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Global_17

network The Long View commonwealth Bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black President, in Johannesburg. Mandela spent much of the apartheid era in jail Louw. He gave notice that South Africa Verwoerd, South Africa’s Prime Minister, would shortly be holding a referendum on informed his colleagues of the results of the question of the union becoming a republic. the referendum. With 52 per cent of the He was reminded that, if South Africa vote, the white electorate had voted for voted to become a republic and wished to republican status. He then told the meeting remain in the Commonwealth, it would have that it was South Africa’s desire to remain to follow the usual procedure and re-apply within the Commonwealth as a republic. for membership. It was not long before Once again, ministers rounded on South anger over Sharpeville bubbled over, with Africa’s apartheid policy. This time, the Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, John Diefenbaker principal critics were joined by Sir Abubakar of Canada and Jawaharlal Nehru Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister among South Africa’s fiercest critics. of newly independent Nigeria, as well as The communiqué recorded: “While reaffirming Archbishop Makarios, President of Cyprus. the traditional practice that Commonwealth In vain did the British Prime Minister – and conferences do not discuss the Robert Menzies of Australia – attempt to internal affairs of member countries, ministers stem the tide. South Africa’s position had availed themselves of Mr Louw’s presence become untenable and a bruised and angry in London to have informal discussions Verwoerd withdrew the country’s application with him about the racial situation in for membership. He declared: “No selfrespecting South Africa… Mr Louw gave information member… could, in the view of and answered questions… and the other what is being suggested and the degree of ministers conveyed to him their views on interference shown in what are South Africa’s the South African problem.” The statement domestic affairs, be expected to wish to concluded: “The ministers emphasised that retain membership in what is now becoming the Commonwealth itself is a multiracial a pressure group.” He added that he was association and expressed the need to ensure “amazed and shocked by the spirit of hostility… good relations between all member even of vindictiveness shown towards states and peoples of the Commonwealth.” South Africa”. He complained: “The character At the next Prime Ministers’ meeting, of the Commonwealth has apparently barely a year after Sharpeville, Hendrik changed completely during the last year.” 78 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global Macmillan had hoped for a compromise solution that would have kept South Africa within the Commonwealth, but also recorded the detestation by all the other prime ministers of South Africa’s racial policies. He conceded that this might fatally undermine the Nigerian Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and would not hold off an eventual motion to expel South Africa. Later that day, Lord Home wrote to Harold Macmillan, praising him for the “gallant way you have tried to save the day”. It was, said Lord Home, a very sad day but he conceded that “the only alternative was the breakaway of all the Asian and African members”, adding: “That could not be faced.” The Commonwealth thus became the first international organisation to drive South Africa from its membership. It was not to return to the fold for another 34 years – as a free and democratic nation. The Commonwealth’s long struggle against apartheid had begun in earnest. Stuart Mole is the senior research fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and former Director of the Secretary-General’s Office in the Commonwealth Secretariat 


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