The Demographic Defense of the White Nation: Entwined Histories of Race and Immigration in South Africa and the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:40 AM
Columbia 12 (Washington Hilton)
Jean Smith, King's College London
In part because of the moral force of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain, the apartheid regime came to represent precisely the kind of unbending racist sentiment incompatible with emerging sensibilities within Britain. Yet these contrasting perceptions of tolerant Britain with racist South Africa overlook rising levels of British emigration to South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. They also overlook the inverse parallels between the racial politics of immigration of the two states. In the early 1960s, just as the United Kingdom began to implement an increasingly racialised immigration regime, reversing the open door approach that had been enshrined into law by the British Nationality Act of 1948, the newly declared Republic of South Africa began to aggressively recruit ‘European’ immigrants offering subsidized passages with the explicit intention of increasing the white population.

These new immigration incentives were not the sole factor in increasing British migration, however. For those who felt threatened by the increasing number of Commonwealth immigrants of color, South Africa with its clear racially-based systems of discrimination and explicit white privilege was appealing. Though they took different forms, this paper argues, the immigration policies of the United Kingdom and South Africa both focused on the defense of the white nation. Despite these parallels, when racism in Britain and its relationship to immigration policy in this period is discussed, this is rarely in the context of similar issues in South Africa even through links were seen by contemporaries, from anti-racist activists who campaigned against both racism in Britain and apartheid to right-wing groups such as the Monday Club who supported white minority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia as well as immigration restriction and repatriation in Britain. 

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