South Africa and the High Commission Territories during the Second World War: Politics and Policies Affecting War Mobilization

  • Deborah Shackleton
Keywords: South Africa, High Commission Territories, Second World War, War Mobilization, African military recruitment, British Army, Hitler's transgressions


The political, economic, social and military developments in the High Commissioned Territories (HCT) throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries were highly influenced by their southern neighbor. During the Second World War, these developments have a rather direct impact on British decision-makers in London and in southern Africa especially with regards to war mobilization, African military recruitment and labor issues. Much of what will be discussed in this paper must be understood in the context of British imperial organization and demands as formulated and dictated by the Colonial Office in London with coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner in South Africa who was responsible for the overall care and protection of the HCT. However, historical precedent, economic necessity, military exigencies, paternalism, and racial ideology also drove policy decisions regarding mobilization during WW II. Without going into great detail about the position of the British Empire in 1939 to defend itself against German aggressions, it is still important to accept in principle that Great Britain did not have the resources and manpower to fight the fight alone. As an island nation that hated to be dragged into the messy affairs of the continent, England wanted to confine herself to her own interests. By 1938 the British Army was designed primarily for home defense and was unprepared for rearmament and mobilization. I Many in positions of power questioned the role of imperialism and its subsequent militarism. Predatory imperialism violated the new ideas of liberalism, pacifism, and a growing sense that colonies should move towards self-government.2  Despite the lack of preparation and will to fight another brutal war, Britain would call upon its global dominions to answer the call of collective security against Hitler's transgressions.
How to Cite
Shackleton, D. (2012). South Africa and the High Commission Territories during the Second World War: Politics and Policies Affecting War Mobilization. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 30(2).