Charles Robberts Swart

5 Dec 1894
16 Jul 1982
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Charles Robberts Swart (5 December 1894 – 16 July 1982) was a South African politician who served as the last Governor-General of Union of South Africa from 1960 to 1961 and the first State President of the Republic of South Africa from 1961 to 1967.

Swart was born on 5 December 1894 on the farm Morgenzon, in the Winburg district, part of the Boer republic of the Orange Free State (which became a British colony in 1902 and a province of the Union of South Africa in 1910).

He was the third of six children, born to Hermanus Bernardus Swart (1866–1949) and Aletta Catharina Robberts (1870–1929). The Anglo Boer War (Second Boer War) broke out when he was 5 years old.

During the war his mother and the children were interned at the Winburg concentration camp. Of the three boys only two survived the concentration camp. His father was wounded and captured by the British during the Battle of Paardeberg. He became a prisoner of war and stayed in Groenpunt and Simonstad until the end of the war.

When Swart was 7 years old he went to the government school in Winburg. He later went to a C.N.O. school, which is a school set up by the Afrikaners in response to Lord Milner’s anglicisation policy at the government sponsored schools. Later on, the schools merged again with the result that he move moved up a grade. He was only 13 years old when he passed his higher exam (matric or last year of school).

He established himself as a barrister in 1914. He spent a brief period in Hollywood acting in silent films, before embarking on his public career. He practised law in Bloemfontein from 1919 to 1948. He earned a degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York in 1921–1922. He reported briefly from Washington for the Die Burger newspaper.

He was married to Cornelia Wilhelmina (Nellie) de Klerk and had three children.

In 1923 he was elected to the House of Assembly as Member of Parliament for Ladybrand until he was defeated in 1938. He became leader of the National Party in the Orange Free State and MP for Winburg in 1939. As a staunch republican, he was a member of the National Party for many years. During the war he was well known as being a fascist sympathiser.

After the war he was appointed Minister of Justice when the National Party came to power in 1948, and was responsible for legislation to strengthen the powers of the South African Police to suppress anti-apartheid activity.

Several figures in the Congress of Democrats were imprisoned for exposing his earlier links with fascism. From 1949–1950 he held the portfolio for Education, Arts and Science and became acting Prime Minister in 1958.

Swart was appointed Governor-General in 1960. Like his predecessor, Dr Jansen, he declined to take the oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II or to wear the ceremonial uniform. In a referendum later that year, a small majority of White voters endorsed a government proposal to establish a republic. In 1961, after signing the new republican constitution passed by Parliament, he asked the Queen to release him from office, and Parliament then elected him as State President, the new post which replaced the monarch and the governor-general as ceremonial head of state.

Nelson Mandela and other underground black resistance leaders tried to protest against the change of government to the new republican, Afrikaner-dominated system by planning a three-day general strike of non-white workers, but the government preemptively averted most of these plans through an extensive use of police force to persecute the dissenters.

Although elected for a seven-year term office, Swart served as State President for only six years, and retired in 1967. He died on 16 July 1982, aged 87. Swart was popularly known as “Blackie” (Swart is Afrikaans for “black”).

The tallest building in Bloemfontein, South Africa (CR Swart Building), which houses the provincial administration and various governmental departments was named after him. This building is also known as ‘The Pride of the Free State’ and houses a revolving restaurant on the 26th floor.

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