Art by James E McConnell

The birth and death of the Union of South Africa.

The Union of South Africa is the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

Following the First World War, the Union of South Africa was granted the administration of South West Africa (now known as Namibia) as a League of Nations mandate. It became treated in most respects as another province of the Union, but it never was formally annexed.

Like Canada and Australia, the Union of South Africa was a self-governing autonomous dominion of the British Empire. Its independence from the United Kingdom was confirmed in the Balfour Declaration 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. It was governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with the Crown being represented by a governor-general. The Union came to an end with the enactment of the constitution of 1961, by which it became a republic and temporarily left the Commonwealth.

South African Republic

The South African Republic (Dutch: Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek; ZAR), often referred to as the Transvaal or as the Transvaal Republic, was an independent and internationally recognised country in Southern Africa from 1852 to 1902. The country defeated the British in what is often referred to as the First Boer War and remained independent until the end of the Second Boer War on 31 May 1902, when it was forced to surrender to the British. After the war the territory of the ZAR became the Transvaal Colony. 

The land area that was once the ZAR now comprises all or most of the provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and North West in the northeastern portion of the modern Republic of South Africa.

The evolution of South African Currency (Union to Republic)

The Republic of South Africa Constitution Bill was introduced in January 1961 in the same year the rand was established as the official South African currency on 14 February – and has since developed into a liquid emerging market currency, most commonly traded against the US dollar. The Constitution Bill came into force on 31 May 1961; 31 May was a significant day in South African history, being both the day in 1902 on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed, ending the Second Anglo-Boer War, and the day in 1910 on which the Union of South Africa came into being.

The Rand was introduced in the then Union of South Africa on 14 February 1961, three months before the Republic of South Africa was established.[ A Decimal Coinage Commission had been set up in 1956 to consider a move away from the denominations of pounds, shillings, and pence; it submitted its recommendations on 8 August 1958. It replaced the South African pound as legal tender, at the rate of 2 Rand to 1 pound, or 10 shillings to the Rand. The government introduced a mascot, Decimal Dan, “the Rand-cent man” (known in Afrikaans as Daan Desimaal). This was accompanied by a radio jingle, to inform the public about the new currency.

Despite enjoying strong value amid an ever-changing international economic climate, it was the system of Apartheid in South Africa which ultimately caused rand to lose its footing on the global market.

In June 1974 the South African authorities decided to delink the rand from the dollar, and introduced a policy of independent managed floating. At the time, the Rand was trading at 87 cents to the dollar.

Republic of South Africa

On 31 May 1961, the country became a republic following a referendum in which white voters narrowly voted in favour thereof (the British-dominated Natal province rallied against the issue). Queen Elizabeth II was stripped of the title Queen of South Africa, and the last Governor-General, Charles Robberts Swart, became State President.

As a concession to the Westminster system, the presidency remained parliamentary-appointed and virtually powerless until P. W. Botha’s Constitution Act of 1983, which eliminated the office of Prime Minister and instated a near-unique “strong presidency” responsible to parliament. Pressured by other Commonwealth of Nations countries, South Africa withdrew from the organisation in 1961, and rejoined it only in 1994.

Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country’s liberal democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the “rainbow nation” to describe the country’s multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid. The World Bank classifies South Africa as an upper-middle-income economy, and a newly industrialised country. Its economy is the second-largest in Africa, and the 34th-largest in the world.[ In terms of purchasing power parity, South Africa has the seventh-highest per capita income in Africa. However, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day. Nevertheless, South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs, and maintains significant regional influence

Read more on the Union of South Africa 1910
Read more on the History of South Africa

Sources: 1, 2,

More Stories
The Evolution South Africa’s National Anthem