Biography of Charles Roberts Swart At various points in the history of each nation, some individuals take up the challenge of moving the nation from one stage to another.
Biography of Charles Robberts Swart, the first White President of South Africa
Charles Roberts Swart was one such person.
He transformed South Africa from a monarchy to a republic and in doing so, became the country’s last governor-general and first president.
Swart was born on 5 December 1894 in the Winburg district in the Boer Republic of Orange Free State.
His parents were Hermanus Bernardus Swart and Aletta Catharina Roberts. When he was five years old, the Anglo Boer War began.
He lost one of his siblings to the war-torn Winburg Campus Camp and held him and his mother
His father was captured in a battle and remained a prisoner of war until the end of the war.
Swart went to Winberg’s government school at the age of 7, and later to the Christian National Education School founded by Afrikaners.
He said to be exceptionally brilliant, matriculating in Winburg at just thirteen. At the age of fifteen, after enrolling in a very young university, he was appointed clerk of the magistrate in Winburg.
In 1910 he enrolled at Gray University College which later became Orange Free State University and there he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1912.
In 1918 he became a barrister. He starred in silent films in Hollywood before starting his public career.
He started practicing law in Bloemfontein in 1919. Two years later, he went to the United States where he received a journalism degree from Columbia University in New York.
He returned to Bloemfontein in 1922 to continue his law practice which he did until 1948.
In 1923, Swart was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a member of parliament for Ladybrand.
He remained in his post until 1938 after losing. In 1941, he became the leader of the National Party in the Orange Free State and Member of Parliament for Winberg.
After the end of World War II, the National Party came to power and was appointed Minister of Justice in 1948.
He was responsible for legislation that strengthened the South African police’s powers to suppress anti-apartheid activity.
He was Minister of Education, Arts, and Sciences between 1949 and 1950 and also Deputy Prime Minister between 1954 and 1959.
In 1959, Swart was appointed Governor-General, but like his predecessor E.G. Janssen, he was an ardent Republican.
In the following year, a referendum was held and a small majority of white voters supported South Africa’s proposal to become a republic.
In 1961, after the Parliament signed the new republican constitution passed into law, Swart asked the queen to be relieved of her post as governor-general, and the parliament elected her as state president.
This new position effectively replaced the emperor and governor-general as head of state.
Nelson Mandela and other underground black resistance leaders attempted to protest the change by planning a three-day general strike of non-white workers.
However, the government feared such a move and continued most of these schemes through the use of the police force.
Swart served as state president for only six years, though was elected to a seven-year term.
He retired in 1967.
He died on 16 July 1982, aged 87.
Swart was popularly known as “Blackie” because Swart means “Black” in Afrikaans.
He was also called “Oom Blackie”, the Oman African for “uncle”.
Although Swart made significant contributions to South Africa, a large part fueled the unjust system of apartheid.
For example, he was heavily criticized for his role in banning Albert Luthuli and other leaders of the African National Congress (ANC).
The tallest building in Bloemfontein, which was occupied by various government departments and the University of Orange Free State Law Faculty, was named the President CR Swart Building in his honor.
However, in 2015, the ANC government changed the name to Fidel Castro Building.
Swart’s unpopularity continued in the post-apartheid era, as his statue was destroyed at the University of the Free State by student protests in late February 2016.
His portrait is placed on 1 cent to 50 cent coins of the South African rand. This was to commemorate him as the first state president of South Africa.
He was married to Cornelia Wilhelmina de Kirk and had three children together. The height of 6 feet and 7 inches added to her public image.
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