A Fateful Year

The eventful year 1960 witnessed Harold Macmillan’s ‘wind of change’ speech in Parliament, the massacre at Sharpeville, the march from Langa on Parliament, a state of emergency, an attempted assassination of the prime minister and a white referendum on a republic. There was also the traumatic decolonisation of the Congo – the newspapers were full of dramatic accounts of the flight of whites from the Belgian Congo and of rampaging soldiers after the granting of independence.

On 3 February 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan addressed Parliament in Cape Town at the tail end of a visit to several African states. Macmillan stated: ‘The wind of change is blowing through the continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact. Our national policies must take account of it.’ The speech was made against the background of a fierce rivalry between the West and the communist bloc for the allegiance of the African states and other parts of the Third World. It meant that Britain was now siding with the forces of African nationalism against the dominance of whites in any African state.

In reply, Verwoerd presented his government’s policy in terms far removed from the crude apartheid ideology of the preceding decade. The whites were Europeans but also part of Africa. They had brought to Africa both industrial development and the Gospel and the ideals that inspire Western civilisation. Blacks were entitled to all the rights the people of all other colours claimed. The whites in Africa wanted to co-operate with blacks and help them to secure their rightful place in South Africa. But Verwoerd’s vision for a place for blacks was limited to the reserves.

Sharpeville and its aftermath

The campaign for a referendum

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