Southern Africa in the Cold War

J.E. Spence considers the interface between ideological and geopolitical factors in the struggle for supremacy in Southern Africa.

At the end of the Second World War the southern African region, with the major exception of the Union of South Africa, was firmly under colonial rule. Britain retained responsibility for the three High Commission territories – Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland – and exercised formal control over self-governing Rhodesia’s constitutional development and external affairs. Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, too, were British colonies while Portugal ruled Angola and Mozambique. South-West Africa (the status of which was in dispute with the newly-established United Nations) was to all intents and purposes a fifth province of the Union, an outcome formally confirmed with incorporation in 1950. There were nationalist stirrings in all these territories, including South Africa, but hardly provocative enough to disturb their white rulers. Nor did the latter regard the granting of independence to India, Pakistan and Ceylon in 1947-48 as constituting a precedent for Africa, where it was assumed many years of preparation in the arts of self-government would be required. Nevertheless, the force of the Asian example was not lost on those who espoused the nationalist cause, however small and poorly organised their numbers.

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