On this day in history : 3rd February 1960 – Prime Minister Harold MacMillan makes his famous ‘Wind of Change’ speech against apartheid, angering some South African politicians….

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Harold MacMillan in 1959 – Public domain

MacMillan had been in South Africa for over a month visiting the then British colonies, including Ghana and Nigeria…. He chose to give his speech whilst addressing the South African Parliament in Cape Town, making it clear that South Africa was included in the views of the British government…. What he had to say did not come as a total surprise as he had hinted he was going to use the opportunity to voice his opinion about the situation in South Africa….

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent, 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”….

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MacMillan meeting Ghanaian leader Prempeh II – The National Archives UK – OGL v1.0

MacMillan’s speech was the first time a senior international representative had publicly voiced disapproval on South Africa’s racial segregation laws…. It made it clear the UK government was not going to prevent the independence of its own territories and recognised that the people had the right to claim the governing of their countries for themselves…. It was the responsibility of the British government to promote the equal rights of all the individuals concerned…. As this was something MacMillan envisaged for the whole of the Commonwealth he urged South Africa to move towards racial equality….

South African Prime Minister Hedrick Verwoerd thanked MacMillan for his speech but added that he disagreed, claiming it was white South Africans who had brought civilisation to the country….

“To do justice in Africa means not only being just to the black man of Africa, but also to the white man of Africa”….

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The National Archives UK – no restrictions

It was the first time Britain had acknowledged the black nationalist movements in Africa…. Nationalist Party politicians were outraged by the speech…. However, it opened the way for international opposition to the apartheid system…. A month later the Sharpeville Massacre caused so much revulsion worldwide that South Africa faced exclusion and trade sanctions….

It took a further 30 years for South Africa to finally begin to disband its apartheid laws, under President de Klerk…. Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and became President of South Africa in May 1994….

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