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1960: Macmillan speaks of 'wind of change' in Africa

The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, has had a frosty reception from politicians in South Africa after speaking frankly against the country's system of apartheid.

In a speech to MPs in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, Mr Macmillan spoke of the "wind of change" blowing through the continent of Africa, as more and more majority black populations in the colonies claim the right to rule themselves.

"Whether we like it or not," he said, "this growth of national consciousness is a political fact."

The government's aim, he said, was to "create a society which respects the rights of individuals - a society in which individual merit, and individual merit alone, is the criterion for a man's advancement, whether political or economic."

To do justice in Africa means not only being just to the black man of Africa, but also to the white man of Africa
South African Prime Minister, Dr Verwoerd
Nationalist Party politicians listened to him in silence, and a number refused to applaud when he had finished.

Dr Verwoerd, the South African Prime Minister and the architect of the apartheid system, thanked Mr Macmillan for his speech, but said he could not agree.

"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 to the white man of Africa."

Mr Macmillan's speech is the first time a senior international figure has given voice to the growing protest against South Africa's laws of strict racial segregation.

The speech was widely anticipated throughout the country, as Mr Macmillan had already said he would take the chance to say what he thought about the situation in South Africa.

Even so, the plain-speaking nature of the speech took many in Cape Town by surprise.

Mr Macmillan is in South Africa at the end of a month-long tour of the African continent, in which he has travelled about 17,000 miles.

His visit was always controversial, and many accused him of giving the Nationalist Party credibility by allowing himself to be a guest of the South African government.

His speech today is likely to lay those criticisms to rest.

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Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan's visit to South Africa was always controversial

In Context
Harold Macmillan's "wind of change" speech became a historical landmark. It was the first sign that the British government accepted that the days of Empire were over, and it dramatically speeded up the process of African independence.

It also marked the beginning of South Africa's long spell out in the cold. Although Nationalist Party politicians reacted with outrage to the speech, and became even more entrenched, the speech brought international opposition to the apartheid system out into the open.

Only a month later, the Sharpeville Massacre was to add revulsion to the disapproval, and South Africa faced utter isolation, including international trade sanctions.

Even so, the country clung stubbornly to apartheid for another 30 years, until 1990 when President de Klerk began dismantling its laws and ANC leader, and future president, Nelson Mandela was released.

Harold Macmillan resigned from office in 1963 due to ill-health, after four decades in British politics. He died in 1986, at the age of 92.

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