a1 University of Sussex
Just over fifty years ago, Prime Minister Macmillan made an extensive tour of Africa, culminating in his ‘wind of change’ speech in Cape Town, 1960. This article traces Macmillan's progress through Africa with particular emphasis on his intervention in South African politics. It offers a novel reading of the ‘wind of change’ speech, arguing that the message was far more conciliatory with respect to white South African interests than is usually assumed. Pragmatism rather than principle was always the prime consideration. Far from being cowed by Macmillan's oratory or his message, Verwoerd stood up to Macmillan and, at least in the eyes of his supporters, gave as good as he got. The shock of the ‘wind of change’ speech was more evident in Britain and in British settler regions of Africa than in South Africa. Macmillan's advisers had an inflated view of the import of the speech and in many ways misread Verwoerd's brand of Afrikaner nationalism. One of the consequences of the speech was to embolden Verwoerd politically, and to prepare him for the declaration of republican status in 1961 and departure from the commonwealth.
* This paper was written for a conference organized by Sarah Stockwell and Larry Butler on the fiftieth anniversary of the ‘wind of change’ address, held at the University of East Anglia, March 2010. Papers presented by Simon Ball, Stephen Howe, Joanna Lewis, Roger Louis, and Stuart Ward were especially illuminating for my purposes. I have since had very helpful comments from Hermann Giliomee, Alex Mouton, Rob Skinner, Andrew Thompson, Richard Whiting, and the anonymous reviewers for the Historical Journal.