Volume #27 - 356.|
MEETING OF COMMONWEALTH PRIME MINISTERS, LONDON, MAY 3-13, 1960, AND PREPARATIONS FOR THE 1961 MEETING
Memorandum from Head, Commonwealth Division,|
to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs
March 30, 1960|
I mentioned to you earlier that I had been preparing a paper on South Africa, and I gathered from Mr. Robinson that something on this subject would be appropriate at the present time. I have tried to hint delicately that there is room for an act of high statesmanship within the Commonwealth.
2. Some of the factual material in the paper I owe to Commonwealth Division, and Mr. Gill has read the paper and made some suggestions (which are incorporated).
G. de T. G[lazebrook]
Note du chef de la Direction du Commonwealth
Memorandum from Head, Commonwealth Division
[Ottawa], March 30, 1960
CANADIAN RELATIONS WITH SOUTH AFRICA
The recent riots in South Africa, and more particularly the method of suppressing them,1 have raised in more compelling form the question of the attitudes to be taken by Canada and other countries. Because South Africa is a member of the Commonwealth (one, indeed, of its architects), there have been demands in Canada and elsewhere both that the situation in South Africa should be discussed at a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers and also that South Africa should be read out of the Commonwealth.
2. Apartheid has now come to stand for the whole racial policy of South Africa. Throughout the history of what is now the Union, the white population has always taken the view that by one means or another the non-white population should be prevented from exercising the influence which, as a large majority, it could theoretically exercise. The maintenance of white supremacy is therefore completely traditional and in principle supported by all but a very small part of the white population.
3. Recently, however, two factors have contributed to throwing a somewhat different light on the situation in South Africa.
(a) World opinion has now generally accepted the undesirability of racial discrimination. This has, in its development, been mixed up with "anti-colonialism," particularly in Africa south of the Sahara. There is a claim that government must be by the Africans, i.e. the black Africans, and outside the Union this is resisted only in the Portuguese territories. The other great powers involved have accepted the inevitability of the process, and remaining differences relate only to timing, and to the rights of white minorities.
(b) The Nationalist government in South Africa has, in the past few years, exaggerated the application of white domination and in doing so, has revealed an inherent tendency towards some degree of authoritarianism.
4. Although apartheid has come to stand for racial discrimination, it is in fact designed as a compromise between the cruder forms of white domination on the one hand and the right of non-white peoples on the other. It is intended that a white minority of 3 million persons shall retain its political and economic dominance over 9.4 million Africans, 1.3 million "coloureds" (persons of mixed blood) and .4 million Asians. The constitutional means of control would be an all-white parliament, with the Africans having some status in municipal affairs only. The essence of apartheid is, of course, that the whites and non-whites should live in separate areas, each developing its own society. A number of tracts of land — "Bantustan" — have been set aside for non-white peoples, and there have been indications that a progressive devolution of governmental authority might be allowed.
5. There is a certain unreality in this whole dispute because of the following circumstances:
(a) Apartheid is probably impossible of achievement in South Africa. In the first place, the territories to be assigned to the non-whites (13% of the land for 79% of the population) appear to be inadequate, but what is more important is that the South African economy cannot be maintained unless there is Bantu labour available in the mines and, to some extent, in the industries.
(b) The critics of South Africa call for the abolition of apartheid, by which they mean the abolition of racial discrimination. To achieve this, except over a long period, would be virtually impossible as has been shown by the slow progress in the American South, and this latter in spite of the decision of the Supreme Court that apartheid is illegal.
(c) The criticism is directed almost wholly to the principle instead of to the practice. This suits both the South Africans and their critics for a number of reasons. Although the South Africans talk of moderation of criticism, it is doubtful that they really want it. In the General Assembly, for example, it has been found that the more moderate the criticism, the fewer supporters are left for South Africa. Furthermore, the South Africans seek to represent apartheid as a solution advantageous to all racial groups. Therefore to discuss whether apartheid goes too far is to them an absurdity. Apartheid is represented not as an evil, but as a good, and, as good cannot be exaggerated, apartheid should not be restricted, but completed. To the critics, on the other hand, it is safer to stay on general grounds. Most countries have some racial skeletons and many countries are open to attack on the ground of civil liberties. Thus, it is not always the best tactic to argue against arbitrary trial and imprisonment or even against violent police action. To do so would be to leave openings for the tu quoque argument.
6. The motives behind the wide criticism of the racial policies of South Africa have been mixed. Some of the Africans and Asians in the last General Assembly were frank [enough] to admit that they were less concerned about the fate of Africans in the Union and in South West Africa than with the opportunity to orate on the principles of racial discrimination. Some of the journalists who examined the recent United States statement on South Africa2 claim that the compelling motive was a desire to gain popularity in black Africa and in Asia. No doubt other individuals and other governments may be influenced by a desire to swim with the tide.
7. There do, however, remain those governments and individuals who are genuinely anxious to assist in any way they can toward an improvement in racial relations. To such an end, the first step is understanding of the South African point of view. Basically it is that South Africa must remain a white man's country rather than allow the white minority to be overwhelmed by a non-white majority with different traditions and values. Simple majority rule is thus unacceptable. But the problem is not the future of the present Union alone. For economic and strategic reasons South-West Africa is seen as a required addition, and it is hoped that the High Commission territories, which cut the area of the Union, can later also be added. The effect of such additions would be, of course, greatly to increase the non-white majority and consequently the impossibility of majority rule.
8. The problem before well-wishers is to find a solution. It contributes little to call for an end to apartheid, for apartheid is itself intended as a partial answer to the evil of white domination. It is more meaningful to argue for the ending of racial discrimination itself. But can this in itself be accepted as the basis for willing action by the South Africans; or, if imposed by force, other than an alternative form of oppression?
9. It is noteworthy that the United States, which has in the past conducted the only other great experiment in apartheid, is relatively free from criticism. This, observers say, is because the United States is "moving in the right direction." What would happen if the South Africans also moved in the "right" direction? Would they
(i) find racial relations easier, or — as they suspect — merely demonstrate weakness and leave an opening for oppression of white by black?
(ii) secure a new respect in the rest of the world? In this connection, a quick look at the attempts in Southern Rhodesia to establish "partnership" might give them ground for pause.
10. Even in the United States, with a large white majority, the withdrawal from apartheid has been slow and stubbornly resisted. To many white people — perhaps a majority — in the Deep South the negro is not sufficiently advanced to have a position equal to that of the whites. And in fact he does not. Well educated and otherwise moderate Southerners will argue that "Washington" does not understand the problem, that the Northerners (who have no racial problem) are hypocritical, and that — come what may — the Southerners will protect their minority position.
11. Outside opinion, however understanding of the problem of the white people of the American South and of South Africa, cannot agree that the solution lies in perpetual and unameliorated white domination. But have they a solution? It cannot, surely, lie in an immediate and radical change in the Union? To attempt such would be to invite political and economic confusion, accompanied in all probability by disorder, extending to heavy loss of life.
12. Within the Union there is a not inconsiderable body of opinion which is opposed to the policies of the present government. That opinion varies all the way from outright rejection of apartheid by a small group of liberals to criticism of the extreme legislation and administration that has characterised National governments in recent years. Mr. Macmillan's remarks to the Parliament of South Africa3 evoked not only criticism of his intervention in domestic affairs but — more significantly — comments by moderates to the effect that the government might be on the wrong track.
13. To the vast majority of South Africans it is inconceivable that the state and society which they have so laboriously constructed should, as they see it, be washed away in a flood of primitive native traditions and institutions. To a minority in the Union and to the great body of outside opinion, it is equally inconceivable that a reactionary government, representing a minority of the white voters, should have no answer to the universal demand for racial equality other than increasing oppression and the impractical doctrine of apartheid. If it is unreal to call for immediate racial equality, it is no less unreal to suppose that South Africa cannot move toward better relations between races. It is one thing to accept the fact that South Africans have a difficult problem and another that there is no approach to a gradual solution of it.
14. It is not likely that South African racial policies will be discussed at formal sessions of the London meeting. No Prime Minister dissented from the view in Mr. Macmillan's letters to Dr. Verwoerd that, by established convention, the domestic problems of Commonwealth members are excluded from the Agenda of the Prime Ministers' meetings. Further, it has been a practice that intra-Commonwealth disputes such as that over Kashmir should likewise be taken up only in informal conversations. There is, however, some pressure to depart from these conventions. Whether or not that is done, South African racial policies will be very much in the minds of all participants and, indeed, represent the great single decisive factor within the Commonwealth.
15. Judging by statements already made by some governments — for example, those of India and Malaya — it is all too likely that extreme positions will be taken by both such critics and the South African Prime Minister. Any approach to a common understanding would be difficult, and yet of prime importance if there is hope that South Africa can remain a member of the Commonwealth. Canada is one of the few countries that will be in a position to discuss the problem, without rancour, with the representatives of the two extremes.
16. There is a formidable gap between these extremes. On the one hand, the white South Africans are unalterably determined to protect, in some way, their civilization and identity. Not a few of them have long believed that they would, in the end, be overwhelmed by force of numbers, but that only after fighting. The criticism, as has been suggested, frequently leads to the simple conclusion that racial discrimination must be abolished forthwith. The only ground for compromise appears to be some recognition of the need for protecting the white minority combined with a series of steps to increase the civil and political rights of the non-whites. In the existing atmosphere moderation may be a difficult cause to promote: it calls for a reversal of the trend of the last several years. From the point of view of the white South Africans, however, there is little to gain from a continuation of the present policy. Not only are they losing their last friends, but are incurring the risk of revolution and, with that, economic collapse.
1Voir/See "50 Killed in South Africa as Police Fire on Rioters," New York Times, March 22, 1960, p. 1.
2Voir/See Dana Adams Schmidt, "Police Violence in South Africa Criticized by U.S.," New York Times March 23, 1960, p. 1.
3Le 3 février 1960, l'allocution que prononce Macmillan devant le Parlement
sud-africain annonce un vent de changement
Voir Nicholas Mansergh, ed., Documents and
Speeches on Commonwealth Affairs, 1952-1962 (London:
Oxford University Press, 1963), pp. 347-351.