Simonstown Agreement – a thorn in the UN’s position on South Africa

After the signing of The “Simonstown Agreement”, in this colourful ceremony, the Simon’s Town Naval base was handed over by the British to the Union of South Africa on the 2nd April 1957 – after being in British hands since 1813.

The Simonstown Agreement between the United Kingdom and South Africa had been signed less than two years before this ceremony on 30 June 1955. Under the agreement, the Royal Navy gave up its naval base at Simon’s Town, South Africa, and transferred command of the South African Navy to the government of South Africa.

In return, South Africa promised the use of the Simon’s Town base to Royal Navy ships. The agreement also permitted South Africa to buy six anti submarine frigates, ten coastal minesweepers and four seaward defence boats from the UK valued at £18 million over the next eight years. In effect, the agreement was a mutual defence arrangement aimed at protecting sea routes between the UK and the Middle East.

The agreement was controversial, especially with the United Nations, because of South Africa’s policy of Apartheid. The Agreement stood in stark contrast to United Nations resolutions against South Africa as the United Kingdom was still supporting the South African military by way of this quid pro quo agreement.

The United Kingdom terminated the agreement on 16 June 1975. However, ships of the Royal Navy still continued to call periodically at Simon’s Town and other South African ports, although the Royal Navy was not able to use any South African ports by the time the  Falklands War started in 1982.

South Africa was a member of the Commonwealth at the time the agreement was signed (South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961), so the United Kingdom and South Africa took the position that the agreement was not an international treaty requiring registration with the United Nations under Article 102 of the United Nations Charter and continued regardless of the United Nations’ protests.

A personal perspective 

I often hear this old one from many people “we fought in the First and Second Wold Wars for Britain and in our hour of need they abandoned us” (referring to sanctions and fighting “terrorists”).  Well, that’s not strictly true, the Simonstown Agreement saw to it that South Africa was using British produced Buccaneer Fighter Bombers and Naval vessels at the onset of the Border War and the internal armed insurgency and well into it.  It’s obvious that after 1976 (the Soweto riots) that even this relationship would be strained let alone the implementation of Apartheid Legislation and the withdrawal by the National Party from the British Commonwealth of Nations – which would have made supporting South Africa exceptionally difficult for the United Kingdom in any event – and even then they continued military support well up to, and beyond the point where it became truely internationally impossible to continue to do so.

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