F.C. Erasmus and the politics of South African defence, 1948-1959

Boulter, Roger Stephen (1997) F.C. Erasmus and the politics of South African defence, 1948-1959. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

FC Erasmus became South Africa's defence minister in 1948 after two decades as a leading political organiser for the National Party. Although an architect of the Nationalists' post-war election victory he was not considered a minister of the first rank. Erasmus initiated a process of ridding the defence force of officers who he believed were associated with the Smuts government and replacing them with party supporters. As a result the military often lost experienced and talented officers. Erasmus felt that the armed services had been too British in ethos and appearance. He inaugurated tighter regulations on bi-lingualism, reintroduced boer rank titles, launched new uniforms and original medals and decorations, to the acclaim of the volk. His purpose was to have a defence force which was uniquely South African. Many of his policies came under attack not only from the United Party but also groups such as the Torch Commando and the veterans organisations. With the apparent lack of an imminent military threat to the apartheid government Erasmus never received substantial budgetary allocations from finance ministers. The defence force, one without conscription, remained small with largely antiquated equipment for the important air and land forces. However by the decade's end the navy was gradually receiving modern ships under the terms of the Simonstown agreement, which Erasmus had negotiated with Britain. The events of the Sharpeville crisis, just after Erasmus left defence, demonstrated that the armed forces as moulded by the minister were in poor condition to assist the civil power in suppressing disturbances. Overseas Erasmus hoped to increase the acceptability of the Union as a defence partner among Western countries by providing personnel for the Berlin Air Lift and the Korean conflict and promising a contingent for the Middle East. He attempted unsuccessfully to instigate anti-communist alliances for the land and maritime defence of Africa when the European powers were leaving the continent. These actions were primarily to obtain political support for the Union, whose prestige was rapidly decreasing as apartheid became better known. The external initiatives with the exception of the Simonstown naval agreements were not lasting.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Minister of Defence, National Party, South African Defense Force, Smuts government, Military history, Navy, Army, Torch Commando, Ships, Sharpeville, Military relations, Apartheid
Subjects:D World History and History of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
D World History and History of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc > DT Africa > South Africa
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > History
Supervisors:Hummel, Chris and Maylam, Paul
ID Code:3137
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:17 Jul 2012 08:15
Last Modified:17 Jul 2012 08:15
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