Original Research

Public health policy in a time of change and disaster in South Africa: 1910–1920

Edwin G. Bain, Jan Venter
Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies | Vol 8, No 1 | a215 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v8i1.215 | © 2016 Edwin G. Bain, Jan Venter | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 June 2015 | Published: 29 September 2016

About the author(s)

Edwin G. Bain, Bench Marks Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa
Jan Venter, School of Social and Government Studies, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


With the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the central focus of the newly appointed government was to alter and consolidate the policies of the pre-Union colonies that differed materially in many respects and to substitute them with uniform policies that had to be implemented as a consolidated whole for the Union. This central focus was applied to a number of policies, notably those for the black people, immigration, education, labour, national defence and the development and implementation of railway, mining and agricultural policies. However, an omission occurred with regard to the consideration of a comprehensive public health policy by the political parties and the Union Parliament, consisting of white people only. This article examines this omission during the first 10 years of the Union of South Africa (1910–1920), during the three 5-yearly general elections (on 15 September 1910, 20 October 1915 and 10 March 1920), and argues that this lack of consideration of a comprehensive public health policy can be found in the theory of party political responsible government during unification, which was further developed by Kavanagh, that party political manifestos act as the guiding force behind the policy matters that are discussed and decided upon in Parliament. The article confirms that the reason for not establishing a comprehensive public health policy prior to the outbreak of the influenza epidemic in 1918 was the incidental and piecemeal fashion in which expressions on public health appeared in the published party political manifestos, which in turn influenced the proceedings of Parliament. This political negligence was, however, quickly overturned by Parliament immediately after the epidemic, showing the influence of this demographic disaster on political thinking and action.


Election manifestos; public health policy; parliament


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