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4 February 2010

Harold Macmillan, 1960

Harold Macmillan, speech to the South African parliament, Cape Town, February 1960.

By Staff Blogger

Harold Macmillan’s address to the South African parliament on 3 February 1960 was epoch-making. In it, he acknowledged the burgeoning strength of African nationalism and made it clear that independence would be granted to many African nations.

It also made explicit the British government’s rejection of apartheid, a shift from previous policy and the first time a senior international figure had criticised South Africa’s strict racial segregation. The Conservative prime minister described African national consciousness as a “wind of change blowing through this continent”.

This was in fact the second time that Macmillan had given this speech (he gave the same address in Ghana a month earlier), but it was the first time that it received press attention, partly because of the controversy it provoked. At home, right-wing Conservatives, who wanted to retain the empire, were enraged. And Macmillan’s South African counterpart, Hendrik Verwoerd, was no more impressed. He responded: “To do justice to all does not only mean being just to the black man of Africa, but also to be just to the white man of Africa.”

But Macmillan’s vision of Africa prevailed:

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Today the same thing is happening in Africa, and the most striking of all the impressions I have formed since I left London a month ago is of the strength of this African national consciousness.

In different places it takes different forms, but it is happening everywhere. The wind of change is blowing through this 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.


Click here for a full audio version of the speech.

Next speech: Hugh Gaitskell, speech on nuclear disarmament, Labour party conference, October 1960

Previous speech: Enoch Powell, speech on the Hola Camp in Kenya, House of Commons, July 1959

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