"Proceed to some other port where our flag may fly in air that is not tainted with the stench of apartheid" - The intersection between the domestic and international anti-apartheid campaign and American naval visits to South Africa, 1948-1967


  • Hendrik Snyders National Museum Bloemfontein, South Africa




Apartheid, Race, Segregation, Navy, United States, South Africa, International relations, Cape Town


The introduction of apartheid in 1948 with its extensive suite of discriminatory laws, had a wide-ranging impact on South Africa’s international relations. Despite an ever-growing global anti-apartheid movement and calls for the country’s total isolation, the country succeeded in maintaining naval relations with several nations. As a result, it frequently hosted shipping crews from Europe and Northern America, mostly on flag-displaying missions. During these visits, non-White sailors were subjected to South Africa’s racial laws and entertained separately from their White counterparts. In following the principle of respecting “local law and custom”, commanders of vessels became willing collaborators in enforcing apartheid. Over two decades (1948–1967), racially-defined events and activities at segregated facilities became a standard feature of these visits. Under the influence of the local and American activists who viewed their civil rights- and anti-apartheid struggle as a common one, all forms of collaboration with the racist regime, were roundly condemned. By 1967, as a result of continuous mobilisation and the use of a diversity of mechanisms, the American anti-apartheid movement in co-operation with their local counterparts, succeeded in, among others, forcing a change in their country’s naval policy and its relations with South Africa. Effectively this led to the termination of American naval flag-display visits to South African ports from 1967-1994.


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