Strijdom, Johannes Gerhardus (18931958), prime minister of South Africa, born on 14 July 1893 at the farm Klipfontein, near Willowmore, Cape Colony, was the second son in the family of ten children of Petrus Gerhardus Strijdom (18671932), farmer, and his wife, Ellen Elizabeth Nortier (18711938). After attending the Franschhoek high school, he proceeded to Victoria College (later Stellenbosch University), and in 1912 graduated BA. Following a spell of ostrich farming, he moved to Pretoria, joining the public service in 1914. After the outbreak of the First World War he served in South-West Africa, first in an ambulance unit and subsequently as a scout. After his discharge in August 1915 he joined a firm of Pretoria attorneys, obtained his LLB degree, and in 1918 was admitted to the bar. On 14 January 1931 Strijdom married Susan, daughter of the Revd W. J. de Klerk; they had a son and a daughter. A marriage in 1918 to Margaretha van Hulsteijn (18971970), the actress Marda Vanne, daughter of Sir Willem van Hulsteijn, a former member of parliament, was dissolved.
Strijdom moved to Nylstroom in northern Transvaal to practise as an attorney. There he entered politics, becoming secretary for the Waterberg division of the National Party of J. B. M. Hertzog. An enthusiastic farmer, Strijdom also served as secretary to the Waterberg Agricultural Union (19239). In the general election of 1929 he was returned to parliament as the member for Waterberg, the constituency which he continued to represent until his death. Starting out as a typical upholder of Afrikaans language rights, Strijdom by 1934 had advanced to the more extreme stance of advocating a Christian-nationalist Afrikaner republic outside the Commonwealth.
Although Strijdom, like D. F. Malan, the Cape Nationalist leader, stood as a coalitionist in the general election of 1933, he joined Malan in the following year in denouncing the fusion of parties, led respectively by Hertzog and J. C. Smuts, as a betrayal of Nationalist principles. Following the formation of the Purified National Party, Strijdom for most of the period up to 1940 was its only parliamentary representative from Transvaal, and became its leader in that province, the lion of the north. As chairman of the company publishing the Nationalist newspaper Die Transvaler, he was assisted in building up the party by its editor, H. F. Verwoerd, subsequently his successor as prime minister.
After Hertzog's defeat in parliament and resignation over the war issue, Strijdom became joint leader in Transvaal, with General J. C. G. Kemp, of the Herenigde (Reunited) Nasionale Party (HNP), formed in 1940. An avowed antisemite, Strijdom secured the adoption by the HNP in Transvaal of the clause in its constitution that excluded Jews from membership. Opposing any compromise over the republican aim, Strijdom believed that a German victory might furnish an opportunity to achieve it. He refused to endorse Hertzog's unequivocal undertaking to guarantee English-speaking rights. Insistent nevertheless that the republic should be achieved by constitutional means, Strijdom also attacked national socialism as an ideology foreign to South Africa. He supported Malan in successfully resisting (as the general election of 1943 demonstrated) the claims of extra-parliamentary movements, in particular the Ossewa Brandwag, to challenge the HNP as the political voice of the Afrikaner volk. An outspoken protagonist of white baasskap (supremacy), Strijdom provided a major input into the party political programme that was implemented as the policy of apartheid when the Nationalists came to power in 1948.
Strijdom received the relatively minor portfolio of lands (and later also irrigation) in Malan's cabinet. He tackled his departmental work with vigour and succeeded in raising his prestige in the party. Malan, upon retiring in 1954, intended to advise the governor-general to invite N. C. Havenga, the minister of finance, to succeed him; but Strijdom's supporters, representing the radical element in the party and especially strong in the Transvaal, insisted that the parliamentary caucus elect the new party leader and prime minister. Strijdom's unanimous election was ensured by Havenga's withdrawal.
In the four years of his premiership Strijdom, who now accepted that the republic could not be established by a simple majority in parliament, continued to pursue his republican goal. Legislation in 1957 secured that South Africa would have one national flag and anthem. The most controversial issue of his premiership derived from the struggle to remove the Cape coloured voters from the common roll. Through the enlargement of the senate Strijdom in 1956 obtained the necessary two-thirds majority of both houses, and the appeal court upheld the government by validating the Senate Act. Strijdom, who suffered poor health throughout his premiership, became ill shortly before the general election of 1958. He recovered sufficiently to participate in the campaign, but afterwards his condition deteriorated. Suffering from a heart ailment, he died at Volkshospitaal, Cape Town, on 24 August 1958, survived by his wife. He was buried on 30 August at Heroes' Acre old cemetery in Pretoria.
As a volksleier, Strijdom commanded the almost unqualified devotion of many of his followers. His personal appeal and integrity, his accessibility, and his active membership of the Dutch Reformed church all played their part. To his opponents, however, his steadfastness and his blunt oratory typified the intransigent Broederbonder, pursuing a narrow and exclusive Afrikaner cause.
N. G. Garson
J. L. Basson, J. G. Strijdom: sy politieke loopbaan van 1929 tot 1948 (1980) · A. P. J. van Rensburg, Strijdom, Johannes Gerhardus, DSAB · P. J. Furlong, Between crown and swastika: the impact of the radical right on the Afrikaner nationalist movement in the fascist era (1991) · D. O'Meara, Forty lost years: the apartheid state and the politics of the national party (1996) · G. M. Carter, The politics of inequality: South Africa since 1948 (1958) · H. B. Thom, D. F. Malan (1980) · O. Geyser and A. H. Marais, eds., Die nasionale party, 3: Die eerste bewindsjare, 19241934, ed. P. W. Coetzer and J. H. le Roux (1982) · O. Geyser and A. H. Marais, eds., Die nasionale party, 4: Die Gesuiwerde nasionale party, 19341940, ed. P. W. Coetzer and J. H. le Roux (1986) · B. M. Schoeman, Van Malan tot Verwoerd (1973) · A. N. Pelzer, Strijdom, Johannes Gerhardus, Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa, ed. D. J. Potgieter, 10 (1974), 3267 · G. Coetsee, Hans Strijdom: lewensloop en beleid van Suid-Afrika se vyfde premier (1958) · J. M. Strydom, J. G. Strijdom: sy lewe en stryd (1965) · Sunday Times [Johannesburg] (24 Aug 1958) · Die Burger [Cape Town] (25 Aug 1958)
National Archives of South Africa, Pretoria, private collection
BFINA, documentary footage
group photograph, 1956, Hult. Arch. · D. de Jager, statue, 1972, Nylstroom, Transvaal · C. Steynberg and D. de Jager, monument, 1972, Strijdom Square (formerly Market Square), Pretoria · J. A. Labuschagne, Nylstroom granite bust, Paardekraal, near Krugersdorp, Transvaal · C. Steynberg, bronze bust, houses of parliament, Cape Town · C. Steynberg, bronze bust, Heroes' Acre, Pretoria · photographs, repro. in Basson, J. G. Strijdom · photographs, repro. in Strydom, J. G. Strijdom