South Africa returns to the Commonwealth fold

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SOUTH AFRICA will rejoin the Commonwealth today, 33 years and a day after the British monarch ceased to be the country's head of state.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku, announced yesterday in London that the positive response by the organisation's 50 member states to South Africa's formal application for membership last week followed 'the end of apartheid and the dawn of freedom in South Africa'.

The Queen and John Major sent congratulatory messages to President Nelson Mandela, who issued a statement declaring himself 'delighted'. He said the Commonwealth's decision was 'a tribute to the momentous changes that have taken place in our country as well as a challenge for South Africa to play its part in the worldwide quest for a peaceful, harmonious and caring world'.

Chief Anyaoku, who himself played an effective if discreet role in bringing about political change in South Africa, said the return to the Commonwealth fold was 'a boost for the association' and a boost for South Africans, who could now travel freely to other member nations 'without anyone looking at their passports with suspicion and evident disapproval'.

In 1961 most Commonwealth countries made it plain they derived no pleasure from belonging to the same club as South Africa, which, for its part, did not feel at ease in an organisation dominated by the old imperial enemy.

The prime minister at the time, Hendrik Verwoerd, was the champion not only of apartheid but, as head of the National Party, of Afrikaner nationalism. The memory of the British defeat of the Boers at the turn of the century still burned in Nationalist minds.

Verwoerd, jumping before he was pushed, announced South Africa's withdrawal from the Commonwealth and on 31 May 1961 passed a law making South Africa a republic and ending the Queen's status as head of state.

South Africa yesterday also joined the Non-Aligned Movement - created as an advocate for developing countries against world superpowers, AP reports from Johannesburg. The movement approved South Africa's membership on the first day of its conference in Cairo.

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