Growing opportunity on African soil
Growing opportunity on African soil
Abstract and Keywords
White South Africans were equally divided amongst themselves as the people of colour were divided amongst themselves at the beginning of the twentieth century. After the devastation of the South African War (1899–1902) Afrikaners devised different strategies to address their marginalization. From within, Afrikaner empowerment manifested on different levels, as described in this chapter. This context explains the decision to establish an insurance company. This chapter explains the crucial establishment years of the self-driven salvation strategy which included the formation of Santam and Sanlam. Afrikaners had no experience, nor expertise, in insurance, but relied on intra-Afrikaner social capital and supportive networks of non-Afrikaners to establish Sanlam.
A world of opportunity: the new century
Western nations were looking towards the twentieth century with hope, expecting prosperity and progress as scientific and technological advancement had already brought them higher living standards. The Western nations moulded their progress on the model of ‘liberal capitalism’. This model secured material advantages, but was grounded in a very specific political framework that promoted the freedom of speech, freedom of commercial exchange, democratic self-government based on an ever-extending franchise, freedom of scientific enquiry, and the mobility of the factors of production. Progress and accumulation of wealth gradually led to the adoption of innovative technology in industry, commerce, and communications and the expansion of financial services.1 The world population of the new millennium became more urbanized, more secular, and more materialistic. Business responded, either by driving or following this global expansion, but the accompanying social democratization and political liberalization were far from universal.
As Western influence spread across the globe, Africa was the subject of deliberations at the Berlin Conference of 1884/1885 where the colonial powers agreed on the terms of occupation, settlement, and control over territories. As the century drew to a close, British imperial ambitions marched towards the resource-rich independent Boer Republics. By 1902, Britain had just emerged victorious from an unprecedented challenge to its power. In the Southern African territories under British control, liberal capitalism unfolded selectively only as far as the imperial goal was served. Britain steered the four colonies, the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Orange River Colony (formerly the Republiek van de Oranje Vrijstaat), and the Transvaal Colony (formerly De Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) under its authority towards the Union of South Africa in 1910. However, it was primarily those of European descent who participated extensively in the capitalist economy and the political liberties incrementally granted under stages of political emancipation. British reconstruction in the former Boer Republics between 1902 and 1909 engineered the emergence of a white-controlled state in South Africa. (p.2) Afrikaners and the English-speaking settlers in the colonies shared a similar outlook on racial co-existence. The Natal Colony implemented racial segregation resembling the policies of the Union since the 1880s and during the National Convention (the successive meetings deliberating on the structure of the planned Union—an all-European affair) the delegates from Natal opposed the extension of the franchise model of the Cape Colony universally in the new Union. In the Transvaal Colony the British High Commissioner, Alfred Milner, was advised by Godfrey Lagden in 1903 (heading up a Commission to advise Milner on the proposed restructuring of the former Boer Republic)2 that land should be divided on racial lines—a framework closely resembling the core of the Natives Land Act. No 27 of 1913.3
Economic and business development occurred in the context of British imperial preference. The Afrikaner community constituted reluctant subjects in the British Empire. With Britain at the height of its imperial power, Afrikaners in South Africa sought to regain lost sovereignty, but were caught between Empire and national pride. While most of the British colonies in Africa were not even contemplating independence from the Empire, or even any degree of autonomy compared to what was granted to the Union of South Africa, British commercial interests in the newly established local mining industry mandated the protection of their economic interests. British imperial pragmatism allowed the unfolding of a dichotomy between liberal capitalism and the paramount interests of the Empire. South Africa was permitted to build the Union on European political supremacy.4 Black people harboured expectations of British recognition after the South African War, but their concerns were considered a different matter altogether, a matter to be dealt with at a later stage. None of the African, Coloured or Indian leaders were invited to unification negotiations. When the British Parliament considered the South Africa Bill in 1909, their voices were disregarded. A delegation of black leaders went to London, consulted widely with members of Parliament, journalists and the Aborigines Protection Society, but to no avail.
The British Parliament passed the South Africa Act in both houses with a substantial majority on 20 September 1909.5 Business development mirrored this political dualism. The victorious political party at the first Union elections in 1910, the South African Party, delivered a moderate reconciliatory message of collaboration between the ‘two (p.3) white races’ of South Africa—the English- and the Afrikaans-speaking people of South Africa. The first Union Government included most of the former Boer Generals. General Louis Botha was the first Prime Minister and two other former generals, General J.C. Smuts and General J.B.M. Hertzog, formed part of the first cabinet. Afrikaners were in a relatively powerful position politically, but not in the emerging economy.
By 1911 the South African population consisted of 5.972 million people, 1.4 million of whom were Europeans (21.4 per cent), 525 466 (8.6 per cent) were Coloured, 152 094 (2.4 per cent) were Indian, and just over 4 million (67.5 per cent) were African. Afrikaners made up 51.8 per cent of the whites (661 700). Almost half of the African population lived in the Eastern Cape, in the Transkeian and Ciskeian territories, which were rural areas, and almost a million each in the Natal and Transvaal, which were also primarily in rural areas. A total of 51.6 per cent of the white people but only 12.6 per cent of African people were urbanized by 1911. By the end of World War II around 74.5 per cent of the white population and 23.7 per cent of the African population were urbanized. At the end of the war around 60.4 per cent of Afrikaners were urbanized. Literacy rates of the African population were very low in 1911—only 6.8 per cent of African people of all ages could read and write. However, by the end of World War II, the literacy rate had risen to 21.3 per cent.6 It is against this demographic background that the socio-economic order of South African politics emerged at the beginning of the Union. It was the only territory in Africa where, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the British faced a settler population consisting of loyalists and anti-British nationalists. It was also the only territory in Africa at that time with mineral resources so rich and strategically significant for the Empire.
In South African business non-Afrikaner interests controlled the core of commerce and industry. Afrikaners needed to reposition themselves economically after the war, but only a minority were capable of taking on the challenge. At the beginning of the twentieth century business in South Africa was dominated by English speakers, often British loyalists, and other foreigners such as Jewish, German, or Dutch entrepreneurs. Afrikaners made up a negligible portion of the business community despite constituting more than half of the European population.
Those Afrikaner businessmen who were successful, were primarily from the Cape. At the turn of the century around 52 per cent of Afrikaners lived in the Cape Colony, 19.5 per cent in the Free State and 26 per cent in the Transvaal, with only 2 per cent in Natal. The economies of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and the Oranje Vrijstaat were primarily agricultural, with the post-1870 mining sector introducing small industrial developments—the latter firmly in the hands of foreign capital. Influential and wealthy Afrikaner families such as the Graaffs, Kriges, De Waals, Kohlers, Weges, and the De (p.4) Villiers family, slowly came to have an important presence in Cape Town. Many joined the Afrikanerbond established in 1883 by J.H. Hofmeyr (Onze Jan) to promote the interests of Afrikaners as a community in the Cape. The growing presence of Afrikaners in Cape public life and the commercial environment led to comments such as the following by John X. Merriman, describing David Graaff as ‘one of the new breed of pushy Afrikaners’.7 The South African War exacerbated the polarization between English-speaking colonists and Afrikaners in the Cape Colony. The negotiations leading up to the formation of the Union brought some reconciliation between the two white population groups. A sense of South African loyalty was nurtured by Onze Jan who, through the Afrikanerbond, fostered the notion that people to whom he referred as ‘Afrikaners’ were everybody who owned up for themselves the cultural heritage of the Dutch and English peoples. After the formation of the Union, Hofmeyr declared in 1913 that politically Afrikaners included ‘een ieder die, zich in dit land neergezet hebbende, hier wensde te blijven, onze gemeenschappelike belange te verzekeren … ’8 Onze Jan made it clear that the Afrikanerbond recognized no nationalism but that of Afrikaners, and that Afrikaners included everybody who had the well-being of South Africa at heart.9 The sense of a separate social entity in South Africa, a society with a distinctive destiny, ambitions, and loyalties, had developed among inhabitants of the former British colonies. This notion of a people grounded in the culture and legacy of the European communities from whom they descended, was shared also by Afrikaner leaders of the South African Republic. General Piet Joubert considered the ‘uitlanders’ as potential Afrikaners and fellow-citizens of the Boer Republic. The distinction between them and other inhabitants lay in final loyalty—was it with the British Crown or was it with the new settler society? These national sentiments were gradually taking shape and impacted on the emerging society. The Afrikaners occupied a more prominent position in public life after 1910, but public life entailed more than political power. Afrikaners began to assert themselves in other public spheres, such as the press, commerce, and education.
The opportunity of defeat
Opportunity is recognized by inspirational visionaries and transformed into reality—that is the nature of creative entrepreneurship. From the devastation caused by warfare rose the opportunity to rebuild the British colonies and ultimately to give birth to the (p.5) new unitary state. Reconstructing the Afrikaner society psychologically and materially at the turn of the century called for visionary leadership to rise and inspire. Rebuilding was bound to be a demanding and protracted endeavour. A sizeable portion of Afrikaners who emerged from the war were poor and marginalized. Nevertheless, there was a will to take on the challenge. It was characteristic of Afrikaners to stand up to existential challenges. White poverty was a reality: more than 77 per cent of all livestock in the Transvaal and 58.5 per cent in the Orange River Colony were wiped out by the war. Anywhere else on earth such circumstances would have reduced those dependent on livestock for agricultural purposes to dependency. Fellow-Afrikaners from the Cape offered monetary and material assistance such as livestock, seed, and money. This sense of mutuality among Afrikaners developed as a recurrent theme in the history of Afrikaners in South Africa. Among the Cape Afrikaner elite, entrepreneurs in agriculture, commerce, professional services, and cultural engagement created a base from which to restore pride and power. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm for business was a distinguishing characteristic of the influential and wealthy Afrikaner families from the Cape. Their entrepreneurial spirit wove a fibre of optimism as a foundation for the rapidly growing economic prosperity of the area. The first entrepreneurs at the Cape were the Free Burghers who since 1657 had battled to ensure free markets and liberal economic policies to facilitate thrift, enterprise, and profitable business. This spirit was the force behind their cultural and religious organizations. Building a future in the country they called their motherland became a collective effort, a ‘volkstaak’.
The South African economy recovered slowly after the South African War. It was only by 1906 that the long post-war depression eased. By 1910 political unification assisted the upward movement in the business cycle, stimulated by mining production and gold exports. World War I offered unexpected opportunities, which lasted until around 1920, when post-war depression struck again. Fortunes were recovering again after two years, only to be shattered by the worldwide depression of 1929. The impact of this global catastrophe hit South Africa as a country dependent on the export of primary products, exceptionally badly. To the Afrikaner community these cyclical business swings presented both opportunities and potentially devastating risks. An entrepreneurial opportunity presented itself, as Afrikaner social marginalization could be addressed by establishing Afrikaner enterprises across the different sectors of the economy.
The ongoing attempts by Alfred Milner to prevent the publication of Afrikaans newspapers in the British colonies after 1902, motivated Afrikaners to establish numerous Afrikaans language papers. De Volkstem, Het Westen (later Het Volksblad), and Ons Moedertaal emerged to voice the Afrikaans views in the language of the people. When World War I broke out, even the Afrikaans newspaper in the Cape, Ons Land, enthusiastically supported the decision of the South African Party (SAP) Botha-led government to declare South Africa’s allegiance to Britain. The timing was terribly wrong as many nationalist Afrikaners harboured a deep-seated feeling of resentment towards (p.6) Britain. There was no national newspaper to express this message. This sense of rejection fuelled the emergence of self-empowerment strategies. After 1902 Afrikaner women formed their own welfare organizations. Afrikaans teachers established their own teachers’ unions, and when Afrikaners moved their savings from the imperial banks to smaller Afrikaner-controlled financial institutions (the Stellenbosch District Bank, and numerous trust companies and local boards of executors in the Cape), the way was paved for Afrikaner self-empowerment strategies.
The time had come for Afrikaners to address the growing sense of nationalism that was gaining a new dimension under the leadership of Hertzog. Even before the formation of the Union, Hertzog had insisted on equality of both English and Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools. After 1910 Hertzog championed the principle of South Africa’s autonomy in international relations, when he stated unequivocally at a meeting at De Wildt in late 1912 that a British decision to declare war would not automatically commit South Africa to that war. Hertzog insisted on the principle of ‘South Africa first’, meaning that the Dominions would only follow Britain if such a decision to go to war served the best interests of the individual Dominion. Young people were inspired by Hertzog’s leadership. In a telegram to Hertzog in December 1912, Jannie de Waal, Willie Hofmeyr, and Fred Dormehl wrote: ‘Jong Zuid-Afrika waardeer uw mannelijk gedrag en sal uw poginge tot opbouw van een suiwer Afrikaans nationalisme verder eendragtig ondersteun. Ons wens u alle sukses.’10 Tension regarding Hertzog’s position resulted in Botha leaving Hertzog out of the cabinet when reshuffling it in an not unexpected move in 1913. In 1914 Hertzog formed a new political party, the National Party, clearly making national South African interests paramount in opposition to allegiance to the British Empire.
Tension was mounting between South Africans who supported the British war declaration (generally but not exclusively the English-speaking population), and those resisting being drawn into a war on the side of the former enemy, Britain. World War I created a crisis of loyalty: the British declaration of war against Germany unleashed Afrikaner opposition among those nationalists rejecting British supremacy. This socio-political division presented a potential threat to stability in the newly formed Union, but also an opportunity to mobilize South African nationalism in the interest of national economic goals.
Afrikaner rebels organized themselves under former Boer Generals to resist the official mobilization of South African troops. The rebels invaded South West Africa (then a German colony, now Namibia) to prevent the occupation by South African armed forces loyal to the British crown. Afrikaner rebels’ military mobilization and armed confrontation (p.7) with the South African Defence Force caused the loss of life and destruction of property. Rebels were captured and tried and some were sentenced to death. Others were jailed or received heavy fines. Afrikaner sympathizers joined forces to effect the release of rebels and pay fines in order to secure their freedom. An unprecedented voluntary fund-raising effort known as the Helpmekaarbeweging (Mutual Aid Movement) was organized to address the legal and financial costs incurred by the rebels. The Helpmekaarbeweging collected more than £330 000 from Afrikaners from all walks of life, paid all rebel fines and legal costs and contributed to an overwhelming sense of achievement and pride. A surplus in excess of £92 000 was finally put into a fund, later to be used for education bursaries.
Around the same time as the looming war in Europe, Afrikaners in the Cape grew increasingly dissatisfied with their lack of a public voice. There was no newspaper expressing their views. Cape Afrikaner leaders again mobilized nationalist sentiments to secure a Dutch public medium of expression, debate, and opinion on matters newsworthy in their own community. They needed a mouthpiece to spread the nationalistic ideas of Hertzog since none of the existing Dutch newspapers in the region were sympathetic to his patriotic ideas. It was apparent that the growing countrywide support for Hertzog mandated a newspaper. On 12 May 1915 the Afrikaner-controlled newspaper company De Nationale Pers was established. The first newspaper, De Burger, was published on 26 July 1915. This development caused sharp division among Afrikaners in the Cape. Many Afrikaners were directly involved in the publication of Ons Land, the Dutch newspaper which was openly critical of the nationalist policies of Hertzog.11 De Burger constituted the second leg of the Afrikaans language movement in the Cape and received support from Afrikaners across the country—even letters of support from rebels still in jail. As a new business venture, the establishment of a newspaper in the wake of strong opposition by the government and the upcoming war was risky.
Financially, De Burger ran very tight operations during its first three years. Hostile English newspapers organized a boycott of advertisements in De Burger, which almost brought the paper to its knees. Founding members invested personally in the newspaper and were on the verge of losing all within the first two months of going to press. Prudent management secured the survival of the paper and eventual success simply led to greater achievements. Its success set a benchmark for the development of new entrepreneurial ventures. The case of De Burger served as an excellent example when the establishment of a permanent trust and insurance company was considered. The launch of a newspaper strengthened Afrikaner nationalism and in the editorial column Dr D.F. Malan, the newspaper’s first editor, advocated strategies for economic empowerment. He wrote, ‘a people able to maintain themselves materially, ought to be able also to do so politically (p.8) and socially’.12 Confidence in the ability to succeed in business, specifically a financial enterprise, was growing.
Important forces converged between 1914 and 1918. Hertzog expressed a growing dissident voice against a prevailing British sentiment of superiority. Afrikaner nationalism gained confidence in self-mobilized actions, such as the formation of a new political party, resistance against the declaration of war, self-redemption of convicted fellow-Afrikaners during the 1914 Rebellion, and the formation of a new Afrikaans language newspaper. Afrikaners displayed a clear South African patriotism, as they called for equality for both English and Afrikaans in the church, legal, and public spheres. The key was self-empowerment. On the occasion of the establishment of a branch of the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV—Afrikaans Language and Cultural Association) in Stellenbosch in 1907, N.J. Hofmeyr, professor at the Theological Seminary in Stellenbosch, advised his nephew, W.A. Hofmeyr, that Afrikaans as a language would only gain full equal standing once it acquired commercial value.13 Afrikaans undoubtedly did not enjoy that status by 1918. Willie Hofmeyr resigned his established position as a partner in a law firm to take up a full-time organizing position for the newly formed National Party in 1915, and subsequently the Chairmanship of De Nationale Pers.
A group of enterprising Afrikaners met in Cape Town on 5 December 1917 to establish an insurance and trust company. This initiative followed informal conversations among Afrikaner business, cultural, church, and community leaders about the ever-growing problem of persistent poverty, especially among white people. This social phenomenon had been gaining momentum since the devastating droughts of the late nineteenth century, the scorched earth tactics of the British forces during the South African War, and a growing deterioration of the social fabric among those in abject poverty. The Smuts14 government’s policy was a neo-liberal market approach, following the Cambridge economist Alfred Marshall’s advocacy of the corrective measure of the market. The poor-white problem added yet another dimension to the emerging nationalism—Afrikaner leaders were thinking about measures to provide employment for impoverished fellow-Afrikaners. All of the founding members attending the meeting had been involved in some business initiative and had participated in the wider Afrikaner cultural (p.9) and community initiatives. These initiatives, developed from a South African perspective, were driven by ambitions to strengthen the country’s independence.
The meeting was attended by C.G. Fichardt (Charlie), W.A. Hofmeyr (Willie), C.R. Louw (Charlie), P.A. Malan (Piet), F.H. Dormehl (Fred), A.J.F. Benning (Antoon), and A. MacDowall (Alfred). Apart from MacDowall, all the founding members were keenly involved in the Afrikaans language movements, the launching of a new newspaper, and the rising nationalist political tendencies. These men had developed social capital on three levels: the reformed protestant religion, which instilled a sense of social responsibility towards fellow-Afrikaners, nationalism and cultural pride in response to British political domination, and visionary entrepreneurial ambition to strengthen Afrikaner participation in the South African economy. As members of the Afrikaner elite, they were engaged in the Dutch Reformed Church initiatives seeking solutions to the problem of white poverty. The success of the Helpmekaarbeweging boosted the confidence that it might be possible to mobilize Afrikaner savings to support other ventures motivated by the emerging nationalist South African sentiments. The close solidarity of poor Afrikaners was aptly illustrated by the scope of the Helpmekaarbeweging. By venturing into an insurance company Afrikaner leaders devised a new strategy to address the overall position of Afrikaners in South Africa.15 A stronger role in the political and socio-cultural context was beginning to take shape, but Afrikaner participation in the economy still left much to be desired. The strengthening of the South African economy was premised on the Afrikaners assuming a dignified role in the economy, and making a contribution to building a future for the fatherland. Unless all the components of the white society could participate and contribute equally to the economy, the full potential of the country would remain compromised and subject to foreign domination.
Choosing the insurance industry as a vehicle for economic empowerment and domestic economic development was a strategic decision. These men knew very well that foreign insurance companies dominated the local market. In a letter to The Star on 22 May 1960, R.I.C. Scott-Hayward, an Irish-born former Accident Manager at Santam, commented on the employment opportunities open to Afrikaners in Johannesburg during the first two decades of the twentieth century: ‘At this time there was no senior place for any “Colonial”, irrespective of language group, in any Bank or Insurance Company, for these avenues of employment were the close preserves of “overseas-born men”. This offended my sense of justice and I did everything possible to teach the South African-born young men all I could.’ Scott-Hayward referred to the exclusion of Afrikaners, irrespective of their abilities, from all positions higher than chief clerk in (p.10) any financial institution. Only foreigners were appointed to positions of management and control.16 An entrepreneurial opportunity seemed to present itself for Afrikaner entrepreneurs: they had superior market knowledge and could navigate the local context at a time when this knowledge intersected with a business opportunity and social mobilization. The success of the Helpmekaarbeweging pointed towards an entrepreneurial opportunity: Afrikaners’ underestimated savings capacity. An awakened nationalistic patriotism appealed to many Afrikaners aspiring to rise from the defeat at the hand of the British. The business opportunity lay in building a strong insurance company while simultaneously addressing social and economic marginalization under the slogan of ‘South Africa first’.
The seed of entrepreneurial action germinated during the dark period of the so-called ‘bitter legacy of the war of freedom’. The eight founding members shared a sense of patriotism and sympathy with the loss of political sovereignty by the former Boer Republics. They were appalled by Afrikaner impoverishment and social marginalization. Charlie Fichardt had fought in the South African War, was captured and sent in ‘exile’ to the Cape (Mowbray) until the end of the war. Willie Hofmeyr, who had joined the Boer commandos during the war, was also captured and ‘exiled’ from Johannesburg (where he had practised as a lawyer) to Cape Town until the end of the war. Charlie Louw had also joined the Boer commandos at the beginning of the South African War, but was captured in 1901 and sent back to his home town of Paarl. Hofmeyr and Fichardt developed useful business connections during their stay in Cape Town.
Fichardt, the son of a German immigrant from Crentz, north-eastern Germany, had an English governess, was educated in Germany and Britain (at Blair College Scotland), and started his career with an English firm, W. Dunn, in London. Fichardt returned to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State to work with his father in G.A. Fichardt General Dealer, but soon took up the management of Fichardt Estate, Private Bank, and Financial Agents. He then entered public life in Bloemfontein, where he was city councillor and mayor, as well as a close friend of the former Orange Free State President, M.T. Steyn. While in exile in the Cape, he maintained frequent contact with prominent politicians and business people. He met John Daniels, a member of the Cape Town municipality, with whom he entered into a business association upon his return to the British-controlled Orange River Colony in 1902. Fichardt re-established his business interests with the aim of restoring Afrikaner political power. This he achieved by serving as director on the Board of Directors of the newspaper The Friend, the mouthpiece of Free State citizens appealing for self-government for the colony—granted in 1908 under the political leadership of the Orangia Unie. Fichardt was elected member of the Union Parliament for the constituency of Ladybrand. On his annual attendance of Parliament (p.11) in Cape Town he engaged with fellow-Afrikaner leaders and businessmen, including Willie Hofmeyr.
William Angus (Willie) Hofmeyr was born in Montagu in the Cape, the son of Dr Servaas Hofmeyr, a dominee or minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). He studied law at Victoria College (later University of Stellenbosch) with J.B.M. Hertzog (former Boer General in the South African War, and later Prime Minister of South Africa) and finally established a legal practice with his brother in Johannesburg. During the South African War, Hofmeyr was captured and exiled to Cape Town. After the war he established his practice as attorney in Cape Town. As an Afrikaner patriot and member of the ‘oude Kaapsche familiën’ (old Cape families), he became involved in the Second Afrikaans Language Movement, calling for full recognition of Afrikaans. His mother was Anna Georgina Morgan, daughter of a Scottish minister, but the six Hofmeyr children were brought up as Afrikaners, although they spoke English fluently, both at the dinner table and in their education. As an Afrikaner ‘aristocrat’ Hofmeyr was destined to play a leading role in Cape public life. As the son of a minister of the DRC, he was acutely aware of the poverty among fellow-Afrikaners, but his vision was to foster Afrikaner agency to create employment opportunities through business enterprise. One such initiative was the formation of the Afrikaans publishing house, De Nationale Pers, with its newspaper De Burger in 1915. Hofmeyr was Chairman of the Board of Directors of De Nationale Pers, and from 1918 Managing Director. Willie Hofmeyr had travelled across the country as organizer of the National Party. During these visits to remote rural areas, he was appalled by the destitution of many poor Afrikaners. His impressions were strengthened by the so-called ‘Poor White’ Congress of the DRC in November 1917. At these church meetings the severity of the poverty problem was highlighted and a serious plea made to fellow-Afrikaners to address the problem as the responsibility of the ‘volk’ (people) themselves. Hofmeyr had the vision of Afrikaner economic empowerment. The means were not yet clear, but powerful events were signalling the opportune time to do so. The success of the Helpmekaarbeweging was an important turning point. The establishment of Sanlam was the calling of the people, a ‘volkstaak’, to give effect to much-needed economic initiatives of Afrikaner economic salvation.17
The Cape Afrikaner elite shared a genuine sense of solidarity with their fellow-Afrikaners in the Transvaal and the Free State. Since Victoria College was the only tertiary institution of Dutch instruction, it emerged as a place of convergence for many future leaders in the Afrikaans cultural and political movement—Willie Hofmeyr, J.B.M. Hertzog, C.W. Malan, P.A. Malan. Stellenbosch became a place of intense discourse about equal language rights for Afrikaans, stimulated by the rise of nationalism among theologians at the Theological Seminary. The public belittling of Afrikaners and (p.12) their language aroused these nationalistic sentiments. Sir Alfred Milner expressed his intention in 1902, ‘to absorb and ultimately getting rid of them [the burghers] as a separate, exclusive caste’.18 In the editorial of the Cape Times of 4 May 1901 it was asked ‘why forego it [English] its glorious privilege for the sake of kitchen Dutch, an ungrammatical taal which is only fit for peasants and up-country kraals?’19 Through these and other jingoist inferences and a general anti-Afrikaner mentality, the market value of Dutch/Afrikaans was destroyed, and with it also its economic value. Sadie noted that there was little or no empathy in the private sector with the Afrikaner and no feeling of responsibility or compunction towards him. Jobs were allegedly deliberately withheld from Afrikaners, as revealed in a petition which stated ‘Jingo’s do not want to give jobs to Boers’.20 The result was an induced feeling of isolation: ‘their language, culture and sense of belonging fractured, they began to suffer an inferiority complex’.21 This observation was indeed valid for those Afrikaners still suffering from the post-war destruction and impoverishment, but the Helpmekaarbeweging sparked an opportunity.
That opportunity needed ignition. The Cape Afrikaner elite’s social capital was embedded in capitalism: the Cape was ‘one part of South Africa in which Afrikaners had a clear and long-established stake in capitalism. Indeed, the wine and wheat farmers of the Western Cape formed the oldest stratum of the ruling class: Powerful and affluent elite … [which] came into existence around 1700 and were the major beneficiaries of Willem Adriaan van der Stel’s fall from grace as governor in 1707 as the result of his attempts to monopolize Cape economic life. Two centuries later, these farmers were still determined to preserve the social relations that ensured their wealth.’22 Striving to extend wealth went hand in hand with Afrikaner leaders’ insistence on the recognition of their rightful place as equals in society. The time of isolation of fellow-Afrikaners was behind them. In a unified South Africa, Afrikaner leaders occupied positions of political prominence. The time was ripe to push aspirations forward into the economic sphere.
Piet Malan practised as a lawyer in Bloemfontein and used Willie Hofmeyr as correspondent in Cape Town. Malan had already discussed the possibility of the establishment of an insurance company in the Free State with former President M.T. Steyn and Fichardt in 1916. Piet Malan was aggrieved that the absence of a local Afrikaans insurance company left him no choice but to conduct his insurance business (p.13) through the foreign companies. This situation, he noted ‘ het modderspore in my siel getrap’ [it treaded muddy footprints in my soul].23 In the Cape, Hofmeyr had already tested the waters with other Afrikaner business leaders as well as well-disposed English-speaking persons with experience in the insurance business.
One such Afrikaner businessman, who was not part of the established Cape Afrikaner elite families but had developed extensive independent business interests, was Frederic Hansen Dormehl. Dormehl was actively involved with Hofmeyr in the Second Afrikaans Language Movement, specifically to terminate English sermons in the DRC Wynberg congregation, where they both attended church services. Dormehl married the daughter of a DRC ‘dominee’. He had worked as a clerk at the London and Lancashire Insurance Company in Cape Town since the age of sixteen. Later he joined Alliance, but after qualifying as an accountant he was appointed in that capacity at the Algemene Eksekuteurskamer (General Trust Company). At the time of his departure from Alliance, he had already expressed the desire to establish an Afrikaans insurance company, since all the companies offering fire and accident insurance were owned by foreigners. In 1915 he joined De Nationale Pers as general manager and secretary and was inspired to promote Afrikaner involvement in the broader South African economy.
Willie Hofmeyr proved to be the link between inspired Afrikaners in the Cape. He knew A.F.J. Benning (Anthony Frederik Jacobus—known as Antoon), who as the son of a Dutch immigrant established extensive business interests in the construction industry. Benning also served in the Cape Town municipal council and joined Dormehl and Hofmeyr in advocating the interests of Afrikaners in Cape Town. He attended the meeting in the Royal Hotel to discuss the formation of Santam.
A third Cape lawyer was Charles Robert (Charlie) Louw. He was the son of a DRC ‘dominee’, and his mother was a sister of Reverend Andrew Murray, the Scottish reverend who came to the Cape in the 1820s. He studied law at Victoria College, but completed his articles of clerkship in Pretoria. After the war he returned to Ermelo in the south-eastern Transvaal to practise law, but was disturbed by the destruction and impoverishment caused by the South African War. He responded by organizing the first agricultural co-operative to assist farmers in rebuilding their farms and resuming subsistence agriculture to maintain destitute families. In 1916 he returned to Cape Town with the explicit intention of using his business skills to establish Afrikaner business enterprises to grow their participation in and contribution to the South African economy, which at that stage, i.e. the first decade of the twentieth century, stood at a mere 13 per cent of the total economy.24
(p.14) These members of the Afrikaner elite were ambitious, and had good intentions, but they knew very little about the insurance industry. They were primarily legal practitioners and would rely on Dormehl’s experience in the industry to provide grounding to their aspirations. Hofmeyr also met Alfred MacDowall, a Scot who had immigrated to the Cape as an employee of Standard Bank. MacDowall was a Fellow of the Scottish Institute of Bankers. He married Elizabeth de Vaal, an Afrikaans woman from Fraserburg. MacDowall worked in the Transvaal for a short period, before returning to the Cape to take up employment with the General Accident Company where he was employed as a senior accountant from 1912. In that position he recognized the untapped potential in the Afrikaners’ sense of a ‘calling’ in South Africa, so aptly displayed in the savings mobilization of the Helpmekaarbeweging. He commented to Hofmeyr: ‘You must capitalize on the wave of nationalism.’ MacDowall discussed the idea of establishing an insurance company with Afrikaner capital with G.F.S. (Gys) de Villiers, an Afrikaans lawyer at the firm PAM Cloete, but nothing came of that. MacDowall subsequently discussed his ideas with National Party members of the House of Assembly, Charlie Fichardt, Tielman Roos, and Piet Grobler. It soon became clear that such an initiative would need the support of the Cape Afrikaner elite. MacDowall met with Willie Hofmeyr, Piet Malan, and Fred Dormehl to discuss the possibility. Although MacDowall claimed to have been the originator of the idea of an Afrikaner-capitalized insurance company, it was later challenged by Piet Malan. Nevertheless, MacDowall supported the initiative of Hofmeyr and fellow-Afrikaners. He attended the meeting to establish such a company as an interested Cape businessman.25
The meeting in the Royal Hotel in Cape Town on 5 December 1917 prepared for the establishment of the Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Trust en Versekeringsmaatskappy (Santam—South African Trust and Insurance Company) on 28 March 1918. The attendees were Charlie Fichardt, Willie Hofmeyr, Antoon Benning, Charlie Louw, Piet Malan, and Fred Dormehl, as well as MacDowall. They agreed to serve as the ‘Provisional Board of Directors’ of Santam in preparation of the official launch in March 1918. The group discussed a plan to embark on an insurance venture, engaging in life and short-term insurance, such as fire and accident insurance and trust business. Thorough planning was done for the meeting: a draft prospectus was discussed, including the appointment of directors and staff. It was also envisaged that the insurance company would buy the trust, estate, and insurance business of Fichardt and Daniels in Bloemfontein. Daniels was Fichardt’s business partner and the meeting proposed to offer Daniels a position as manager of Santam in the Free State. The meeting appointed MacDowall as General Manager and Secretary. Systematic planning followed to give effect to the new insurance initiative. The provisional board met six times during December 1917 to finalize (p.15) preparation for the publication of the prospectus on 28 January 1918. On 11 December 1917 Jan S. de Villiers was appointed to prepare the Memorandum of the Articles of Association. Attempts to register the company in both English and Afrikaans failed because the Registrar of Companies did not allow dual registration. On 21 January 1918 the name of the new company was decided—Suid-Afrikaanse Nasionale Trust en Assuransie Maatskappy. By the end of December 1917 four more people were invited to join the Provisional Board of Directors. They were C.W. (Charlie) Malan, T. J. (Tinie) Louw, T.J. (Tielman) de V. Roos and P.G.W. (Piet) Grobler. The significance of the new additions was the greater geographical representation of the board—Roos was an advocate in Pretoria and Grobler was a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency in the Transvaal. Their inclusion enhanced the geographical inclusivity of Afrikaner leadership. Broad representation of leaders across South Africa was crucial for a new insurance competitor in South Africa. Preparing the minutes of the planning meeting in English displayed goodwill towards MacDowall, the only English-speaking member ‘in attendance’ at the first meeting. It was also in full agreement with the intended vision of the founding fathers, namely that the company should be a truly South African company.
It was significant that Antoon Benning was not a member of the established Cape Afrikaner elite families, but a well-respected businessman. He was the son of a Dutch immigrant, but his father passed away at an early age, leaving him to support the family. Antoon qualified as a carpenter, spent some time on the mines in the Transvaal and finally entered the construction industry as a qualified tradesman. He was responsible for the construction of large buildings in Cape Town, inter alia, the Cape Supreme Court and part of the building occupied by De Nationale Pers. Benning had invested in the company that printed the newspaper Ons Land, which had given him valuable experience he could pass on to Willie Hofmeyr during the planning and establishment of De Nationale Pers. Benning shared the Afrikaner nationalist sentiments, but was of particular value as an independent and respected Afrikaner businessman in Cape Town.26
The prospectus of the new company was published on 28 January 1918. Provision was made for total nominal capital of £300 000, of which shares of £1 each to the value of £200 000 were offered to the public. On 29 January 1918 De Burger welcomed the publication of the prospectus, especially noting the clear and meticulous outline of the proposed business plan, conveying an impression of a truly South African national spirit. Unfortunately the negotiations for the takeover of the Fichardt and Daniels business in Bloemfontein took an unexpected turn. Daniels declined the offer of a managerial position at Santam, and Fichardt felt torn between two loyalties—on the one hand to his business partner and on the other hand to the new insurance company he had helped to conceptualize. In private correspondence Fichardt noted that the failure to (p.16) incorporate this business in Santam, left him no choice but to withdraw from the planned new insurance company. He was not prepared to sit on the board of a company that would compete directly with his own existing business in Bloemfontein.27 Fichardt resigned as Chairman of the provisional board of Santam on 26 March. A corrective note was immediately printed as addendum to the prospectus, announcing the replacement of Fichardt by Willie Hofmeyr as Chairman of the provisional board. The Administrator of the Orange Free State, C.T. (Carl) Wilcocks, replaced Fichardt on the board. The company was finally registered on 28 March 1918. The certificate was issued in terms of Section 57 of the Companies Act and was the first to be issued to a company in Afrikaans.28 Santam was registered as an insurance company undertaking all forms of trust work, life assurance, fire and accident insurance, health, marine, animal stock, and related insurance business.
The strategic positioning of Santam points to the careful planning and intelligent assessment of the insurance environment in South Africa. The Articles of Association prepared by Jan de Villiers, the lawyer responsible for Santam’s legal compliance, provided an avenue to separate short-term insurance business from long-term life insurance. De Villiers cautioned the planning committee that it could be very difficult to keep long-term life funds separate from short-term liabilities. The risk of impairment of the long-term life funds by general claims against Santam creditors presented a real risk. Section 16 of the Articles of Association provided for the conduct of life insurance on the basis of the mutual principle, and Section 18 also made provision for life business. No mention was made of a separate life insurance company, but Section 22 provided for the establishment by Santam of any company it saw fit to promote its business, and to fund such a company or to apply the capital of Santam to stand surety for such a company. Formal legal provision was therefore made for the formation of a separate life insurance company, but the first step was to register the company and then to explore strategic expansion. The planners noted the Government report on the insurance business in the Cape Province in 1915: insurance premiums had risen from £24 263 572 in 1911 to £30 727 747 in 1915—an increase of £6 464 175. Of this new insurance business, the six local companies wrote 60.7 per cent of the increase in premiums and the twenty-nine foreign companies 39.2 per cent. Although these figures only explained the developments in one province, it was taken as a clear indication of the vast potential in the South African insurance market for new local competitors. By 1918 foreign insurance companies undoubtedly still dominated the short-term market. They collected 73.2 per cent of premium income in all short-term classes. The high profitability in the industry, broadly calculated by considering claims only, was around 69 per cent in (p.17) 1918.29 What motivated the Santam men was the growth in the domestic market. In long-term life assurance the reverse was the case—local companies dominated the market by far. It would therefore make good business sense to enter both categories of insurance business from the outset. One matter that seemed non-negotiable was that the life business had to be undertaken on a mutual basis. The dominant South African life offices were mutual in organization. The strategic direction of Santam was therefore to develop life insurance through a mutual form in a separate life insurance company.
When the Fichardt connection failed to materialize, was the prospective new insurance venture at risk? Three major risks presented themselves: market risk, capital risk, and human capital risk. The market risk was the number of insurance companies operating in the small South African market. By 1910 the minority of insurance companies operating in the Union were incorporated in South Africa and the majority had head offices in Britain. By 1918, when Santam was about to enter the market, a total of seventy-four insurance companies operated in the South African market—forty-four with head offices in Britain, fifteen in South Africa, eight in other British dominions, three in the USA, and four in other parts of the world.30 The only consolation was the institutional memory of former insurance companies established by Dutch colonists in South Africa—the Zuid-Afrikaansche Brand en Versekeringsmaatskappij (established in 1831 and sold in 1894); the Commercial Marine and Fire Assurance Company, established in 1849 and of which ten of the thirteen directors were Dutch colonists; and De Protecteur Brand en Levens Assurantie Maatschappij (established in 1838 and sold in 1896). Keen market competition was to be expected. New entrants needed to offer a clearly distinguishable product.31 The only mitigation to the steep challenge was the fact that there were only four South African companies in life insurance and three in fire insurance by 1918—of the latter, two were confined to localized rural areas. The opportunity presenting itself was in choosing an entrepreneurial competitive advantageous position—target a well-defined uninsured market segment and operate on a nationwide geographical basis. Official statistics proved the growth in the insurance market, and Santam had reason to believe that with careful strategic planning it could ride the wave.
The capital risk was to mobilize sufficient capital to enter and sustain operations in the highly competitive market. Local insurers were generally well capitalized. The timing of Santam’s entry was good since World War I had boosted local food and general agricultural and resource prices, which raised inflation, and created surplus funds (p.18) seeking good investment returns. The confidence that sufficient capital would be raised was based on a meticulous planning process to prevent a human capital risk. Before the end of 1917 the planning committee had employed experts from the insurance industry to head up key divisions of the new company’s operations. Dormehl was engaged as Managing Director. MacDowall was appointed General Manager and Secretary, supported in operations by J.H. Harris as Agency Manager, Simon J.P. West as Fire Manager, Reginald I.C. Scott-Hayward as Accidents Manager and Geo Patterson as Actuary. Dormehl and MacDowall were qualified insurance men. Dormehl had worked with West, an experienced fire manager, at the London and Lancashire, and Allianz. Scott-Hayward was an Irish nationalist and experienced insurance manager who had inquired from Fichardt, Oswald Pirow, and Tielman Roos about the possibility of establishing a truly South African insurance concern. Harris was a former colleague of MacDowall at the General and Accident Insurance Company and offered to assist the new concern in raising its capital.32 With an experienced complement of insurance men, the public could be approached to invest with confidence in a truly South African concern.
The proposed Board of Directors of Santam, as published in the prospectus, added human capital of a different nature. This group included lawyers, an advocate, businessmen, farmers prominent in social life, and politicians—seven from the Cape, two from the Transvaal, and one from the Orange Free State. These were prominent leaders in the Afrikaner community, educated men involved in the rising tide of nationalism and patriotism. The Afrikaner leadership accepted responsibility for ordinary Afrikaners’ sense of collection as a people with a specific mindset and set of convictions. The leaders took it upon themselves to keep the welfare of their people in trust. One strategy to do so was to devise ways of promoting such well-being. The development of the insurance industry constituted a logical part of the leadership strategy. Despite serious attempts by persons such as Piet Malan to invite prominent Afrikaners who supported the South African Party of Louis Botha to the first meeting in Cape Town in December 1917, only Afrikaners known to be sympathetic to the views of the newly established National Party of Hertzog attended. The conciliatory approach suffered a blow with the public refusal of Louis Botha, then Prime Minister of the Union, to collaborate in the new venture. Piet Malan had invested a lot of energy in promoting the planned new venture among Afrikaners of all political sympathies—including SAP supporters. Piet Malan argued that the idea of a new South African insurance company, without support from both SAP and NP (National Party) Afrikaners, would be an idea stillborn. Willie Hofmeyr himself approached the Prime Minister, Louis Botha, asking for his support for the establishment of an insurance company with Afrikaner capital. Botha refused to render his (p.19) support or become involved.33 The strategy to bring Afrikaners out in united support of the formation of Santam was not successful. When branches were later opened, the new Santam management went all out to bring SAP Afrikaners into the organization.34 Although limited success was achieved in engaging Afrikaners from different political affiliations in the launch of Santam, in the long run a broad base of Afrikaners was eventually integrated into the successful operations of the new company. Raising share capital went satisfactorily.
The first year in business: 1918–1919
Santam was registered as an insurance company on 28 March 1918. It commenced official business on 1 May 1918. On 2 April 1918 the provisional board met in the offices of De Burger to constitute the new Board of Directors of the newly registered insurance company, Santam. W.A. Hofmeyr was elected Chairman and C.T.M. Wilcock Deputy Chairman. The other members of the first board were C.R. Louw, F.H. Dormehl, A.F. Benning, C.W. Malan, T. de V. Roos, P.G.W. Grobler, P.A. Malan, and T.J. Louw. The last three directors (Grobler, Malan, and Louw) were absent from this meeting. On 18 April Dr C.F (Colin) Steyn also joined the board. Initially the Board of Directors met at 30 Keerom Street, the offices of Willie Hofmeyr, then Managing Director of De Burger. The registered offices of Santam were situated at No. 10 Burg Street, Cape Town and occupied the entire first floor at a rent of £20 per month. In 1920 Santam moved offices to Adderley Street. In 1918, the core business of Santam was its trust business. The trust business was explained by MacDowall in his 11 November 1918 report as the administration of all classes of estates, the consolidation of applications for loans, and the investment of the funds of the trust and life companies. Loans were granted on fixed property (mortgages). The insurance business was in the fire and accident departments, and included the issuing of guarantees.
The composition of the initial staff complement harboured an element of irony. The majority of the officials of the new company were not Afrikaans speakers. Paterson, MacDowall, Harris, Scott-Hayward, and West were all English speakers. The company was not yet fully capitalized, but shares were offered incrementally to new stakeholders as branches were established across the country. Even before the registration of the company Harris and his collaborators had sold 40 000 shares. By 13 April 1918 a total of 52 000 shares had been sold by the Harris connection as well as numerous Afrikaners in legal practice, trust companies, and related business enterprises.35 The distribution of (p.20) shares was the collective effort of many Afrikaners and non-Afrikaner sympathizers with the vision. Many ordinary Afrikaners as well as influential Afrikaner community leaders and businessmen were mobilized by the successful Afrikaner nationalist initiatives of the recent past. Here the successful collection of contributions to the Helpmekaar fund served as inspiration to show a similar enthusiasm and dedication to a cause affecting their own people. The Santam shares were marketed as an investment, not meant for speculation like, for example, mining shares. Shareholders were given two voting rights for twenty-five shares, which increased to ten voting rights for 5 100 shares.36 By June 1919, the board decided not to issue any further shares; however, an additional 20 000 shares were reserved for three months, at nominal value, for distribution in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (OFS).37 Additional shares were provided in respect of branches not yet formed, also at par. By July 1919 the share capital of Santam consisted of 200 000 shares: 166 945 were allocated, 14 300 were available for distribution in the Free State and the Transvaal, 7 275 were available to branches, and 11 480 were available at a premium (see Table 1.1).38
Table 1.1. Santam statement of shares and expenses 1918 to 1919
Number of shares sold
Shares paid up
Number of shares available 200,000; 173,050 allocated, at value of £104 809:0:0
Source: Statement of Share Capital dated 13 June 1918 WCA-A2213-500000.
The general public bought shares in different allotments. At the Santam board meeting on 26 July 1918 shares were allocated in sets of 25, 50, 100, 250, 300, 500, 800, and even larger lots. Some applications were rejected, but no reasons were provided in the board minutes. Authorization was also given for the transfer of shares from a previous owner to another—twenty-five shares were transferred from A.C. van den Heever to P. J. Malherbe, and sixteen shares from C.H. de B. Joubert to N.C. Krone, who then owned a total of 150 shares. This micro-management by the directors shows how important they regarded careful selection of potential shareholders, since the establishment of Santam was a big venture, harbouring a definite potential risk if shares were acquired by persons not supportive of the larger ideal of the founders. Strict (p.21) selection was therefore applied in the allocation of shares. A guarantee by I.J. Marais for £1 000 in lieu of acquiring Santam shares was not accepted.39 Credit screening could not be watertight, but management exercised care in assessing the quality of applicants. The most important aspect was geographical distribution. The directors wanted to secure countrywide buy-in. It was not advisable to launch the new company as a Cape-based concern, but rather as a national endeavour. The manner in which the board controlled the distribution of shares points to the tight control by these directors of the operations of the company from the start.
In 1918, the Executive Committee was known as the Dagelijks Bestuur or Daelikse Bestuur and later Dag Bestuur, in Afrikaans. At the time the committee comprised three board members, namely Charlie Louw, Antoon Benning, and Fred Dormehl. The General Manager, Alfred MacDowall, was always present. Hofmeyr, the chairman of the board, was also the chairman of the Dagelijks Bestuur and by February 1919 four board members made up the daily executive body. Meetings were held weekly and minutes were kept in Afrikaans (except the first set of minutes, which was in English). Hofmeyr was prominent in the governance and day-to-day management. He had attended most meetings since the beginning. The agenda rarely varied. It regularly dealt with the following matters: Loans, branches, premium income (fire and accident), bank reconciliation, cheques drawn, guarantees, bank accounts, new agents, commission on loans, and staff.40 The prospectus made it clear that preference would be given to the appointment of Afrikaans-speaking applicants, but the dearth of suitably qualified clerical and professional staff mandated a pragmatic approach to appointments. As will be shown below, many capable English-speaking staff joined Sanlam during the formative years—and with positive results for the company. The first two office staff appointments were a clerk, Ferris le Sueur, and a typist (masjinenschrifster), Miss Ellen van der Merwe, who addressed the administrative needs of the company and its subsequent subsidiary, Sanlam.
The management structure of Santam closely resembled that of the British insurance industry in as far as the composition and operation of the board and Executive Committee were concerned. As long ago as August 1710, the Sun Insurance office management spent considerable time deciding how the business should be organized, how clients should be recruited, running administration expenses, and sourcing monies for claims. ‘They treated themselves as a working body.’41 They formed two structures, namely a General Court or meeting of all the managers, and a weekly Committee of Management elected from the General Court with a maximum of seven members, two of (p.22) whom were elected Secretary and Treasurer respectively. The Committee of Management met weekly and later fortnightly and was seen as the real controlling and innovating body in the Sun’s affairs.42 The founders of Sanlam surveyed a wide range of insurance companies’ organizational form in preparation of their own endeavour. Management was subsequently organized along similar lines at Santam. It was almost impossible to distinguish between the board and the daily management. Hofmeyr was intimately involved in daily managerial responsibilities. The board conducted its responsibilities diligently. Members were not allowed to be absent from meetings without permission and prior notification. Board members who failed to attend three meetings in succession were assumed to have vacated their position and could be replaced.43 This principle was enforced without regard for the person concerned, because the collective knowledge and experience of a carefully selected group of directors constituted the social and human capital necessary to steer such a new venture through unknown waters. The functional overlap between the board and daily management also signified the caution with which the founding fathers approached their enterprise. This lack of functional distinction later caused friction with management and led to resignations.
The establishment of Santam pulled together the energy, enthusiasm, and ambition of Afrikaner leaders. It was a commercial decision to venture into the insurance industry, seizing a business opportunity with the intention to succeed in an industry dominated by foreign competitors. The insurance business offered the possibility of mobilizing savings to be invested in growth opportunities, which would strengthen Afrikaner involvement in the domestic economy. The strategic advantage these entrepreneurs enjoyed, was the coincidence in history of a growing Afrikaner nationalism and an emerging South African identity. This nationalism was spurred on by social marginalization, widespread poverty among fellow-Afrikaners, and proven success in mobilizing savings among a people generally perceived to be poor, relatively backward, and not fit for the world of business and finance. The short period between the decision in March 1918 to establish Sanlam, a separate life office, and the actual registration on 8 June was testimony to the latent managerial capabilities of the Afrikaner elite. The new life insurance company was officially registered as Die Suid-Afrikaanse Lewens Assuransie Maatskappij, Beperk (Sanlam).44 The management of Santam again attempted to secure simultaneous registration of the new company in Afrikaans and English by petitioning the High Court on (p.23) 10 May 1918. The Judge Hon. A.J. de Villiers rejected the petition, stating that he found no reasonable grounds for such an ‘unusual’ request. It is therefore apparent that language equality was neither informally accepted nor officially sanctioned. This in itself provided the new company with a valuable strategic tool in the development of a market. Santam and Sanlam marketed their business in Afrikaans and English, a service not offered by any other insurance company in South Africa.
The Santam board established Sanlam with capital of £25 000, consisting of shares to the value of £1 each, 24 985 of which were held by Santam. The remaining fifteen shares were kept by the Santam board for allocation of one each to the new members of the new Sanlam Board of Directors. This Board of Directors was comprised of the same people as the Santam board. Management was also a mirror of Santam—MacDowell and Dormehl were appointed in positions at Sanlam similar to those occupied in Santam. Sanlam’s business was life insurance, both industrial as well as individual. Sanlam’s Articles of Association distinguished explicitly between an ‘industrial fund’ and the ‘ordinary branch’. The industrial fund referred to life policies for an amount less than £100, whereas the ordinary branch issued policies exceeding £100. The actuary appointed to both companies was G.W. Paterson, with M.S. Louw (a teacher from Paarl) as his (apprentice) assistant. D.P de Klerk (an attorney from Marquard in the Orange Free State) was appointed Agency Manager. Sanlam was run as a mutual life insurance company, a choice that followed from the earlier decision by the Santam board to conduct the life insurance business on a mutual basis. Investment returns on policyholders’ funds were distributed among policyholders and profits from the short-term fire and accident insurance were paid to shareholders - in the case of Santam, these were the holders of Santam shares.
After the registration of Sanlam in June 1918, the Sanlam board met for the first time on 20 June 1918. The management, which consisted of the exact same persons as those of the Santam management, was acknowledged as being people of standing. Since a life office needed medical expertise, Dr H.D Max Ackermann was appointed Chief Medical Officer of Sanlam. The General Manager of Standard Bank, with which Santam and Sanlam soon dealt, commented as follows: ‘The directorate of the Company consisting of … is highly influential.’45 The social capital unleashed with the formation of Sanlam provided an inspirational drive to many. De Klerk wrote about his motivation to take the position of manager at Sanlam: ‘I was primarily motivated by the idea of building a purely Afrikaans company, with capital of approximately £30 000. In those days you hardly ever heard about companies with such vast capital.’46
(p.24) For the first twenty years of business Santam and Sanlam operated very much in tandem, sharing a common vision, strategy, management, administrative staff, directors, and markets. The wartime economic fortunes (primary product price inflation, pent-up demand, surplus funds) afforded the new companies a smooth start. The first Sanlam life policies were issued at the initial meeting of the Sanlam board on 20 June 1918. The first Sanlam life policy was issued to Servaas Daniel de Wet. He worked as an administrative manager at De Nationale Pers and was well acquainted with the founders of Sanlam. He took out a whole-life policy for £500 with a premium of £11.8s.4d.47 During the first six months of business in 1918 an estimated 93 per cent of Sanlam’s client base was Afrikaans.48 The second life policy was issued to Alfred MacDowall and the third to Mr and Mrs H. Marcus. The first seven policies issued had a total value of £5 250. Sanlam placed an advertisement in the daily press announcing ‘a triumph for South Africa’—Sanlam was a triumph for South Africa. The company was ready to offer all classes of life insurance and called on Afrikaners to support ‘a national institution’.
From a business perspective this advertisement was significant. At first the business announced itself as a South African institution. Secondly, the business announced confidently that it was a fully-fledged insurance enterprise and not a second-class company or agent for a foreign insurance concern. Thirdly, the company called on fellow-Afrikaners to trust the institution as a national institution and to support it on those specific grounds. The company was appealing to the first tier of nationalism, namely South African nationalism based on a pride in the achievement of South Africans, and secondly on the narrower Afrikaner nationalism, confined to South Africa. Some Afrikaans-speaking people had been clients of the established life offices in South Africa. None of those offices appealed directly to Afrikaners on the grounds of their South African nationalism, nor on them being Afrikaners. A great deal of goodwill existed towards Santam and Sanlam, but the challenge to the new insurance companies was to earn the public trust in their ability to deliver on the promise of superior service.
Sanlam was fully committed to bilingualism as a matter of principle. It would be an important strategic advantage. As Sanlam positioned itself as a ‘South African national’ company, it targeted the entire white population. Right from the first policy issued, Sanlam made policy documents available in the language of the policyholder. The company firmly supported the position of ‘South Africa first’. In a letter by Alfred MacDowall to Reverend P.W.A. de Klerk in October 1919 he claimed: ‘Een van ons sterkste punte is dat die Maatskappij suiwer Suid-Afrikaans is. Ons leuse is “Suid-Afrika eerste”. Ons streef na gesonde besigheidsmetodes, eerlike rondborstige behandeling teenoor ons kliënte. Onse beste dienste en advies word altijd aan iedereen wat daarvan gebruik (p.25) wil maak, toegestaan.’49 Additional costs were incurred as a result of the policy on bilingualism. M.S. Louw recalled that he spent long hours translating policy documents into Afrikaans soon after he joined the company as actuarial clerk. Charlie Louw and Fred Dormehl reported to the board that the policy on bilingualism caused additional work for staff since quite a number of staff members were not proficient in Afrikaans. Letters and policies were drafted in English and then translated into Afrikaans.50 When M.S. Louw reflected on those early years, he reiterated that Sanlam’s position on bilingualism was vital, because Sanlam was there to serve not one, but all sections of the population, each in his own language.51 Sanlam even advertised in German, acknowledging the presence of a sizeable German community in South Africa. Inclusivity was aimed at making the English-speaking section of the population feel part of the overarching goal of Sanlam to contribute directly to the development of South Africa.52 The important mission of the company to develop a culture of saving that would ultimately contribute to the development of the country, was directed at both language groups. In 1943 it was stated in Die Fakkel that the education of both sections of the population on the general benefit of insurance, should be of advantage to the oldest and to the newest company, and was of incalculable benefit to the country in general terms, since it instilled habits of thrift and systematic saving.53
Sanlam was undoubtedly attempting to change the well-established trend of insurance business in South Africa being conducted only in English. Its Memorandum and Articles of Association that were registered in Afrikaans, were the first such technical documents in the insurance industry available in Afrikaans. The predominantly Afrikaans policyholder base was because Afrikaans people could identify with Sanlam, the first company communicating with them in Afrikaans and delivering technical documents to them in Afrikaans. Management argued that the company sought to reverse the trend in South Africa, namely that if one wanted insurance it would be available only in English. Sanlam pioneered offering policy documents in Afrikaans and English. One way of attracting English-speaking clients was to offer them policies in their mother tongue—thus Sanlam insisted on bilingualism as company policy from the outset.54
Insurance for South Africa was Sanlam’s business. Just as much as the leadership of Santam and Sanlam were active in Afrikaner nationalist causes in society, the church, and politics, they were also fully aware of the financial liability that contractual savings through insurance, placed on households. In the first Chairman’s report Hofmeyr underlined the fact that Sanlam conducted good and prudent business and intended to (p.26) sustain that. That was how the company planned to contribute to the growth of ‘our country’ and the South African economy. The company acknowledged its task of educating those outside the insurance net, such as fellow-Afrikaners, to take up their responsibility towards their families, those dependent upon them, and in the broader sense to their country. He stated, ‘it is our aim, not only to build rapidly, but to build a solid foundation capable of supporting a large building … it is our aim to assist in the development of our country using the money entrusted to us. What a pleasant thought to policyholders that they contribute to the development of the country.’55 The sound first-year financial results of Sanlam, he explained, resulted from co-operation among Afrikaners in ‘the broadest sense of the word’, because Sanlam was the big South African life insurance co-operative association.56 The publication of Sanlam’s annual report in Afrikaans and English since 1922 enhanced the notion of a business serving the interests of the whole nation. The Chairman repeatedly referred to Sanlam serving the development of the country, ‘diensbaar vir die ontwikkeling van ons land’ [in the service of the development of our country],57 since economic independence was dependent on the building of own South African institutions.58 The concept of mutuality was used to motivate and educate people. Sanlam was a South African life office, to distinguish it from the majority of foreign insurance businesses operating in the country. Sanlam belonged to its policyholders, who shared in the profits. Afrikaners were encouraged to take out policies as their ‘sacred duty’ to provide for their dependants.59 While Sanlam was serving the nation by offering young people training and employment, it mobilized capital and distributed the proceeds of prudent management in the form of bonuses among policyholders and invested in local opportunities.
Into the market
The world was in the fourth year of the Great War in 1918. Surplus capital in the country as a result of the war-induced inflation, made the timing of the entry of Sanlam into the insurance industry, most opportune. The success of any new insurance company lay in reaching the uninsured. There was only one way to do that—establish a presence across the entire country. The natural market seemed to be the Cape, but success in Cape Town and the immediate surroundings where foreign companies were well established, was not a foregone conclusion. Supporting nationalistic causes and cultural campaigns was not synonymous with confiding hard-earned savings to the new player in an industry (p.27) in which Afrikaners failed to present a track record of success. As Afrikaners were increasingly divided politically following Hertzog’s formation of the National Party in 1914, posters with the following slogan in red writing against a black background were displayed in a rural Transvaal town: ‘Sanlam for the nationalists! To hell with Sanlam. Damn the Nationalists!’60 Equally adverse sentiments were expressed by English-speaking interests. MacDowall conveyed the negative comments published in The Cape (a Cape weekly newspaper) to Fichardt, ‘If you have seen this week’s Cape, you will have observed that the campaign has begun.’61 A report in The Cape of 4 January 1918 stated: ‘We should like to receive some assurance that the new South African insurance company, to whose advent we have referred more than once in recent issues (it is to be called by the way, the “South African Mutual Trust and Assurance Company”) is not an outcome of the recent failure of a Hertzogite group to capture seats on the “Old Mutual”, and eventually, no doubt, to control the full board of that institution.’ The report insinuates that the new company was a co-operative undertaking, similar to the Afrikaanse Handelshuis (a failed hardware business in which Hofmeyr had an interest), but if that was not true, the paper called on MacDowall to issue a statement to that effect. The report concluded, ‘We offer the remarks not out of mere curiosity, but in the public interest; for, as we have often said, we cannot think of anything more likely to perpetuate racialism and ill-feeling in South Africa than making party politics a commercial business. It is the next worst thing to make a commercial business of party politics.’62 Market suspicion was rife.
Then an unforeseen catastrophe struck: Spanish influenza swept across South Africa between September and November 1918. South Africa was the fifth most affected country in the world, with around 500 000 people dying as a result of the epidemic. The global epidemic started in March 1918 and killed more than 50 million people worldwide. The highest mortality rate was in the Cape, where 62 per cent of the deaths occurred. In the course of six weeks between September and mid-October 1918, 140 000 people died. In Cape Town and surrounding magisterial districts 122 720 cases and 6 342 deaths were reported. In Kimberley another 1 348 people died and in Bloemfontein 1 291 casualties were reported.63 The impact on Sanlam was both devastating and opportune.
Frederic Hansen Dormehl passed away on 20 October 1918 in Cape Town. The Afrikaans community and Santam as well as Sanlam lost a stalwart, its Managing Director.64 Willie Hofmeyr took over the responsibilities as Managing Director between (p.28) the time of Dormehl’s death and 1920, when Charlie Louw succeeded him as acting Managing Director. The disruption caused by the influenza epidemic had an important stimulating impact on the insurance industry as a whole. Statistics on the demand for insurance products rose unprecedentedly in the months directly following the Spanish flu. The demand was both for new life policies as well as for increased benefits on existing policies. It was estimated that in 1919 new life business had amounted to around £20 million.65 The opportunity did not necessarily secure a captive market for Sanlam products. There was still the issue of placing sufficient trust in the new entrant in the high-risk market.
Sanlam moved fast after Dormehl’s death: stability in the management structure was vital. Hofmeyr stepped into a managerial position despite the fact that he was Chairman of both Santam and Sanlam. The absence of the division of executive and governance positions was not uncommon in the early twentieth century, but in Sanlam it would soon lead to friction in management at Head Office. The first goal was to get out into the market. For that Sanlam needed agents and branches beyond the immediate magisterial district of Cape Town. The resignation of Harris as the first Agency Manager on 13 June 1918 could potentially have been very disruptive, because his successor H.H (Heinrich) de Villiers was only appointed as the new Agency Manager on 2 August 1918. MacDowall and Dormehl therefore assumed shared responsibility for the organization of agents in the meantime. Agents were only appointed after persons had been nominated for consideration, and their candidacy considered by the Dageliks Bestuur and ratified by the board. No official policy was in place, but the conduct of management displayed the direct bureaucratic management style of the formative years. The first appointments were made from nominees by individuals familiar to members of Head Office staff, or by specific members of the managerial team. Agents were not employed by Sanlam, but earned commission on the sale of policies. Sanlam realized people did not ‘buy’ life insurance, but that a policy had to be ‘offered and sold’ to a prospective buyer. Policies were primarily marketed by lawyers and notaries in Santam branches as a result of the Santam trust business, and by boards of executors. Personal contact was the only distribution channel and Sanlam worked through the network of legal practitioners’ trusts and boards of executors where Afrikaner social capital was established. These networks were primarily extended in the platteland or rural areas where Afrikaners, the initial primary target market, lived in farming communities, small towns, and perhaps larger towns or ‘cities’ such as Bloemfontein, Kimberley, and Pretoria. Urbanization was in its infancy. Distances were far and the target market dispersed.
The primary constraint was the lack of transport and communication infrastructure. By 1918 the best long-distance means of transport into the interior was trains. A journey (p.29) to Johannesburg from Cape Town took two days by train and three days by ship between Cape Town and Durban. By 1918 the most frequent form of transport was horse-drawn carts. The privileged few who owned motor vehicles had difficulty travelling on the limited and inferior-quality roads. Automobiles were also not very reliable. One of the first Sanlam agents, Alexander Duncan Struthers, an agent in Pretoria, noted: ‘Our mode of travel (I speak of the few Transvaal agents) was either by pushbike or by two good, sound legs (Dapper en Stapper); or, if you had to get to some other dorp, by train—second class, because there was no third class!’66
Communication was seriously limited by a lack of telephone lines. Telephone communication was more frequent in cities, but on the platteland the telephone lines were either non-existent or unreliable. Meeting with a prospective client by appointment was far more successful than simply ‘blind canvassing’. The unreliable nature of telephone communication is illustrated by the exchange of telegrams between Hofmeyr and Charlie Louw in 1921 to finalize matters concerning management.
The first candidates for agents were considered by the Dageliks Bestuur in June 1918. The first agents appointed were P. J. de Villiers and G. Koenig from Cape Town, followed by T.D.T. von Moltke and C.W. Mallinick. The first platteland agent appointed was P.G. Groenewald from Paarl, appointed on 8 July 1918. Two very productive agents entered the market by the end of July 1918. They were J. van Voorn from Humansdorp and P.H. Malherbe from the Bo-Karoo in the Hanover district. Van Voorn wrote the first two policies in the office of the member of the board of Santam/Sanlam, C.W. Malan, a lawyer in Humansdorp. Van Voorn most probably had earlier experience in the insurance industry because he was successful as an agent right from the beginning. P.J. Malherbe was an entrepreneur in Tulbagh where, after leaving school, he worked as a shop assistant until he could establish his own business at the age of twenty-one. Malherbe suffered from ill health and had to sell his business, but then offered to sell subscriptions in De Nationale Pers, which meant he travelled the country. He had travelled the northern parts of the province, especially De Aar and other parts of the Groot Karoo. After the establishment of Santam he was very successful in selling Sanlam shares in the Northern Cape regions. He had no experience in the insurance industry and was taken aback when asked to sell Santam fire policies—something he regarded as inferior to selling life products. He turned out to be a very productive Sanlam agent.67
Attracting suitable agents to the insurance industry was problematic. Despite being enthusiastic about the new venture, few Afrikaans people had a suitable background in the industry and few were fully bilingual. In June/July 1918 Sanlam attracted the services of fifteen agents, fourteen of whom were active and sold thirty-five policies to a total value of £13 044. The largest number of policies were sold in Cape Town and (p.30) Stellenbosch, but the agents also succeeded in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe, where they sold policies to people working at the Shamva Mine), Paarl, Humansdorp, and Moorreesburg. The influenza epidemic affected these statistics to the extent that production shifted more deeply into the platteland and the Transvaal. Production improved between August and October 1918, with up to twenty-seven agents selling 264 policies to a value of £90 487 by the end of the year. The shift in distribution to the Transvaal was encouraging, but the largest number of policies were still sold in the Cape Province, albeit a growing number outside Cape Town. The first female agent was Miss Sarah Goldblatt, who started as one of the first three administrative appointees at Head Office, but three months later also assumed the role of agent. Her performance was less than satisfactory and she was politely returned to her teaching position at the Tokai Public School. The productivity of agents was low: only eight of the twenty-seven sold more than ten policies that year. Before his untimely death Dormehl expressed the view that if Sanlam wanted to grow rapidly, the opening of branches in each of the four provinces was imperative.
Success in the competitive insurance industry could not simply be managed from the central location of the Agency Manager at Head Office. In the Orange Free State Gordon Fraser, a lawyer, was appointed the Santam Branch Manager on 18 April 1918. It took him two months to register the company and he then had difficulty with the services of an inexperienced assistant until finally Jan Feenstra, the Chief Clerk at Head Office visited Bloemfontein towards the end of the year. The influenza epidemic disrupted progress in the province, but Feenstra’s involvement set some agents to work. By the end of 1918 J.J. Rittenburg delivered good productivity in the southern districts of the province. In Bloemfontein A.W. Stead, and in Bethlehem, Douw van der Merwe got the Sanlam presence established. The board kept a close eye on the progress in the Orange Free State and in January 1919 advised the Dageliks Bestuur to appoint a local board for the Orange Free State without delay.68 Feenstra had raised serious concerns about the mounting stream of complaints by clients as well as agents and warned management that the company was placing the trust of the public in serious jeopardy. He called for the much-improved organization of agents and the administration of applications.69
The first branch in the Transvaal was established by Harry van Dam, who had been employed by the Australian insurance firm Colonial Mutual. Sanlam appointed Van Dam on 29 July 1918 to take up his duties on 1 September 1918 as the first Branch Manager in the Transvaal located in Johannesburg. The benefit to Sanlam was that Van Dam brought a number of his experienced colleagues from Colonial Mutual along to Sanlam, thereby adding the much-needed experience to the new company. According to (p.31) agency reports J.C. Haines, A.D. Struthers in Pretoria, H.A. Alberts and A. Pienaar in the Witbank district, A.R. Smit in Potchefstroom and L.F. Haak in Volksrust were part of this group.70 Agents were not always assigned to specific geographic locations. However, Sanlam did appoint Miss J. van Niekerk with specific assignment ‘for ladies and children’.71 It was apparent within the first year of operations that the travelling agents contributed substantially more to production, e.g. 89 per cent in March 1919 in the Cape Province—a trend that was sustained for a very long time.72
The operations of the company outside the district of Cape Town were strengthened by the appointment of a local board in geographical areas far removed from Cape Town. This was a common practice followed by insurance companies in South Africa. Sanlam appointed a local board in Johannesburg for the Transvaal in December 1918, but the disruptions caused by the influenza epidemic delayed the first meeting until 28 January 1919. The board performed duties similar to those of the company board—ratifying agent appointments, lease agreements for the acquisition of motor vehicles, subject to the authority of the company board. When agent E. Keyzer applied for permission to purchase a cart and two horses, it was turned down and he was advised rather to invest in an automobile. The Transvaal board drew on the experience and networks of local leaders to advise the Sanlam board on strategic direction in the Transvaal, since the depth of the Sanlam board lay in the Cape. Regular reports from the Transvaal local board were tabled and discussed at length in the characteristically bureaucratic management style of the board at that time.
By the end of 1918 Sanlam policies sold in the Cape Province totalled eighty-two, the Transvaal fifty-six, and the Orange Free State fifty-six. This meant that Sanlam had made better inroads in the Cape. The most successful regions were not Cape Town, but the more remote platteland areas of the Southern Cape, Swartland, the North-eastern Cape, the Groot Karoo, and the North-western parts of Upington and Kakamas. The total amount insured of £30 850 was indeed higher than the £21 700 in the Orange Free State and £17 950 in the Transvaal. Pretoria and the central Highveld region delivered the highest production, while in the Orange Free State the platteland districts delivered the bulk of new policies, not Bloemfontein.
The Sanlam management realized the pivotal role of good-quality travelling agents. This constituted the axis of success of the new life office and would take time to establish. The strategy to achieve a stable, competent, and a successful agent network was systematically constructed by attracting suitable agents from all walks of life, from all language groups, and from all races. No doubt, most of Sanlam’s agents were white Afrikaners, but the company gladly appointed capable persons irrespective of culture or race. (p.32) It was remarkable that in the first year of Sanlam’s business English-speaking agents made up a notable component of the travelling agents—Mallinick in Cape Town, Struthers in Pretoria, Stead, Hogan, and Rittenburg in the Orange Free State, Miller, Dix, Black, and Reiffin in Johannesburg, as well as Weeks in Potchefstroom. Women were welcome as agents—Sarah Goldblatt was perhaps less successful, but Cato le R. van Niekerk was a well-performing agent at the age of thirty-two. Agents were drawn from all backgrounds, such as teachers, farmers, millers, persons who assisted with the selling of shares in De Nationale Pers and Santam, influential community leaders such a General A.P.J. Bezuidenhout73 and Senator Nicolaas Serfontein,74 and railway workers.
The organization of agents was not yet firmly established after the first year of business. Following the resignation of Harris, Feenstra performed a dual function as Manager of the Western Province region as well as Chief Clerk at Head Office until Heinrich de Villiers’ appointment in 1921. There was no set criterion for the selection of agents, but performance was closely monitored. Agent production was intermittent. The Dageliks Bestuur incentivized agents by means of a competition announced in May 1919, where a monetary prize was awarded to the agents with the highest production in the following five months.75 The competition had the desired effect—the winner brought in £46 300 in new business, but systemic problems were recurring. Fraudulent activities occurred within the first year, leading to the dismissal of agents. The system of premium collection was such that agents collected relatively large amounts of cash (since they often received applications from numerous applicants before returning to the branch to deposit the premiums collected) and sometimes failed or delayed to deposit the money. The board discussed each contravention of ethical conduct and decided on appropriate action—in one case the agent was allowed to repay the funds stolen after submitting a written admission of guilt, as well as agreeing to the terms of repayment.76 The Board insisted on strict ethical conduct on all levels of operation. Decisive action on matters of commission claimed by staff for submitting policies to Sanlam was enforced from early on. A case was discussed in February 1919 where a local member of the Transvaal board claimed commission on policies introduced by him. The board refused such commission, but asked the Agency Manager to develop company policy to be implemented at the discretion of his office.77
(p.33) Swift and decisive action in such cases was critical, because it was clear that public trust had to be earned. Competitors spread suspicion that because of its limited capital, Sanlam might not be able to pay out when policies matured. Other insurance companies were reluctant to provide reinsurance to Sanlam. In confidential circulars to policyholders, other companies warned their clients to be wary of Sanlam policies, because the company would be unable to honour its commitments in case of war or epidemics. The stability of Sanlam was placed under suspicion by cautioning clients that Sanlam might not be able to sustain bonuses of any significance.78
The distribution via an agent network was still precarious after one year in business. Another opportunity to expand the distribution channel had been part of the Santam business plan since its inception. In the Santam prospectus, the company stated that it would engage in industrial life insurance, which was explained as life policies to a value of less than £100. This undertaking was included in the Articles of Association of Santam (sections 34 and 35). These sections stipulated that Santam’s business would be conducted via two separate branches—the ‘Ordinary’ branch and the ‘Industrial’ branch. Industrial policies were issued on the life of any person, providing for any condition, and were payable on a weekly or monthly basis. The industrial branch was therefore an integral part of Santam’s vision to extend life policies to all strata of society. Santam established an industrial department on 3 June 1918 by appointing Christian M. Dantu from Johannesburg as Manager. He was to assume duty on 1 July 1918 in Cape Town. The operations of the industrial branch served the life cover needs of working-class people, especially (but not exclusively) the Coloured and black communities. As Sanlam was established to conduct the planned life business of Santam in June 1918, the industrial department was transferred to Sanlam. Agents and officials for this dedicated business were appointed from those communities. Dantu thus took office as an employee of Sanlam in July 1918. In the ordinary life department of Sanlam, T. la Fleur was the first Coloured agent. The first policy La Fleur sold was to Andrew Niekerk, a plasterer from Kensington Estate, Maitland, and his wife Florence, to whom the policies were issued on 1 February 1919.
Prior to the official establishment of Santam in March 1918, it became known that African Homes Trust (AHT), established in 1899, was in the market. AHT was initially a company providing life insurance, which could be used to obtain a mortgage on a house when the cash value of the policy had increased sufficiently. Loans were extended to buy the house against security of a mortgage and a life policy. AHT soon also ventured into industrial policies and by 1918 that business had overtaken home financing. The Johannesburg financier I.W. Schlesinger had developed the only other competitor in the industrial insurance field in his company African Life. Schlesinger was eager to (p.34) acquire AHT since that would secure him an undisputed monopoly in industrial insurance in South Africa. On the other hand, the owners of AHT were not too well disposed towards the idea of being absorbed into African Life, but preferred a transaction which would allow AHT to maintain a separate entity. To the leaders contemplating the establishment of Santam, the opportunity of acquiring AHT promised a perfect fit. Santam could acquire an established industrial insurance business, where the inexperienced newcomers to the market of insurance could benefit from an established concern. The Santam actuary, George Paterson, assessed the possibility to acquire AHT and on 29 May 1918 declared: ‘I believe we have an opportunity of a lifetime.’ The Santam auditor, Harry Gibson, reported to the board on 19 June 1918 that the acquisition of AHT would strengthen the competitive advantage of Santam in that particular branch of insurance, that AHT was a well-organized business and would save Santam the costs of establishing a new industrial business. Santam was not interested in absorbing AHT, but intended to maintain AHT as a separate concern as a Santam subsidiary. A bold step was needed: Santam offered to purchase AHT for £129 285.10s.0d (£10 000 higher than the rejected Schlesinger offer made in January 1918). Santam entrepreneurs secured a loan from the imperial bank Standard Bank against the security of the AHT shares. On 1 August 1918 Santam acquired AHT. The former AHT directors resigned and Willie Hofmeyr was appointed Chairman of the AHT board. The other directors were Alfred Benning, Fred Dormehl, C.R. Louw and Victor Dormer. Alfred MacDowall was appointed General Manager, thereby bringing AHT into the Santam fold.79 AHT secured Santam an additional distribution channel with the added benefit of an established network of clients and experienced staff. The Santam board considered the possibility of liquidating AHT and organizing the industrial department of Sanlam into two sections—one for white business and one for Coloured business. The decision of managing AHT as a subsidiary was motivated in particular by the publicity advertising AHT as a reputable company, one that had paid out very large death benefits during the influenza epidemic. In the market, a record of honouring contractual responsibilities was of enormous value to Santam. In 1918 this acquisition was a notable achievement by the Afrikaner entrepreneurs. It indicated the confidence of the market as well as other established financial institutions in the abilities of the new management.
The business plan of Sanlam was simple. The company offered basic life insurance products. In the life market competitive advantage was found in cost management and efficiency of delivery and service.80 The life insurance market was especially conservative. The responsibility to deliver on promised investment outcomes, to provide the greatest level of security to the policyholder, and to reduce the debilitating effect of uncertainty, made conservative policies and adherence to the principles of prudence imperative. (p.35) The profile of the company leadership was the keystone in building the trust in the policies offered. Social connections and network developments underpinned the construction of trust.81 The life insurance industry was changed fundamentally by the introduction of endowment policies—a product that enhanced security as a precautionary investment product.82 Generally, product innovation in the life industry was also constrained by the tense relationship between ‘prudence and speculation’.83 Sanlam began cautiously.
Sanlam’s life policies were issued in both Afrikaans and English because Sanlam targeted all South Africans. The first policies were the following: Ordinary whole-life policies for persons from the age of twenty-one to the age of sixty. Premiums were payable either annually, half-yearly, quarterly, or monthly; whole-life policies with premiums terminating at a certain chosen age; child inheritance policies, taken out on the life of a parent and devolving to children; child inheritance policies without the termination of premiums after the death of the parent; and endowment policies payable at maturity after fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or thirty years.84
The policies offered were the standard ones, but Sanlam immediately introduced two innovations in the life industry in South Africa. The company paid annual reversionary bonuses, based on annual valuations as from September 1919. The Stone & Cox Life Insurance Tables of 1920 noted that Sanlam was the only insurance company established in South Africa to conduct such annual valuations.85 Another innovation was disability benefits. These benefits provided for the cessation of premiums and the payment of the sum insured in a lump sum in the case of total and permanent disablement—the latter being interpreted ‘liberally’, according to Stone & Cox, as the loss of two limbs, blindness, etc.86 While disability benefits were nothing new in the industry, Sanlam was the first South African life insurer to pay lump-sum disability benefits as opposed to the industry norm of instalment payments. Sanlam ran a higher risk of unexpected high payouts, but it was argued that a disabled person needed immediate relief due to sudden unexpected expenses.87
These policies endorsed the vision of the Chairman, Willie Hofmeyr, that the company sought to assist policyholders in providing for their families in case of the breadwinner not being able to do so, for the education of their children, and the broad (p.36) development of the economy of the country. The concept of ‘mutuality’ was central in the marketing of insurance and found a sympathetic audience among the growing South African nationalist and patriotic society. Sanlam supported the notions of ‘duty’ and ‘pride’ that would grow in policyholders as they contributed to the well-being and development of their families, their communities, and the country at large.88
The first year of business had mixed results. A record number of policies were sold compared to the performance of other insurance companies’ first year of operations. Sanlam issued 3 228 policies, delivering a total premium income of £39 466.6s.11d. The company had only eight claims as a result of the Spanish flu and paid death claims of £2 205 only.89 A healthy £4 627.15s.6d was paid into a life insurance fund (reserves), which showed that the company could be trusted to deliver on its contractual liabilities. Sanlam invested funds only in government stock and kept small amounts of cash at the four banks where accounts had been opened shortly after commencing business. These banks were The Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd, The National Bank of South Africa Ltd, the African Banking Corporation, and the Netherlands Bank for South Africa Ltd.90 Market penetration did not occur without frustrations and criticism. The board often dealt with complaints about the delay in the delivery of policy documents, delays in the processing of policy applications, funds paid on first instalments but not reaching Head Office, and higher insurance tariffs than competitors. The board referred to the actuary’s statement that his calculations of policy fees were based on the payment of an annual bonus on those policies. Sanlam’s whole-life policies were cheaper than SA Mutual’s, but the matter was referred to the Dageliks Bestuur.91 A case of the delay in submitting a policy application by the agent resulted in a death benefit being forfeited. This case could seriously affect the reputation of Sanlam and the board decided to pay an ad hoc amount to settle the claim and reprimanded the agent.92 These matters were all discussed at board level because of the potential adverse implications such incidents could have for the company. It was symptomatic of the foundation phase where the agency manager had not yet implemented strict rules and procedures in the organization.
Despite minor organizational problems, the overall performance justified the declaration of an annual bonus as soon as the actuarial report was received. The annual actuarial report, due four months after the end of the financial year, was not available upon the release of the financial statements and Chairman’s report, because the actuary, George Paterson was ill. Hofmeyr described the results as ‘sukses sonder weerga’ [success beyond compare], but the industrial department underperformed. Establishment costs of the industrial department were £12 157.15s.6d, while the costs for the establishment of the ordinary department only amounted to £2 390.14s.11d. Income only marginally (p.37) exceeded expenditure in the industrial department. A total of 24 114 policies were issued, but sixty death claims were paid. Administrative costs constituted 277 per cent of income. (In practice this meant that the industrial business was not profitable but business was nevertheless sustained because of the expectation that that form of insurance would in the long run provide access to an extended market.) Total income at the end of the 1919 financial year was £7 261, while agency and executive expenditure amounted to £17 860. A shortfall of £12 157.15s.6d was transferred to establishment costs.93 Decisive action on the business of the industrial department was required soon.
At the end of the first year in business Sanlam was on a relatively stable footing—except for the industrial department. The largest number of policyholders were resident in the Cape Province, but the Orange Free State was most disappointing. The Transvaal business was promising. Sanlam positioned itself at the centre of the emerging South African nationalism and Afrikaner enthusiasm about a business vehicle promising economic empowerment. Management was capable, but exercised strong centralized control because they were inexperienced in the world of insurance. Much older and larger competitors in the market indirectly spread suspicion about the new entrant’s ability to deliver on its contracts or even survive in the competitive insurance market.
A relatively stable workforce representing Afrikaans and English speakers generally converged into an enthusiastic team. Many of the office staff and senior officials in Sanlam were first-language English speakers early on, because there were simply too few Afrikaans-speaking people with experience in the insurance industry. The Star newspaper noted that Afrikaans-speaking persons were not yet proficient in conducting clerical work in Afrikaans, since the language was still in the developmental phase of formulating official vocabulary suited to the world of business. Companies realized they could not advertise for an Afrikaans-speaking clerk or typist, because ‘Afrikaners throughout the Union were learning to write their language as they spoke it, … So Sanlam started its career as an Afrikaans company with staff predominantly English speaking.’94 During the first decades of Sanlam’s operations its accountants and actuaries were predominantly English speaking. They included Harry Gibson (1918–19), George W. Paterson (consulting actuary 1918–19), D. Spence Fraser (consulting actuary 1920–2), C.L. Anderson (accountant 1919–23) and the consulting auditing firm H. Gibson & Son (1919–22).95 Working relations among the small band of office staff were excellent and bilingualism remained characteristic of the Head Office esprit de corps. The management and Board of Directors realized that first-class staff were a prerequisite for success and there were no compromises on the appointment of well-qualified able people to secure the company’s entrance into the industry.
(p.38) The death of Dormehl was a heavy blow to the company, not only because of his exceptional leadership and managerial capabilities, but also his presence as a community leader active on various fronts of Afrikaner repositioning. The departure of Harris was less disruptive, but placed additional responsibilities on Head Office officials, which impacted negatively on some individuals. A strong team of young inspired Afrikaner men soon converged on Head Office to give support to the Dageliks Bestuur. These men were: M.S Louw, who joined Sanlam shortly after its formation, but then departed to pursue actuarial studies in Scotland in November 1919. He returned to Sanlam after qualifying as Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries (FFA) in Edinburgh. The next young man was Jan Feenstra, who joined Sanlam in October 1919 as Chief Clerk at Head Office. He emerged as a key role player in organizing agents in the Western Province, while simultaneously taking charge of the administrative management of the field staff (the agents). Towards the end of 1919 a third person, G.F.S. de Villiers, also joined Sanlam as Branch Manager in De Aar. M.S. Louw, Jan Feenstra and Gys de Villiers performed important roles in developing a South African insurance company capable of contributing to a mature local industry. The most pressing matters Sanlam had to address were the image of the company as an undisputed South African life office of standing, the professionalization of its field staff, sophisticated and efficient organizational processes, and growing market share.
A business was born in a highly competitive industry in 1918.96 Sanlam ventured out with an ambitious vision. The founding fathers took a bold step to enter into an industry with more than thirty companies, some performing short-term insurance business, some long-term life business, and some both, relying on impressive histories of experience and success in foreign markets. By 1930 Sanlam was not yet listed among the top three life offices, but almost a century after venturing into the market, in 2015, the company was the second-largest South African diversified financial services group. To build a company able to sustain its business and diversify operations for a century in a settler economy as part of the British Commonwealth and expand operations from a peripheral market into international markets, is premised on firm foundations. The success is captured in the adaptability to dynamically changing conditions in the home market. Sanlam started out to serve a marginalized segment of the South African society. A century later the (p.39) company has the ability to address financial needs of both the top end of the wealth market as well as aspiring low-income clients in emerging markets. It has done so based on a century of rich learning, its foremost asset. During the establishment year, Sanlam management acted pragmatically in choosing strategies to arrive at a vision that mobilized human capital potentially outside the core of South African economic development. Management was bureaucratic, centralized, and integrated with the business of Santam and AHT. The initial target market, the Afrikaners, were divided, generally under-educated, and lacked business acumen. The complex and exclusive political economy of South Africa offered a temporary laboratory to conduct an experiment in empowerment, which, if managed strategically, harboured its own transformation. Insurance and financial services are universal, but also contextually embedded. As global markets were transformed by deregulation and globalization, Sanlam management prepared the company to follow that market. By commencing business with a strong focus on building the domestic economy and empowering marginalized Afrikaners, Sanlam was perfectly positioned to call on markets outside its traditional geographical sphere of operation. From a South Africa where Afrikaners and the English-speaking population were seen as ‘two races’, to a South Africa in the rising African market, Sanlam has emerged as the only successful emerging-market financial services conglomerate to address risk by selling trust and empowerment through financial services.
(1) Skidelsky, R. 1998. ‘The growth of a world economy’, in The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century, eds M. Howard and W.M. Louis. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 50–61.
(4) The British-sanctioned constitution of the Union of South Africa did not grant equal franchise to all inhabitants of the new Union. People of non-European descent were only granted representation by a qualified vote through European representatives in the Cape Province. This right was not extended to any of the other provinces in the new Union.
(6) Union Statistics for Fifty Years (1961): A3–A5; A10; A18; A22.
(7) The Cape Times, 1 August 1882.
(8) J.H. Hofmeyr (1913): Het leven van Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (Onze Jan). Cape Town: Van de Sandt Villiers: 574. [Afrikaners include everyone who have settled in this country, who wish to reside here and who wish to secure the common interest of all.]
(10) C.F.J. Müller (1990): Sonop in die Suide. Geboorte en groei van die Nasionale Pers, 1915–1948, p. 75. [Young South Africa admires your brave conduct and will unanimously support your efforts to building a truly Afrikaans nationalism. We wish you all the best.]
(11) C.F.J. Muller (1990): Sonop in die Suide, pp. 116–64.
(12) N.J. le Roux (1953): W.A. Hofmeyr, p. 123.
(14) J.C. Smuts succeeded Louis Botha as Prime Minister of South Africa after Botha passed away on 27 August 1919.
(15) Verhoef, G. (2008) ‘Nationalism, social capital and economic empowerment: SANLAM and the economic upliftment of the Afrikaner people, 1918–1960’, i, Special Issue: Putting Social Capital to Work, 50 (6): 694–713.
(16) SA: 6/5/2: Die Sanlam-Fakkel, 7 May 1936, p. 3, 1 November 1948, p. 3.
(18) G. Joubert, 1997: Afrikaans: is dit ons erns? Die Burger, 28 April 1997, p. 10; N.C. Weideman: Politieke naweë van die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899–1902. Unpublished DPhil Thesis, University of Pretoria, p. 166.
(19) Cape Times, 4 May 1901: 4.
(20) J.L. Sadie, 2002: The Fall and Rise of the Afrikaner in the South African economy. University of Stellenbosch Annals, 2001/2002, p. 12; A.N. Pelser, 1941: Die Arm-blanke in die Suid-Afrikaanse Republiek tussen die jare 1852–1899, Historiese Studies, 2(4):184.
(23) Die Fakkel, September 1953, p. 8.
(25) SA 6/6/1: Biography A. MacDowall; SA 6/1/5 Interview P.A. Malan, March 1965.
(26) Die Fakkel, July 1963, pp. 15–17.
(27) SA: Letter Fichardt—Santam Provisional Board, 12 April 1918.
(28) Santam Bank. 50th Annual Report 1967, p. 4.
(29) Official Year Book of South Africa, 1925, p. 841.
(30) Official Year Book of the Union of South Africa, 1910–1924—various tables consolidated.
(31) R. Vivian, 1995: The story of Mutual & Federal, Johannesburg, pp. 17, 28, 69; G. Verhoef, 2015: ‘The world insures South Africa: Early insurance activities of Insurance companies in South Africa, 1820–1910’ in R. Pearson and T. Yoneyama (eds) Corporate Forms and organizational choice in international insurance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 164.
(32) SA 6/6/1/5: Interview with P.A. Malan, March 1965. Malan expressed his scepticism about the ‘Jew’ offering to sell shares in the new company, but Harris did not disappoint.
(34) SA: 6/5/2/1: PA Malan Biographical documents: Interview 1960.
(35) Santampos, Maart 1959: 6.
(36) Articles of Association, 1918, pp. 20, 27.
(37) Board of Directors meeting 19190605.
(38) Santam Report to Board of Directors, 28 September 1919; also see Y Hagedorn-Hansen (2017) The transformation of the South African short term insurance industry as represented by the development of SANTAM, 1918–2012. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Johannesburg.
(39) SA: Santam Board Minutes, 26/07/1918.
(40) Leninge; takkantore; premie inkomste opgawes (brand en ongevalle); toekenning Aandele; Oordrag aandele; Tjeks getrek; Waarborgaktes; Bank rekeninge; Nuwe agente; Kommissie op lenings; Staf.
(41) P.G.M. Dickson: The Sun Insurance Office 1710–1960, 1961: 35.
(42) The Sun: 49.
(43) SA: Minutes of Board meeting, 27/09/1918; 24/12/1918.
(44) The acronym ‘Sanlam’ for the life office was first used on 20 June 1919. This was exactly one year after the first meeting of the Board of Directors and the Daily Management was held. At this meeting the minutes referred to the life office as ‘S.A.N.L.A.M.’ (Minutes of Sanlam Daily Management, 20/6/1919). The first use of the acronym without the full stops was in the minutes of the Sanlam Daily Management meeting of 3/12/1920. The first use of the acronym ‘Sanlam’ by the Chairman in his annual address was on 21 December 1921. See SA: 5/2/1: Sanlam Annual Reports, 1919–1924.
(45) Standard Bank Archives (SBA): GMO 3/1/62: Report to Standard Bank of South Africa, Ltd. London: 13/12/18: 802.
(46) SA 5/2/4/2: Geskiedkundige Memos en Briewe: ‘D. P. de Klerk: Eerste Trustbestuurder van Santam.’
(47) Sanlam: Policy Register, 1; SA 6/5 6/5/1, Biographical notes on Servaas Daniel de Wet; Die Fakkel, June 1968, p. 1.
(48) Sanlam: Policy register, 1.
(49) SA 6/5/1: Letter MacDowall—De Klerk, 23/10/1919. [One of our strengths is that we are a truly South African company. Our motto is ‘South Africa first’. We strive to maintain sound business principles, and treat our clients with honesty. Our best service and advice are available to all desirous of making use thereof.]
(50) SA 6/5/1 Letter C.R. Louw—W.A. Hofmeyr, 3/10/1918.
(51) Die Fakkel, 1 June 1942: 2.
(52) Die Fakkel, 6 January 1941: 5.
(53) Die Fakkel, 1 July 1943: 5–6.
(54) Die Fakkel, 7 February 1936: 5.
(55) Sanlam Chairman’s Report, 22/12/20: 3.
(56) SA: Sanlam Chairman’s Report, 21/12/21: 3; 30/09/25: 3.
(57) SA: Sanlam Chairman’s Report, 21/12/21: 3; 30/09/34: 3; 30/09/25: 3.
(58) SA: Sanlam Chairman’s Report, 21/12/21: 3.
(59) SA: Sanlam Chairman’s Report, 23/12/19: 2.
(60) Die Transvaler, Supplement, 8 June 1968.
(61) N.J. le Roux: W.A. Hofmeyr: 131.
(62) The Cape, 4 January 1918: 4. The different ‘races’ to which reference is made, are the English-speaking and the Afrikaans-speaking people.
(64) SA; Minutes of Sanlam Board, 2/12/1918: The Santam Board decided to pay six months’ of Dormehl’s salary to his widow, and Sanlam offered to take responsibility for half of the amount. This gesture signified the overwhelming sense of loss experienced by the company and the vacuum left by his death.
(66) Die Fakkel, September 1948: 6.
(67) Santam Board Minutes, 4/04/1918.
(68) Santam Board Minutes, 24/01/1919.
(69) SA 6/5/1: Feenstra correspondence 9 June 1920.
(70) Santam Board Minutes, 29/07/1918.
(71) WCA: A2213: Private Collection C.R. Louw, Band 3: File Santam 1918, 1919.
(72) SA: Compiled from Policy Registers.
(73) J.C.G.Kemp (1942): Die pad van die veroweraar, pp. 149, 204, 285. General Bezuidenhout participated in the South African War, was appointed to the Union Armed Forces in 1910, but resigned to serve under General Kemp during the Rebellion of 1914/15 and was later proposed by Piet Grobler to be chief agent in Western Transvaal.
(74) South African Biographical Dictionary, 4, pp. 589–90. Serfontein also fought in the South African War, was appointed to the Union Armed Forces in 1910, but was elected to the Provincial Council in the Orange Free State in 1911. He joined Hertzog’s National Party in 1914 and was elected to Parliament for the constituency Frankfort in 1914, but during the Rebellion of 1914/15 he was captured, jailed, and later freed. He lost his seat in Parliament, but was appointed to the Senate in 1921.
(75) SA: Sanlam Dageliks Bestuur, 2/05/1919.
(76) Santam Board Minutes, 30/09/1918.
(77) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board, 12/02/1919.
(78) H.S. Marais (1962): Die Sanlam Gedenkboek: 16.
(79) SA 6/1/7: M.S. Louw Personal Document File: Memorandum of African Homes Trust, 13/04/1959.
(80) L. Dennett: A Sense of Security, pp. 36–7; C. Trebilcock: Phoenix Assurance, Vol. 1.
(81) O. Westall: The Provincial Insurance Company, pp. 3.12–13; M. Keller: The Life Insurance Enterprise; 16–24.
(82) O. Westall: The History of Insurance: 98.
(83) G. Clark: Betting on lives: The culture of life insurance in England, 1695–1775 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999).
(84) SA 1/2/1/3 Rate Book 1931–1936).
(85) SA 1/2/1/1/2 Stone & Cox Life Insurance Tables, 1920: xi.
(86) SA 1/2/1/1/2 Stone & Cox, 1927: xiii.
(87) SA 1/2/1/3: Stone & Cox Tariefboek, 1921: xi; Sanlammer 61(40) 5/03/93.
(88) SA JV 5/2/1 Sanlam Annual Report, 23/12/19: 2; 22/12/20:3; 21/12/21:3.
(89) SA JV 5/2/1: Sanlam Annual Report, 1919.
(90) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board, 20/06/1918.
(91) SA: Minutes Sanlam Board, 24/01/1919.
(92) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board, 2/12/1918.
(94) The Star, 11/05/1960.
(95) Die Fakkel, 1/11/48, p. 6; 2/12/46, p. 4; 7/08/37, p. 13; 7/20/36, p. 19; 7/07/36, pp. 4–5.
(96) The first statutory regulation of the insurance industry on a Union-wide basis only came with the passing of the Insurance Act of 1923. Incomplete statistics on the industry prior to the mid-1920s are available. It is only possible to make general claims regarding the number of companies operating in the industry.