Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

In 1995, Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and recently elected president of South Africa, paid a formal state visit to Britain. He was warmly welcomed by the queen, by the British public and by the British Government. There had been instances of formerly imprisoned nationalist leaders who became heads of state after independence being welcomed to Britain – such as Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya. A century earlier, Queen Victoria had been prepared to welcome to London Indigenous leaders of royal or chiefly status, such as maharajahs from her Indian Empire, or African chiefs such as the Zulu Cetshwayo or the Tswana Khama. But Mandela was something more than a nationalist leader in a colony granted independence, and more than a king or chief – he was the first instance of an Indigenous person who had been elected (and by more than 60 per cent of the total vote) as head of government of a former colony of settlement, or White Dominion, in the old British Empire. It has never happened, and is perhaps unlikely to happen in the near future, in other former settler colonies. That this event occurred in South Africa is a striking illustration of the major political change which had taken place in that country in the 1990s, when the racially based apartheid regime was finally removed by an election in which – for the first time ever – all South African adults, Black and White, male and female, were free to vote.

This offers a dramatic example of the relevance, at the start of the twenty-first century, of the developments which this book has examined for the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And it is not only in South Africa that the 1990s revisited some of these developments with a renewed relevance. In Australia and Canada, a number of major judicial decisions of the 1990s on the issue of land rights for Indigenous peoples have proved to be of continuing significance. In Australia, the Mabo decision of 1992 finally pronounced the death sentence on the doctrine of terra nullius (land belonging to no one), which had undercut the legal rights to the land of the Indigenous peoples for just over 200 years; in Canada, decisions in British Columbia, in particular, upheld the claims of various Indigenous bands to their native areas. In addition, the Canadian government granted autonomous political status to the area of Nunavut for the Inuit peoples of its Arctic territories. In New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi was given renewed force and contemporary significance by the decisions of the Waitangi Tribunal on Maori claims to their land. And the governments of these

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