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Francois Stephanus Malan

Francois Stephanus (F.S.) Malan (1871 - 1941) was a South African newspaper editor, politician and cabinet minister. Malan was of Huguenot descent on both sides of his family, and attended Victoria College, Stellenbosch, where he considered becoming a minister of religion. In the event, he decided to pursue a career as a public figure and studied law at Cambridge (when he was a fellow-student of Jan Smuts). Malan was admitted to the Cape Bar in 1895 but was discouraged by lack of work. In late 1895 he was offered the editorship of Ons Land, “the mouthpiece of the Afrikander Bond and the most influential Dutch newspaper in the Cape Colony” (Preller 1968: 495) by J.H. Hofmeyr, first editor of Ons Land. Malan publically condemned Rhodes in the wake of the Jameson Raid in 1896, in spite of the previous co-operation between J.H. Hofmeyr and Rhodes. In 1897 Malan married Johanna Br├╝mmer and they had four children. When Will Schreiner resigned as Prime Minister of the Cape and member of the Cape Legislative Assembly for Malmesbury in 1900, Malan was elected unopposed in his place. He represented Malmesbury without a break until 1924, although at all subsequent elections, more hawkish forces whittled down his majority.

However, before he could take his seat in parliament in 1900, Malan was arrested because responsible for publishing an account published in Ons Land which contained slanderous accusations about the shelling of civilians. In early 1901 he was formally charged in Cape Town and found guilty of “false, malicious and defamatory libel perpetrated against Lt-Gen. Sir John D.P. French [a senior British military figure], and was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour.” (Preller 1968: 496). After the war Malan became increasingly politically prominent and argued strongly for a united South Africa under the British flag. In 1908 he became secretary of agriculture in Merriman’s government after Merriman’s South African Party defeated Jameson’s Unionists in the 1908 elections. In the run-up to Union, Malan supported the retention of the Cape non-racial franchise and also that non-whites in the Cape should retain the vote. However, as Schreiner’s letters to Malan make clear, he did not go very far in this, and also reneged on his commitment to women’s franchise, in the interests of securing Union. It was in fact Will Schreiner who put his principles into practice on such matters, not any of the other so-called Cape ‘liberals’; Mouton’s (2011) political biography over-states Malan’s liberal credentials and fails to see other sources of principled radical political views in South Africa of the time.

In 1910 Malan supported Botha (rather than Merriman) to become Prime Minister, and he was later appointed as minister of education in Botha’s cabinet, a portfolio he held until 1921. Malan persuaded parliament to accept his university bill in 1916 which provided for teaching universities at Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and an examining university, the University of South Africa. He also approved the establishment of the University College of Fort Hare. Malan was an opponent of South Africa’s campaign against German South West Africa during the First World War and was of pacifist views. In 1927 he was elected to the Senate and remained a Senator to his death. Malan’s last important political act as a Cape liberal was to resist legislation introduced by Hertzog to have black voters in the Cape placed on a separate electoral roll so as to be represented in parliament by whites.

Schreiner’s extant letters to Malan, although small in number, are amongst her most powerful letters of exhortation. They date between 1906 and 1913 and are invariably addressed to ‘My dear Friend’. They primarily concern preparations for the Union of South Africa, to which Schreiner was strongly and in principle opposed, and relatedly regarding the ‘native question’ and how best to avert the catastrophic future Schreiner envisaged for South Africa if it was not dealt with wisely and justly, with the Natal Zulu uprising of 1906 much in her mind. As in many of her other letters of exhortation, including to Smuts and Merriman, Schreiner uses flattery in her attempts to cajole Malan into moral political action, commenting in April 1909 for instance, “My dear friend, draw yourself sometimes apart from the noise and greed of the political world about you, and look at these matters by the light of that deeper spiritual instinct that is within you.” The analysis Schreiner provides in her letters to Malan of the ‘real’ reasons for Union and its likely consequences echo those she outlined in Closer Union, and strikingly and presciently foreshadow those made by ‘radical’ South African historians in the 1970s when analysing the development of apartheid and its economic basis. On 6 January 1909 she wrote to Malan about what she saw as the true economic motivation of those favouring Union: “The problem that is rising before us is that of the combination of the capitalist-classes, land-owning and mine-owning, against the rest of the community; and ^an^ ignorant, blind, land-thirsty, gold-thirsty native policy; which will plunge South Africa into war and bitterness, compared ^with^ which the Boer War was nothing
It is not love that is uniting you all - it is greed.”

Schreiner’s last letter to Malan dates from 1913 and was written on the eve of her departure from South Africa, and as the Natives Land Act - which he supported and she totally rejected - passed into law. In it she effectively ended her epistolary relationship with him, stating that she can no longer write on public matters and pointedly commenting, “I hope the young generation will live to see a nobler broader, less racial spirit than we see in South Africa to-day.”

For further information see:
Peter Kallaway (1974) “F.S. Malan and the Cape liberal tradition 1908-1924” Journal of African History 15, pp.113-29
F.A. Mouton (2011) Prophet Without Honour: FS Malan: Afrikaner, South African and Cape Liberal Pretoria: Protea
J.F. Preller (1968) ‘Malan, Francois Stephanus’ in (ed) W.J. de Kock Dictionary of South African Biography┬á Vol I Pretoria: National Council for Social Research, pp. 495 - 499
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