British South Africa

As INTERNATIONAL tension mounts over South Africa’s policy of apartheid, a series of events have, focused attention on the three little-known territories of Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland. These countries have three things in common: they are physically embedded in South Africa; they are, under British protection, developing a political antithesis to apartheid; and they provide an escape route for opponents of Dr. Verwoerd’s regime.

This function was dramatically illustrated last August by the escape from South Africa of two young white men, Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe. Goldreich, an industrial designer who has held a one-man art exhibition in New York, and Wolpe, a lawyer, were being held on suspicion of being leaders of the militant antiapartheid underground. When they staged a daring escape from Johannesburg’s police headquarters, the biggest manhunt in South Africa’s history was mounted to prevent them from reaching sanctuary in one of the three British High Commission Territories. Nevertheless, Goldreich and Wolpe, disguised as priests, turned up some weeks later in Swaziland. From there they flew in a small chartered plane to Bechuanaland, where an East African Airways Dakota arrived to take them and a large group of other refugees to Dar es Salaam.

At the crucial moment, the Dakota was sabotaged on the local airfield, and the hostility of the whites there, most of whom are of Afrikaner extraction or sympathies, led Goldreich and Wolpe to seek protective custody in the jail at Francistown. After a nerve-racking period of uncertainty, they were eventually flown to Dar es Salaam, via Elisabethville in the Congo, in a plane chartered by the Central African Mail, a pro-African-nationalist Northern Rhodesian weekly. They eventually reached England.

While Goldreich and Wolpe were waiting to leave Bechuanaland, a gang of whites in the territory kidnapped Dr. Kenneth Abrahams, a young Colored physician who had recently escaped from South Africa. Abrahams and three companions were taken one hundred miles and forced to cross into Southwest Africa, where they were formally arrested. They swear that on crossing the border, three of their captors changed into South African police uniforms, and that they recognized others as Bechuanaland farmers. When Dr. Abrahams’ relatives brought an urgent application of habeas corpus, a major diplomatic crisis arose between Britain and South Africa. Questions were asked in the House of Commons, and tension abated only when the South African Minister of Justice, while denying that any policemen had participated in the kidnapping, returned Dr. Abrahams and his companions to Bechuanaland “in the interests of friendly relations.”

Observers were not slow to recall that in 1961 the South African government was similarly forced to return to Basutoland Mr. Anderson Ganyile and two companions after it had been proved that six South African policemen had crossed the border into British territory and kidnapped them. In August, 1963, it was announced that the Minister of Justice had paid Mr. Ganyile substantial damages for wrongful arrest.

South Africa complains

But, as the Abrahams case and the GoldreichWolpe escape moved toward their climax, the South African authorities counterattacked on the propaganda front. The republic’s Security Police chief accused the British administration of having “wittingly, in my opinion,” allowed Bechuanaland to become “a free port for runaways, reds and saboteurs.” Quoting from his secret files, Colonel van den Bergh alleged that in June and July alone more than two hundred Africans from the republic had passed through Bechuanaland for training “up north” in sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and indignantly asserted that the British authorities “even allow planes to land to pick such people up for their journeys north. In fact, he said, “there is one continuous red carpet for South African saboteurs from Lobatsi [near the southern border with South Africa] to Northern Rhodesia.”

The reference to Northern Rhodesia is significant, for, as a glance at a large-scale map will show, Bechuanaland is the only one of the High Commission Territories which offers an overland route to free black Africa, with which it has a tiny common border on the great Zambesi River. Basutoland, by contrast, is completely surrounded by South Africa, and Swaziland has a second border only with Portugal’s Mozambique.

These geographic facts, together with the poverty of Basutoland and Bechuanaland, underline the present economic dependence of all three territories on South Africa and explain the policy of their British administrations.


Of the three, the harshly beautiful, eroded, and overpopulated mountain enclave of Basutoland is the most susceptible to South African pressures. Approximately the size of Belgium, Basutoland has no known mineral resources other than minor deposits of diamonds, and the one million Basuto survive only because more than 130,000 are employed in South Africa. In fact, 43 percent of the adult male population is away from the country at any given time. In addition, nearly half of Basutoland’s tiny revenue of 2 million pounds comes from the customs agreement which all three territories have with South Africa.

Paradoxically, it is Basutoland, by far the poorest of the territories, which is the most advanced politically. A new constitution, put forward last fall by an official commission, proposes that full internal self-government in 1964 should be followed by independence in 1965.

The most likely prime minister, Mr. Ntsu Mokhehle, is a veteran and important member of Pan-Africanist councils. His party, the Basutoland Congress, is one of the country’s major forces, the other being the Roman Catholic Church; both utilize the extremely high literacy rate of the Basuto, for which mission schools of all denominations are responsible. The paramount chief, Moeshoes hoe II, has ambitions of active rule but seems likely to become a constitutional monarch, serving as a focus for the intense national pride of the hardy Basuto.


In contrast to Basutoland is Swaziland. Small but very rich in minerals, Swaziland boasts, under British ownership, the world’s largest asbestos mine, as well as mountains of high-grade iron ore. Significantly, the railway which is being built to handle this ore will run to the Portuguese-controlled coast in Mozambique and not to South Africa.

Just under half of Swaziland’s lush and semitropical land, which is about the size of Wales, is owned by some 10,000 whites; the remainder is held by the approximately 275,000 Swazi, most of whom feel strong allegiance to their feudalistic, quasireligious, but shrewd ruler. King Sobhuza II. This potentate, allied with the almost wholly pro-SouthAfrican white community, is fighting a desperate rearguard action to undermine a new, British-imposed constitution. Although it still leaves great influence with him and assures quite disproportionate power to the whites, this constitution will belatedly make a small beginning in nonracial democracy that will give some scope to the budding political parties in which younger and educated Swazi are active. Swaziland alone of the three terrilories could reasonably survive an economic crackdown by South Africa.


Between Basutoland and Swaziland, economically and politically, stands Bechuanaland, where some 3000 vehemently pro-South-African whites enjoy parity of representation in an advisory legislative council with 330,000 Africans. This small population is scattered about a vast country, roughly the size of France, most of which is semiarid bush or the vast sand-veld of the Kalahari.

The whites are concentrated in blocks of farms, and both they and the Africans live chiefly from cattle ranching. There is no single paramount chief; and the recently organized, modern-style African nationalist movement is at present divided within itself. A new constitution, expected to operate in 1965, should result in something near internal self-government, with the Africans having a greatly increased influence.

South African concern with all three territories is great, for apartheid is a monolithic concept. Whatever happens in the territories is clearly visible to black and white in South Africa, and even their very imperfect beginnings of democratic practice already contrast starkly with the serfdom of blacks under apartheid. Color bars are being progressively abolished in the territories, and men may come and go as they please. Africans in the territories are on the way to exercising the majority say in government to which their numbers entitle them. And education, though grossly deficient above the primary level and still racially segregated, has the same content for black and white.

The British government is officially committed to making the territories outposts of the Commonwealth and shopwindows of democracy in South Africa; but no matter how shabbily these windows may be stocked at present, Dr. Verwoerd can hardly afford to have such things within his borders. This underlying difference of objectives has, of course, been violently exacerbated by the question of refugees, and it has led to South Africa’s mounting an increasingly sharp campaign against the three territories.

South Africa exerts pressure

Verwoerd’s most powerful weapons are economic, and of these the most potent is the limitations which he has already begun to impose on Africans from the territories working and living in the republic. It is estimated that they total over 440,000, with perhaps half coming from Basutoland, which certainly could not support them at home. Radically altering traditional procedures, Verwoerd since last July has allowed only those High Commission Africans with proper papers and South African work permits to enter the republic. A series of border-control posts have been set up by South Africa for each territory, with a large holding camp for “illegal" Basuto work seekers; armed mobile patrols and helicopters are attempting to police the difficult borders. The needs of South African mine owners and farmers, who value Basuto workers highly, will place a limit on the numbers that can be expelled, but even if Verwoerd implements his policy only in the republic’s urban areas, Basutoland in particular will face a frightening problem.

Protracted negotiations are also in progress between South Africa and Britain over a revision of the customs agreement with the territories, and the British negotiators have agreed in principle to the South African demand that in future Britain should pay each territory its share directly. This, if implemented, would enable Dr. Verwoerd to put a fatal squeeze on politically troublesome Basutoland while leaving Swaziland, which has heavy South African investments, alone. He is pressing, too, for a revised extradition treaty under which South African political offenders, who have committed no crime under British law, would be included.

In September, Verwoerd made a major propaganda move. He offered to include the territories as part of his theoretical system of supposedly self-governing Bantustan areas and claimed that this would confer far greater economic benefits on them than Britain ever could. Except for Swaziland’s feudalistic Sobhuza II, all High Commission Africans were loud in their immediate rejection of this idea. But in pointing to economic issues, Dr. Verwoerd shrewdly struck at the test of British sincerity over the territories.

The need for aid

Almost total neglect was the hallmark of British policy toward the territories until 1945, with hardly a penny spent on development since it was assumed that they would one day be incorporated into South Africa. But there were pledges that transfer could take place only after the people of the territories had been consulted and the British Parliament had discussed the matter.

By 1962, even Dr. Verwoerd publicly recognized that incorporation was not practical, becoming the first South African Premier to relinquish his country’s claims to the territories. He is firm in stating that his takeover bid is merely an “offer” and not an annexation attempt. Even if the territories were both independent and troublesome, such clear aggression would provide the longsought justification for the AfroAsian bloc at the UN to force intervention in South Africa’s heartland.

Thus the test of Britain’s sincerity is not the granting of self-government or independence, as the UN has demanded, but the giving of sufficient economic aid to enable the territories to break South Africa’s economic stranglehold. Development grants to all three territories in the eighteen years since 1945 have totaled only 13.2 million pounds, plus some 3 million pounds annually given to balance the budgets.

In 1960 a high-powered economic survey, headed by the eminent American Chandler Morse and under the World Bank, called for a minimal program costing just over 9 million pounds. Britain has so far found only 1.8 million pounds, despite the fact that the World Bank mission considered that its program would make economic viability “a near certainty in the case of Swaziland, a reasonable probability in the case of Bechuanaland, and a possibility in Basutoland.” The territories’ High Commissioner made an urgent appeal for 27 million pounds of development grants from London for the next three years.

While such decisions are in the balance, the local British administrations are, within the bounds of international decency, trying not to aggravate the South Africans over the refugee question. No one can be certain of the future, except that large, or relatively large, sums of money will be needed if, for instance, Basuto expelled from South Africa have to be resettled in underpopulated Bechuanaland. What worries Africans in the territories is not so much that they will not advance politically, as that Britain, which has 100 million pounds invested in South Africa, might pull out from these lands, its last direct responsibilities in Africa, without giving them adequate support in what must be a hard fight for economic survival.