322. Memorandum From the Counselor of the Embassy in South Africa (Maddox) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Palmer)1


  • U.S. Position on Apartheid


  • Delga 453, November 20, 19572

I have taken the liberty of jotting down some comments on GADel’s recommendation to the Secretary for a high-level reconsideration of our position in the UN on apartheid resolutions:

Racial segregation represents a violation of only one phase of “bedrock human rights and civil liberties”. Obviously we must take our stand on the side of this bedrock principle, and support any reasonable resolution of general applicability. But if we start supporting resolutions directed at specific countries charging violation of this “right” or that “liberty” (in any political, religious, economic or social field), we can be drawn into endless controversies with governments failing to meet ideal standards, and these governments include some in the Afro-Asiatic bloc.
Even if we extract the “racial” violation from its general context of rights and liberties, it would be difficult to establish South Africa as the only country in the world where, in some form or another, or by one authority or another, segregation is sanctioned. A resolution of general applicability is certainly unobjectionable, but the singling out of one country among 80-odd is a very doubtful bit of justice.
In this respect, we ourselves are not without fault. For although segregation is contrary to the law and policy of our national government, we remain internationally responsible under the Human Rights Charter for the delinquencies of state and local governments.
Moreover, it can be argued with some cogency by South Africa that its official position is one of moving towards territorial [Page 836] autonomy for non-Whites. Those non-Whites who remain in White areas are officially regarded as temporary visitors, admittedly in an inferior status (what about Mexican migratory workers?), but eligible at any time to return to their respective, eventually-autonomous, native territories. While it may be argued that this policy results practically in discrimination, we might better concern ourselves in the UN with official national policies than with specific local practices, whether they be in the Transvaal or Arkansas.
As for the recent developments in the United States cited in (2) in reference telegram, these represent, not something new in our basic constitutional principles, but a specific interpretation by the Supreme Court, specific legislation under a constitutional authorization, and a specific action by the President. The basic principle of equal rights has been established since the Civil War. If it took us nearly a century to develop these specific interpretations and actions, we might be charitable towards a Government which has existed less than half a century, and has, therefore, had much less time to evolve policies. If we insist on immediate action, we will get nothing; if we are patient, we can envisage the possibility of a slow evolution: Note, for instance, the recent reception in South Africa of an official Ghanaian delegate.
If our purpose be to obtain an alteration in South African policies, I can see little prospect of this being achieved through repeated public denunciations in the UN. South African white attitudes, regardless of party, are hardened by organized outside criticism. Modification in attitudes and policies will come, if at all, through forces working from within; we can influence these through various subtle devices, but not, I believe, through associating ourselves with Afro-Asiatic censure.
A resolution supported only by the Afro-Asians would not be seriously resented in South Africa. They expect denunciation from these sources. But the votes of western delegations are closely scrutinized and will determine whether South Africa returns actively to the UN, or withdraws completely. See Embassy Pretoria Despatch Number 118 of October 1, 1957,3 citing External Affairs Minister Louw’s public statement on the matter. Louw was able to cite a slight improvement in western dispositions towards. South Africa this year. Should the United States change from abstention to support of a resolution condemning South Africa apartheid, it would be a serious blow undercutting the trend towards full resumption and probably influencing a decision to withdraw from the UN entirely.
I wonder whether we would gain a sufficient measure of transitory advantage with the Afro-Asians to offset the complete loss of one western voice and vote in the UN.
In resources, industrial capacity, managerial competence and technological abilities, South Africa is the most advanced country on the African continent. It would seem desirable from the standpoint of U.S. interests that we seek to work patiently with South Africa to obtain a modification of its racial attitudes rather than to reject her too hastily. The impact of what could happen in South Africa would be felt throughout the continent and would adversely affect our position, negating any temporary advantage we might gain now from voting with the Afro-Asians.

  1. Source: Department of State, AF/AFS Files: Lot 60 D 37. Confidential. Maddox was in Washington for consultation.
  2. Supra. A copy of the telegram had been sent to Ambassador Byroade on December 10. Ferguson indicated, in a covering letter, that AFS would continue to oppose a change in the U.S. voting pattern on apartheid “so long as the present apparent shift in Union policy continues to offer hope of the Union’s eventual return to full participation in the UN.” (Department of State, Central Files, 845A.411/11–2057)
  3. Not printed. (Ibid., 310.345A/10–157)