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The Power of Your LifeThe Sanlam Century of Insurance Empowerment, 1918-2018$

Grietjie Verhoef

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198817758

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198817758.001.0001

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Setting down the footprint: from war to war, 1919–1945

Setting down the footprint: from war to war, 1919–1945

(p.40) 2 Setting down the footprint: from war to war, 1919–1945
The Power of Your Life

Grietjie Verhoef

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The first quarter of a century of Sanlam in the long-term insurance business was characterized by strong centralized bureaucratic management, an unmistakeably Afrikaner cultural hub at Head Office, and attention to the professional training of agents. The company growth was solid and slowly gained market share through innovative products and attention to service. A close connection between Afrikaner cultural and political leadership was prevalent throughout this period. Sanlam used this nationalist allegiance to grow its business, and to develop a presence for Afrikaners outside of insurance in other sectors of the economy. By the end of World War II non-exclusive production positioned the company to benefit from strong economic growth after 1945.

Keywords:   Head Office, management, product development, English-speaking South Africans, industrial insurance, premium income, policyholder

After the Great War, European reconstruction set the backdrop for international economic recovery and in South Africa war demand was supplemented by demand for reconstruction. The recovery was slightly delayed by the post-war depression, which impacted adversely on business towards the ends of 1921 and 1922. The cycle bottomed out by August 1922. Local drought exacerbated tight market conditions for Sanlam, which experienced a decline in new business volumes. Sanlam’s success of its first year was enhanced by the post-war economic prosperity, but the delinking of the British currency from the USA dollar in March 1919 led to inflationary pressures in the UK as well as in South Africa.1 In 1921, new business at Sanlam fell by £31 381 to £1 116 589.2 A new low of only 1 993 new policies to a value of £702 792 were issued in 1922, followed by a slow recovery. The slowdown in the sales of new policies during 1921/22 was accompanied by low claims payments in 1922. This allowed the company to strengthen its insurance fund to £90 026 by the end of that year. This performance made it possible for Sanlam to reintroduce the annual bonus, which was then paid uninterruptedly at a rate of ‘£1.6%’ until 1929, when it was increased to ‘£2%’.3 These bonus declarations were an invaluable marketing mechanism for the company.4

The entire insurance industry was on the verge of regulatory innovation, as the volatility in the market and a growing South African nationalism mobilized by Hertzog’s call for ‘South Africa first’ raised voices canvassing for the regulation of the insurance industry. Insurance augments economic growth by mobilizing society’s total savings. These savings reduced the cost of borrowing. The Union Government addressed the lack of statutory regulation of the domestic insurance industry by the promulgation of The Insurance Act, No. 37 of 1923. This Act followed the British Assurance Companies’ Act of 1909 in consolidating earlier colonial insurance statutes in force in the Cape Colony (p.41) since 1891 (Life Assurance Act, No. 13 of 1891 Cape Colony). The 1923 Act made registration of all companies operating in the insurance industry, whether long-term or short-term insurance, compulsory. Registered companies paid a licence fee, deposited a maximum amount of £25 000 with the Treasury and submitted annual actuarial reports on the condition of their business. The statutes acknowledged the principle of ‘freedom with publicity’, granting operational freedom on the grounds of full disclosure of the nature of business.5

The domestic market was lucrative for insurance companies. After the first submissions to the Treasury in 1925, thirty-four registered life offices operated in the market—nine local firms and twenty-five foreign-based enterprises. In 1934 the life offices established the Life Offices Association of South Africa (LOA) to advance the professionalism of the industry. Despite the dire economic conditions the long-term insurance industry was booming and local companies dominated the market. Four companies were dominant: The African Life Assurance Society Pty Ltd, the South African Mutual Life Assurance Society of the Cape of Good Hope (Old Mutual), the Southern Life Association, and Sanlam. The total assets of insurance companies in 1925 were £822 435 000. The South African companies’ assets were £26 698 000 (3.42 per cent of the total assets of long-term insurance companies operating in South Africa) and those of foreign companies £795 737 000 (96.7 per cent of total assets). This distribution should be understood by taking into account that the foreign incorporated companies held vast assets outside South Africa and were much older than the local companies. The local insurance companies nevertheless collected 65.3 per cent of total premium income accruing to the long-term business in South Africa. A total of 74 per cent of all new policies issued were with South African companies. This showed local trust in and support for the local insurance companies.

This market grew by 6.4 per cent per annum between 1929 and 1945 under adverse economic conditions, including a post-war depression, drought, the 1929 world depression, slumping primary product prices, and the drawn-out decision of South Africa to abandon the gold standard in 1932. Economic recovery took off with the increased demand for local products during World War II.6 Politically, the years between the two world wars were only marginally stable. The rise of the National Party (NP) and an embattled economy resulted in a change in government in 1924. Hertzog’s NP and the Labour Party entered into an election agreement, won the general election and established the Pact Government in 1924.7 The world depression and the gold standard crisis had long-lasting adverse effects on the primary production-based economy as the prices (p.42) of minerals and agricultural commodities plummeted. When Britain abandoned the gold standard in September 1930, the Hertzog government insisted on demonstrating the independence of the Union by adhering to the standard. Hertzog used the gold standard to illustrate to Britain the independence of the Union and to demonstrate that a British decision on the gold standard did not automatically imply that South Africa would follow suit. Hertzog wanted to confirm the confidence of the South African government in gold (having the largest gold-mining industry in the world). As sterling depreciated, so did the other currencies in the Commonwealth, resulting in a dramatic collapse in South Africa’s primary product exports. Tielman Roos, a former member of the Sanlam board and leader of the National Party in Transvaal, announced in December 1932 that he would return to active politics to challenge the Pact government’s stand on gold. Hertzog responded on 28 December 1932 by following the international community in abandoning the gold standard. The sudden and sharp rise in the gold price immediately reversed the flow of capital into South Africa and restored the competitiveness of local exports. Under weakened economic conditions, political realism triumphed over intra-Afrikaner political divisions. In 1933 the NP merged with the South African Party under General J.C. Smuts to establish the United Party (UP). Disenchanted members of the NP refused to follow Hertzog into the UP. Dr D.F. Malan, leader of the NP in the Cape Province, broke away to form the Purified National Party. As the Second World War drew to a close, white politics would soon reconfigure again. Afrikaners made up around 56 per cent of the white population by the late 1930s, which explains the direct impact of intra-Afrikaner dynamics on the domestic political system.

These divisions reverberated in the Sanlam boardroom, but management firmly refrained from permitting such divisions into its business. At the time, Sanlam had just opened a branch in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where a predominantly English-speaking policyholder base was being nurtured. The second half of the 1930s was also the time when Feenstra worked tirelessly to weather the storm of agent-hopping, slower production following the depression of the late 1920s, and stabilization of the network of branch offices and agents. The Sanlam management displayed strategic insight in assessing potential synergies with a broad base of local business interests. The official policy was that political intrigues were not to be allowed to derail sound business. Emerging synergies could not be risked by engagement with the day-to-day party political development. Strong voices by local businessmen called for tariff protection of domestic infant industries from 1919. These businessmen were English industrialists, but their calls dovetailed neatly with growing Afrikaner economic nationalism. The Board of Trade and Industry was established in 1920 and soon afterwards protective tariffs were introduced to nurture domestic industries.

South African industrial development took off during the interwar years in the context of policies of racial segregation. Labour legislation gave priority to white labour. African labour was accommodated in controlled segregated urban locations. The Land Act of (p.43) 1913 and 1936 restricted African access to land ownership to traditionally owned communal land. The 1936 Native Representation Act gave African people political representation by means of a council with advisory powers. Only African and Coloured people who had qualified to vote before the formation of the Union retained the vote, but were represented by white representatives in the Union Parliament. Racial segregation was the norm in society, but people of all races interacted on different levels of society, albeit not with equal power or authority. The insurance industry developed in this racially divided society, although no person was excluded from sharing in the benefits of the industry. None of the insurance companies openly challenged the status quo. However, in the management structure there were people with long standing personal connections to the ruling party. Sanlam overtly sanctioned the status quo and advanced Afrikaner empowerment encapsulated within.

Vision and strategy: management

Sanlam progressed through the first year of business with relative stability. During the interwar years the company encountered turbulent times despite the overall favourable developments in the local and international industry. Sanlam had the benefit of relatively stable management built around the relationship of trust and a shared vision for the company. The leadership of Willie Hofmeyr as Chairman since 1918 up to 1953 was instrumental in focusing the company on growth through the delivery of industry-leading service and products. Hofmeyr was highly respected in broader Afrikaans business, political, and cultural circles. His stature contributed to a sense of security and direction for the company as well as the growing community of policyholders.

Willie Hofmeyr was the image, voice, and conscience of Santam and Sanlam from 1918. His deep understanding of the condition of his people, the Afrikaner, in South Africa and his drive to contribute constructively towards the progress of South Africa as a newly independent Union, equipped him with both insight and visionary strategy. To overcome persistent poverty and social marginalization Hofmeyr understood that personal agency held the key, but people also had to be motivated and believe in the potential of transforming the vision into reality. Life insurance offered people the opportunity to take control of their predicament. The alignment of the newly found personal power with rewards feeding into visible progress, was the transformation of despondency into hope. This idea constituted a golden thread through the entire century of Sanlam’s history as company leaders in succession understood the context and the mechanisms of redemption. From the first Chairman’s report, Hofmeyr underlined the usefulness of life insurance to provide for the future of families, the entire ‘volk’ and the country as a whole. He explained the strategy—national economic development (p.44) and progress through personal upliftment and empowerment as a collective effort of people’s buy-in and a responsibly managed enterprise. He referred to ‘the development of our fatherland’ and the ‘personal contribution’ of each policyholder through savings.8 Personal gain was connected to national gain, since life insurance was laying the foundation of the largest building policyholders can construct—a prosperous South Africa.9 The ‘Afrikaners’ he addressed, included within the widest sense of the meaning of the word ‘all those South Africans who put South Africa first’. He capitalized on the statement by the President of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce in October 1923, pointing out the negative invisible exports/remittances from South Africa, fueled largely by the expatriation by foreign insurance companies and other businesses, of profits earned in the domestic market. Sanlam sought to reverse that trend by investing local savings in local development and local ownership.10 In the wake of the division fostered by war and social inequality, he emphasized mutuality, employment creation, and education to those outside the market, and the most up-to-date policies and benefits to achieve the vision. Sanlam observed international trends in modern-day life insurance, namely the tendency towards mutualism, and the recognition in business of the principle of service to the community.11 Service to the community was directly linked to local economic advancement. Building the national economy amid uncertainty, he argued, could only be achieved through ‘Life Assurance … the only way of providing compensation for the uncertainty of human life.’12

There was no doubt that the vision of the company was embedded in nationalist Afrikaner aspirations. In 1934 Hofmeyr underlined the aspirations of management for the company—to grow to the benefit of the country, to serve as inspiration to the Afrikanervolk, and to inspire wider entrepreneurial opportunism. He expressed himself in the vocabulary of the Afrikaner countryman—‘die veld lê braak’ [the fields were lying fallow], talent was there, but courage and unity were required to take up the challenge.13 When Sanlam celebrated the first decade in business, Hofmeyr invited the people of South Africa ‘to grow with Sanlam’ because the company was firmly rooted deep in the South African soil.14 Throughout the depressing economic environment of the late 1920s, Hofmeyr refused to be drawn into negative doomsday speech, but drew policyholders’ attention to the stability of the company’s sustained growth and the fact that the life insurance fund had exceeded the £1 million mark during those trying times.15 As if to (p.45) vindicate these claims, the South African Treasury released statistics showing the growing demand for life insurance in South Africa. For Sanlam the good news was that while the average premium growth of life offices in the country between 1930 and 1935 was 17.7 per cent, Sanlam’s premium growth was 69.6 per cent. The performance of the company was proudly described in quasi-biblical terminology, ‘Aan sy vrugte sal jy hom ken’ [you will recognize it by the fruit it bears].16 In 1929 Hofmeyr expressed his appreciation for the team-like spirit and dedication of the staff in building a truly South African company, a company born from the people to serve the people.17 It was significant that the 1937 official annual report of Sanlam carried the motto ‘Uit die volk gebore om die volk te dien’ [From the people, to serve the people] as the official motto for the first time.18

The year 1938 was a commemorative year for the Afrikaner people, since it was the centenary celebrations of the Groot Trek (Great Trek—or mass emigration of Afrikaners from the British-controlled Cape Colony into the interior, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of the two consolidated Boer Republics—Republiek van de Oranje Vrijstaat and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. These republics were officially recognized by Britain in 1852 and 1854 respectively). Afrikaner nationalism was publicly mobilized and gave a fresh impetus to the economic empowerment idealism of the early Afrikaans companies, De Nationale Pers, Santam, and Sanlam. Hofmeyr noted the awakening of a renewed national consciousness coinciding with Afrikaner urbanization. Despite the difficult decades of the 1920s and 1930s, Sanlam doubled its size between 1933 and 1938. In 1938, the company’s twentieth anniversary, it boasted that it was the first year in its history that more than £5 million in new business had been written. The nationalism of 1938, the impressive performance of the company, and the confidence in the managerial capabilities of the Sanlam leadership converged in new business ventures shortly after the beginning of World War ll.

As the world economy contracted during the war years (1939–45), adverse conditions such as rising inflation and declining interest rates dampened industry growth prospects. Far from being isolated from global developments, Hofmeyr delivered a compassionate argument for life insurance as social security provision. The appointment of the commission chaired by Sir William Beveridge in Britain in 1941 to investigate social security provision in the United Kingdom, sparked a Commonwealth-wide discussion. In South Africa, the government appointed the National Health Service Commission in 1944 to investigate public health provision in South Africa. The Beveridge Report was finally released in December 1945,19 but in 1943 already Hofmeyr had sensed the opportunity (p.46) to address policyholders on social security provision as an individual responsibility. Acknowledging the basic human need for social security, Hofmeyr questioned the capacity of the state to provide universal social security and reiterated the Sanlam approach to social security needs—that is empowerment of the individual towards self-provision. He aligned the human need for security with the desire for human dignity, self-respect, and independence. Life insurance, especially within the mutual model, offered the ultimate mechanism of social security provision and the retention of self-respect and pride. Sanlam policies were said to be tailored to provide for the uncertainties of death, disability, retirement (pensions), education, and medical expenses. Sanlam even offered interest-free loans for medical procedures. The overall capital formation through collected premium income invested in all the sectors of the economy, represented the contribution of life insurance to the entire spectrum of economic activities in the national economy: ‘Uit sulke gelde voorsien dorps- en stadsrade hulle inwoners van water, elektrisiteit, strate en ander geriewe. Ook die staat trek hoofsaaklik uit hierdie fondse die kapitaal vir sy spoorweë en hawens, sy nasionale paaie, sy openbare geboue en sy besproeiingskemas … So word die spaargelde van die volk … gemobiliseer en gebruik vir die ontwikkeling van die land.’ [Municipalities use such funds to supply water, electricity, streets and other amenities. The state also draws from these funds the capital for the construction of railways and harbours, national roads, public buildings and irrigation schemes … this is how the savings of the people are mobilized and applied towards the development of the country]. To be able to provide universal social security ultimately implied a redistribution of national income, which made it imperative to grow national income—which was exactly what Sanlam had set out to achieve. The tool was empowerment initiatives, including stimulating entrepreneurial activity by offering venture capital to those inspired by the vision.20 It was this deep social engagement of the Sanlam management, articulated in the Chairman’s Report, which constituted the unique combination of entrepreneurial responsibility in business, civic duty, and a deep-seated alignment with the volk in a late-comer life office in South Africa. It would be easy to describe these sentiments simply as nationalist jargon. However, the realities of the Afrikaner people as a South African constituency in the British Commonwealth during two world wars and intense international economic distress, explain the entrepreneurial insight to capitalize from it.

The disruption in management caused by the passing away of Dormehl and the resignation of MacDowall unsettled the new company, especially since both men were experienced insurance men. A high level of stability was nevertheless maintained through the management structure, the managerial style, and the social cohesion among the management team. Day-to-day management was inextricably linked to the (p.47) Chairman and the Board of Directors. Willie Hofmeyr’s presence in multiple positions up to 1953 (as Chairman, acting Managing Director, Chairman of Santam as well as Chairman of De Burger) was instrumental in establishing the company and guiding it through the vital first years. The members of the Board of Directors and the local advisory boards were all influential community leaders and often held public political office. Most of the directors served on the board for periods of almost thirty years. On the initial Board of Directors, Charlie Malan was the National Party Member of Parliament (MP) for Worcester and Minister of Railways and Harbours between 1924 and 1935 when he passed away, Dr Tielman J. de V. Roos was the National Party MP for Lichtenburg in 1915, while Dr Colin Steyn (only son of former President M.T. Steyn) was at first the National Party MP for Vredefort and Bloemfontein, and after the formation of the UP, the United Party MP between 1938 and 1948. He also served as Deputy Minister of Justice under Tielman Roos and during the war as Minister of Justice in the Smuts Cabinet. Mr Piet Grobler was a founding member of Sanlam, who participated in the Rebellion of 1914, was caught, sentenced and had to pay a fine of £500. Grobler supported Hertzog and was elected MP in 1922 and served as Minister of Lands in the Pact Government and Minister of Native Affairs from 1933 and subsequently followed Hertzog to the merged United Party in 1934. He was a member of the Sanlam Board until 1940.

Where the social capital of participation in the South African War and nationalist Afrikaner language initiatives moulded cohesion among the founding fathers, the social capital network was expanded and reinforced by those who joined the Board after the Great War. Afrikaner nationalism, mobilized in support of Hertzog’s ‘South Africa First’ slogan, resonated in the Sanlam boardroom. C.T.M. Wilcocks was Administrator of the Free State and Vice-Chairman of Sanlam until his death in 1935. Wilcocks was succeeded by Dr J.F.J. van Rensburg as Administrator of the Free State as well as a member of the Sanlam board. Van Rensburg was a qualified land surveyor and lawyer, with a doctorate in Law from the University of Stellenbosch. He resigned his position as Administrator of the Free State soon after the beginning of World War II to become the Commandant General of the Ossewa Brandwag, an organization of Afrikaners opposing the South African government’s decision to join the Allied Forces in the war. The organization disbanded after the war and Van Rensburg retired to his farm, but he remained a member of the Sanlam board until his death in 1966.21 Mr J.H. Conradie, who served on the Sanlam board from 1922, was elected National Party MP in 1920 and appointed Administrator of the Cape Province in 1929. Mr S.F. Malan, also a National Party MP, joined the board in 1936, and in 1939 Advocate Eric Louw, an MP and later Minister of Foreign Affairs in the National Party Cabinet, was elected to the board. (p.48) Prominent NP members of Parliament who served on the Sanlam board before 1945 were Dr J.F.J. van Rensburg and Dr P.D. Rousseau, the son of a dominee of the DRC. Rousseau qualified as a teacher, participated in the South African War, was captured and sentenced to death, but exiled to St Helena for the duration of the war. Upon his return he completed advanced studies in Education and was later appointed Inspector of Education in the Cape Province. He was the father of Dr Pierre Etienne Rousseau, who later became Managing Director of Sasol (South African Oil and Gas Corporation) and also a member of the Sanlam board.22 Other members included Dr I.P. Schabort (gynaecologist, founder of the South African Medical Council and a member of the Transvaal Local Board23), and Mr S.F. Malan (brother of the later Prime Minister Dr D.F. Malan, and member of the Cape Provincial Council and later member of the Executive Committee, while also a member of the agricultural union and the Koöperatiewe Wynbouers Vereniging (KWV) in the Western Cape). Before 1945, Dr Colin Steyn was the only non-NP member of the Sanlam board, but shared the inspiration of the company from the beginning. The pragmatism of the leadership was not often rewarded. P.A. Malan noted many years later that the founding fathers experienced great difficulty convincing Afrikaners who did not support Hertzog to join the Board, because the initial leadership did not want the political divisions to derail the ambitions of the company.24 That proved very difficult. P.A. Malan nevertheless remembered the request by Eric Louw, his long and loyal friend who later entered politics, to keep an eye on a possible directorship should a vacancy arise. This happened when Mr Pieter Neethling passed away in 1939. Eric Louw was then appointed to the Sanlam board.25

On the local advisory boards Sanlam’s pragmatism was better rewarded. In Natal, the company succeeded in availing itself of the services of influential community leaders outside the Afrikaner circle. These included Advocate George Hulett, a respected English-speaking jurist and businessman, who had served as a member of the Natal Provincial Council since 1910 and was a member of the Union Senate from 1919. R. Ellis Brown, born in Natal in 1880, fought against the Boer forces in the South African War as a member of the Natal Volunteer Corps (held in the siege of Ladysmith during 1899), later became mayor of Durban, and served on the Sanlam local board from 1941. On the Transvaal local board, General J.C. Kemp, NP member for Wolmaransstad (1920–46), and General C. Muller, NP member for Pretoria district from 1920–5, served with P.G.W. Grobler. On the Free State provincial board was Senator W.J. Brebner who had served in the South African War and was a member of the National Party, as was Senator M.J. Vermeulen.

(p.49) Willie Hofmeyr, Charlie Louw, Piet Malan, and Piet Grobler were the stalwarts who constituted the core of the board through the interwar years. Ambiguity on politics in the company was glaring. While the board comprised almost exclusively sympathizers and members of the National Party, the official policy since the early 1930s with respect to Head Office staff and agents was a complete ban on active participation in party politics in public. On 27 July 1929 Sanlam sent out an instruction to all staff members to refrain from any public participation in party politics ‘without prior permission from the Board of Directors’. In 1935 A.J. Coertse (inspector in Kimberley) requested permission from the Dagelijks Bestuur to make himself available for election to the Kimberly City Council. It was refused.26 In 1937 Mr Lambrechts, a member of Head Office staff, who had joined Sanlam in 1927 as a member of the Labour Party, chaired a public meeting of the Labour Party in Stellenbosch. De Burger reported on the meeting and when Feenstra got wind thereof, Lambrechts was reprimanded and asked to resign his position in the party.27 Similarly agent B.L. Mitchell’s request to stand for election in a municipal ward was rejected.28 The application of this policy continued and in 1943 the board authorized the termination of a contract with agent P.W.A. Nel following public political participation.29 This drastic action led to a revision by the board of the company’s policy on participation in politics and in the Staff Policy on officials’ and agents’ participation in party politics. The following rules were laid down: Full-time officials and agents had the civil right to be members of political parties or organizations with political aims and could attend meetings, but could not engage in propagating such causes, actively participate in public actions, or serve on the representative bodies such as municipal councils, regional councils, school boards, or any related bodies (section 2 Staff Rules).30 The broad South Africanism frequently articulated in Hofmeyr’s Chairman’s addresses confirmed this policy in section 2. It stated that Santam and Sanlam were general Afrikaans people’s institutions with economic goals, seeking to serve all sections of society. These goals could only be achieved if all Sanlam officials refrained from any public party political conduct. Officials were explicitly forbidden from any degrading or public-enticing conduct, either at work or after hours. At the June 1943 meeting of the board the rules were amended to exclude unanimous election of staff to school boards or committees, following written permission from the board.31

The firm policy position by the board was significant for two reasons. Firstly, the direct influence of the board comprising well-known National Party supporters and representatives could be interpreted as a double standard. It was actually clear pragmatism, since (p.50) the company was only just stabilizing the agent network and stemming the tide of agents attracted to competitors. It had also just come to light that new business growth had gained steady momentum. Secondly, intra-Afrikaner political division was growing and could destabilize business prospects. The reconfiguration of Afrikaner politics from Hertzog’s National Party to Smuts’ United Party (UP), then Malan’s Purified National Party, was potentially destabilizing. Afrikaner division was driven further when Smuts won a Parliamentary vote to align South Africa with the Allied Powers in World War II, defeating Hertzog’s opposition to South Africa’s participation in the war. This decision led to the formation of the Ossewa Brandwag. All of these factions were represented on the board. In Sanlam the policy of non-public party political participation was timely and made business sense.

The potential disruptive impact of intra-Afrikaner strife was ameliorated by the 1938 Great Trek Centenary celebrations and the mobilization of Afrikaner economic initiatives to the next level of Afrikaner empowerment in 1939. Despite the policy on public political participation, Sanlam overtly supported and collaborated in the Great Trek celebrations, since it was argued that it was a national cultural event bringing all Afrikaners together. The Great Trek celebration mobilized Afrikaner nationalism across the country as nine ox wagons followed the exact routes of the 1838 treks to Pretoria, where the foundation stone of the massive Voortrekker Monument was laid on 16 December 1938 during the Day of the Covenant commemorations. Sanlam capitalized on the emotive nationalism of the time. Die Fakkel of 7 November 1938 was a special ‘Voortrekkeruitgawe’ (Voortrekker Edition). Hofmeyr made direct reference to the centenary celebrations in the Chairman’s address. The event, he claimed, mobilized Afrikaners as never before in history, bringing a sense of unity and a desire to be worthy of their cause. In 1938, the twentieth anniversary of Sanlam, new business exceeded £5 million for the first time—an achievement, he claimed, resulting from its dedication to job creation, training, and education of young people, and pioneering the second trek of Afrikaners, that is the trek to the cities. In Die Fakkel, Hofmeyr reiterated that Afrikaners had to disentangle themselves from their social and economic inferiority by building a future for their descendants. That goal would not be realized through negative forces, but only through the inherent power that was in the volk.32 At Head Office, Die Fakkel opened with the words ‘Sanlam op die pad van Suid-Afrika’ [Sanlam on the road of South Africa]. The first article on the first page of the magazine acknowledged the unique event in the history of the Afrikaner people, and also the endless fire of people’s enthusiasm, ‘ignited by a few ox wagons on the Road of South Africa, but also the trek of 1918 when the Sanlam wagon departed towards the economic liberation of our people’. Staff were allowed to participate in all events, from the departure of the ox wagon from (p.51) Cape Town on 8 August 1938, to the actual celebrations on 16 December in Pretoria. They were even allowed to take their annual leave in December in order to attend the festivities. The Sanlam staff participated in several centenary initiatives, such as the men growing beards and the women refraining from wearing make-up. Non-compliance led to a fine. The fines were collected and contributed to the fund for the construction of the Voortrekker Monument.33 There was no mistaking this event as a valuable marketing opportunity for Sanlam.

The company experienced mixed results in the market. Sanlam did not enjoy unqualified support from Afrikaners. In 1937 Feenstra wrote to Charlie Louw, alluding to the lack of support for Sanlam in the agricultural society Boere Saamwerk Beperk (BSB), and asking for the intervention of board members to put Sanlam’s case to BSB. Of the nine members on the BSB board only three were sympathetic towards Sanlam.34 This experience showed management that loyalty to Afrikaner causes did not automatically translate into support for Sanlam. Sound management and quality competitive products would drive market growth.

Doing good business came down to management

Sanlam management remained remarkably stable throughout the interwar years. However, the naming of designated managers was very confusing and remained so until the late 1940s. The early minutes of Santam and Sanlam reflected the ambiguity in assigning authority. At first the company appointed two managers—a Managing Director (Fred Dormehl) and a General Manager (Alfred MacDowall). Dormehl passed away in October 1918 and MacDowall resigned his position in 1920 and was succeeded as General Manager on 17 March 1922. Willie Hofmeyr acted as Managing Director after the death of Dormehl between 1918 and 1920, when he was succeeded by Charlie Louw, who served as acting Managing Director between 1920 and 1922. Hofmeyr was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sanlam from 1918 until 1953. He was both Managing Director and Chairman of the board between 1918 and 1920. The title of General Manager was again bestowed on G.F. de Villiers (Gys), a position he held until 1927. Between 1927 and 1935 M.S. Louw (Tinie), the actuary of the company, was appointed Manager of Sanlam and then between 1935 and 1946 De Villiers and Louw were joint General Managers. The title ‘Hoofbestuurder’ was used for the first time in 1935, but then in 1948 when De Villiers retired, his successor was again referred to as (p.52) Managing Director of Sanlam. The seeming indecisiveness in the use of titles was an indication of the concern about control and hierarchy in the new insurance operation. So much was at stake. Management appealed to policyholders’ trust as it sought to engineer a strategy of personal and community empowerment. A firm hold on the execution of each step of that vision depended on trust among the managerial team and the Board of Directors, and their ability to control the roll out of the growing enterprise.

The relatively inexperienced Sanlam insurance management team suffered a heavy blow when Alfred MacDowall, one of the three experienced insurance managers appointed in 1918, resigned his position on 18 May 1920. MacDowall criticized the Dagelijks Bestuur for not appointing enough staff. He criticized the executives for not understanding the actual insurance environment. Explaining his reasons, on 25 May 1920 MacDowall wrote that his management was unfairly criticized due to policies laid down by the Executive Committee (to which he had objected from the outset), such as a lack of staff and the executives not getting out of the office enough. MacDowall believed the Agency Manager blamed him for the accounts of agents being overdue and the Accidents Manager blamed him for the state of the bookkeeping in Johannesburg. Members of the Executive relied on these reports when responding to MacDowall’s conduct. When asked if the Executive was satisfied with his management, no comments were made. He referred to the majority report of 3 October 1918 as well as his minority report, disagreeing with the findings on his managerial capabilities. The majority report was accepted without incorporating his objections. MacDowall recognized the difficulty in attracting experienced staff and therefore proposed the appointment of local boards where the expertise of attorneys could be acquired to facilitate the bridging of the problem. Finally, he stated that he was suffering from a work overload. He was physically incapable of performing all the duties imposed upon him. He blamed the Trust Manager for being incapable of acting in his absence, therefore making it impossible for MacDowall to leave him in charge.

MacDowall suggested that the company suffered from ‘overmanagement’.35 To him the Dagelijkse Bestuur was formed to oversee the flotation of the company and be a permanent loan committee; however, it had developed into a management committee, instead of management performing their duties. This led to directors losing their policy breadth, vision, and foresight. He reiterated that for eighteen months he had advocated the formation of a bank:

it is the only weapon with which we can fight Schlesinger with the facilities at this command … None of the members of the Dagelijks Bestuur has time to investigate the banking scheme owing to immersion in detail. The same with the opening of a Trust Office in Pretoria which I strongly advocated in my Report of 12th July 1918.36

(p.53) MacDowall was striking directly at the core of managerial inexperience and subsequent centralization of responsibilities leading to his frustration at not being permitted the work he was qualified to do. Management initially requested MacDowall to vacate his office by 30 June 1920 but on 3 June 1920 Hofmeyr announced that MacDowall’s services had been terminated at 6.00 pm as his behaviour since his resignation had not been in the interest of the company. The following day C.R. Louw was appointed Managing Director and Gys de Villiers succeeded MacDowall as acting Secretary.37 Nothing in the MacDowall statements was untrue or unreasonable, but during the formative years of the new insurance enterprise such conduct was viewed as a breach of confidence that resulted in undesirable tension.

Management wanted to grow the company. A shared vision within the hierarchy of leadership addressed the difficulties of the successful mix of management systems, products, agents, and society. The pioneering managers in Sanlam between 1920 and 1945 were Tinie Louw, Gys de Villiers and Jan Feenstra. De Villiers was born in Beaufort West on 12 August 1888 and attended the same school as the later Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eric Louw. De Villiers then studied law at the Victoria College at the same time as M.S. (Tinie) Louw studied mathematics. Gys de Villiers was admitted as a lawyer in Cape Town where he practised as an attorney, notary, conveyancer, and accredited translator. He performed legal work for the General Accident, Fire and Life Corporation Ltd in Cape Town—an important recognition of his abilities, since few Afrikaans lawyers were ever entrusted with legal work for English companies. Between 1916 and 1917 De Villiers regularly encountered Alfred MacDowall, who was employed at General Accident. After the establishment of Santam, De Villiers accepted an appointment as Branch Manager of Santam at De Aar, then in Prins Albert. He finally moved to Head Office in January 1920 as Trust Manager. When MacDowall resigned, De Villiers acted as Secretary of the company and from December 1921 he was officially appointed Secretary of Santam. His career in the central management team is significant since he fitted the profile of a professionally qualified person sharing the vision of Afrikaner upward mobility amid a skeptical English-speaking dominated business community.

Tinie Louw was also born in 1888—on 15 August in Ladismith in the Cape, where his father was a minister in the DRC. His career in Sanlam started as Assistant Actuary and after qualifying as Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries (FFA) in Scotland, he stepped into the shoes of George Paterson as the Sanlam Actuary on 1 January 1922. He emerged as an exceptional inspirational business leader across the broad spectrum of emerging Afrikaner business ventures.

Johannes Pieter Feenstra was born in Cape Town on 17 October 1885, where his father was a Dutch immigrant owner of a general trading enterprise. Feenstra had to (p.54) leave school at the age of sixteen to take up employment. He entered the service of the Australian insurance company, the Colonial Mutual Insurance Company, in Cape Town. The Colonial’s business language was English, resulting in Feenstra developing a comfortable acquaintance with the language. For many years during his career in Sanlam his correspondence with colleagues was in English, since he mastered the technical vocabulary of the industry in English, and signed his letters as ‘John Feenstra’. His energetic abilities as an experienced insurance man were a saving grace to Sanlam. The overall performance of the company as published in the annual report, was relatively favourable, but Feenstra was on the receiving end of the actual developments. In correspondence to the Managing Director in June 1920, Feenstra noted that the life department of the company was in a state of great disarray when he was appointed. He dealt with complaints from agents and policyholders alike and had to fend off the threats of the Southern Life Assurance Company to withdraw all reinsurance of Sanlam’s policies unless Sanlam got its house in order. Matters were aggravated by the inability of the Actuary, Paterson, to carry out his responsibilities. Feenstra afforded extensive attention to reducing the lapsed policy rate from 12 per cent in 1919 to 8 per cent by September 1920. Feenstra devoted many hours to rectify matters, and did so very successfully, enabling him to comment that ‘the results were so satisfactory, that I was inspired to do more and be more enthusiastic’.38 By mid-1920 Feenstra was satisfied that all the internal Sanlam records were in order and that the company had acquired the nature of a ‘modern office’ managed on the best business principles of quick service and professional abilities. With industrial policies managed by the oldest industrial insurance company in the country, management addressed the question of distribution channels.

Agent network

Sanlam’s penetration into the market the company was developing depended on strong management and a successful agent network. When the business was launched, the ‘reizende agenten’ were organized centrally. The Spanish flu interrupted both the canvassing and appointment of agents, but also the marketing of policies. For almost two months in 1918 the marketing of policies came to an almost complete standstill. The flip side of the coin was that a renewed interest in life insurance was awakened. This trend was described as follows by Howard Phillips:

statistics show that in the months after the Spanish ‘flu epidemic there was a consequent and unprecedented rise, both in the number of new life insurance policies taken out and old (p.55) ones extended. In 1919 new life business alone was estimated as worth £20 million, easily a South African record.39

Sanlam benefited from this heightened demand for insurance, but a special effort was required to improve the geographical spread of its market. During the first four months of operations thirty-five policies were sold, only three of which were outside the immediate Cape Town district. Sales during August and October 1918 included new policyholders from the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and the northern parts of the Cape Province, but there was no interest in Natal. The actual problem was inexperience in organizing the agents or field staff. De Villiers, who was appointed the Agency Manager, confined his attention only to the management of business in the Western Cape. He left Sanlam in 1921 to pursue further studies in law. His successor, S.M. Goodson, was appointed Manager of Agents one year later and then he also resigned in 1923 to take up employment with another insurance company. Finally, it was Jan Feenstra who was appointed Chief Clerk in the New Business Department of Sanlam on 1 October 1918 who established that function at Head Office. Feenstra could see that the organization of field staff was in dire straits. He was sent to the Orange Free State (Bloemfontein) to establish why the manager in that region, the lawyer Gordon Fraser, failed to make progress. Feenstra succeeded in breathing some life into the Orange Free State, but again not because he was the responsible manager at Head Office. The building of a successful agent corps during the establishment years was finally linked directly to Feenstra’s insistence on the permanent appointment of agents only once a proven record was established. Sanlam had no dedicated training programme for agents, since the company was hitting the ground running, but Feenstra used the publication of Sanlam’s first tariff schedule in 1919 to add basic guidelines on agent conduct. The General Instructions to Agents and Tariff Book, published in 1919, was the first introduction of inexperienced agents to the world of insurance. It contained general guidelines on the completion of applications, medical examinations, professional loading, and ‘friendly reports’ (a polite way of presenting personal information). Considering the inexperience of many agents, the book explained professional conduct, unacceptable conduct, and the underlying Sanlam ethical values.

In correspondence with MacDowall in March 1920 Feenstra insisted that an agency manager be appointed for the Transvaal. The Dagelijks Bestuur finally appointed a temporary organizer for agents in the Orange Free State in March 1920 and a manager for the Transvaal at the same time. It is clear that the Sanlam management was undecided on how to structure the countrywide organization of agents. In June 1920 a directive to all agents requested them to submit ‘regular statements’ to the manager of (p.56) the branch under the auspices of which they were working.40 Feenstra’s experience, infused with inspiration for Afrikaner empowerment, brought a business-like approach to the organization and operation of agents. He told MacDowall that the time had come for Sanlam to stop the experimentation with agents. The company had attracted some first-class people with valuable experience from other insurance companies, as well as professionally qualified persons such as teachers, ministers of religion, missionaries, farmers, railway workers, mining engineers, and jurists. He insisted on experienced bilingual persons, but experience was lacking among the enthusiastic new recruits.

Smooth progress in the Free State remained complex. Sanlam had to deal with weather conditions, agents, and its parent company. The close relationship with Santam (the parent company with which it shared management and board members) added to the complexities in that market. Santam as the parent company carried the flag in expansion into the interior. Santam offices accommodated agents distributing both short-term insurance, as well as agents engaged in marketing Sanlam life products. Penetration into the Free State market was slow and cumbersome despite the expectation of it being a valuable market given the early involvement of Fichardt in launching the company. The strong Afrikaner population in agriculture and the Free State towns made it a logical market to cultivate, but similar aspirations were harboured by competing concerns. Santam’s difficulties expanding into the Free State market resulted in closer alignment with trust companies and boards of executors across the province. This strategy alerted the Schlesinger Organization of Mr I.W. Schlesinger to the potential threat lurking in Santam’s expansion ambitions. Schlesinger sought to expand his insurance empire by acquiring the trust and agency business of attorneys in the Free State with the aim of establishing an all-powerful Free State Trust Company. If that strategy succeeded, it could have stalled all Santam’s ambitions in the Free State. Concerned persons wrote anxious letters and sent deputations to meet with the Santam management, requesting action to attempt to put a halt to the Schlesinger ambitions. For Santam to challenge the Schlesinger Organization from its own branch network in the Free State would be an extremely uneven battle. The alternative was to align itself with existing Free State trust companies to present a stronger presence. Santam management argued that collaboration with existing trust businesses would be cost efficient and allow access to a well-developed Free State network of trust business. For that purpose Santam acquired an interest in the Free State Board of Executors, hoping to strengthen the resistance to the Schlesinger expansion ambitions. Santam’s management was satisfied with the due diligence conducted on the Free State Board of Executors, since annual dividends had been paid for at least five years and the Board of Executors enjoyed the support of an extended network of Free State attorneys. Santam invested in the Free State Board of (p.57) Executors on condition of exclusive distribution of Santam products and Sanlam life products. Santam invested £32 000 in the Free State Board of Executors in 1920, but soon afterwards economic growth ground almost to a halt as a result of a severe drought, putting pressure on the trust business. To complicate matters the Law Society of the Free State approached the Supreme Court to prohibit attorneys from managing trust and executor businesses. When the court ruled in favour of the Law Society, many capable attorneys resigned from their managerial positions in the trust and executor businesses. Under these adverse economic conditions, the cost saving brought about by the resignation of attorneys was actually a positive development. The persistent nature of the economic downturn depleted the capital base of the trust companies, including the Free State Board of Executors in which Santam had a substantial stake. Santam made a further advance of £30 000, but could not salvage this investment. In May 1923 the Free State Board of Executors was in provisional liquidation.41 Santam dealt with the loss (as well as a loss of around £10 000 in the Sanlam industrial department) by writing down its capital of £135 705 to issued capital of £42 282 (consisting of 211 410 shares of 14/- at 4/- paid up) and a new reserve fund of £15 000. Although the loss was a heavy blow to Santam, the company was not even close to terminating operations. Sanlam and African Homes Trust were delivering a stable flow of funds (premiums).42

The first seven years proved challenging, especially in the Transvaal and OFS. The three main problems were a relatively high policy lapse rate, variable agent productivity, and the bad debts of agents themselves. The Area Manager in the Free State, D.J. Marais, proved incompetent and unable to manage his own finances. He was demoted to the position of ordinary agent in 1923 and replaced by J.M. de Ville in the Transvaal and J. Blanckenberg from Colonial Mutual as OFS Manager.43 Advertisements for a manager for Natal met with the interest of ‘shady characters’, with whom Sanlam had no desire to enter into any relationship. Harry van Dam, then Area Manager in Cape Town, was subsequently despatched to Natal in 1926,44 after which the Natal business stabilized. Sanlam made significant inroads in the rural areas, such as the Overberg area north-east of Cape Town, the Karoo and Namaqualand areas of the Northern Cape Province, the Transvaal platteland and the western Free State region. It was interesting that Cape Town and its direct surrounding areas did not offer the new company similar success. In the Free State, strong growth was experienced in Bloemfontein, the capital, as well as the agricultural districts of the northern and western regions, and in the Transvaal it was also (p.58) the platteland of the Western Transvaal, the eastern escarpment and Southern Transvaal summer crop areas, where policyholder numbers grew steadily. Between 1919 and 1945 the value of Sanlam’s new policies rose steadily by 9.94 per cent annual compound growth. This was significant, since the formerly uninsured segment of society (also the most vulnerable to volatile climatic conditions) formed the backbone of the new business. The flip side of rural success was rural volatility.

The adverse economic conditions of the early 1920s slowed down the issuing of new policies, but by 1928 slow but steady growth was restored. The board considered various mechanisms to stabilize the agent network, such as improved remuneration to counter competitors’ higher commission offerings. In the Transvaal alone Sanlam lost almost half its agents in 1925. Cases were reported of the Colonial Mutual offering successful Sanlam agents 95 per cent commission on first-year business, while Sanlam paid only 60 per cent.45 In 1927 alone, seven Free State agents, four from Natal, five from the Transvaal and eight from the Cape Province with active commission accounts, left Sanlam for competitors. This trend became specifically challenging during the troublesome years of the mid-1930s. Sanlam’s agents were worth luring away—a phenomenon Feenstra described as the ‘butterfly phenomenon’.46 While it was apparent that Sanlam agents were in high demand with competitors, this caused operational instability by the mid-1930s. The Colonial Mutual was especially active in attracting Sanlam agents.

The sustained growth trajectory in new business depended on improved stability in the agent network and on incentives. Management offered monetary rewards to the top-performing agents during the crucial establishment years 1919 and 1920,47 and in subsequent years similar incentive schemes towards the end of the financial year (September) served as an important source of encouragement. The competition was for a shield, the Silver Shield, supplemented by cash bonuses.48 Incentives were supplemented by the introduction in 1932 of inspectors. These officials were added to the organizational structure between branch managers and Head Office management. Feenstra submitted a very detailed report to the board explaining the shared experience of competitors such as The South African Mutual, Colonial Mutual, and National Mutual reporting that their business in the Free State ‘has gone to pot’.49 Tinie Louw delivered a well-considered response: agents lost could not be replaced, some agents were ‘fair weather’ agents lacking the fighting spirit to take on changing conditions, and attempts to outbid Colonial Mutual’s excessive offers to Sanlam agents amounted to reckless business. He therefore devised a plan to strengthen the agents, to empower and equip (p.59) them with the capacity to take on the challenges of adverse economic conditions and competition. This plan was the introduction of inspectors, sanctioned by a decision of the board in 1932. The basic organizational structure of the agent network was as follows:

Head Office General Manager → Assistant Manager: Agents → Branch Manager → Inspector/Organizer → Agent.50 The inspectors were instrumental in stabilizing the Sanlam agency network. They were seen to be the link between the company and the agent and were responsible for ensuring that an entire area assigned to an agent was cultivated thoroughly. They were given the responsibility to advise the board on the appointment of new agents, train new agents, and support them with advice and guidance both on the distribution mechanism and on managing their own personal finances. The inspectors were the public image of Sanlam’s sense of responsibility to build and sustain trust and pride in the ability of the new player to succeed in the industry.51 In each of the branches a number of inspectors were appointed in 1932. In the Western Province branch six inspectorates were mapped and placed under the supervision of one inspector; in the Eastern Province branch four inspectorates were mapped and allocated to four inspectors; three inspectors were assigned to the Free State branch, including the northern Cape region of Griqualand East; the Transvaal was organized into five inspectorates and Natal into three areas; and one inspector was assigned to South West Africa (now Namibia). This organizational innovation laid the foundation for the subsequent growth. For the first time the agent network covered the entire geographical area of South Africa in an orderly and firmly structured manner, directly reporting to branch managers who reported to Head Office. The overlapping of agents’ operations was thereby systematically terminated and operational boundaries formalized.

As experienced insurance men Feenstra, Free State branch manager John de Ville, and Western Cape manager Harry van Dam realized that the market was volatile, competitive, and challenging, thus requiring innovative imagination to pre-empt potential agent despondency. It was decided to introduce the Saamwerk-week (Collaboration Week) during the week coinciding with the birthday of Tinie Louw (15 August) annually—a ‘production gift’ to him. During the Saamwerk-week agents competed to submit the most successful policy applications. The gold medal to the first winner in 1930 went to S.J. van der Merwe of the Johannesburg branch, with policies to the value of £10 000. The following year Van der Merwe shared the medal with J.A. Delport from Port Elizabeth, both with policies to the value of £20 000. In 1932 the Saamwerk-week delivered a total of (p.60) new policies to the value of £275 000—which translated to £14 million per annum.52 The Saamwerk-week developed into a powerful tool, reinforcing ambition, teamwork and the sense of ‘doing it for our company’.

The initiative was supplemented by the introduction of the annual conference of agents in 1932. Sanlam proudly moved into its new Head Office on the corner of Waal and Burg Streets, Cape Town, in December 1932. To the Sanlam management the building symbolized the confidence and ideals of the founders, and the success in establishing a people’s financial institution able to reach into all corners of the country. It also symbolized the achievement of the firm and its position in the business environment of Cape Town. The building represented financial stability and commitment to the well-being of its policyholders, who were no longer only from the platteland, but had migrated and had become citizens of the city.53 This move coincided with the first annual conference of agents, inspectors, and managers. The tone was inspirational and pedagogic. Willie Hofmeyr called for the trustworthiness of agents with the public and their company, Tinie Louw outlined the growing professionalism of the industry, the sophistication of sales techniques and ‘service to the public through the best advice’, and Harry van Dam (the Australian-born Dutchman) spoke about ‘enthusiasm and emulation’.54 More social mobilization tools were devised, especially by Tinie Louw. He sought to encourage agents to communicate with him in confidence, directly, about any issues concerning their work. To this end he established ‘Club 21’, a confidential correspondence club comprising ‘Head 21’ and all agents interested in engaging with him. Agents were invited to write to ‘Head 21’ concerning troublesome matters. Correspondence was treated confidentially and a unique number was allocated to each agent to protect the identity of the correspondent. Louw addressed matters raised confidentially and encouraged agents to buy into the slogan ‘Smile, darn you, smile’ as the motto of public conduct. Each participant received a unique number. It was later disclosed that Feenstra’s number was 121 and Harry van Dam’s 221—number one of Club 21, and number two of Club 21. With personalized member certificates, Club 21 was a unique tool of communication (p.61) between Louw and agents, individually and collectively, to motivate, challenge, guide, and to attend privately to individuals’ concerns.

Tinie Louw often published anonymous challenges and directives under the pseudonym ‘Head 21’ in the in-house periodical Die Fakkel, calling on agents to aim high and work tirelessly. In personal correspondence to each member of Club 21 he set annual production targets in bronze, silver, and gold categories. Quarterly and annual prizes were linked to performance and sometimes Head 21 reported that none of the agents had achieved the targets. When targets were reached or improved, this news was prominently displayed in Die Fakkel. In response to the inspiration from Head 21 an inspector reported in Die Fakkel that agents’ organizations under his auspices were growing ‘inspired and enthusiastic’, and that he would keep the flame of the ‘Sanlam-fakkel’ burning perpetually higher.55 The tight managerial control of the early years of Sanlam was significantly mitigated through such personal engagement with agents. It paid off. Growth in total premium income had declined from 12 per cent between 1930 and 1931, to 5 per cent and 6 per cent per annum up to 1933, after which a 24 per cent growth was achieved between 1933 and 1934. Thereafter double-digit annual growth was sustained up to World War II.

A momentous event was the 1937 Saamwerk-week. This was the only meeting in the history of Sanlam where all agents and inspectors got together. The meeting was held in Johannesburg during the first week of December 1937 to coincide with the inauguration of the new Sanlam building in the city. Groups of vehicles, all carrying the Sanlam emblem on little green flags on the front engine cap of the vehicles, drove from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, and Durban, joining the ‘trek’ to Johannesburg. The meeting was addressed by Professor H.F. Verwoerd, then professor of Sociology at the University of Stellenbosch, on the importance of savings to build the domestic economy, and Professor J.C. van Rooy from the Potchefstroom University College for Christian Higher Education, on service as the duty of all men. Of special significance was the address by Mr Vernon Fairbrass, the world-renowned agent from Sun Life of Canada, on the strategy and techniques of successful life product marketing. It was apparent that the conscious process of training, discipline, structure, and teamwork overcame the earlier lack of selection and training of agents. There was a drastic decline in agents leaving the service. Sanlam management was alert to international developments and went to great lengths to expose agents to the state of the art in the industry.56 At the 1937 meeting, reference was made for the first time to the ‘Sanlam-spangees’ (Sanlam team spirit). Similar conferences planned for 1938 were called off in the wake of the threatening world war.

(p.62) (p.63) The structure of agent organization did not change during World War II, except that fewer new agents were appointed and wartime rationing of petrol and tyres curbed travelling and therefore production. A dramatic increase in the value of new policies was achieved through the mobilizing effect the Saamwerk-week had on agents’ productivity. The value of new policies rose from £1 893 904 in 1932 to £2.4 million in 1933, £3 million in 1934, £3.5 million in 1935 and £4.1 million in 1936. New policies to the value of £11.8 million were written in 1939, exceeding those written in 1938 by more than £1 million, and reaching £13.7 million by the end of the war in 1945. A different measure of the growing enhanced performance was net premium income: total net premium income rose from £297 208 in 1932 and reached £796 908 by 1939 and £1 888 766 in 1945—a growth of 137 per cent during the war (see Table 2.1). At the end of 1939 Club 21 was dissolved, having achieved its aim. The organizational structure, the quality of people and the collectively mobilized team spirit moulded successfully to the benefit of the new company, much to the personal acclaim of Feenstra and Louw. The latter harboured a deep personal sense of responsibility to assist the relatively inexperienced well-meaning team of agents as market conditions deteriorated, to build confidence and grow strong businesses together with Sanlam.

Table 2.1. Sanlam financial performance, 1918–1945


Premium income £

% growth

New policies

Life assurance reserve fund £

Assets £

Return on assets %

Death and disability claims paid £



Administrative cost £






35 966

3 228

4 627

53 077

2 205



5 188


55 286


3 193

19 292

86 977

7 492



11 913


71 363


3 160

45 104

60 562

10 817



13 285


83 343


1 993

90 025

98 908

3 949



14 254


96 086


2 278

141 531

149 824

7 450



16 591


101 305


2 580

195 271

203 635


9 222



18 496


121 130


2 668

265 473

273 908


13 023



21 476


154 730


3 613

357 845

368 324


13 407



22 538


178 142


4 076

461 663

474 658


19 148



26 950


212 267


3 951

598 146

619 103


20 584



27 549


240 999


4 314

753 735

775 468


26 616



44 706


270 123


4 925

910 748

947 026


30 105



41 031


283 659


4 821

1 068 246

1 113 792


38 761



45 046


297 208


4 792

1 231 706

1 267 241


41 496



47 756


321 357


6 984

1 379 406

1 401 027


47 880



49 858


391 219


7 109

1 516 195

1 608 365


53 765



62 471


458 031


8 076

1 803 449

1 854 094


56 069



74 504


531 326


9 191

2 053 931

2 171 517


60 914



81 436


619 445


9 889

2 533 481

2 597 809


68 802



89 388


707 598


10 763

2 919 368

3 079 268


101 307



102 289


796 908


11 840

3 394 165

3 582 329


77 518



93 069


871 870


10 703

3 980 099

4 196 783


104 805



113 809


994 259


12 595

4 598 779

4 844 838


132 651



122 651


1 152 388


14 791

5 337 049

6 683 573


188 099



188 099


1 355 424


17 793

6 375 783

6 689 829


158 989



158 865


1 611 699


10 311

7 565 172

7 926 065


184 344



187 022


1 888 766


19 959

8 770 978

9 394 751


215 186



209 961

Source: Sanlam Annual Financial statements, 1918–1945.

Products to grow the market

When Sanlam entered the long-term insurance market, more than thirty other companies sold life cover.57 Successful market penetration depended on the identification of a niche market. That was undoubtedly the marginalized uninsured people of South Africa, of which Afrikaners constituted a considerable part. The bottom line remained to do good business. The Sanlam policies were marketed to the broad public in different languages right from the start.58 The first Sanlam policies targeted two market segments—the ordinary life market and the industrial policy market. After 1921, the industrial business shifted to AHT.59 The Sanlam industrial business was unimpressive and non-inspirational, especially at a time when the company was forced to reconsider the declaration of an annual bonus.

By the end of 1920 the prerequisite size of the insurance reserve to justify a bonus declaration fell short of the target. Management was bound by its adherence to prudent managerial principles and actuarial advice, and decided to withhold the declaration (p.64) of a bonus in 1921—a very depressing decision to both management and agents, but a wise one. Other cost-saving measures were considered. One was to rationalize operations by consolidating expertise. The Sanlam industrial department was on thin ice and Santam owned the oldest industrial insurance business in South Africa, AHT, with all the capacity to conduct such business successfully. On 20 December 1920 the Sanlam management therefore decided to transfer the industrial department’s assets and liabilities to AHT as from 1 January 1921. This move was conducive to the development of improved business focus in Sanlam. The focus on whole-life policies endorsed the vision of the Chairman, Willie Hofmeyr,60 that the company sought to assist policyholders in providing for families bereft of a breadwinner, for the education of children and the broad development of the economy of the country. Hofmeyr emphasized the concept of ‘mutuality’, ‘duty’, and ‘pride’ that would be engendered in policyholders as they contributed to the well-being and development of their families, their communities, and the country at large.61

Business and nationalist inspiration induced creative policy innovation, embodied largely in the person of Tinie Louw.62 He was entirely absorbed by the potential of actuarial science to create the policy options required to achieve the multiple goals of South African economic advancement and the empowerment of his people. He devoted his professional career to enhance life products to deliver a better and more appropriate service to policyholders. As a young actuary at Sanlam, and an inspired Afrikaner nationalist, he used every opportunity to enhance the competitiveness of the company. In 1922 Sanlam announced a first for the South African life insurance industry and Louw was the mastermind behind it.63 This new policy was called the Ideal Policy. It introduced the concept of income protection through insurance, a brand-new concept M.S. Louw had been introduced to during a conversation with an employee of the National Insurance Bank of Rotterdam in the Netherlands in the summer of 1920.64 The idea was that families were not fully secured by the receipt of a lump sum at the death of a breadwinner, but could be better provided for by receiving regular payments (p.65) to replace the weekly or monthly income of the deceased. This policy, launched on 1 May 1922, provided death benefits as family income benefits, while ordinary endowment policies could also be issued to a family. The ‘Ideal Policy’ was advertised as ‘the latest triumph for actuarial science’. This policy introduced income protection, a much-needed support during the economic downturn of the early 1920s. Sanlam moulded access to the benefits of these policies to encapsulate as many uncertainties that could possibly affect full benefits. An example of such an additional benefit was the automatic maintenance of a policy in the event of an interruption of premium payments. In 1922, the Sanlam Board also authorized the first ‘non-medical’ policies—policies capped at £250 or less without the mandatory medical examination. The value was soon increased, but opened the door to enhance the development of a relationship of trust with Sanlam.

When Sanlam opened its office in the Transvaal in June 1918, it was in Johannesburg, home of a large contingent of poor, newly urbanized Afrikaners working in the mines, industries, or on the railways. This uninsured and marginalized market was the explicit target of the company. Why not in Pretoria, Feenstra was asked. His response was that the concentration of marginalized Afrikaners on the Witwatersrand determined the direction of the company’s ‘calling’.65 When typical mining diseases such as miner’s phthisis manifested from the early 1930s, Sanlam developed the Phthisis Policy. It was an endowment policy with additional phthisis benefits. It paid out a cash amount equal to 50 per cent of the sum insured if the policyholder contracted silicosis or tuberculosis during the policy term.66 The restrictions to manage the risks of mining diseases led to a limited demand for those policies, but Sanlam maintained that the business must be conducted in accordance with sound business principles. Too high risks would undermine the ability of the company to honour liabilities across the full spectrum of its policy liabilities.

In 1927 Sanlam introduced a pension scheme for its Head Office staff (thirty-six people) and in 1928 extended it to the agents and staff operating in the branches across the country. In 1927 pension provision by a company for its employees was the exception rather than the rule. When the Sanlam Pension Fund was finally established on 1 October 1927, Sanlam progressed another step towards social security provision for its young employees, often first-time entrants to the labour market. Sanlam then used the experience gained from its own pension fund to advertise this service to public organizations, such as municipalities or provincial authorities. Since no statutory provision required public institutions to acquire external pension fund provision, legislation to that effect was passed only in 1929. Sanlam subsequently actively cultivated the market for pension provision. In the despair of the 1929 depression, Sanlam added more safety-net products for families. In 1929 and 1931 Sanlam added the income benefits to whole-life (p.66) policies, and the family income protection insurance with limited instalments and family income benefits at death.67

In 1929 Sanlam took the lead again by introducing the first-ever group pension scheme for institutions, such as municipalities, provincial councils, or other organizations unable to set up their own pension schemes. In the absence of statutory provision for such schemes, Sanlam staff assisted the Cape Provincial Administration in preparing ordinances providing for municipalities and regional councils to contract with insurance companies to set up and administer group pension schemes on behalf of such authorities. Sanlam was the first South African assurer in the managed pension scheme market. Despite a slow take-off, new business volumes rose from 1930. Sanlam also pioneered the long-term life industry in South Africa by becoming the first company to pay annual bonuses based on compound interest calculations. In practice this meant that all policyholders received a ‘bonus on a bonus’.

Sanlam’s strategy was developed to address market shortcomings. The local insurance industry was unfamiliar with the concept of group employee benefits or social security. The South African state had not engaged in comprehensive social security programmes and other British Commonwealth countries also only rolled out the implications of the Beveridge Report systematically after World War II. Sanlam identified the collective entity of teachers as a potential market to offer products addressing self-sufficiency and responsibility of the breadwinner for his/her dependants. The Departments of Education of the different provinces were reluctant to establish a provident fund for widows and orphans of teachers. This was the opportunity Sanlam snapped up by extending the new-generation Ideal Policy to the organized teaching profession. The Family Income Policy, the Income Protection Policy, and the Family Protection Policy were endorsed as the official policies to these associations. These policies were marketed on a group basis to the organized teaching profession—in September 1933 to the Transvaal Teachers Association, in May 1934 to the Free State Teachers Association, and in December 1934 to the South African Teachers Association. This product innovation was a strategic marketing move and enabled access to a specific distribution channel of stakeholders. By 1934 Feenstra announced that Sanlam had officially become the insurer of choice of the Transvaal teachers’ community as well as employees of the South African Railways.68 In the aftermath of the depression and social dislocation resulting in unprecedented Afrikaner urbanization, the individual policies and the group benefit schemes secured Sanlam a distinct competitive advantage. A carefully planned set of policies, targeted at the identified market eventually built the policyholder base to sustain the new enterprise. As Sanlam approached the end of the interwar period, the company experienced a sense of achievement.

(p.67) The Sanlam family of policyholders

Undisputedly Afrikaans in foundation and driven by the plight of impoverished and marginalized members of its people, Sanlam was primarily a South African company. The composition of its policyholder base was a reflection of the socio-political stratification of South Africa and the direction of success in marketing the enterprise. Before 1945 the Afrikaans segment of society constituted around 85 per cent of the Sanlam policyholder base. Between 1918 and 1939 the client base was 93 per cent Afrikaans,69 primarily because the Sanlam policies were the only policies available in Afrikaans in the South African market. The corps of employees at Head Office or as agents in the field was overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, Afrikaans. Sanlam advertised widely in Afrikaans newspapers and periodical publications, such as Die Burger, Die Volkstem, Die Volksblad, Dagbreek, Brandwag, Die Huisgenoot, Landbouweekblad, Die Vaderland, Die Kerkbode, Ons Land, Die Taalgenoot, Die Volksgenoot, Volkshandel, Die Unie, Die Kerklike Skoolblad, Die Hervormer and several regular publications. The company often advertised in school year books, e.g. in the annual publication of the Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck, the first Afrikaans-language high school in Cape Town—an institution established inter alia through the endeavours of Willie Hofmeyr and Charlie Louw.70 As Afrikaner urbanization escalated, the notion of providing for the future, for possible insecurity and unforeseen calamities found a captive audience, especially when delivered in the mother tongue. English-speaking South Africans did their business either with the local life offices, or with foreign companies operating in the country. It was only by the 1960s that Sanlam could report a significant English client base.71

The primary access to the African or Coloured market was in the industrial department of Santam, later Sanlam and subsequently in AHT after 1934. In the stronghold of Coloured people in the Cape, many spoke and read Afrikaans. This market was addressed in the Afrikaans policy documents, but the African people were not proficient in Afrikaans. This market was addressed using the English documents. The first life policy issued to an African policyholder was to Mr C. Ncinitwa, purchased by his mother as an industrial policy and underwritten by Sanlam in September 1919. Sanlam used African agents, such as Mr Godlo from East London, to market its industrial policies. The Coloured population had a lifestyle resembling much of the Afrikaans way of living (the food they consumed, inherited health conditions), which made them a similar risk (p.68) cohort of clients.72 Few applications were received from other people, such as from Indian people. In June 1919 an application for a life policy to the value of £500 on the lives of two Indian people was turned down73—no reasons were minuted. Management was concerned about the risk profile of certain race groups and the matter was referred to the actuary on 3 September 1920, requesting guidance and advice.74 A death claim was paid out on an African life in October 1921,75 but Sanlam’s proportion of African business remained around 5 per cent throughout the interwar years.

The African market was generally associated with a higher risk premium. The African people maintained a much lower standard of living than whites and had a higher mortality rate, resulting in more strict approval criteria for such applications.76 Screening of African lives was general practice in the South African insurance industry: ‘Most companies required Non-Europeans to furnish particulars of their living conditions upon application for life cover. In cases where overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitary facilities, insufficient means, or exposure to infection are apparent, an extra premium is likely to be imposed.’77 This additional ‘loading’ of premiums was referred to as ‘a race load’ and was practiced across the industry in South Africa because the African population had a higher mortality rate than that included in the British mortality tables used locally for the calculation of premium rates.78 Insurance companies also had some difficulty to establish the exact age of applicants, since applicants often misstated their age. The Registrar of Insurance noted this phenomenon in correspondence to the LOA, requesting the advice of the insurance companies on the feasibility of legislation to address the matter.79 There was considerable variation in the mortality rates of the different races and the domestic industry followed similar loading guidelines. Applications by Africans were mentioned fairly regularly in the Sanlam management minutes. The report of the Medical Officer of Health for the Cape Colony in the late 1890s had, for example, found that ‘the mortality at each year throughout the whole term (i.e. between the ages of 15 and 45) is higher than the English standard by 33% in the case of Europeans and by nearly 200% in that of the coloured deaths’.80 Insurance companies also loaded premiums of owners residing outside the Union or travelling outside the Union regularly—this applied to all policyholders, white and non-white, since such conduct was considered to raise the risk profile of policyholders. In 1932 the Sanlam (p.69) board decided to accept only male Indian applicants born in South Africa and those belonging to ‘the higher social class’.81 Coloured persons’ applications for endowment policies were accepted on condition that the applicant was male, of a higher social class and the policy did not include disability benefits.82 Insurance companies made no distinction purely on the basis of race, but on the basis of risk profile. Sanlam was no different. Applications by Africans, Coloured people, or Indian people rarely qualified for disability benefits or non-medical business because of their frequent exposure to hazards in the course of employment and ordinary life.

Sanlam was more willing to accept Africans with a high standard of living, such as African teachers, rather than whites of the lowest stratum.83 Conditions for the approval and insurance of these lives were more lenient. In 1933 Sanlam decided to accept non-medical business for Indian and African teachers up to £200.84 In the same year the confidential report that had to accompany African applications was removed for teachers because they were regarded as having a standard of living similar to that of most whites and therefore displayed a similar risk profile. Such applicants no longer had to provide additional proof of insurability.85 Sanlam was prepared to accept African and Coloured female teachers on certain conditions.86 A similar trend can be identified in the United States with the North Carolina Mutual Life Assurance Company—a black life insurance company insuring teachers: ‘Durham folklore argues that the Mutual endured the Depression because it held so many ordinary policies on black schoolteachers, whose incomes remained relatively stable during the panic.’87

In the 1930s, Sanlam introduced group life schemes specifically for African teachers and other Africans of a high social standing, such as missionaries, ministers, and government officials.88 These schemes were introduced at the same time that Sanlam became the official insurer of the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and Union Teacher’s Associations. The introduction of these schemes allowed Sanlam to include Africans in its group insurance for teachers while addressing the specific needs and risks associated with this section of the market. Insuring Africans as a group eliminated some of the risks associated with this market. The black population preferred to be insured as a group (p.70) because of its sense of collective identity.89 Sanlam made use of black agents and white agents who were proficient in African languages to canvass clients in this market. These agents operated in areas with large black populations, such as the Transkei and Queenstown.90 A special organization was established in the Transkei to canvass black teachers. In 1933 Jan Feenstra and Mr Kusche, the chief inspector of schools, visited a black school in Rouxville in the Free State to canvass teachers for pension schemes. The school’s principal, Mr Mciteka, recalled how the visitors informed his staff about the importance of life insurance. He also recalled that provision for retirement was a major concern among black teachers at the time. The school signed a group pension scheme with Sanlam.91 Sanlam’s African client base peaked at 5 per cent of its policyholders by the end of the 1940s. The peak period coincided with the marketing of policies to African teachers, but as the National Party rose to power towards the end of the 1940s, the relative ration of new African policies declined and Sanlam shifted its attention to the emerging Afrikaans civil servant community.

The policyholder profile of Sanlam by the end of the interwar period was around 45 per cent in the early breadwinner age group of twenty-four to thirty-three years and around 23 per cent in the next age group of thirty-four to forty-four years. These were primarily the so-called ‘breadwinner’ market segment. Men signed policies on the lives of their wives or children, but by the early 1930s almost 20 per cent of policies were joint policies, that is endowment policies on the lives of both spouses, paying out at the death of the first spouse.92 Women were therefore beneficiaries of life insurance, but as independent policyholders they constituted a different category. Women qualified for life cover at Sanlam, but they did not qualify for the same benefits as men as a result of their different risk profile. A special ‘Pregnancy Clause’ was introduced in 1919, similar to the provisions of other life offices such as Southern Life and Old Mutual. This clause made the issue of life cover for an applicant who was pregnant or fell pregnant within three months of the application, subject to the woman surviving childbirth, or it was stipulated explicitly that the company was not liable in case of death at childbirth. If a female applicant was less than six months pregnant, the company was also discharged from any liabilities in case of death at childbirth, or the premium was loaded, but only on the recommendation of the chief medical officer. Women with a history of miscarriages, or who were older than thirty years, were subject to the same loading as pregnant women.93 (p.71) Female policyholders also did not qualify for interest-free loans for medical procedures if the operations resulted from pregnancy or childbirth. Only unmarried women, divorcees, or widows qualified for disability benefits or income protection benefits.94 Between 1918 and 1940 the proportion of female policyholders remained around 14 per cent of the Sanlam policyholder base.95 The Life Insurance Act (1923) determined that ‘A married woman is allowed to take out a policy on her own life or on her spouse and the policy is her property not her husband’s. She may complete an application form and it will be accepted with her signature.’96 Two of Sanlam’s earliest policyholders were women—policy 7 and policy 11 were issued to women. Women were active in public life, but in a patriarchal society where women were only granted the right to vote in May 1930, they were not targeted as a designated category for Sanlam policies. This changed only much later during the 1960s when the international women’s movements rose to prominence. Sanlam was no champion for gender equality, but conducted its business with women within the parameters of the social consensus of the day.

The collective: Head Office and company

For an Afrikaner enterprise to erect a skyscraper in the central business district of Cape Town on the back of the worst depression in world history, was interpreted as success. When Sanlam occupied its new offices on 3 September 1932, De Burger described its significance ‘not in the stone and mortar, but in the rise and growth of a true Afrikaans enterprise … a monument of massive creativity in the economic sphere and an architectural symbol of the beauty in the soul of the people’ [translated from Afrikaans]. This was the first Sanlam-owned newly erected home of the company.

A distinctive feature of Sanlam as a long-term insurer in South Africa was the constant belabouring of the shared vision and inspiration. The field staff were perceived to be a ‘family’ and so were the Head Office employees—although distinct levels of authority were strictly observed. Once the production targets had been achieved via Club 21, Harry van Dam suggested the introduction of an in-house magazine for all staff and not only agents. On 15 December 1932 the first issue of Die Fakkel [The Torch] was published. Die Fakkel was the internal communication vehicle. Staff submitted letters, management posted messages, performance in different spheres of the company was applauded, and training was disseminated on all aspects of Head Office administration, agent ethics, and new marketing tools. It was used as a powerful tool for training, building collaboration, and inspiring competition ‘to motivate individual performance (p.72) by praising the successful, whereby the quality of our work is improved’—the message in the first editorial in December 1932. Die Fakkel published product information, praised the success of agents, served to bring the nationwide agent network closer every month, and introduced management to the staff. This monthly publication served as the pride and inspiration for many years, reflecting the character of Sanlam. Jan Feenstra himself published guidelines for agents on approaching prospective clients, while a Memorandum for Agents was circulated in early 1933 to supplement training material. The tone was paternalistic, but inspirational and a source of encouragement to all. Die Fakkel was an important organizational tool that replaced Club 21 in cementing the agent network, but also constructing and nurturing a company culture.

The culture of the Head Office was unmistakably Afrikaans, despite the fact that first-language English speakers were appointed from 1918 on condition that they become fully bilingual—therefore learn to use Afrikaans in the workplace. Some applications were submitted in English, others in Dutch, but all had to indicate their ability to read, write, and speak both Afrikaans and English.97 The notion of facilitating the transition of rural Afrikaners into the urban business environment was indirectly engineered by management by emphasizing that it was Sanlam that brought the young Afrikaners from the platteland to the city, and there it performed the role of surrogate parent. The Afrikaner sense of a people with a shared nationalism, language, religion, and therefore a total shared destiny, was epitomized in the organization and management of Head Office. In 1933 Hofmeyr made it clear that Sanlam was a unique company, which would have failed if it had not displayed the characteristics of an Afrikaans enterprise. While Feenstra worked tirelessly to get the agent network organized and operating in an orderly way, he taught the agents industry Afrikaans vocabulary to conduct their business professionally in correct Afrikaans. In 1935 Hofmeyr claimed categorically that Afrikaans and the Afrikaner had been established in the insurance industry purely as a result of the employment opportunities Santam and Sanlam offered young Afrikaners from the platteland.98 The paternalistic nature of Afrikaans society was woven into staff conduct at Head Office as management exercised close control over such conduct. Staff members were advised not to ‘bother’ their superiors, since their time was valuable. Submission to the authority of the superior was non-negotiable. Unless a male employee earned a minimum of £25 per month, he should not even contemplate getting married. The remuneration level was increased to £30 after the war. Single men needed written consent from management to get married. Single women had to resign when entering (p.73) into a marriage. Written consent from management was even needed to buy a car.99 In January 1934, Mr J.C.W. Louw wrote to Tinie Louw, explaining that he had been dating a Miss le Roux for five years, that she had a good occupation earning a steady income, but that her mother had passed away and therefore they considered the time opportune to get married. The employee acknowledged that management had the interests of Sanlam’s employees at heart and, as his salary was only £16, Miss le Roux intended to keep her job until he had earned enough for them to start a family. Tinie Louw’s permission for them to marry was requested.100 Similar correspondence crossed the desk of Sanlam management frequently, sometimes without success. This control was rationalized as securing the company a stable, reliable, and well-disciplined workforce.

Die Fakkel subtly published information on healthy living, hygiene, and a neat appearance. In 1934 Die Fakkel advised men to take a bath daily, and if that was not possible, at least twice a week, but their clothing had to be clean at all times.101 For good healthy social activities Head Office staff were treated to staff excursions, the first on 18 December 1922, to the ‘mountain’, to wine farms, river resorts, and the beach—always using organized bus transport. A social club for Sanlam employees organized social activities. These activities reinforced the authority of management and served to develop subservient Head Office staff. The patriarchal approach to Head Office as an operating unit in the business distinguished Sanlam from other companies in the industry. The low turnover at Head Office—124 appointments up to 1932 and only twenty-six resignations (20 per cent)—shows the general acceptance of the culture. The predominantly rural origin and Afrikaner cultural background of many employees, allowed the company to organize relations in the head office to resemble that context of submission to authority, respect, and discipline. It was possible to define the company culture from the top down. With many employees at Sanlam being new in the industry, often in any form of wage employment, provided the company with ‘a clean sheet’, an inexperienced employee, susceptible to the organizational culture of Sanlam. Management moulded this culture to the advantage of the new business, though never forcefully imposed it in the workplace. There was a special relationship of shared destiny. Afrikaners’ submission to the authority of the head of the household assisted management in establishing the new venture relying on a relatively loyal workforce.

As Sanlam entered the insurance market, the company used its official seal as logo. When Sanlam and Santam moved into their first building in 1932, it was considered an appropriate time to introduce a dedicated Sanlam logo. It was designed by the cartoonist T.O. Honiball, advised by Professor Blommaert from the University of Stellenbosch. The logo consisted of three sections: a large white bird with wings opened wide to protect four chickens, a middle section with three spears in flight, and a bottom section with a (p.74) springbok on a black background. The bird symbolized the company protecting the people of South Africa residing in four provinces; the three spears symbolized speed and progress; and the springbok symbolized the country of South Africa. The new logo sought to convey a nationalistic and patriotic message of a strong connection to South Africa. A slogan ‘Uit die volk gebore om die volk te dien’ [born from the people to serve the people] was proposed by Tinie Louw. He explained his choice as signifying the sentiment of a company with a close connection to the Afrikaner people, from whom it emerged with the clear vision to serve the people. The colours of the Sanlam logo were dark green, gold, and black.102 Explaining the meaning of the Sanlam logo, the first Die Fakkel encouraged Sanlam agents and Head Office employees to embody the ‘esprit de corps’ of soldiers, since ‘our personal welfare is so closely bound up in that of Sanlam that on close inspection we find that the man who promotes the latter, at the same time achieves the former’.103 The logo was symbolic of that ‘esprit de corps’ and was presented as such to the staff, for whom Die Fakkel was exclusively intended. The management team used a number of different slogans. Alfred MacDowall used ‘South Africa first’ in correspondence in 1919, Jan Feenstra used the slogan ‘Each year a bonus year’ in his correspondence in 1926, and in 1926 a brochure advertising the Sanlam policies used the slogan ‘Born from the people to serve the people’.104 These subjective verbalization of the moods of employees can simply be understood as the expression of dedicated stakeholders.

To celebrate Sanlam’s 21st anniversary in 1939 the existing logo was adjusted [See Appendix 1]. The springbok head was enhanced and the company name was added in ornamental lettering, with the words 21 years below it. In general speech, reference was made to the logo as ‘the vase’. This ‘vase’ remained the official logo until 1953. In 1940, the ‘21 years’ was removed from the logo, as was the ‘Uit die volk gebore’ slogan, and replaced by a decorative ribbon at the bottom. The use of symbolism and the accompanying nationalistic slogan was a powerful tool in the marketing of Sanlam products. The decision to drop the slogan in 1940 was a business decision to move away from the emotive nationalistic Afrikaner appeal and allow the patriotic South African symbols to portray the intentions of the company as a South African organization. A slogan ‘Sanlam our company’ was sometimes used after 1939 and in 1947 the logo was sometimes accompanied by the slogan ‘For growth … for service … for safety’.105

Notwithstanding the family-like, conservative, chauvinistic, and authoritarian culture instilled at Head Office, the company adopted advanced technology early on to enhance (p.75) administrative productivity. Management was not deterred by the potential risks of the three factors regulating the adoption of new technology, namely the trade-off between price and technical performance, the uncertainty of the performance of the new technology or the actions of competitors, and the market structure of the industry.106 Cost was always a consideration, but management considered it carefully and justified price by the proven performance record of the new technology. The oligopolistic structure of the long-term insurance industry mandated calculated risk taking to outperform the market, therefore Sanlam considered the adoption of the most advanced office technology as a key strategy of competitiveness. From 1929 new typewriters were added to the office equipment, while addressographs, Multigraph printing machines and Marchand calculators were regularly added to the modern office environment. In November 1932 the Africa Insurance Record noted that ‘everything in fact of the latest and most efficient’ was in operation at Sanlam Head Office.107 In 1934, a Powers-Samas calculator was introduced at Head Office—the first of its kind in South Africa.108 The modern office equipment filled the staff with a sense of pride and contributed to improved efficiency in processing new applications and despatching policy documents. In the business environment of the post-war era, Sanlam management proved progressive and pragmatic and the company has remained at the forefront of industry technology throughout its history.

Capture the moment: empowerment and earnings growth

The sources of income of the long-term insurance company were primarily interest on investments in government and municipal bonds, loans to public entities, personal loans, and mortgages on farms/real estate. Business diversification could only be considered once relative stability in the long-term business was achieved. The 1923 capital loss by Santam led management to decide against the integration of AHT operations into Santam. The decision was rather to retain AHT as a separate entity. It was soon apparent that it would make strategic sense to sell AHT to Sanlam, whereby all life business would be consolidated in Sanlam. In 1934, Sanlam acquired AHT from Santam for £153 541, the value of AHT in the Santam books. The name was changed to African Homes Trust and Insurance Company, with M.S. Louw as General Manager and actuary. Functional (p.76) reorganization was taken further by the introduction of funeral policies, a variety of industrial insurance, through AHT.109 AHT had experienced the able competition by the funeral industry to its industrial business and after 1934 it was decided to take on the market offering enhanced funeral cover with the Sanlam backing. For this purpose, AHT acquired established funeral enterprises in Cape Town (Goodall & Williams) and in Johannesburg (Wasserfall & Hardick). This strategy resembled the decision to acquire AHT—to buy the leading enterprise in the industry and to develop from that position of strength. The two funeral businesses made good progress, with the latter acquiring further interests and finally changing its name to Morton & Wasserfall. AHT delivered a funeral service under its life policies through its subsidiaries in Cape Town and the Johannesburg and Pretoria regions, while independent service providers were contracted elsewhere. AHT also established Funeral Proprietary Ltd, an enterprise manufacturing coffins, thus making the company fully independent in many respects. Where funeral service providers could not supply coffins, they were sourced from other suppliers. The ordinary life department of AHT was also developed to a level where the ordinary life business in AHT almost equalled the industrial and funeral business by the end of the 1950s.

By the end of World War II in 1945, AHT had contributed significantly to the Sanlam revenue. Total premium income rose from £198 231 in 1936 (industrial branch, ordinary life branch, and funeral branch) to £395 019 in 1945. The insurance fund increased from £557 747 in 1936 to £1 262 057 in 1945. The actuarial surplus rose from £16 370 to £40 271 at the end of the war.110 Income from this subsidiary supplemented the other sources of income, namely interest earnings from loans and investments. Those asset classes were preferred for their security and low risk. Since the 1923 Insurance Act did not prescribe compulsory investments, insurance companies could invest where returns were most attractive. Before acquiring AHT, Sanlam’s sources of funds were premium income and interest on loans and investments. Sanlam invested primarily in government stocks and personal loans, mortgages, and fixed property, and managed a fairly balanced portfolio. When the company decided to acquire AHT, management was unanimous except for one member, Charlie Louw. To his mind the acquisition of AHT would be a divergence from the company’s investment policies. The acquisition constituted a too substantial investment in a single business entity. He was in favour of a balanced investment portfolio, which would be jeopardized by the acquisition of AHT. Hofmeyr thought the time was opportune for insurance companies to liberalize former conservative investment policies.111 The AHT transaction signalled the gradual emergence of a (p.77) growing appetite for risk, especially in the private entrepreneurial segment of the market. Sanlam gave the first step towards organic growth.

The AHT transaction was a turning point in the history of Sanlam’s growth. Up to 1935 management followed a cautious line and invested in a disciplined and conservative fashion only in fixed-interest-bearing instruments, such as mortgages, property (from which rental income could be earned), and government and other public bodies’ bonds or debentures. With the AHT transaction management showed signs of disagreement about when the time would be opportune to supplement the conservative investment strategy by growing organically. The acquisition of AHT widened the scope of Sanlam’s life business, while a gradual movement towards higher risk equity investments started to emerge. Charlie Louw preferred a gradual transition into the higher-risk world of ordinary shares. In 1935 Sanlam invested in ordinary shares as part of its investment portfolio for the first time.112

A significant shift into substantial volumes of government stocks and securities of other public institutions followed the promulgation of the Insurance Act, No. 27 of 1943. Based on the rationale of improved protection to policyholders, the office of a Registrar of Insurance was introduced to control the industry. The new Registrar required annual actuarially compiled financial statements. Those enabled the Registrar to assess the solvency and stability of each insurance company operating in South Africa. The compulsory deposits with the Registrar varied according to the level of solvency of the company to its assets. Insurance companies were compelled to keep assets equal to the liabilities of their domestic business. Younger businesses were required to keep larger ratios of assets to liabilities to protect the solvency of those enterprises. A fixed proportion of the domestic assets had to be invested in government and other public utilities’ paper. This ratio was 53.5 per cent in 1943, but was changed as domestic demand fluctuated. The dual purpose was to secure access to the funds of insurance companies for domestic development and to ensure solvency of insurance companies, many being incorporated outside South Africa. In Figure 2.1 the surge in government securities since the early 1940s is the most remarkable aspect of the change in Sanlam’s allocation of its funds before 1945. Strong domestic demand for capital contributed to rising returns on official stocks, which made them an attractive investment. Mortgages were the most important asset class until 1938, when returns on stocks and the statutory compulsory investments since 1943 made government and other public stocks the leading investment instrument. Sanlam’s substantial exposure to mortgages—37.8 per cent of its assets was in mortgages by 1931—was much higher than the 32.2 per cent of the industry, but by 1945 Sanlam’s 25.6 per cent was in line with the industry average.113 Investment in (p.78) listed equities or shares had risen steadily since 1935 to become the third most significant asset class in the Sanlam portfolio. As is reflected in Figure 2.1, investment in property was paramount, until the 1943 Insurance Act mandated higher investment in government securities. Sanlam did not maintain high volumes of cash, but rather extended loans to policyholders. The investment in property rendered higher and more stable return.

Setting down the footprint: from war to war, 1919–1945

Figure 2.1. Application of funds, Sanlam 1919–1945 (£)

Source: Sanlam annual financial statements, 1919–1945

Sanlam supported in principle the investment in government securities as necessary to grow certain sectors of the economy and supported the development of the public sector. The company was the champion of domestic economic growth by directing investments inward rather than outward.114 Hofmeyr and succeeding chairmen of the company were critical of the level of mandatory investments. These investments often delivered lower returns than investments in listed equities. Suboptimal returns were to the detriment of policyholders, while discretionary investments in private equity supported the private entrepreneur and thereby provided domestic investment capital.115

Tinie Louw was the great protagonist of increased investment into ordinary and preference shares. In public addresses he motivated the channeling of savings into listed equities rather than into deposits with financial institutions or into mortgages, as the driver of economic growth. He criticized the volumes of capital lying idle in credit markets, rather than being in productive investments, such as trade finance and (p.79) industrial production.116 The opportunity to change Sanlam’s investment policy arose in the later 1930s when an uptake of Afrikaner nationalism together with a stabilized and motivated agent network delivered excellent production. At the time various Afrikaner cultural and church leaders mooted ideas on how to address persistent white poverty. Domestic economic growth offered the only solution to white poverty, which had been addressed by the Carnegie Commission Report, released in 1932. The Dutch Reformed Church had concerned itself at successive church meetings with the growing and non-abating problem of white poverty since the end of the nineteenth century. After the South African War the barren war-torn land was described as being ‘as wasted as the edge of the Sahara’.117 Several church gatherings addressed the welfare need of the impoverished and the challenges of adjusting to urban life after flocking to cities in the hope of finding employment. White poverty was not a post-war phenomenon, but was exacerbated to the point where the Carnegie Foundation of the USA provided £4 000 funding for a systematic in-depth investigation into the nature and extent of white poverty in South Africa. The report, released in 1932, claimed the existence of 300 000 white people in South Africa in abject poverty—the majority being Afrikaners.118 The historian C.W. de Kiewiet described the condition as follows: ‘At the base of white society had gathered, like a sediment, a race of men so abject in their poverty.’119 The Carnegie Report ascribed the state of poverty to the inability of the people to adjust to the modern economic environment. The solution was to be sought in education and training to facilitate entry into the emerging domestic industrial sector. Since 1914 the Government had introduced protectionist measures to support the development of domestic industries.120 White labour was also afforded statutory protection in designated employment categories deemed fit only for ‘whites’.121 Reserving employment was meant to assist whites in succeeding in the market, but the prerequisite was still ability. Many whites simply did not have the required skills or training to take advantage of the statutory protection. An extensive network of Afrikaner cultural organizations (p.80) subsequently joined forces to devise an appropriate strategy. Many of the leaders and management in Santam and Sanlam were members of such organizations.

The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurvereniginge (FAK) (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations), established in December 1929 to preserve and develop Afrikaans as a language and Afrikaans cultural activities, sowed the seeds of organizing a meeting of Afrikaners from all walks of life to brainstorm the problem and deliver solutions. An Ekonomiese Volkskongres (EVK) (Economic congress of the people) met in Bloemfontein in October 1939, almost a year after the successful Great Trek centenary celebrations, to develop the strategy of Afrikaner empowerment through the mobilization of all possible means to succeed in eradicating poverty and empowering Afrikaners to a rightful position in the economy of their fatherland. At the meeting, the message in the opening address by Reverend J.D. Kestell, known as Vader Kestell (Father Kestell), was that a people should redeem themselves from poverty (‘n Volk red homself). The only solution to poverty and marginalization was work, education, and collaboration. Kestell said that it was not the responsibility of the government to secure the upliftment of those who have fallen. Emotive language was used in almost all the addresses delivered to the delegates.

Several speakers addressed proposals for a workable solution to effective empowerment. Professor Schumann from the University of Stellenbosch pointed to the fact that the South African GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 1937 was around £280 million, to which Afrikaners had contributed an estimated £100 million. This he interpreted as a significant amount of capital under Afrikaner control. A collective effort of all Afrikaners could potentially mobilize even more capital towards the establishment of investment and operational structures to address poverty and economic marginalization.122 Several ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church reiterated that attempts by the state after similar meetings in 1934 to alleviate poverty by means of statutory protection of white labour, had failed to resolve the problem of white poverty. Dr P. du Toit called for Afrikaner organizations to help themselves, ‘Daar moet ‘n inheemse eie Afrikaanse ekonomiese stelsel opgebou word’ [an own Afrikaner indigenous economic system must be constructed] and Du Toit was convinced that Afrikaner capital would suffice.123 Dr Eben Dönges called for a much-intensified savings culture and the mobilization of savings.

These voices culminated in the proposal Tinie Louw offered the congress. He told the delegates stories of Afrikaners who attempted in vain to raise capital for their own enterprises, but failed, for several reasons—lack of security, no references, unfriendly (p.81) financial institutions, etc. His solution was the establishment of an Afrikaner-controlled finance house. By the end of the 1930s Sanlam celebrated its twenty-first year in business. It had achieved significant market penetration, acquired its first subsidiary, and was searching for avenues to arrive at its goals of enhanced domestic economic development and a more significant Afrikaner stake in that economy. Co-operative and socialist sentiments were alien to the Afrikaner business elite from the Cape. Tinie Louw wanted entrepreneurial empowerment. He wanted Afrikaner businessmen to take on the market. He had been thinking about this as an ideal for a very long time and wanted to run the idea by the Sanlam board in 1938. In a carefully worked out memorandum he motivated the establishment of a finance house to provide start-up seed capital for entrepreneurs desirous of taking on the opportunities and the risks of the market. The finance house was intended to provide seed capital, not to manage enterprises. The managerial capabilities were to be nurtured though university studies, experience in the workplace, and collaboration among Afrikaner businessmen.124 Tinie Louw’s long-standing concern about the unproductive nature of savings in bank deposits or mortgages was finally given concrete meaning when he proposed to the congress the establishment of a financing house for industrial development. He suggested a finance house similar to the finance houses of the big mining companies, because access to risk capital was a prerequisite for Afrikaner business take-off. Louw wanted an enterprise, capitalized by Afrikaner savings, issuing shares on which dividends could be earned and reinvested to secure Afrikaner participation in the emerging industrial sector of South Africa. Such an enterprise would challenge Afrikaners to take on the risk of equity investments, to be the entrepreneurs themselves, and thereby to learn to conquer the market they thought inaccessible to them.

The standing of Tinie Louw in the Afrikaner society was impressive—as the first Afrikaans-speaking actuary he was a role model and inspiration to many young Afrikaners. In Sanlam he witnessed numerous loans and mortgages granted to policyholders—the minutes of the Sanlam Board read like a loan bank register. While Sanlam assisted policyholders by means of access to loans, Louw wanted Afrikaners to be educated in taking the risk of operating in the industrial market. His proposal was accepted by the congress and in 1940 led to the establishment of Federale Volksbeleggings, Bpk (FVB) (Federal People’s Investments).

The EVK gave rise to a massive mobilization of Afrikaner energy towards their own economic progress. The congress decided to take several measures. The first was that the FAK would establish an Economic Institute to oversee the implementation of congress decisions and establish the Reddingsdaadbond (RDB) (Association for self-redemption). (p.82) The RDB was the vehicle to mobilize Afrikaner savings and other fund raising to support Afrikaans enterprises, to fund the education of members’ children and technical training, while encouraging women’s organizations and agricultural co-operatives. Furthermore, Afrikaner savings should be mobilized towards significant participation in the domestic industrial sector. The co-operative movement was hailed as a vital strategy for the general economic development of South Africa.125 It was apparent that two opposing ideological positions were held—co-operative socialist sympathies and hard-core capitalist entrepreneurial ideals. The latter was advocated by Tinie Louw, Dr Eben Dönges, and Professor C.G.W. Schumann.

Sanlam did not establish FVB, but was asked by the EVK to direct the process towards its formation. The intellectual capital in Sanlam gave birth to the idea and provided the organizational infrastructure to set up, register, and get the enterprise operational. In terms of the Companies Act, No. 23 of 1939, FVB was registered as a company in 1940 and received authorization from the Registrar of Companies on 17 October 1940 to commence business.126 Sanlam acted completely outside the conventional scope of business of a life office, but thereby set its foot on the path of the economic awakening of Afrikaners. Sanlam had know-how, organizational infrastructure, and access to capital. To establish FVB, seven men met in April 1940 to compile the Statutes and Articles of Association. The meeting consisted of Tinie Louw, Joint General Manager of Sanlam; Dr E.G. Jansen, Speaker of the House of Assembly; Dr J.N. Claassens, a medical doctor; Dr T.E. Dönges, advocate of the High Court of South Africa; Mr Charlie Louw, member of the Sanlam Board of Directors; Mr A.P.J. Fourie, director of companies; and Prof C.G.W. Schumann, Professor in Economics at the University of Stellenbosch. Each was assigned ten ordinary shares in FVB, which was subsequently registered as a company with £300 000 capital. The capital was made up of 100 000 preference shares of £1 each and 200 000 ordinary shares of £1 each. Holders of preference share were entitled to an annual dividend of 5.5 per cent on paid-up capital, but would not share in the profits of the company. Preference shares were not offered to the public, but to institutions such as Santam, teachers’ unions, Boeresaamwerk Beperk, the Helpmekaarbeweging, and the Reddingsdaadfonds. Ordinary shareholders were entitled to dividends payable after each annual general meeting of the company. The prospectus for FVB was issued and the public invited to buy shares. By the time of the first report of directors in June 1941, 115 560 ordinary shares and 42 500 preference shares had been paid up. The undertaking by Santam to underwrite 50 000 preference shares was in place, but not yet (p.83) paid up. Among the preference shareholders were the Helpmekaar branches of the different provinces, teachers’ associations from the Free State, The Economic Institute of the FAK, the Reddingsdaadfonds, and the Afrikaner Broederbond, leaving only 7 000 shares unallocated. The directors of the company were Charlie Louw as Chairman, C.G.W. Schumann, C.M. van der Merwe, D.J.D. Jordaan, A.P.J. Fourie and T.E. Dönges.127 Charlie Louw was the only Santam/Sanlam representative on the board, with Van der Merwe, Jordaan, and Fourie private businessmen. Sanlam bought the Santam shareholding in FVB as the vehicle of preference to provide mentorship to the new enterprise.128

The relationship between FVB and Sanlam developed as mutually beneficial and empowering. Declining interest rates adversely affected returns on investments and therefore impacted directly on insurance companies’ revenue. The 1943 Insurance Act included specific guidelines on compulsory investments in government and related securities, but allowed a fair proportion of discretionary investments. The adverse interest rate trend encouraged Sanlam to consider more lucrative investment opportunities, such as investments in ordinary shares. The capabilities of Sanlam’s small investment department were very much in its infancy. As FVB was established primarily to finance industrial initiatives, it was anticipated that the skills would be developed in FVB to assess the quality of companies, the growth potential of investment products, such as debentures, preference shares, and equity. Sanlam therefore negotiated an agreement with FVB to provide the company with technical advice on investments. Sanlam required FVB to advise the company on investment opportunities, to acquire such investment instruments, and appoint an official to oversee those investments on behalf of Sanlam, without compromising existing arrangements with Santam.129 An agreement was finally entered into between Sanlam and FVB in terms of which FVB would render technical advice on equity and other investment opportunities to Sanlam. Sanlam paid £50 per month to FVB from 1 July 1943 as a retention fee for the advice and investigation into investment opportunities, as well as a further 0.5 per cent commission on investments Sanlam made on FVB’s advice.130 Sanlam immediately requested FVB to make investments in Imperial Cold Storage preference shares. A symbiotic relationship developed whereby FVB developed investment expertise, Sanlam gained access to the opinion of trusted investment specialists, and FVB secured its first investment client.

In June 1942 a building society, Unie Bouvereniging, was established by Afrikaner initiative, but the name was soon changed to Saambou (Permanente) Bouvereniging (Saambou Permanent Building Society). Building societies in general operated in a very competitive market. Interest rates were highly competitive and the public shopped (p.84) around for better interest on deposits. Building societies were competing with banks for deposits, and insurance companies had also entered the home-loan market by offering mortgages to policyholders. The Sanlam weekly management and monthly board meetings dealt with applications for mortgages as a standing item. When Saambou entered the market in 1942, more than twenty established building societies populated the market. Sanlam was approached to salvage the ailing building society and sought FVB’s advice on the prospects of the transaction. The FVB report advised Sanlam to secure representation on the Saambou board, to suggest changes in staff appointments, and request that board meetings be held in Cape Town on a rotation basis. Saambou was a rescue operation, but once restored to profitability proved a vehicle to address the growing demand for urban housing. On 22 September 1943, Sanlam invested in Saambou indefinite subscription shares to the value of £35 000 on condition that a further investment by individuals and enterprises of £25 000 was secured. Sanlam also insisted on an enlarged Board of Directors at Saambou, which would allocate two seats to Sanlam.131 This proved a sound turn-around strategy. Sanlam refrained from involvement in active day-to-day management, but through board representation performed a supporting role to stabilize operations and secure a good return on its investment. Tinie Louw described the vision of the Afrikaans building society as undisputedly Afrikaans in character and service aims, but simultaneously also serving all members of the South African society, irrespective of race or language.132 By the end of the 1940s, Sanlam had invested more than £387 000 in Saambou subscription shares, exercising its commitment to Afrikaner empowerment through the support of Afrikaner entrepreneurship.133 Tinie Louw and the Sanlam director P.D. Rousseau were appointed to the Saambou board and by 1946 Saambou had accumulated funds of £350 000 and declared a first dividend to shareholders. In 1946 the Sanlam Chairman, Hofmeyr, announced that Sanlam could confidently advise its policyholders to do business with Saambou.134 By 1947 Saambou’s accumulated funds (share capital and deposits) had risen to £1 million. Saambou was firmly established in the wider Sanlam drive to empower Afrikaners. In 1957 Tinie Louw justified Sanlam’s involvement with Saambou by the contribution the building society made to society irrespective of language or race, in securing housing and thereby security in the urban setting.135 Sanlam was willing to invest policyholders’ funds in investments that yielded a good return, but refrained from actively managing the company.

(p.85) With these initiatives, Sanlam engaged directly with Afrikaner enterprise development as a second tier of economic empowerment alongside personal empowerment through life insurance. The establishment of FVB was a momentous achievement for Afrikaners, since it was their debut into industry and served as the stepping stone into other sectors of the economy dominated by English or foreign capital. The timing was also significant. Afrikaner political alignment was again disrupted when the NP and the SAP merged, but Hertzog lost the vote in Parliament to keep South Africa out of World War II. As in 1914, many Afrikaners were opposed to participation in an international conflict against Germany, and sided with Britain. General J.C. Smuts succeeded Hertzog as Prime Minister. An organization to mobilize those opposing the declaration of war, the Ossewa Brandwag (OB) was formed. Dr J.F.J. van Rensburg resigned from the Sanlam board to become the leader of the OB. Officially Sanlam took a position of neutrality, despite it being known that several of the directors and managers were staunch supporters of Hertzog. By the end of the 1930s Sanlam’s policyholder profile included just under 7 per cent non-Afrikaans policyholders and 1 per cent Africans.136 It was not possible to separate out those sympathizing with the war effort and those against it, but Sanlam would not risk being drawn into such division. Not much publicity was given to the war in Die Fakkel, but staff were duly informed about the war and allowed to join the armed forces. On 5 September 1939 Die Fakkel reported ‘’n Storm bars los!’ [a storm erupts]. No official list of Sanlam staff engaged in the war was ever published, but it could be established that at least ten staff members from Head Office and the field staff joined the South African forces. By 1940, six staff members were in active service. Only one casualty was reported in Die Fakkel—Frans Carstens died in Italy on 10 June 1944.137 Sanlam’s virtual silence on the war, apart from reports on the disruption of operations, was in stark contrast to the heroic publicity given by its competitor, SA Mutual, to its staff fighting in the war. More than 300 SA Mutual staff participated in the war; nineteen died, and a bronze plaque bearing their names was erected at Head Office after the war to commemorate their bravery.138

For Sanlam the war meant market adjustments. Shortly before the war on 1 September 1939 all non-profit-sharing and family income policies, disability benefits, and double endowment benefits were withdrawn from the market. The LOA immediately mandated the restoration of non-profit-sharing policies, but with increased premiums. All valid policies in the Union were amended under the 1923 Insurance Act (section 21), mandating written notification by the policyholder to the insurer that the policyholder would be outside the Union, south of the equator, or in combat outside the African continent, ‘unless in defense of the Union’. Premiums of such policies were adjusted (p.86) upwards. In case of failure by the policyholder to inform the insurer, the latter’s liability was limited to that under the premium paid. Uncertainty about when a policyholder was acting ‘in defense of the Union’ led to statutory amendments in 1940 to limit the insurer’s liability to the level of increased premiums paid while outside the borders of the country. The impact of the uncertainty caused by the war was to reduce new business and lower profits. Although Tinie Louw proposed the non-payment of a bonus, the board decided to pay a stable bonus during the war (£1.50.00 in 1939–1944 and £2.00.00 in 1944 and 1945) and strengthen the insurance fund from £3.3 million in 1939 to £8.7 million in 1945. Total productivity of the Sanlam staff responded well to the stimulus of war despite wartime uncertainties. The total number of Sanlam staff members (Head Office, branches and agents) per £100 000 policy income declined from 26.6 in 1933 to 13.4 by 1945, especially at Head Office. In April 1942 a new branch was opened in the Northern Cape, including business in South West Africa (now Namibia). However, in June 1943 an independent branch was opened in Windhoek, the capital of South West Africa, bringing the total number of branches to nine by the end of the war.

The footprint

Sanlam’s performance is reflected in Table 2.1. The new player in the market collected premiums in excess of £1 888 766 by 1945, which represented annual compound growth of 16.45 per cent, compared to growth of 6.4 per cent p.a. for the long-term industry as a whole. Sanlam’s assets increased from £53 077 in 1919 to £9.4 million in 1945—a growth of 23.7 per cent p.a. between 1922 and 1945, compared to industry asset growth of 10.33 per cent p.a. for the same period. The composition of the Sanlam portfolio, as reflected in Figure 2.1, shows the impact of the 1943 Insurance Act. Before 1943 Sanlam invested primarily in property as a source of secure revenue, but after the change in regulation with increased statutory prescribed investments, Sanlam’s exposure to government stock rose beyond that of its exposure to property.

The return on assets remained low—only just above 4 per cent (4.02 per cent in 1925, then rising well above 4 per cent but not yet 5 per cent, falling back to 4.1 per cent in 1934). The return on assets declined during the depressed interwar years, as reflected in Figure 2.2. Growth in assets continued, but yield did not. This improved only after the war. Sanlam expanded slowly through a limited distribution network of nine branches by 1945. The conservative bonus policy was responsible for the slow rise in bonus declaration from £1.00 in 1918 to levels around £4, only to return to £2.00 at the end of the war. Sanlam had only just set down a business footprint by the end of the war and was positioned for growth in the strong growth environment after 1945.

Setting down the footprint: from war to war, 1919–1945

Figure 2.2. Sanlam yield on assets, 1918–1945

(p.87) The ‘two white races’ were far apart during the first half of the twentieth century. Smuts hoped to bring them closer, but while there was a marked difference between their socio-economic conditions, separate nationalisms and aspirations were bound to dominate the domestic context. Sanlam enjoyed some appreciation in society, and was especially proud of the recognition afforded to the company by an English-speaking South African, George Wilson, who became the assistant actuary of Sanlam in 1936. Wilson observed, ‘I shall never forget the impression which the Sanlam officials and staff made on me when I landed back home in 1936. Their energy and enthusiasm were startling and infectious and I thoroughly enjoyed joining in the thrusting and purposeful attitude of the whole Sanlam organization. Let me put it this way. If the productivity of a normally well-run Life Assurance Office was 60% the productivity in Sanlam must have been 90%. The years 1937, 1938 and 1939 were not easy for Sanlam but the results achieved were really phenomenal.’139

Afrikaners by no means presented a united front. Afrikaner leaders in Sanlam positioned the company within Afrikaner destiny as expressed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some Afrikaners still did insurance business with competitor companies, but management pragmatically developed a business model that was all-inclusive South African, without allowing the strong swells of Afrikaner nationalism to be lost to the company. The Afrikaner empowerment cause was strong and powerful, but the plight of the marginalized was always framed as sound business, inviting anybody interested in their superior products. During the first half of the twentieth century insurance in South Africa was primarily, but indeed never exclusively, conducted with (p.88) the white society. Burial societies constituted the general form of insurance engaged in by urbanized Africans and Coloured people. The 1943 Insurance Act compelled burial business to register as industrial insurance, whereby regulatory supervision was extended to the limited form of insurance penetrating the African and Coloured communities. Sanlam had been involved in that market since 1919 and extended that penetration with the acquisition of AHT. The nature of South African society and political dynamics during the first twenty-six years of Sanlam’s existence allowed management to position business within that broad consensus. By the time Sanlam celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, Africa had been transformed by decolonization and independent African states. South Africa was soon to become a different country and insurance business was bound to reflect that.


(1) E.H.D. Arndt (1928): Banking and Currency Development, 1652–1927. Juta: Cape Town: 412; De Kock: Selected Subjects in Economic History, pp. 131–2.

(2) SA, Minutes, General Management, 12 December 1921.

(3) The notation ‘£1.6%’ was used in the annual reports. The meaning of this notation was the payment of £1.6 bonus per every £100 assured. By writing ‘£1.6%’ the company indicated that £1.6/100 was paid as the bonus on policies. See Sanlam Annual Report, 1921: 3. This style of reporting on the bonus paid was used until the 1950s.

(4) SA, Minutes, General Management, 18 November 1922.

(5) G. Verhoef (2010): Life offices to the rescue: 149.

(6) Ibid., 150.

(7) The Pact Government is the government formed as a result of the election pact between the National Party and the Labour Party prior to the 1924 general election to defeat the South African arty of J.C. Smuts—C.F.J. Müller (1987) Vyfhonderd jaar Suid-Afrikaanse Geskiedenis, Pretoria: Academica: 419–22.

(8) SA: 5/1/2/: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1921: 2.

(9) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1920: 4.

(10) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1923: 4.

(11) SA 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1922: 5; Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1925: 5.

(12) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report Annual Report 1924: 6; Chairman’s Report Annual Report 1927: 5.

(13) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1934: 12.

(14) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1928: 4.

(15) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report Annual Report 1931: 6.

(16) Die Fakkel, January 1935: 1.

(17) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1929: 4.

(18) SA: 5/2/1: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report: 6.

(19) G. Verhoef (2006): The History of Medical Aid provision in South Africa’s public sector, Social Science History, 30(4): 601–27.

(20) SA: Chairman’s Report, Annual Report 1943: 3.

(21) Die Fakkel, October 1966: 3.

(22) SA: 6/2/1 Biographical files PD Rousseau; Die Fakkel May 1940: 8–9.

(23) Die Fakkel, December 1942: 6; December 1966: 23; April 1971: 1.

(24) SA: 6/1/19: P.A. Malan biographical papers.

(25) SA: 6/1/19: P.A. Malan biographical papers: Letter E. Louw—P.A. Malan, 9/9/1939.

(26) SA: Sanlam Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 19/1/1935.

(27) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 13/5/1937.

(28) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 9/9/1937.

(29) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 27/1/1943.

(30) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 17/3/1943.

(31) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 16/6/43.

(32) SA: Sanlam Annual Report, Chairman’s Address: 2–6.

(33) Die Fakkel, 7/11/38 :1, 4; 7/9/38: 19; 7/10/38: 14: SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 4/8/1938; 22/9/1938; 25/9/1941.

(34) WCA: C.R. Louw Collection: Feenstra–Louw, 1/7/1937.

(35) A. MacDowall to Chairman, Santam, dated 25 May 1920.

(36) A. MacDowall to Chairman, Santam, dated 25 May 1920.

(37) Death letter de Villiers, 19/11/1957.

(38) SA 6/5: Feenstra biographical papers: Letter Feenstra–MacDowall, 9/6/1920.

(39) Howard Phillips: ‘Black October’: the Impact of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 on South Africa, p. 213.

(40) Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 24/6/20.

(41) SA 6/1/1/5; W.J. Bezuidenhout Biographical documents: Minutes of Special Annual General Meeting of shareholders, 1 May 1923; Africa Insurance Record, July 1924: 36.

(42) SA 6/1/1/5: W.J. Bezuidenhout Biographical documents: Minutes of Special Santam AGM, 1 May 1923; Y. Hagedorn-Hansen (2017) ‘The transformation of the South African short term insurance industry’, 109–12.

(43) SAQ: Minutes Dagelijks Bestuur, 27/6/23; 25/7/23.

(44) SA: 5/2/4/2/1: Letter Secretary—General Manager, 30/11/25.

(45) SA: 5/4/2/1/2 Correspondence Johannesburg Branch manager—Secretary, 11/7/27.

(46) The ‘butterfly phenomenon’ referred to the Sanlam agents’ being perceived as attractive and successful operators in the insurance market, worthy of being lured away by competitors.

(47) SA: 5/2/6: Annual Agent statements, 1929.

(48) SA: 5/2/6: When Jan Feenstra retired in 1946, the shield was renamed the Jan Feenstra Shield.

(49) SA: 5/3/1: Monthly Report 1930–1935: Memorandum Feenstra on Orange Free State.

(50) SA: Sanlam Board Minutes, 15/3/23. This elementary structure of agents’ organization remained operational until the 1990s. The titles ‘inspector’ and ‘organizer’ were used interchangeably during the first decade of operation.

(51) Die Fakkel, June 1937, pp.1–2.

(52) Die Fakkel, December 1932, p. 5: ‘die uitslag van die saamwerkweek 1932 [het] ons stoutste verwagtings oortref. Die totale besigheid gedurende die week afgehandel het £275000 bedra. Dit is teen’n koers van £14 miljoen per jaar. Die les wat ons daaruit leer is dat, as ons personeel gedurende een week teen die koers van £14 miljoen per jaar kan produseer, dan is die skatting van £2500000 seker maklik in ons bereik vir die lopende finansiële jaar.’ [The outcome of the Saamwerk Week exceeded our expectations. Total business of the week was £275 000. That is at a rate of £14 million per annum. The lesson we learnt from that was that if we can inspire our agents to produce at a rate of £14 million per annum in one week, then an estimated £2 500 000 per annum is surely within our reach].

(53) SA: 5/2/2: Geboue, 1–20: 1919–1938; See F. Freschi (2010), ‘The business of belonging: Volkskapitalisme, modernity and the imaginary of national belonging in the decorative programme of selected commercial buildings in Cape Town, South Africa’, South African Historical Journal, 61(3).

(54) Die Fakkel, February 1933, pp. 7–10.

(55) Die Fakkel, October 1936, p. 20.

(56) Die Fakkel, November 1937: 7; February 1938: 4–5.

(57) The most important competition for Sanlam was the South African Mutual Life Assurance Society (Old Mutual, as it was later known). This was a South African mutual life office established in 1845.

(58) S. Halleen: From Life Insurance to Financial Services: A Historical Analysis of Sanlam’s Client Base, 1918–2004, PhD thesis, Stellenbosch, 2013, pp. 87–93.

(59) Sanlam Archives (hereafter SA), A, 5/2/1, Sanlam Annual Report, 1919.

(60) See H.R. Malan: William Angus Hofmeyr, South African Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3 (HSRC, Pretoria, 1977), pp. 416–18; N.J. le Roux: W.A. Hofmeyr: Sy Werk en Waarde (Cape Town, 1953), pp. 108–10 and 163–4; Die Sanlam Fakkel, December 1947, p. 2; Die Sanlam Fakkel, November 1953, pp. 24–31.

(61) SA, JV 5/2/1, Sanlam Annual Reports, 23 December 1919, p. 2; 22 December 1920, p. 3; and 21 December 1921, p. 3.

(62) See Dictionary of South African Biography, Volume 1, p. 471.

(63) SA, Minutes of Board of Directors, 21 December 1921.

(64) Louw visited the Netherlands after completing his actuarial training in Scotland. The Sanlam management maintained close contact with the international insurance industry. References were made in the minutes of the Board of Directors to participation in congresses and maintaining other links with insurance companies overseas. See SA, 6/5/1, Minutes of Board Meetings, 29 April 1921 and 4 April 1922. Sanlam was also a member of LIAM (an international non-profit organization of life insurers) and attended regular training and research meetings of LIAM (see SA, Die Sanlam Fakkel, December 1962, pp. 8–9).

(65) SA: Minutes of Board Meeting, 8/7/1919; Die Fakkel, November 1938: 26–8.

(66) SA: Minutes of Board meeting, 21/3/1932; Brochure: Gold Miner’s Policy, 1935.

(67) SA, 1/2/1/3, Rate Books of 1922 and 1929.

(68) Die Fakkel, 15/11/34: 9–10.

(69) S. Halleen, From Life Insurance to Financial Services: A Historical Analysis of Sanlam’s Client Base, 1918–2004, PhD thesis, Stellenbosch (2013), p. 96; W.P.G. Koen (1986) Sanlam tussen twee Wêreldoorloë, p. 317.

(70) SA: RN 3/6/2: Selected advertisements, 1918–1945.

(71) S. Halleen, From Life Insurance to Financial Services: A Historical Analysis of Sanlam’s Client Base, 1918–2004, PhD thesis, Stellenbosch (2013), p. 113.

(72) A.C. Macintyre: The South African Insurance Red Book: 23.

(73) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 20/6/1919.

(74) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 3/9/1919.

(75) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 20/10/1921.

(76) R.J. Miller: Life Assurance in South Africa: 52–4; SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 30/8/1950; Memorandum to Sanlam Board, 22/8/1959; Minutes Dagelijks Bestuur, 26/8/59.

(77) R.J. Miller: Life Assurance in South Africa, 54.

(78) A.C. Macintyre: The South African Insurance Red Book: 23.

(79) SA: 7/5/2: LOA; Minutes of Management meeting 4/5/1948.

(80) A.C. Macintyre: The South African Insurance Red Book: 23.

(81) SA: Minutes of Board meeting, 21/4/32. See also R.J. Miller, Life Assurance in South Africa: 50–6.

(82) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board, 19/5/1932.

(83) Sanlam: Board meeting, 18/2/1932: 99; Sanlam: Board meeting, 21/4/1932: 101; Sanlam: Board meeting, 19/5/1932: 102.

(84) Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 19/10/1933: 423; Sanlam: Board meeting, 27/10/1933: 119.

(85) Sanlam: Daily Management meeting, 23/2/1933: 391; Die Fakkel, 1/4/1933: 13; Die Fakkel, 1/12/1938: 33.

(86) Sanlam: Board meeting, 17/5/1934: 126; Sanlam: Daily management meeting, 5/5/1936: 281.

(87) W.B. Weare: Black business in the New South: A social history of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company: 157–8.

(88) Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 23/9/1934: 213; SA RM 3/6/2, Selected advertisements, 1934–1938; SA B1/2 1/2/13/2, Selected brochures, 1935–1938.

(89) Die Fakkel, February 1959: 12.

(90) Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 25/1/1934; Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 16/6/1930; Die Fakkel, 1/5/1933: 12–13; Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 22/6/1933; 23/9/1934; Die Fakkel, 7/12/1938: 13; Sanlam: Dagelijks Bestuur, 13/11/1945; 29/7/1947.

(91) Die Fakkel, October 1959: 2.

(92) S. Halleen (2013) From Life insurance to Financial services: 154.

(93) SA; Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 20/6/1919; 14/8/1929; Minutes of Sanlam Board, 23/5/191; Die Fakkel, 15/4/1934: 16.

(94) SA: Sanlam Rate Books 1922, 1941.

(95) Ibid: 182, 188.

(96) Die Fakkel, 7/6/1936.

(97) SA: 6/5/1: Letter of application Fanie Cloete, 6/11/1920; 5/2/4/2 C: Application J. Bezuidenhout, 15/3/1920. The establishment of Santam and Sanlam coincided with the Afrikaans language movement, of which Willie Hofmeyr was a prominent member, calling for the recognition of Afrikaans as the official language alongside English. In 1918 English and Dutch were the official languages of South Africa, but in 1925 Afrikaans replaced Dutch as the second official language.

(98) Die Fakkel, 15/1/34, p. 12; 12/5/35, pp. 12–14.

(99) SA: 4/10: Staff administration papers; Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 27/5/43.

(100) SA: 4/10: Letter J.C.W. Louw–M.S. Louw, 2/01/1934.

(101) Die Fakkel, 15/8/1934, p. 12.

(102) SA: 5/3/4; Sanlam Logo History: Die Fakkel, December 1932: 2; 17/9/1973: 4.

(103) Die Fakkel, December 1932: 7.

(104) SA: 5/3/4: Sanlam Brochure 1926; SA 6/5/1: MacDowall correspondence 23/10/1919; SA 5/3/4: Huisgenoot 3/12/1926.

(105) SA 5/3/4: Sanlam brochures, 1939–1947.

(106) R. Barras (1986): Towards a theory of innovation in services, Research Policy, 15: 161–73.

(107) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 18/4/1928; 15/1/1930; 30/9/1931; 7/10/1932; AIR, 1/11/32:4–5.

(108) SA: Minutes of Dagelijks Bestuur, 12/1933; Die Fakkel, 15/5/1934: 8; 15/10/1934: 21.

(109) SA: Sanlam Annual Report, Chairman’s address: 4; SA: 6/1/7: M.S. Louw biographical papers, Memorandum, 13/4/59.

(110) SA; 6/1/7; M.S. Louw biographical papers: Memorandum G.D. Wilson: AHT, 8/2/56.

(111) SA: Minutes Dagelijks Bestuur, 12/12/1934.

(112) SA: Minutes of Executive Management, 20/4/1939.

(113) E.H.D. Arndt, 1938, An analysis of the investment policies of life insurance companies in the Union of South Africa: 15–18; SA: Sanlam Annual Financial Statements, 1919–1945.

(114) SA; Annual Report and Chairman’s address, 1944: 3.

(115) SA; Annual Report and Chairman’s Address, 1945: 4.

(116) SA: 6/1/7: M.S. Louw biographical documents; Speeches.

(117) R. Macdonald (1903): What I saw in South Africa: 3.

(118) Carnegie Commission, 1932: vii; J.F.W. Grosskopf, 1932: 1:20–1:22.

(119) C.W. de Kiewiet: A history of South Africa: Social and Economic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1942), pp. 162–9, 181–2; M.H. de Kock: Selected Subjects in the Economic History of South Africa (Cape Town: Juta, 1924), pp. 455–6; C. Feinstein: An Economic History of South Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 82–5.

(120) F.S. Jones & A.L. Müller, 1992: The South African economy, 1910–1990: 422–6. The Customs and Excise Act, No. 26 of 1914 as amended by Act 36 of 1925 afforded extensive tariff protection to designated domestic industries.

(121) The Mines and Works Act, No. 12 of 1911, reserved certain employment categories for skilled labour, thereby indirectly reserving certain jobs for whites. Similar protection was afforded by means of The Industrial Conciliation Act, No. 12 of 1924, the Amendment Act on Mines and Works, No. 25 of 1926, and the Labour Act, No. 27 of 1925. See Jones & Müller, 1992: 422–6.

(122) C.G.W. Schumann (1939): ‘Die huidige posisie van die Afrikaner op ekonomiese gebied’, Address delivered at the EVK, Bloemfontein, in Referate, Besluite en Presensielys van die Ekonomiese Volkskongres: 50.

(123) P. du Toit (1939): ‘Van die breë beleid van die Volkskongres (1934) tot die ekonomiese selfstandigmaking as kernvraagstuk’, Address delivered at the EVK, Bloemfontein, in Referate, Besluite en Presensielys van die Ekonomiese Volkskongres: 25–9.

(124) SA: 6/1/7/; M.S. Louw papers: Memorandum aan die Raad insake finansieringsmaatskappy, 20/10/1938.

(125) G. Verhoef (2006a): ‘Die stigting van instellings as werktuie in die ekonomiese opbouproses van die Afrikaner sedert die Anglo-Boereoorlog’, Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, 46(2): 381–91; G. Verhoef (2005): ‘Afrikanernasionalisme in die besigheidswêreld. ‘n Verenigde front?’, Joernaal vir Eietydse Geskiedenis, 30(1): 44–64.

(126) SA: 6/1/7: Personal documents M.S. Louw: FVB Statutes and Articles of Association, 27/11/1940.

(127) SA: 6/1/7: FVB Report from Directors, 27/11/1940.

(128) SA: Minutes of Executive management, 20/4/1939.

(129) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board Meeting, 19/5/1943.

(130) SA; Minutes of Sanlam Board meeting, 16/6/1943.

(131) SA: Minutes of Sanlam Board, 22 September 1944.

(132) SA: 6/7/1: M.S. Louw documents: Address at Sanlam Managers Conference, October 1957.

(133) SA: 5/2/1: Minutes of Sanlam Board meeting, 22/9/1943.

(134) SA: Sanlam Annual Report, 1946: 7.

(135) SA: 6/1/7: M.S. Louw personal documents: Saambou. The aim and purpose of Saambou, address delivered at Sanlam Managers Conference, October 1957: 304.

(136) S. Halleen (2013) From life insurance to financial services: 96, 124.

(137) Die Fakkel 1/8/1944: 11; December 1951: 23.

(138) P. Brooke Simons (1995): Old Mutual 1845–1945: 137.

(139) J.P. Scannell (1968): Uit die volk gebore. Sanlam se eerste vyftig jaar. Cape Town: Nasionale Pers: 117.