399.50 JO/11–2250

The Ambassador in the Union of South Africa (Erhardt) to the Secretary of State 1

No. 271

Subject: Report of United States Delegation of Observers to Central and Southern Africa Transport Conference, Johannesburg, Union of South Africa, October 25–November 16, 1950


A Central and Southern Africa Transport Conference was held at Johannesburg, Union of South Africa, October 25–November 16, 1950, and was attended by Government representatives of the four metropolitan powers with overseas territories in Africa south of the Sahara—Belgium, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom; the Union of South Africa and South West Africa; Administrations of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, East Africa High Commission (Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya), Belgian Congo, Mozambique; United Kingdom High Commission for the Protectorates of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland; and Madagascar. The United States and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development were represented by observers.

The Conference:

Failed to agree on the establishment of a permanent transport organization. However, the Conference, in referring this matter back to the Governments for further consideration, did forward a draft constitution, as well as designate February 28, 1951 as the final date for reaching agreement in principle on the establishment of a permanent organization. Should the Governments so agree, the Conference recommended that a further Conference be held on June 1, 1951 to complete and sign the draft constitution.
Adopted a highway numbering system and a highway classification system with maximum permissible load and traffic limits.
Adopted African standard railway gauge (42 inches) and made important recommendations on railway equipment, service, and interchange of equipment.
Examined in detail all present proposals for railway and port development in Africa north of the Union and south of the Sahara, but avoided decisions on conflicting proposals, and failed to make judgments on economic needs.
Endorsed international through-rates and recommended principles for establishing rates, but failed to examine existing tariffs and existing rate agreements.

[Page 1582]

At the final Plenary Session on the night of November 16, the Conference adopted a statement by the Secretary-General as a public summary of the work performed. (See Document P/5, attached as Annex A2).

Background and Agenda

The Conference was held at the invitation of the Government of the Union of South Africa, pursuant to a decision made at a Conference on Central African Transportation which had been convened at Lisbon in May, 1949 upon the initiative of the Government of Portugal. The Agenda for the Johannesburg meeting was fixed at the Lisbon session. Further preliminary discussion of the problems under consideration occurred at a Special Meeting on Transport Problems in Africa South of the Sahara, convened by the Organization for European Economic Cooperation at Paris in February, 1950. At both these preliminary meetings the United States was represented by observers.

The Agenda of the Johannesburg Conference was printed in the Department of State Bulletin of July 4, 1949. In general, the objective of the Conference was to consider the sound and coordinated improvement and expansion of transport facilities as a basic factor in the general economic development of the vast and promising region south of the Sahara. To achieve this objective the Conference was to consider the establishment of a permanent inter-territorial organization.

United States Delegation

The United States Delegation of Observers was composed of the following persons:

The Honorable John G. Erhardt, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Union of South Africa, Pretoria.

Henry H. Kelly, Chief, Inland Transport Policy Staff, Department of State, Washington, D.C.

Allan Hugh Smith, Director, Overseas Territories Division, OSRECA, Paris.

George Clemens, Alternate Representative for ECA, Paris.

Frank H. Whitehouse, Assistant Chief, Economics Division, Munition Board, Dept. of Defense, Washington, D.C.

John A. Birch, Commercial Attaché to the Embassy of the United States of America, Pretoria.

Miss Virginia M. Robinson, Attaché (Geographic) to the Embassy of the United States of America, Pretoria.

Stephen J. Shuttack, (Secretary) Administrative Officer, American Consulate General, Johannesburg.

The United States representatives took part in the deliberations of all of the eight Committees of the Conference except two (the Steering [Page 1583] Committee, composed of the heads of the various participating Delegations, and the Final Act Drafting Committee). They based their work in the Committees upon detailed instructions which had been prepared at Washington during the months preceding the Conference, by the Department of State in consultation with the Economic Cooperation Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense and other governmental agencies.

[Here follow five pages in the source text headed “Organization of the Conference” and “Work of the Committees”. The full text of those sections together with some of the material already printed here were included in the version of the Report of the United States Delegation printed in the Department of State Bulletin, January 15, 1951, pages 110–112. The remainder of the despatch not printed here, comprising approximately three pages in the source text, was a comparison of Conference decisions with the instructions to the United States Delegation. Also omitted here are the eight annexes reporting in greater detail on the work of the various Conference committees.]

Action Requested

Distribution of this report and its enclosures to all interested Government agencies, including The Office of the Special Representative, Paris, and to U.S. Diplomatic and ECA Missions in the countries and territories concerned with the Conference.
Publication of appropriate sections of this report in the Department of State Bulletin.

John G. Erhardt
  1. This despatch was prepared by Henry H. Kelly, Allan H. Smith, and John A. Birch (identified in the document printed here).
  2. Not printed.