n African Journal on Conflict Resolution - Hammarskjöld and apartheid South Africa : mission unaccomplished

Volume 11, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1562-6997


With regard to Africa, the latter part of Dag Hammarskjöld's tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) (April 1953-September 1961) was dominated by the process of decolonisation and the Congo war. His active involvement, leadership and personal sacrifices in favour of national self-determination and peace are here well documented. Less known is that Hammarskjöld also was requested by the UN Security Council to seek ways and means to uphold the principles of the UN Charter and to safeguard human rights in the Union of South Africa. To this end, he visited the country between 6 and 12 January 1961, holding six meetings with Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. After the visit, he reported to the Security Council that 'no mutually acceptable arrangement' had been found, adding that he wished to once again pursue the matter at an appropriate time (Hammarskjöld 1961). The Congo war and Hammarskjöld's death in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) would put an end to this ambition. Introduced by comments on Hammarskjöld, the UN and Africa, and with the addendum 'mission unaccomplished', this article discusses some aspects of the Secretary-General's brief stay in apartheid South Africa in January 1961.

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