François Stephanus (known as F.S.) Malan, former editor of Ons Land — the newspaper of choice of the “Afrikanerbond” — was a Cape delegate to the National Convention in Durban, which deliberated on the provisions of the Union of South Africa in 1908.

Drawing of F.S Malan by Edward Roworth (Ibali Digital Collection UCT)

Malan himself stated that:

“Het doel van dit dagboek is tweeledig:

  • Om een kort overzicht te geven van de verrichtingen van de Konverentie en
  • Om te boek te stellen wat mijn eigen inzicht waren op de voornaamste kwesties de behandeld werden.

Deze aantekeningen werden dageliks na afloop der vergadering neergeschreven”

Signatures of the delegates of the National Convention

FS Malan’s career

Malan was a farm boy who obtained a BA degree from Victoria College with honours in 1892. Thereafter, he studied law at Cambridge. Although he intended to practice as a lawyer, he was offered the editorial chair of the Cape newspaper Ons Land, the mouthpiece of the “Afrikanerbond”.

He was sentenced to one year in jail during the Anglo-Boer War due to an article that appeared in Ons Land. Once he entered politics, he became a leading figure in the South African Party (S.A.P.). Various movements developed during 1906 that supported the unification of the South African colonies. Some called for a federal system, while others supported unification. In that same year, he published a series of articles under the title “Een Verenigd Zuid-Afrika” in which he emphasised the need for closer ties.

John Xavier Merriman (Elliot-versameling)

Some of the most important issues that were raised at the Convention were:

  1. Federation vs Unification. Malan was strongly in favour of Unification.
  2. The black and coloured issue, about which there were considerable differences between the Cape Colony, the Transvaal, and the Free State, and to a lesser extent the Indian issue in Natal. As a Capetonian, Malan was on the liberal side and was initially of the opinion that the new Union’s parliament should debate the issues in order to find a joint solution.
  3. The issue of the Union’s capital. Malan mentioned examples where new capital cities were “created” in the USA, Canada, and Australia, and the great cities in the various states were thus overlooked.
F.S. Malan (Elliot collection)

In the 1908 election, Jameson’s Progressive Party was crushingly defeated, and the S.A.P, with J.X. Merriman as prime minister, took power. Merriman and F.S. Malan attended the National Convention, which started on 12 October 1908, as part of the Cape Colony’s delegation.

After the establishment of the Union, F.S. Malan joined the Botha cabinet, where he also acted as acting prime minister for a time during the absence of Botha and Smuts during the First World War. With the fall of the Smuts government in 1924, Malan lost his seat. After this, he withdrew from politics. In 1927, he was elected a member of the Senate and during the last two years of his life, he was President of this body.

The publication of Malan’s diary by the Van Riebeeck Society sheds light on the proceedings of the Convention. It was handed over to the Cape Archive in 1937 already, thus within his lifetime.


[….] No! We in South Africa must congratulate ourselves that feeling is so changed that such a motion meets with general approval at such a Conference!

GREENE said that inNatalthe significance of the language question had never been well understood because it had no practical application there. In his opinion there were at the most 3% Dutch speaking European inhabitants in Natal — he probably meant people who could not speak English as well. If it were clear that one could have officials who knew only English in English-speaking centres, then he would not vote against the resolution.

THE CHAIRMAN ruled that the meaning of the resolution was that any citizen of South Africa would have the right to speak either English or Dutch in all public offices or courts and to demand that he be served in the one he preferred.

MALAN expressed his warmest pleasure at the spirit of the delegates on this important point. He thought that the principle embodied in the resolution was a sound one, and it would depend on the Government of  the Union to apply this principle sympa­thetically. The responsibility would rest with the population to maintain its rights. The fact that Sir George Farrar had proposed the amendment was not to be regarded as a sign of weakness on the part of General Hertzog but as proof of the conciliatory spirit of the English-speaking section of the population. He hoped that with the unanimous adoption of this motion the true foundation-stone of the unification of the two most important European races of South Africa would be laid.

GENERAL HERTZOG said that he warmly supported the motion by Sir George Farrar. He was prepared to trust in the future and therefore he was satisfied if effective equality was laid down in the resolution.

BROWNE expressed the opinion that it was unnecessary to have such a long resolution. It was sufficient to put both langu­ages on an equal footing.

MALAN was not of the same opinion. Equality of language could mean the equality of languages from a philological point of view. One might then just as well say English and Chinese are on a footing of equality as languages. The second part of the resolution was necessary to show that it was intended that both languages would be made official languages in practice.

GENERAL DE WET supported the resolution. If that were tam­pered with unification would seem to him impossible. Both races must be placed on an equal footing. […]

Uitgegee en toegelig deur Johann F. Preller, M.A.

Engelse vertaling deur A.J. de Villiers, M.A.