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Wind of Change

On 6 January 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan embarked on a trip to Africa that would take him to Ghana, Nigeria, and other former British possessions in the continent. While on a tour of African Commonwealth countries, he delivered a speech entitled, "Wind of Change" to the South African Parliament in Cape Town on February 3, 1960. Considered a turning point in the struggle for Black nationalism in Africa and the independence movement across the continent occurred at that time. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Harold Macmillan, had received a cold response from lawmakers in South Africa after speaking out publicly against the country's apartheid system. This was an important message in the "Wind of Change" speech, in which Macmillan acknowledged that Black people in Africa were, quite legitimately, claiming the right to rule themselves, and suggested that the British government had a responsibility to promote a society in which everyone's human rights were upheld and protected.

"The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it."

It is the government's goal, he explained, too:

"build a society that respects the rights of individuals - a society in which individual merit, and only individual merit, is the criterion for advancement, whether political or economic."

Politicians from the Nationalist Party sat silently throughout his speech, and a handful of them refused to applaud when he was finished. Despite thanking Mr Macmillan for his remarks, Dr Verwoerd, the former South African Prime Minister and architect of the apartheid regime, stated that he could not agree with him.

"We are the people who brought civilisation to Africa," he said. "To do justice in Africa means not only being just to the black man of Africa, but also the white man of Africa."

In his address, Mr Macmillan became the first senior international figure to speak out against South Africa's policies of enforced racial segregation, which have been met with increasing opposition. The address was keenly anticipated across the country since Mr Macmillan had previously stated that he would use the opportunity to express his views on the situation in South Africa. Despite this, many people in Cape Town were taken aback by the straightforward style of the address. Mr Macmillan arrived in South Africa after a month-long tour of the African continent, during which he covered almost 17,000 kilometres. His presence was always contentious, and many people accused him of establishing credibility for the Nationalist Party by accepting an invitation to stay as a guest of the South African government. His address today will almost certainly put an end to those criticisms. Macmillan went on to say that the most important question for the twentieth century will be whether newly independent African countries would align themselves with the West or with Communist governments such as Russia and China. To put it another way, whose side of the Cold War would Africa support.

"… we may imperil the precarious balance between the East and West on which the peace of the world depends".

It was the first public acknowledgement by the United Kingdom of the existence of Black nationalist movements in Africa, as well as the recognition that its colonies would have to be granted independence under majority rule. (A fortnight later, a new power-sharing agreement in Kenya was revealed, providing Kenyan Black nationalists with an opportunity to gain firsthand experience in government before the country's independence.) It also served as a reminder of Britain's growing dissatisfaction with the continuation of apartheid in South Africa. Aiming for racial equality in South Africa, Macmillan said it was important for the entire Commonwealth to work towards this aim. According to Henrik Verwoerd, the South African Prime Minister, "...doing justice to everyone does not only mean being just to the Black man of Africa, but it also means being just to the white man of Africa." In his subsequent remarks, he stated that white men were responsible for bringing civilization to Africa and that South Africa was devoid of people when the first Europeans arrived. There was a rousing round of applause when Verwoerd delivered his response in South Africa's Parliament.

Even though Black nationalist groups in South Africa saw Britain's posture on apartheid as a promising call to arms, no practical assistance was provided to such groups in SA. Other African Commonwealth countries continued to gain independence, beginning with Ghana on 6 March 1957 and eventually including Nigeria (1 October 1960), Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania by the end of 1961. Apartheid white rule in South Africa, however, was successful in pushing through a declaration of independence and the creation of a republic (31 May 1961) from Britain, partly as a response to increasing anti-apartheid sentiment in the country and partly as a response to increasing racist sentiment in the country (for example, the Sharpeville Massacre).


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