Also by the early 1950’s, this state of affairs in the make up and philosophy underpinning South Africa’s ‘new’ ruling party, led to open Anti-Apartheid protests from the South African military veterans community – in their tens of thousands, led by Adolph “Sailor” Malan and other returning war heroes in “Torch Commando rallies” (The Torch) and it ultimately led to the marginalization of South African war veterans, their veteran associations and the ultimate suppression of anti-Apartheid movements like the Torch by the National Party.

Images of Sailor Malan at an anti-apartheid Torch Commando rally in Cape Town attended by over 10 000 returning South African World War 2 veterans.  For more on the Torch see Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter! and The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!)

Sailor Malan famously accused the national party government at this rally of “depriving us of our freedom, with a fascist arrogance that we have not experienced since Hitler and Mussolini met their fate”.

Covering Tracks

In the interests of consolidating themselves in power and in the interests of securing the “white vote” both English and Afrikaans voters (especially English-speaking white South Africans of British extraction) much of this legacy was a political “hot potato” for the National Party.  Nazism, Fascism and National Socialism was purged from Europe with the loss of millions of lives, and exposed for what it is – a crime against humanity.

Political careers – especially those of future National Party State Presidents and Prime Ministers would not be helped if their associations to Nazi Germany, Nazi political philosophy and even anti-British ideals where openly promoted. Especially when National Service was instituted and the National Party called on Jewish and English-speaking white South Africans of British heritage and even moderate or leftist Afrikaners to rally behind their cause to ‘fight communism’ and serve in the statutory armed forces as conscripts.

the-real-face-of-apartheid-vorster-and-hitler-1970sSo it was shielded – in formal secondary education it was at best trivialized if even taught at all and it was never really widely reported on by the state media apparatus when referring the political legacies of the likes of B.J. Vorster or P.W. Botha. Except ‘banned’ overseas anti-apartheid movements, they went to town on the link and broadly promoted it to anyone who would listen. This was of course gagged in South Africa under emergency regulations and banned organisation listings. The result is that little is left of it in the modern historical narrative on South Africa in the country itself.

At best, in South Africa, it was re-branded as a ‘fight against the British’ because of the atrocities committed by the British during the Boer War, a sort of retribution, cleverly phasing moral correctiveness to justify it.  What this narrative also aimed to do was unbundle all the underlying Nazi ideology, philosophy, ritual and politics which had been coupled so openly during the war to the Ossewabrandwag’s ideals of ‘Christian Nationalism’ by future National Party leaders.  Covering it up with ‘moral outrage’ instead.  Whilst retribution for the Boer War was a primary driver of the Ossewabrandwag, and there is good reason behind this objective, it was not the only driver, and ignoring the entire underpinning ideology of the group is only to look at half of the whole.

Many historians have asked if “Nazism” played a role in the creation of Apartheid as philosophy, and frankly the answer is yes it did, both directly and indirectly by the architects of Apartheid who so readily adopted Nazi ideals, rituals and philosophy during the war, in open and on the public record.  It is this for this reason that National Party did not want any open or constant linkages made to this, their darker past, because when in power the ideals behind Nazism were so abhorrent to the majority of white South Africans that it would have certainly lost them their authority.

In Conclusion

In the end it all disappeared into a politically generated one-sided nationalist narrative of South Africa’s history, and was lost or ‘re-presented’ as retribution for the Boer War to future generations. It even remains a very dark and relatively unknown topic even to this day, however, so strong is this legacy that it has continued to lurk in the Afrikaner far right for many years and resurfaced openly again in the ‘Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging’ – Afrikaner Resistance Movement (abbreviated to ‘AWB’) in the early 1990’s. When German Nazi swastika flags made a regular appearance next to the AWB flags – which were also styled after the swastika. In addition to German National Socialism finding itself back into the AWB ideology itself, it also wound its way into AWB identity – including insignia and uniform.

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AWB Rally in Pretoria

This legacy is far-reaching, and it also remains an irony that the Ossewabrandwag (and later the AWB) embarked on acts of armed insurrection which by any modern definition would be considered a ‘terrorist’ act, and the same people involved in them would readily brand the ANC for ‘terrorism’ with no hindsight to their own time spent as a ‘terrorist’, fighting to destabilise the government of the day with bullets and bombs in very much the same way.

Ironic that the future ‘struggle’ of South Africa’s Black people (and many White people too) against the political philosophy of these men would emulate the same ‘struggle’ these men initiated against ‘British rule’ – and in both instances it carried with it armed insurrection, detention of ‘heroes’, imprisonment of a future President and the promotion of a political “ism”, albeit that ‘Communism’ and ‘African Socialism’ were diametrically opposite to ‘Fascism’, ‘Nazism’ and ‘Christian Nationalism’ – far left and far right of the political sphere respectively.

The net result, the importance and legacy that the Ossewabrandwag has left us with, is that ‘race politics’ continues to haunt us and ‘centre’ balanced moderate politics in South Africa has been completely elusive since 1948.

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Evolution of Symbology (L-R) Nazism, Ossewabrandwag, Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

References from South African History On-Line, Wikipedia and “The Rise of the South African Reich” 1964 written by Brian Bunting, “Echoes of David Irving – The Greyshirt Trial of 1934” by David M. Scher. “Not for ourselves” – a history of the SA Legion” by Arthur Blake. Lazerson, “Whites in the Struggle Against Apartheid”. Neil Roos. “Ordinary Springboks: White Servicemen and Social Justice in South Africa, 1939-1961″. David Harrison “The White Tribe of Africa, South Africa in Perspective” 1981.

South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow

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Oswald Pirow

So when is it right to re-name a national landmark road?  We’re all up in arms that Edwin Swales VC Drive, named after our famous Victoria Cross winner for gallantry in World War 2 was re-named as Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Drive after a controversial Umkhonto we Sizwe operative.  But what of Oswald Pirow Street in Cape Town, is there a case to justify this street name change?

Read on for a little more on who Oswald Pirow really was, learn some more on South African “hidden” military history; the Pro Nazi paramilitary organisations who sought to destabilise South Africa and the Union during the Second World War and bring South Africa into a one party ‘Fuhrer’ state run along ‘national socialism’ lines.

In all there were three movements which supported Nazi Germany and embraced its ideology in South Africa, the Ossewabrandwag, the SANP Greyshirts (see Pro Nazi movements in wartime South Africa – the SANP “Greyshirts”) and the ‘global’ Nazi movement – The ‘New Order’ – led by our subject for the day, the well-known South African Nationalist Politician and Public Prosecutor – Oswald Pirow.

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Oswald Pirow in Nazi Germany, November 1938  in Berlin inspecting a honour guard from the German Luftwaffe (Air Force), to his left is Wilhelm Canaris, to his right Ernst Seifert.

In a relatively little known part of South African history, Oswald Pirow was sent on ‘quasi-official’ visits on behalf of the Hertzog government to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  His mission was one of appeasement, to meet with Hitler, Ribbentrop and Goering and try to establish Anglo-German rapprochement as well as assure them of South Africa’s neutrality under the Hertzog government.

Pirow’s solution to easing British and German tention prior to tyhe war, which he proposed to Hitler, was for the British to agree with the Nazi policy of “Drang nach Osten” (meaning yearning or ‘thrust’ towards the East for ‘living space’ as Hitler put it in his book ‘Mein Kamph’) and in return Hitler should allow all the Jewish people living in Germany to leave.  In reality this offer would never have happened as it would have required Britain, by way of a parliamentary agreement, to renege on its commitment to Poland as an ally.  However, Pirow also had another mission, that of building a South African partnership for a post war Nazi world.

So how is it that these lessor known South African missions and special envoy on ‘quasi official’ visits come about, what was he doing and what made Oswald Pirow tick?

Background

Oswald Pirow was born in Aberdeen (Cape Province, South Africa) on 14th August 1890, and was the grandson of a German missionary and son of a Doctor. Pirow studied law in Potchefstroom, Germany and London, and then practised as an advocate in Pretoria.  Oswald spoke perfect German and was insistent that only German was spoken by his family at home in South Africa (it was said by those who knew them that the Pirow family was more German in identity than South African).

He came to fame as a lawyer defending the Communist ring-leaders and instigators of The Rand Revolt in 1922 (see South Africa’s very own Communist Revolution – The Rand Revolt of 1922), an odd start for him as he became an ardent hater of anything Communist and would later come up with plans to ‘eradicate’ communism from the planet in its entirety (not just South Africa).

He made several unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament and finally in 1924 he was elected for Zoutpansberg. Smuts defeated him in 1929 in Standerton but he returned to Parliament and in the same year and he was appointed Minister of Justice in General Hertzog’s cabinet. The Hertzog government was in coalition, so it could not fully unleash Nationalist proposals for a Republic (of which Pirow was a keen supporter).

As Justice Minister, typical to form as a fierce anti-communist he passed the first anti-communist legislation in South Africa. In 1933 he was appointed Minister of Railways and Harbours, and from 1933 to 1939 he was Minister of Defence.

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Oswald Pirow (in civilian dress) on tour inspecting German military capability in 1938

Unofficial Envoy 

In 1936 Pirow attended the Olympic Games in National Socialist (Nazi) Germany and in 1938 again visited Europe, including Spain, Portugal and Germany. These visits confirmed his admiration for this new style of government in Europe and, in particular, for National Socialism (Nazism). A vehement anti-communist – Pirow vowed to legislate communism out of existence, he also became an admirer of Adolf Hitler – especially after meeting him in 1933.

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Oswald Pirow ( left) at a reception of the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in conversation with Erhard Milch (right) and Walter Hevel on November 19, 1938

During this tours he also met Benito Mussolini, António de Oliveira Salazar and Francisco Franco and became convinced that a European war was imminent, with a resounding Nazi victory assured.  The future Pirow predicted was one of global nazism and it was a future he liked.

The Nationalists were strongly in favour of Nazi Germany, primarily as the antagonists for war in their eyes were the British, and they simply hated the British.  This hatred stemmed from the punitive deportation and containment measures used by The British against Boer families along with the destruction of their farmsteads during The 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

Publicly the Nationalists declared neutrality as to Nazi Germany and to the impending war with Germany, whilst covertly their members (and even leaders) in the tens of thousands joined pro Nazi organisations like the Ossawabrandwag and the SANP Grey Shirts, which very publicly nailed their colours to mast strongly in support of Nazi Germany.

When General Jan Smuts committed South Africa to war against Nazi Germany, Pirow found his position in government as a Minister of Parliament and especially as Minister of Defence untenable. He had given his support in 1939 to Hertzog’s neutrality policy and had been on appeasement missions to Nazi Germany in support of them.  He then resigned along with Hertzog and took no part in Smuts’ reformatted war-time government.

South Africa’s ‘New Order’ 

By September 1940, with Nazi Germany on the ascendancy having invaded most of Western Europe, Pirow launched the South African version of the “New Order” within the breakaway National Party – the Herenigde Nasionale Party (HNP), backing a Nazi style dictatorship.

His new political grouping took its name from his 1940 ‘New Order in South Africa’ pamphlet in which Pirow embraced the ideology of Nazi globalisation.

To understand what the concept of the “New Order” was – the New Order (German: Neuordnung) was the political order which Nazi Germany wanted to impose on the conquered areas under its dominion.

The establishment of the New Order was publicly proclaimed by Adolf Hitler and entailed the creation of a pan-German racial state structured according to Nazi ideology to ensure the supremacy of an Aryan-Nordic master race, massive territorial expansion into Eastern Europe through its colonization with German settlers, the physical annihilation of the Jews and others considered to be “unworthy of life”, and the extermination, expulsion, or enslavement of most of the Slavic peoples and others regarded as “racially inferior”.

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Hitler’s New Order for Africa

Hitler’s ‘New Order’ plan involved global expansion, it focussed primarily on Eastern Europe (‘living space’) however it also extend to Asia, India, South America and North America in ‘post war’ fascist dominated world. Like any plan for globalisation, Africa also played a role in the New Order.

Hitler’s overall intentions for the future organisation of Africa was based on a plan which divided the continent into three big parts. The northern third of Africa was to be assigned to Germany’s Axis partner – Italy. The central part of Africa would fall under German rule. The remaining southern sector would be controlled by a pro-Nazi Afrikaner state built along racial grounds.

Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had communicated this plan with South African leaders sympathetic to Nazism, and a key channel for this communication were his meetings with Oswald Pirow whilst he was on his ‘quasi official’ South African State visits to Nazi Germany on behalf of the Hertzog government.

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Oswald Pirow as a special South African envoy inspecting German Infantry and military capability in 1938

Ribbentrop informed the Afrikaner Nationalist leaders that once Germany had won the war, Germany was to reclaim its former colony of German South-West Africa (now Namibia), then a mandate would be given to an Afrikaner Nationalist led South Africa as a sort of ‘war compensation’ which would include the territorial acquisitions of the British protectorates of  Swaziland, Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and the colony of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

On the division of French African colonies between the Spanish and Italian governments Hitler refused to provide any official promises during the war, fearful of losing the support of Vichy France

Decline of Pirow’s New Order 

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Dr. DF Malan

DF Malan, leader of the National Party initially tolerated the actions of Oswald Pirow’s South African adaption of the 3rd Reich’s ‘New Order’ however very soon Malan came to realise what the extreme ideology of  The New Order was about and he immediately saw it as a divisive influence on the Afrikaner nationalist movement.

Fearful of a split in Afrikaner nationalism over support for extreme Nazism and for Hitler’s plans for the African ‘new order’, at the Nationalists Transvaal party congress of August 1941, DF Malan forced through a motion ending the New Order’s propaganda activities, particularly their insistence on a one-party state on a ‘Führer’ principle.

To understand more about the National Party and its associations to pro Nazi movements do follow this link “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag

Although restricted by DF Malan, the New Order continued to exist and Pirow and 17 of his New Order supporters continued to be associated with the HNP and continued to attend their caucus meetings.

The New Order  finally broke from the HNP altogether in 1942 after both D.F. Malan and J.G. Strijdom publicly rejected the Nazis.

Partnership with Sir Oswald Mosley 

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Oswald Mosley

With the outcome of the war firmly against Nazi Germany, Oswald Pirow’s political career within the Afrikaner Nationalists was effectively over, he returned to legal practice, and during this time became a friend of Sir Oswald Mosley.

Mosley was ex-British MP and an infamous British Nazi, he led the British Union of Fascists (BUF), a Neo-nazi British organisation following the edicts of the ‘New Order’ in the United Kingdom.

Mosley was imprisoned at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1940 for his extreme views in support of the enemy (Nazi Germany) and the BUF was outlawed. He was released in 1943.

Oswald Pirow and Mosley, having similar political views decided to collaborate together and they developed an idea for the division of Africa into exclusively black and white areas.

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Oswald Pirow and Oswald Mosley

The two met after Pirow read a copy of Mosley’s book ‘The Alternative’ and by 1947 they were in discussion over founding an anti-communist group to be known as the “enemies of the Soviet Union” (although this plan never reached fruition).

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Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) Flag

The two Oswalds co-operation started in earnest when Pirow visited Mosley in London in April 1948 and spent the weekend at his house.  In collaboration with Mosley, Oswald Pirow started writing articles for the Union Movement journals and The European, some of which were reprinted in German magazine Nation Europa.

In addition to writing for far right wing publications, the two Oswalds came up with what were known as the Mosley-Pirow Proposals, which advocated the extension of the South African National Party’s Apartheid ideology and concept to include the entire continent of Africa.  The idea they came up with was that two-thirds of sub saharan Africa would be advocated for ‘Black States’ and one-third would be for ‘White states’.  Where the two of them differed on their concept of ‘Eurafrica’ (which they coined) is that Pirow felt that ‘sweated labour’ would need to be forced whereas Mosley felt that unskilled Labour, needed in the ‘white states,’ was to be traded for from the ‘black states’ in return for technical assistance at some ‘later stage’.

The relationship with Pirow and Mosley started to break down after their ‘Eurafrica proposals’ were launched. Pirow came to realise that virtually nobody took Mosley seriously, people generally dismissed both him and his economic and political treatise out of hand as an extreme oddity.

The Treason Trial

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Nelson Mandela at The Treason Trial 1956

Very famously Pirow, now back in South Africa and back in his legal guise, acted as the public prosecutor during the Treason Trial of 1956. The Treason Trial was a trial in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in South Africa in 1956. The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. Some of the defendants, including Nelson Mandela were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Following the Treason Trial Pirow largely lived in retirement, publishing several books, especially on JB Hertzog of who he was an admirer, he also wrote books on wildlife and adventure books for boys. He died of heart failure. He was cremated and his ashes are kept at his Valhalla Farm residence near Pilgrim’s Rest.

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Influence on Apartheid 

Oswald Pirow’s influence in South African politics and Apartheid is far-reaching. The Tomlinson Commission – which investigated the validity of the idea Apartheid was not a new creation, and its findings were based in part on findings made by the Native Economic Commission in 1932 and on preparatory work done by Oswald Pirow.

Very little is known in South Africa today of the frustration and disillusionment returning South African combatants from World War 2 felt and the motivation behind their eventual mass protests against Apartheid policies in the 1950’s (known as the ‘Torch’ Commando rallies – attracting  tens of thousands of war veterans – see The Torch Commando led South Africa’s first mass anti-apartheid protests, NOT the ANC!).

Effectively the returning South African statute force veterans had gone to war to rid the world of Nazism, only to come home and in a few short years find significant “home grown” Nazi’s in government or playing a key role in public prosecution (as was the case with Pirow) when the National Party narrowly beat Smuts’ United Party into power in 1948.

The likes of famous World War 2 heroes like Adolph “Sailor” Malan would have none of it and they took to the streets in the first mass protests against Apartheid and the Nationalist government who had only come into power a couple of years before hand and where already removing the cape coloured vote from the register – see Sailor Malan; Fighter Ace & Freedom Fighter!.

The Torch Commando and veteran protests where ultimately suppressed by The National Party (including Sailor Malan) and the Nationalists where free to promote their heroes – Oswald Pirow had the foreshore road in Cape Town named after him  as well as a South African navy strike craft – the SAS Oswald Pirow – much to the disillusionment of many of South Africa’s war veterans, the disenfranchised voters and the South African Jewish community.

Re-naming 

Since 1994, proposals were to put forward to re-name the strike craft and Cape Town’s foreshore road.

The SAS Oswald Pirow was re-named the SAS Rene Sethren after a famous Navy stocker Rene Sethren who was on board a South African minesweeper in World War 2. In June 1941 his ship was escorting a convoy to Tobruk when they came under heavy attack from enemy planes. He took over an anti-aircraft gun and did not stop firing until the attack was over. He was wounded 27 times during the attack and fortunately survived, he received his gallantry decoration from King George V.

It was also discovered that although Dr Christiaan Barnard had performed the world’s first heart transplant nothing in the way of Cape Town’s streets honoured this, since 2011 most Captonians now know this landmark road which was ‘Oswald Pirow Street’ as ‘Christiaan Barnard Street’.

Oswald Pirow

There is an argument that says we should not be re-naming things in the interests of preserving history, with all its spots, however world over institutions named after Nazis have been re-named and/or scrubbed of anything glorifying this history.  Munich – the birthplace of Nazism is virtually clean of any old references, such is its blight to the entire human race caused by this ideology, and in this respect South Africa has acted no differently.

What is surprising is that even during the 70’s and the 80’s, the National Party were unapologetic in the glorification of individuals so closely associated to National Socialist ideology and Nazism, no matter how hurtful to the vast majority of South Africans, well after the horrors of this ideology had been exposed and universally condemned (even in South Africa).

Pirow was allowed to continue as the State Prosecutor and advise Apartheid policy, his controversial plans for the Nazification of Southern Africa were just glazed over and conveniently swept under the rug – the modern South African generation would grow up fairly oblivious of Oswald Pirow’s really dark past.

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Display of the SAS Oswald Pirow at the SA Naval Museum, it was renamed the renamed SAS Rene Sethren on April 1, 1997


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

Feature photo copyright the German Federal Archives copyright. ‘Very Deeply Dyed in Black’ Sir Oswald Mosley  and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945 by Graham Macklin. NSDAP Office of Colonial Policy  Brian Bunting’s 1964 book, The Rise of the South African Reich.  Ribbontrop’s proposals to South Africa, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,  by William Shirer, 1974 edition.

Published by New York: Crest, 1962, New York (1962