314. Despatch From the Embassy in South Africa to the Department of State1

No. 294


  • Embassy Despatch No. 291, April 11, 19572


  • Embassy Staff Study on the South African Race Problem, II; Diplomatic Policy Recommendation

As indicated in reference despatch, a group of Embassy officers recently conducted over a period of some months a staff study of the problems arising from increasing racial tensions in South Africa. Herewith is the second report (see reference despatch for the first) setting forth some conclusions of the study as well as recommendations to the Department. These were approved by the Ambassador before his departure on home leave. (He will personally handle a third and final report (top secret) in Washington.)3

It is unnecessary to repeat here the several cogent reasons advanced in the former despatch as to why the United States Government, from the standpoint of its rapidly growing interests in the African continent, should be vitally concerned at the disturbing course of race developments in this country. Suffice it to say, the Embassy is convinced that the time is at hand when the combined constructive imagination and resourceful talents of the appropriate areas of the Department (and other agencies) and of the Embassy should be utilized to determine what ought to be, and might be, done by the U.S. Government to assist (1) in averting what could become a major and violent domestic crisis, with farflung repercussions, and (2) in charting a course of more harmonious inter-race relations in this area.

For the convenience of the Department, the four questions which served as the focus of the Embassy’s staff study in a series of informal evening discussions are repeated here:

What aspects of South African policies and attitudes with respect to non-Europeans do you think might lead to serious interracial tensions and conflict in a relatively short course of time?
What measures ought to be, and could be, taken by South Africans to correct these trends?
What can we as Americans in Pretoria—officially or personally—do to assist in such an effort?
In the light of all circumstances, what would you recommend that the U.S. Government do about the situation?

The first three of these questions were discussed in reference despatch and it is now proposed to consider the fourth. Amended in accordance with the group’s suggestions and criticisms at an evening session, my original memorandum on the subject is reproduced here in the informal tone in which it was submitted to the Ambassador:

1. Diplomatic Policy Review and Recommendation


Recent U.S. Policies

The U.S. Government has over recent years actively concerned itself in the U.N. with South African racial policies but it is clear that adverse U.N. votes have only had the effect of stiffening the South African Government’s attitude vis-à-vis the outside world, and have brought none of the changes we desire in its policies. The time has arrived when the basis of our policies, and the methods of our approach require re-examination.

As we understand it, the U.S. has tended to take a position founded on moral and humanitarian principles fortified by the contention that the Human Rights Convention4 overrides the protection given in Article 2 of the U.N. Charter against interference in domestic affairs. Doubtless, we thought thereby to arouse world public opinion and to win the sympathy of the Afro-Asian bloc, but if another primary purpose was to achieve alterations in South African policies the result has been a failure in that respect.


Basis of a New Policy

It is suggested that in order to achieve our purpose we minimize public appeals based on morality and strive quietly to emphasize a straight pragmatic concern for our national (which tend to become our world-wide) interests. It is suggested we simply insist that since the practical consequences of South African policy have increasingly dangerous implications for the peace and orderly development of Africa as a whole, and therefore for American security, we feel compelled to make our concern known.

South Africans, and especially the Afrikaner element now in control, are absolutely convinced, not only of this legal right to establish domestic legislation as they choose, free from outside interference, but also of the moral justification of policies of apartheid. There is a certitude of conviction in the Afrikaner Nationalist that these policies are just and right by the highest Christian [Page 818] standards. “In the language of South African Calvinism, God is sovereign and has delegated sovereignty to the lawful rulers of the land. For these rulers right action is self evident … ”5 (De Kiewiet, The Anatomy of South African Misery, p. 25.) We cannot expect to persuade by preaching and lecturing, as if we were on a higher moral plateau. The Afrikaner will have none of it; he strongly resents such audacity, or else, he may pity us. When you talk with Verwoerd about his policies, he is benign, patient and almost condescending; you, poor benighted heathen, belong to a lower level—you have not seen the light as only the good Calvinist can!

It seems, therefore, essential that we shift our ground to the practical realism of American interests. South Africans are aware of our growing interest in Africa as evidenced by the visits of Vice President Nixon and Congressional travelers; seriously troubled about communism themselves, they favor the extension of the new American doctrine into Africa; they respect our purpose and our power, and our need and determination to maintain them. If we will stay off pulpits and talk straight-from-the-shoulder common sense about the practical effects of the present trend of policies in South Africa, and their realistic implications for us all throughout the continent, they may not follow our advice, but at least we will have established a plane of more effective communication than we have had hitherto.

In other words, let’s reveal to the South African less of our humanitarian concern for people of color; let’s talk less about injustices and immorality, and more about what is happening in hard, cold terms as regards Black Nationalism and Communism, and the White man in Africa. South African Nationalists will still argue that they know best how to control such developments, but deep within, many are much less convinced of the practical benefits of their policies than they are of the high rectitude of their purpose.


The Methods of Diplomacy

In surveying the normal instruments at our disposal for the exercise of influence on a foreign country, it is clear that we have few available in respect to South Africa. We have no economic or military aid program. We need South African raw materials and we want the Cape Route open, so we need the friendly dispositions of the Government in power, if the price is not too high. We have tried frontal attacks (at least high-placed individuals have done so) and we have tried the U.N. Both have failed, and seem bound to fail.

Diplomacy, in its traditional sense, is not conducted in open forums but through secret and direct contacts between officials. I suggest that in our efforts to persuade the South Africans to our [Page 819] way of thinking we make use of unpublicized approaches through diplomatic channels.

We could, I believe, at various levels, make known to South African Embassy officials in Washington, and (on instructions to our own posts) to their representatives in certain other countries as well as to the Government in Pretoria, our deep apprehensions arising from our practical interests in the whole of Africa, and from those of friendly nations, at the portents of racial policies in South Africa. We could persistently and repeatedly plant ideas of this nature—they will be transmitted home secretly and the Opposition will be unable to capitalize on them for domestic political advantage. Our spokesmen could be armed with a list of specific harmful measures and events in South Africa; they might, if pressed, mention several of the four priority situations (which we have agreed on) and the remedies we have suggested.

Several other possible points of diplomatic departure might be considered. Are there any “carrots” which might be held out to the South African Government to induce it to heed persuasion? Or are there any threats or warnings which might be expressed under diplomatic secrecy with a view to affecting its course of action? Of course, South Africa desires an increase in the price of gold, but no “carrot” could be held out in that connection unless and until a point should be reached in the American economy where an increase in the price of gold would appear to offer some net advantage to the free world as a whole and to the United States. In connection with the existing uranium contracts South Africa will be keenly interested in renewal on favorable terms; although the present contracts still have a number of years to run, it might be worthwhile to explore the question whether statements could be made in advance indicating that renewal of the contracts would depend partly on the United States Government’s being satisfied regarding the outlook for peaceful evolution in South Africa. Again, the South African Government has indicated an interest in having an assurance of U.S. military planes in the event of war. It desires a more active interest on our part in defense arrangements affecting Africa south of the Sahara. Probably in none of these respects are we in a position to bargain, but all possibilities of “carrots” and of “threats” should be thoroughly explored.

There is one possible “threat” to which consideration might be given. This has to do with American investments in South Africa. If the outlook in South Africa should continue to become more ominous a point might well be reached where the United States Government would feel that some kind of a warning to businessmen with respect to the long-term outlook for political stability was justified. It is true that the issuance of such a warning, even on a confidential [Page 820] and selective basis, would raise difficult questions such as the effect on existing American private investments in South Africa. Nevertheless, if the circumstances should be found to justify it, the issuance of a private warning to potential American investors would be a very serious matter for South Africa, owing to this country’s dependence on a continued inflow of private foreign capital. From the standpoint of directly influencing the policies and actions of the South African Government, the most important and potentially useful phase of the United States Government’s action would be to advise that Government in advance of our intended action, and the reasons therefor; the possibility might then arise of exerting effective diplomatic pressure.

Consideration might eventually be given to consulting other friendly governments privately and to enlisting their concurrent action. But we believe that no Government is in as strong a position as ours to exercise influence and pressure. South African officials accept us as the leading world power; they recognize our rapidly-growing concern with developments all over the continent of Africa; they understand that circumstances compel us to exercise positive and vigorous leadership; and (we believe) they will respect our efforts in that direction in matters involving their Governments’ policies, if we act with appropriate diplomatic circumspection.

There is no assurance that a systematic resort to secret diplomacy in an effort to bring moderation into South African governmental policies would prove successful, or that even if it did, it would stave off some future catastrophe. But an effort to exert a positive diplomatic influence and pressure might be more effective than anything we have tried in the past, and conceivably could have beneficial results.

In considering all possibilities for action by the United States Government or its representatives in the future, there are a few other important points developed in the course of our staff study which we feel should be borne in mind.

2. Additional Considerations Bearing on All Questions


A split in the Nationalist Party Government would be in the interests of the United States

This proposition was advanced by one officer6 who contended that if governmental power remains in the present hands, and if it continues to be exercised essentially in the same direction for another five or six years, only a miracle could prevent the outbreak of serious political and economic disturbances in South Africa… .

[Page 821]

After exploring many facets of this question and weighing them against other conceivable desiderata and possibilities, all members of the group accepted the primary thesis that a split within the Nationalist Government would be in our interests, especially if it would result in the discard of Verwoerd and other doctrinaire extremists.

. . . . . . .

In any case, while it is understood that the United States Government and its Embassy should, for practical as well as for diplomatic reasons, remain on friendly terms with the Government in power, we should not assume that its power is impregnable, or that a different constellation is impossible before 1963.


Continuing integration of the Native into the White industrial economy is an inescapable fact and the full-scale vertical “apartheidism” of Verwoerd an impossible myth.

The idealism underlying the advocacy by certain individuals of vigorous apartheid should be conceded; we should not make the mistake of condemning it in principle. Indeed, the gradual evolution of certain Native Reserves, such as the Transkei, into autonomous areas is not inconceivable and, under certain conditions, has much to be said for it. Actually, however, most of what is now being done in the name of apartheid represents a form of baaskap. But whatever might and should be done, the strong prospect remains that the masses essential to the industrial economy will never be dislodged from the urban centers. The dream of parallel societies is unachievable; a mixed economy is here, and eventually a mixed polity is inevitable.


It is in the interest of the United States that White leadership should be preserved, or at least indefinitely prolonged, in South Africa.

The group accepted this proposition. It agreed that, in this industrial-mining economy with its advanced technology requiring high levels of managerial competence and engineering skills, complete control by untrained non-Europeans in this generation would not result in a situation conducive to our interests. While seeking to promote the prolongation of White power and its peaceable transition to mixed-race power, we must be aware of the possibility that forces moving towards Black dominance could prove successful at some future time, and guide our conduct accordingly.


In order to preserve, or at least to prolong indefinitely, their leadership, the Whites should start making concessions to the non-Europeans.

In opposition to this thesis it was argued, and agreed, that resolute “baaskap”, coupled with stringent police measures, could prolong White control in South Africa, despite outside pressures. But it was also agreed that such policies would make almost certain an [Page 822] eventual crisis accompanied by violence. It was acknowledged that, in the light of history, concessions by the Whites would not finally settle matters but would simply pave the way for further demands by the Blacks and for the next stage of tension. Nevertheless, if the entire process of transition could be spread over a long period, it would probably be effected peaceably.


Militant Black Nationalism, independent but potentially an ally of Communism, is also a threat to our interests.

Uncompromising militancy among certain Black leaders is a present phenomenon which should cause us as much concern as its counterpart among the Whites. We should oppose extremism and intemperateness among Black leaders and seek to develop programs designed to promote conciliatoriness on their part and to effect peaceful compromises with the Whites.

In concluding this, the second of its two reports, the Embassy trusts that its efforts might be of some assistance to the Department in the formulation of a new country policy paper for South Africa.

William P. Maddox
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 845A.411/4–1257. Secret. Also sent to Johannesburg, Durban, Leopoldville, Luanda, Nairobi, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Lourenco Marques, and Salisbury.
  2. Supra.
  3. See footnote 3, Supra.
  4. The U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (U.N. doc. A/811) on December 10, 1948.
  5. Ellipsis in the source text.
  6. This position was recommended by the First Secretary of the Embassy, Sydney L. W. Mellen, in a memorandum to Maddox dated March 15. See footnote 2, Supra.