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History Corner - The Referendum to Leave

In 1960, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd held a referendum with the objective of taking back control from the British Monarchy and forming a republic. Its primary objective was to reinforce the protection of whites and entrench Afrikaans nationalism. Verwoerd believed that staying within the Britain Monarchy would lead to racial clashes, economic hardship and poor internal security. A few years earlier the voting age was reduced from twenty-one to eighteen, with many younger voters supporting Verwoerd’s Nationalist Party. Only whites were eligible to vote.


On the day of the referendum, the Natal Witness, the province’s English newspaper, warned its readers that leaving the British Union would “help those who would cut us loose from our moorings, and set us adrift in a treacherous and uncharted sea”.


The referendum was narrowly won by 52%. Many English-speaking whites regarded Britain as their spiritual home and became lost and disillusioned.


In the years that followed, apartheid intensified in the face of growing abhorrence which led to South Africa becoming an international pariah.


With thanks to Steve Bloom whose photographic exhibition: Beneath the Surface, South Africa in the Seventies is currently on at the Beaney, Canterbury.