The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Judith M. Brown; Wm. Roger Louis et al. | Go to book overview

24

Southern Africa

SHULA MARKS

For much of the twentieth century British policies in southern Africa have been dominated by calculations about South Africa. The Union, later Republic, of South Africa has occupied a unique position in British Imperial strategy and imagination. Undergirding this status materially was South Africa's gold, while sustaining it ideologically were the labours of Sir Alfred Milner's 'kindergarten', that group of bright young men from Oxford who were brought to the Transvaal to reshape its institutions after the South African War (1899-1902), and who were themselves reshaped by the experience. As Lionel Curtis, ideologist of Imperial Federation, put it in a letter in 1907: 'South Africa is a microcosm and much that we thought peculiar to it is equally true of the Empire itself... When we have done all we can do and should do for South Africa it may be we shall have the time and training to begin some work of the same kind in respect of Imperial Relations.' 1

Interconnected networks of City, Empire, and academe gave South Africa its importance to the advocates of Commonwealth at least until 1945. The role played by the 'kindergarten' in the unification of South Africa provided its members with a model for their wider vision of Imperial Federation, propounded in their Round Table movement and their journal of the same name; the fortunes made by mine magnates such as Rhodes, Beit, and Bailey were devoted to furthering the schemes of the Round Tablers, whether through scholarships, chairs of Imperial history, or the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House; their friendships

____________________
For the purposes of this chapter, southern Africa has been defined as the Union of South Africa, the High Commission Territories (Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland), Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi. The position of Namibia (South-West Africa) is anomalous, as German colony until 1917, then South African Mandate, and now, as independent Namibia, a member of the Commonwealth. Its history, like that of Mozambique, and to a lesser extent in this period Angola, has been intimately connected with that of South Africa, and it has been mentioned in this respect. I am grateful to Dr Stanley Trapido for many years of discussion on the history of southern Africa which have undoubtedly shaped this chapter.
1
Curtis to Selborne, 18 Oct. 1907, Selborne MSS 71, cited in Deborah Lavin, 'Lionel Curtis and the Idea of Commonwealth', in Frederick Madden and D. K. Fieldhouse, eds., Oxford and the Idea of Commonwealth (London, 1982), p. 99.

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