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[Review] Ronald Hyam and Peter Henshaw (2003) The lion and the springbok: Britain and South Africa since the Boer War

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 16:57 authored by Alan LesterAlan Lester
Although most of its chapters have previously been published, The Lion and the Springbok contains much that is useful, and also much that is controversial, for scholars and students interested in governmental relations between Britain and South Africa over the past hundred years. The book’s most prominent theme—one that links the two authors’ otherwise quite distinctive approaches and styles—is a broadly sympathetic interpretation of British government policy toward South Africa through much of the twentieth century. Some could go further and describe the book largely as an apologia for this policy. For instance, the book’s introduction concludes that the British government’s strategy of not antagonizing the National Party government “to no good purpose or real effect” during the apartheid years was “sound advice, and the return of the new South Africa to the Commonwealth in 1994 … surely vindicates the essential rightness of this British strategy” (36). The authors are critical of the British jingoism surrounding the South African War, which is the starting point for their narrative, but criticism thereafter is reserved almost exclusively for the Afrikaner nationalists who first challenged the “loyal Afrikaner” Jan Smuts and then came to assume power in their own right. Much of what follows is an account of British officials’ uneasy balancing act during the cold war, as they sought to retain South Africa as an important strategic and economic ally within the commonwealth while remonstrating against the extremes of apartheid. There is a particular emphasis on British politicians’ and civil servants’ paternalistic defense of Africans in the High Commission Territories against the apparently insistent northward expansion of “Afrikanerdom” and apartheid.


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Modern History




University of Chicago Press





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Department affiliated with

  • Geography Publications

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  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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