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Global_17

Only as bullets ripped through the crowd did men, women and children turn in panic and run for their lives. The massacre of Sharpeville had begun global f i rst quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 77 commonwealth network The Long View not think of that.” At the end of his crossexamination, Pienaar was asked if he had learned any useful lesson from the evidence of Sharpeville. “Well,” he replied, “we may get better equipment.” The shots at Sharpeville resounded across a horrified world. An unrepentant South African government responded by declaring a state of emergency and issuing temporary regulations. These allowed for the banning of processions and gatherings and permitted indefinite detention without charge. Around 1,900 people of all races were immediately arrested and the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) – which had organised the Sharpeville protest – were banned. As the country slipped further into darkness, the first international organisation to force South Africa from its membership had begun the necessary processes. A year later, South Africa would no longer be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It had all looked very different in 1945. The reputation of South Africa’s war leader and Prime Minister, Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, could not have been higher. He had confounded his nationalist opponents and, on 6 September 1939, had brought South Africa into the war against Germany. After the shock of the fall of Tobruk – with the surrender of a substantial proportion of South Africa’s fighting strength – he had steadied the recovery and helped deliver the great Allied victory at El-Alamein. He had gained a resounding electoral victory in South Africa in 1943, winning a large parliamentary majority. South African divisions, as part of the Eighth Army, had re-entered Tobruk and avenged their earlier defeat. ‘The boys’ had fought their way up through Italy until finally reaching the Alps and Germany’s soft underbelly. At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference of 1944, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa had seen “the sure presage of our future victory”. The leaders of the imperial armies declared: “It is our aim that, when the storm and passion of war have passed away, all countries now overrun by the enemy shall be free to decide for themselves their future form of democratic government.” They looked forward to “a world organisation to maintain peace and security… endowed with the necessary power and authority to prevent aggression and violence”. As final victory was achieved, Smuts led the South African delegation to San Francisco and the birth of the United Nations, having drafted the preamble to the UN Charter. But by 1948, there were fresh challenges to the dominance of Smuts’ English-speaking United Party (UP). The Afrikaner nationalists, under the leadership of Dr Malan, won a surprising victory in the general election of that year, winning a majority of seats, though not a majority of votes. The UP had, in practice, supported racial segregation and the leadership of the white race. But it had also encompassed the ‘Cape Liberal’ position that saw the gradual enfranchisement of other races, including black Africans, as they became ‘civilised’. There was already a coloured voter roll and limited Bantu representation. The incoming nationalist government began the vigorous introduction of the policy of ‘separate development’ – apartheid. Steadily, the modest advances of previous years were reversed. Non-whites were disenfranchised, with the abolition of the coloured roll. The Group Areas Act enforced geographic separation, reserving the best land for whites and restricting the movement of blacks through the pass laws. Mixed marriages and sexual relations across the races were forbidden and a system of racial classification established. Eventually, segregation was carried into all walks of life, including education and employment (though some of the churches resisted the division of their congregations and ministries). The ANC and the Communist Party provided the main resistance outside the white parliament. There was the Defiance Campaign, boycotts and strikes and, in 1955, the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter. In other parts of the continent, Africans were gaining their liberty from colonial rule. Ghana became independent in 1957 and Nigeria in 1960. This was changing the character of the Commonwealth. Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, lamented a less exclusive, club-like Commonwealth. But, despite Britain’s huge commercial interests in South Africa, and its strategic position in containing global communism, he recognised the necessity of change. In January 1960 he addressed an unreceptive South African parliament and warned that “the winds of change” were blowing through the continent. Then came Sharpeville. A few months later, at the beginning of May 1960, Commonwealth Prime Ministers met in London. The Federation of Malaya, led by the father of its independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was the newest member to join the Commonwealth. South Africa was represented by its Minister of External affairs, E. H.  Apartheid soon began to seep into all areas of life, as this ‘whites only’ beach shows © UN Photo/KM


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