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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Historical Background: 1960

The British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on a trip across Africa came to Cape Town in February 1960, less than two years after Henrik Verwoerd became Prime Minister and was invited to address both houses of Parliament. His message was unmistakable: 'Ever since the break up of the Roman Empire, one of the constant factors of political life has been the emergence of independence nations. The wind of change is blowing through this continent and whether we like it or not this growth of national consciousness is a political act. We must accept this fact and our national policies must take account of it.'

Months later, Nelson Mandela standing in the dock in 1960, speaking on behalf of the Treason Trialists made an offer to Afrikaners:

We demand universal adult franchise and we are prepared to exert economic pressure to attain our demands, and we will launch defiance campaigns, stay-at-homes, either singly or together, until the Government should say, 'Gentlemen, we cannot have this state of affairs, laws being defied, and this whole situation created by stay-at-homes. Let's talk.' In my own view I would say, 'Yes, let us talk' and the Government would say, 'We think that the Europeans at present are not ready for a type of government where there might be domination by non-Europeans'. We think we should give you 60 seats. The African population to elect 60 Africans to represent them in Parliament. We will leave the matter over for five years and we will review it at the end of five years.' In my view, that would be a victory, my lords; we would have taken a significant step towards the attainment of universal adult suffrage for Africans, and we would then for the five years say, we will suspend civil disobedience; we won't have any stay-at-homes, and we will then devote the intervening period for the purpose of educating the country, the Europeans, to see that these changes can be brought about and that it would bring about better racial understanding, better racial harmony in the country. I'd say we should accept it, but, of course, I would not abandon the demands for the extension of the universal franchise to all Africans.

History would never again afford them the offer.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.