Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy's Courting of African Nationalist Leaders

By Philip E. Muehlenbeck | Go to book overview

9
The View from Pretoria

While in Paris Kennedy’s African policies were seen as a threat to France’s global position, in Pretoria they were seen as a threat to the South African way of life.1 This chapter charts the ebb and flow of relations between the United States and South Africa during the Kennedy administration, with a focus on Pretoria’s view of Kennedy’s efforts to form close relations with the leaders of sub-Saharan Africa. The South African government viewed Kennedy’s efforts to court African nationalism, criticize minority rule in Southern Africa, and advocate for civil rights within the United States with great trepidation. For its part the Kennedy administration sought to keep distance between itself and the South African government while building bridges to the newly independent states in subSaharan Africa. In the end, the South African government’s fears of how Kennedy’s efforts to court African nationalism would impact US.-South African bilateral relations were largely overblown, because Washington maintained its tacit alliance with Pretoria even while vocally criticizing apartheid.


Pretoria’s Foreign Relations

During the early 1960s the foreign policy of South Africa was in flux. In 1958 Hendrik Verwoerd, considered by many to be the primary architect of apartheid, was elected the prime minister of the Union of South Africa. Under his rule the South African government became more militantly racist, which resulted in greater domestic repression and international isolation, at precisely the same time that the world began to decolonize. This paradox was highlighted in February 1960 when British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan gave his famous “Wind of Change” speech in the South African parliament, arguing that for both strategic Cold War calculations and moral imperatives Western interests would best be served by coming to terms with the anticolonial nationalism that was about to engulf the continent. However, white South Africa remained defiant toward

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