Humanities and Arts

Keeping Britain ‘in the Fore’: The Establishment of the British Council in South Africa and Its Contribution to the 1960 Union Festival

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This article discusses the establishment of a British Council presence in South Africa through the appointment of a cultural advisor at the British High Commission in 1958. It analyses the role of cultural advisor, what policymakers hoped to achieve by creating it, and why they were initially hesitant about establishing a British Council presence in South Africa. The article will highlight how the decision to appoint a cultural advisor was predicated on fears that the rise of Afrikaner cultural nationalism jeopardised British interests in South Africa. It, therefore, contributes to the emerging scholarship which positions Britain’s relationship with the independent Commonwealth members in the 1950s and 1960s within the established literature on the political decolonisation which was taking place at that time. The article also analyses the cultural advisor’s initial work focussing, in particular, on Britain’s contribution to the 1960 Union Festival. The debates over how best to represent British culture at the festival will be highlighted, and the reasons why a tour by the Royal Ballet Company was ultimately chosen as the main contribution will be discussed. Finally, the article will analyse the controversies surrounding this tour, and how the British government responded to them. This included the omission of Johaar Mossaval, a South African-born ‘coloured’ dancer from the touring party, and the decision to complete the tour as planned in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre.