J B M Hertzog, in full James Barry Munnik Hertzog, (born April 3, 1866, near Wellington, Cape Colony [now in South Africa]—died Nov. 21, 1942, Pretoria, S.Af.), soldier and statesman who held the post of prime minister of the Union of South Africa from 1924 to 1939. His political principles, as first stated in his speeches in 1912, were “South Africa First” (even before the British Empire) and the “Two Streams Policy,” under which each part of the white South African nation—i.e., the British and the Afrikaner (Dutch)—would be free from domination by the other.
Hertzog was trained in law (Victoria College, Stellenbosch, and Amsterdam University) and practiced in Pretoria (1892–95) until appointed to the high court of the Orange Free State. During the South African War (1899–1902) he rose to the assistant chief commandant of the Free State forces and became a resourceful and daring guerrilla leader. Though he would have preferred to fight on, Hertzog was persuaded to sign the Peace of Vereeniging (May 1902).
Hertzog then entered politics by organizing the Orangia-Unie (Orangia Union). When self-government was given to the largely Afrikaner Orange Free State in 1907, he became a member of the Cabinet and created a national controversy by championing the Dutch language. In 1910 he was taken into the Union’s first Cabinet under Louis Botha, but his strong nationalist views caused Botha to form a new government without him in 1912. Hertzog, meanwhile, formed the National Party (1914), which gained strength by opposing Botha’s active support of Britain during World War I. He also pursued policies of South African freedom from British control and dual-medium education in Afrikaans (the language of Afrikaners, developed from Dutch) and English, and he encouraged bilingualism among civil servants. In 1924, with the support of the Labour Party, Hertzog became prime minister.
As prime minister, J B M Hertzog led the government that gave the Union its flag, made Afrikaans an official language, and protected home industries. In imperial conferences, he helped to pave the way for the Statute of Westminster (1931), by which Britain recognized the equality of the dominions, including their right to secede. Intrigues within his own party and the failure of his policy to preserve the gold standard moved Hertzog into a coalition with Jan Smuts in 1933. The next year the National and South African parties joined to form the United Party. With the strong support of Afrikaners, Hertzog carried through a racial policy that resulted in greater segregation of whites and blacks, disenfranchisement of the Cape Africans, and the expansion of the native reserves. Nevertheless, he was outflanked by the opposition Purified Nationalist Party led by Daniel F. Malan, who, opposing the fusion with the South African Party, advocated more stringent measures.
In the 1938 election, Hertzog’s party won a great triumph, but the outbreak of World War II led to his downfall. Though agreed on internal matters, his party was divided on the question of South Africa’s role in the war. He insisted on neutrality; Smuts and his followers felt that South Africa’s place was next to Britain. When Hertzog’s motion to remain out of the war was defeated in Parliament (Sept. 4, 1939) by a vote of 80 to 67, he resigned, and Smuts formed a new government. Healing the breach between himself and Malan’s Purified Nationalists, Hertzog became the leader of the opposition. The reunion survived until Malan’s followers rejected Hertzog’s program of equal rights for British South Africans and Afrikaners. At the end of 1940, an embittered J B M Hertzog retired from politics.