Repository logo

The Commonwealth and South Africa: From Smuts to Mandela

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Dubow, Saul 


The creation of modern South Africa as an independent unitary state within the British Empire (c. 1910) gave birth to the Commonwealth idea. Jan Smuts’s views on Commonwealth were formative and they continued to inform the evolution of the organisation until the end of the Second World War. Also significant was the role played by Afrikaner nationalist leader J. B. M. Hertzog, who exerted a critical influence on the 1926 Balfour Declaration and Statute of Westminster. At the point of South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961, the Commonwealth divided between new entrants, who cast South Africa as a pariah, and older member states who lamented the exit of a troubled family member. Even after South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1961, apartheid’s significance as the global exemplar of institutionalised racism and colonial rule helped to bind the Commonwealth as a multi-racial organisation with strongly defined ethical values. South Africa’s reintegration in 1994, with Nelson Mandela to the fore, was welcomed as a triumph for the Commonwealth. Paradoxically, however, this proved a pyrrhic victory and may actually have contributed to the Commonwealth’s state of indirection.



4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

Journal Title

The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Informa UK Limited