264 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 17th Meeting (extract) LONDON, 22 May 1946, 11 a.m.


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South-West Africa 2. FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS said that he wished to take this opportunity of discussing with representatives of other parts of the Commonwealth the proposals of the South African Government for the future of South-West Africa.

South-West Africa was now held by the Union of South Africa under a 'C'-class Mandate. It was, however, different from other territories in that class in that geographically it was part and parcel of South Africa. indeed, it was only by historical accident that it did not form part of the Union. In the scramble for Africa, Germany had acquired this barren country in 1886 and built up a colony there with immigrants from Germany. These German settlers caused the South African Government considerable trouble during the 1914-18 war.

At the Peace Conference after the last war President Wilson had been sympathetic to the idea that the territory should be annexed by South Africa. A statement had, however, been included in the Fourteen Points which precluded annexations of territory. A way out of this difficulty was found by the creation of the special 'C'-class Mandates, which could be administered by the Mandatory Power as integral parts of its territory. South-West Africa had been administered accordingly ever since, but there was a strong feeling in South Africa that it should now be incorporated in the Union. South Africa had been troubled again before this war by a Nazi movement among the settlers in South-West Africa, and it had been necessary to send from the Union a strong police force to keep the peace in the territory.

The white population in South-West Africa, numbering some 31,000, had a local Parliament of their own. It had, however, no jurisdiction over the native population, as the Union had responsibility under the Mandate for native policy. The local Parliament had passed unanimously more than one resolution that the territory should be incorporated in the Union. The Union Government had consulted the native population; this numbered some 350,000, consisting in part of scattered and disintegrated tribes, with very little tribal organisation, but for the most part of more highly organised and virile Bantu tribes. These were governed practically on the principles of indirect rule with their own chiefs and councils. While it had been rather difficult to consult the scattered tribes, consultation with those who had their own council had been easier and it was possible to say that some 80 per cent. of the native population had agreed that the territory should be incorporated in the Union.

Field-Marshal Smuts said that in San Francisco he had given notice that he would apply to the United Nations Organisation for their approval of incorporation. He recalled that the objective of the trusteeship system was the development of self-government. It seemed to him that this objective could be reached equally well by making a mandated territory independent and by making it, at its own request, part of a neighbouring independent territory. He proposed to raise the matter, therefore, at the Assembly in September next. He quite appreciated that there might be criticisms of the Proposals in the Assembly, because other Powers holding Mandates were accepting trusteeship arrangements. There would be opposition from those who, for one reason or another, were not in sympathy with the policy of the Union Government and from those who objected in principle to the colonial system or imperialism. In these circumstances, the South African Government were anxious for such assurances of support as they could obtain and naturally they turned first to their friends in the Commonwealth. The argument was often put forward in South Africa that she derived status and strength from membership of the immensely powerful association of the Commonwealth. If now she received support from the other members of the Commonwealth, that would be striking evidence of the truth of the argument and would be of very great assistance in promoting the causes they all had at heart.

LORD ADDISON said that the United Kingdom Government had given much thought to this matter. They recognised the great force of the considerations to which Field-Marshal Smuts had referred and they were clear that geographically South-West Africa would naturally be associated with the Union. Indeed Walvis Bay, its port; was already part of the Union. On the other hand, they were alive to the difficulties which were likely to arise in discussion of this matter at the United Nations Assembly. The chief concern of the United Kingdom Government had been whether incorporation would be supported by the inhabitants of the territory. They had concluded that, on the understanding that it was so supported, they would themselves give the South African Government their support. It seemed clear that the white population was heartily in support of incorporation. As to the natives, they understand that a section of the Herreros did not favour it but that a very large majority of the remainder were in favour.

Lord Addison said that the view of the United Kingdom Government had been reached after full consideration and detailed discussion as to the facts of the situation.

MR. MACKENZIE KING said that, if he had been in Field-Marshal Smuts's place, he did not doubt that he would have taken the same view of the matter. He had not had an opportunity of discussing it with his colleagues but he thought that they would share his opinion. He assumed that it would not be advisable to make any declaration of the attitude of the other members of the Commonwealth before the matter was brought before the United Nations Assembly.

FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS agreed with this. He thought that any prior expression of solidarity by countries of the Commonwealth would be very undesirable.

DR. EVATT said that his advice would be that Field-Marshal Smuts should tread very warily in this matter. He felt certain that his proposal would meet with objection at the United Nations Assembly.

At San Francisco there had been very strong feeling against the annexation of Mandated Territories. He thought that that feeling would be found also in the Assembly.

Speaking personally, he had every sympathy with Field-Marshal Smuts's general objectives and so far as he could he would do nothing to embarrass him. But the Australian Government had had no opportunity of considering the matter. They would have to take into account that, if South Africa incorporated South-West Africa, it would provide an argument to their own expansionists for the incorporation of New Guinea into Australia. Although geographically New Guinea was separate from Australia, it was part and parcel of their defence system. The Australian Government had always resisted such suggestions in the past on the ground that the obligations of the Mandate must continue and that the new trusteeship system, which would replace the Mandate, would give to the trustee much greater powers in regard to defence matters than they had had under the Mandate system. They had been asked by the United Kingdom Government whether they would take the lead in announcing that they were ready to place their mandated territories under trusteeship and they had, in fact, made a public statement that they would do so. He suggested that in bringing the matter before the United Nations Assembly Field-Marshal Smuts should present to the Assembly full factual information regarding the territory.

MR. NASH said that from a personal point of view he, too, would like to support Field-Marshal Smuts. But he foresaw much argument in the Assembly on the proposition. He referred to the fact that the objective of the trusteeship system was that the territories under trusteeship should be led towards independence. If the overwhelming majority of the population wished that independence to take the form of association with South Africa, would that not be possible within the trusteeship system? In that event he thought that it might be possible for the New Zealand Government to support the proposition.

MR. ATTLEE suggested that an analogy for what Mr. Nash was proposing could be found in the case of Transjordan. Transjordan had now been given her independence and it was open to her, if she so desired, to associate herself with any other Arab State.

MR. NASH agreed that this would be an analogy.

DR. EVATT suggested, however, that the circumstances might be somewhat different, since it was not suggested that the population of South-West Africa were ready for full self-government now or would be within any foreseeable time. He suggested that it might be possible to include in a trusteeship agreement for South-West Africa a clause to the effect that if the people of the territory made it clear by a vote or plebiscite that they desired incorporation in the Union, then the trusteeship agreement should cease and incorporation should take place. He suggested that Field-Marshal Smuts might consider this suggestion.

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