Southern Africa in the Cold War
Spence, J. E., History Today
J.E. Spence considers the interface between ideological and geopolitical factors in the struggle for supremacy in Southern Africa
At the end of the Second World War the southern African region, with the major exception of the Union of South Africa, was firmly under colonial rule. Britain retained responsibility for the three High Commission territories -- Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland -- and exercised formal control over self-governing Rhodesia's constitutional development and external affairs. Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, too, were British colonies while Portugal ruled Angola and Mozambique. South-West Africa (the status of which was in dispute with the newly-established United Nations) was to all intents and purposes a fifth province of the Union, an outcome formally confirmed with incorporation in 1950. There were nationalist stirrings in all these territories, including South Africa, but hardly provocative enough to disturb their white rulers. Nor did the latter regard the granting of independence to India, Pakistan and Ceylon in 1947-48 as constituting a precedent for Africa, where it was assumed many years of preparation in the arts of self-government would be required. Nevertheless, the force of the Asian example was not lost on those who espoused the nationalist cause, however small and poorly organised their numbers.
South Africa dominated the region by virtue of its size, population and economic hegemony. The Union had emerged from the Second World War with its status enhanced following its contribution to the Allied war effort; its government was perceived as a respected member of international society and the Commonwealth, in particular, to the evolution of which General J.C. Smuts, the wartime prime minister had made a notable contribution. Moreover, his role in the Second World War as the confidant of Churchill, his country's value as a source of British investment and trade, and the Western perception that the Union retained strategic significance (on the assumption that a war between the East and West would be a conventional replay of 1939-45) gave South Africa a degree of influence and prestige out of all proportion to its position as a small power at the southern tip of the African continent. To this end its government contributed to overcoming the Berlin blockade (1949) and to the Korean War (1950-53).
Throughout the 1950s, South Africa -- despite the election in 1948 of an Afrikaner Nationalist government committed to apartheid -- managed to maintain its favoured position in the West as a potential ally and a reliable business partner. True, the government refined its instruments of social control through a barrage of repressive legislation -- including the 1950 suppression of Communism Act -- which came under attack at the United Nations from the Soviet Union and a small number of newly independent states including India, Pakistan and Ghana. Western governments were reluctant, however, to join in this condemnation until the shock of the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960. During this period Soviet interest in southern Africa was peripheral; indeed, it maintained consular relations with South Africa until 1956.
1960, however, was Africa's year: a flood of new African states joined the United Nations and the apartheid policy came under sharp and cumulative attack in the General Assembly where, for the rest of the decade, massive majorities passed resolutions condemning the Republic's treatment of its black majority and the refusal to prepare SouthWest Africa/Namibia for independence. Similarly, the Wilson government in Britain came under attack for its failure to deal effectively with the Rhodesian crisis, provoked by Ian Smith's unilateral declaration of independence in 1965. By the mid-1960s Zambia and Malawi had become independent and towards the end of the decade sporadic guerrilla war began in Namibia, Angola and Mozambique in an effort to force …
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Publication information: Article title: Southern Africa in the Cold War. Contributors: Spence, J. E. - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 49. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 1999. Page number: 43. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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