by Milton Shain
The 1930s and 40s were tumultuous decades in South Africa’s history. The economy declined sharply in the wake of the Wall Street crash, giving rise to a huge number of poor whites and the growth of a militant and aggressive Afrikaner nationalism that often took its lead from the Nazis in Germany.
A Perfect Storm reveals how the right-wing’s malevolent message moved from the margins to the centre of political life; how antisemitism seeped into mainstream political life with real and lasting consequences. Milton Shain, South Africa’s leading scholar of modern Jewish history, brings into sharp relief the ‘Jewish Problem’, detailing the rise of influential organisations such as the Grey Shirts and the New Order, which fanned the flames of antisemitism. He devotes considerable attention to the Ossewa-Brandwag, which, by 1941, constituted the largest yet mobilisation of Afrikaners.
The National Party itself contributed to the climate of hostility to Jews. It was instrumental in ensuring that only few of the Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and elsewhere were permitted as immigrants. The National Party contributed to the prevailing climate of Jew-baiting. Indeed, some of its worst offenders were accorded high office after 1948 when the National Party came to power.