Original Research

Cutting the apron strings: the South African experience of decolonisation

G E Devenish
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 9, No 2 | a209 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v9i2.209 | © 2013 G E Devenish | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 March 2016 | Published: 31 December 2013

About the author(s)

G E Devenish, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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Decolonisation is a recurring constitutional and political theme in the process of change and reform in South Africa’s history during the 20th century. The constitutional emancipation of the erstwhile Union of South Africa and the subsequent internal decolonisation of designated black ethnic population and cultural groups, are two kindred processes which have interesting similarities, but also important differences. The former involved British Imperialism, the latter involved Afrikaner Nationalism and African Nationalism. The former was a natural, legitimate and spontaneous process, the latter was an artificial process that was induced by Afrikaner Nationalism, that was spurned internationally and domestically by the the international community of nations and indigenous people of South Africa respectively.

The article examines the legitimacy of the process of the decolonisation of the Union of South Africa resulting in its independence, followed by the adoption of a republican form of government. In contrast, a comparison is made with the controversial and questionable evolution of the Bantustans, which emerged out of the erstwhile native reserves, a stratagem designed in effect to thwart the liberation struggle for a truly democratic form of government for all the people of South Africa. This pseudo decolonisation was an analogous process to that of genuine decolonisation. The former involved political fragmentation, whatever it was designated, that in effect, denied to the indigenous people, freedom and liberation for decades. As an odyssey it was a very protracted and painful process. Ultimately, in a belated and circuitous manner, after the inordinate suffering and oppression of South Africa’s indigenous people, a genuine democracy in a unified and consolidated state for all the people of South Africa was to transpire. This was liberation and not decolonisation, and was the final stage in the historic and traumatic process for South Africa.

It is also argued that only with the inception of the Interim Constitution, following the first historic democratic election of 27 April 1994, did South Africa and its people adopt an authentic democratic and republican constitution.

Keywords: Union of South Africa, Status, dominions, decolonisation, liberation movements, Afrikaner nationalism, African nationalism.


Union of South Africa; Status; dominions; decolonisation; liberation movements; Afrikaner nationalism; African nationalism


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