Personal circuits: official tours and South Africa’s colony
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This paper focuses on the visits of Sydney Buxton, Governor-General of South Africa, and his party to South West Africa (SWA, now Namibia) in 1915 and 1919. These, I argue, formed part of a broader economy of what might be called ‘personal circuits’ – journeys and visits by important personages – which helped to construct networks of power within the southern African region and beyond, and, in the case of the Governor-General, acted to promote British imperial power.
In this case, the tours took place at two crucial moments: during the South African conquest of Namibia in 1915, and after the granting of the League of Nations mandate for SWA to South Africa in 1919. The records of the tours illustrate not only that South Africa was eager to impose its symbolic authority on Namibia at (almost) the highest level, but also, to an extent which historians have overlooked, that this authority was conceived as that of imperial Britain as well as of the Union of South Africa.
The tours, during which the public performance of power and consent was repeatedly staged, also opened up a significant space for negotiation and dissent on the part of both the conquered German population and the African population. The petition from Africans in Windhoek reveals much about the trajectory of oppositional politics in Namibia at this time. The article also looks at the gendering of power during these visits by considering both the audiences at the public performances, and elite women, especially Mildred Buxton, whose significant role is argued to have been inherently political.