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Crisis and the Republic of South Africa

Macmillan's wind of change

The Federation was a final attempt to preserve empire in central Africa, which brought substantial economic growth, but African nationalists opposed it. Harold Macmillan and the Colonial Secretary, Iain MacLeod, became committed to retreating from the colonies. Macmillan made his 'wind of change' speech in Cape Town after visiting Nigeria, arguing that African nationalism could no longer be denied.

The Central African Federation collapsed in 1963. Northern Rhodesia became the independent state of Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda and Hastings Banda led Nyasaland to independence as Malawi.

Wilson government in crisis

In Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia) the colonist ruling majority refused to accede to nationalist demands. In 1965 the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith, made the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and led Rhodesia out of the Commonwealth. Britain continued to negotiate with Smith but his declaration severely damaged Britain's standing in the Commonwealth. In 1972 a Royal Commission under Lord Pearce reported on a survey of African opinion in Rhodesia about a proposed independence settlement. The Commission found that Africans were opposed to the terms of the settlement, and sanctions against Rhodesia were maintained. Trapped between the demands of the 'kith and kin' colonists and strong arguments in favour of black majority rule, the Wilson government faced a major crisis and harsh criticism from the developing Commonwealth. Harold Wilson imposed sanctions on Rhodesia, but continued to seek a settlement through negotiation with Smith.

Republic of South Africa

In South Africa the nationalist government elected in 1948 intensified segregation under its apartheid policies. This was increasingly unacceptable to other Commonwealth states. Macmillan's 'wind of change' speech provoked a referendum of white voters, who decided in favour of a republic. The Republic of South Africa was instituted in 1961.

South Africa left the Commonwealth, but despite increasing international pressure the British government maintained links with the Republic. Britain continued to supply arms to South Africa in terms of the Simonstown Agreement of 1955 and did not withdraw from the Simonstown Agreement until 1975. This caused major Cabinet unrest.