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High Commissioner for South Africa

Last modified: 2005-06-11 by bruce berry
Keywords: high commissioner |
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[SAHC flag] by Martin Grieve, 11 May 2003 See also:

High Commissioner for South Africa

[SAHC badge] by Martin Grieve, 11 May 2003

SAVA Journal 3/94 mentions the following:
The British Union Flag charged in the centre, on a white roundel, with the letters S.A.H.C. in black, ensigned with a Tudor Crown proper, within a green garland of laurel. This flag which seems to have been taken into use in 1907, is similar in design to that used by the Western Pacific High Commissioner.

The Office of the High Commissioner in and for South Africa was created by the Letters Patent in 1878. The High Commissioner was, until 1899, charged with the conduct of British relations with the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, as well as those with "native states and tribes outside the colonies of Natal and the Cape, including Swaziland, which was administered by the Government of the South African Republic under the Convention of 1894". The High Commissioner was also Governor of Basutoland (now Lesotho) and supervised the affairs of the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland.
Bruce Berry, 13 Jan 1997

The office of High Commissioner for South Africa was introduced for Cape Governor Sir Henry Pottinger (before 1850), originally simply as a means of boosting his salary above that of a mere colonial governor. But the High Commissionership grew in importance through the 19th century, as a result of his powers of negotiation with neighbouring states and his authority over other territorial administrators, including the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal. At one stage the High Commissionership was split, with the Natal Lieutenant-Governor becoming a second High Commissioner for South Eastern Africa based in Pietermaritzburg at the time of the Zulu War and the disastrous annexation of the ZAR/Transvaal. But that was quickly ended and the Governor in Cape Town again became the sole High Commissioner. The High Commissioner was usually Governor of the Cape, but during the South African War Lord Milner resigned as Governor in Cape Town and was instead Governor of the Orange River Colony and Transvaal Colony, while still retaining the office of High Commissioner. He lived in Johannesburg while ruling through Administrators in Pretoria and Bloemfontein. (This was the first use in South Africa of the title Administrator. From 1910 to 1994 the four provinces were headed by Administrators appointed by the Prime Minister.) After Milner left, the Governorship of the Cape was again combined with the High Commissionership. From 1910 until 1931 it was the Governor-Generalship that was combined with the High Commissionership. But in that year two men were appointed separately to these positions, to signify a change in the status of South Africa (and the other British Dominions). The Governor-General now represented the British Sovereign, not the Government in Westminster. The High Commissioner represented the British Government, and continued to be responsible for the administration of Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland. More and more the High Commissioner became a diplomat, and in fact all of the Dominions now appointed High Commissioners ("ambassadors") to represent themselves in other Dominions. The High Commissioner in Cape Town became purely a diplomat when Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana became independent. South Africa had a High Commissioner in London from the 1930s to 1961. The official there then became the ambassador of the Republic of South Africa. The post again became a High Commissionership in 1994, when South Africa returned to the Commonwealth.
Mike Oettle, 2 Feb 2002

The office of High Commissioner was one that evolved in a strange way, having been attached to the Governorship of the Cape in 1847 when Sir Henry Pottinger was named to the posting. The title came from the fact that the Lieutenant-Governor of the Eastern Province (of the Cape Colony) had been called Commissioner to cover his function of negotiating with the indigenous peoples outside the colony. It was originally given to Sir Henry chiefly to justify his being given a larger salary than had previously belonged to the Governor of the Cape. For most of the following six decades the office of High Commissioner was tied to the Governorship of the Cape, with two exceptions:
During 1879-81 there was a second High Commissionership based in Natal with authority for the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and (for a short period) Griqualand West. During and after the South African War, the High Commissionership was separated from the Governorship of the Cape when High Commissioner Sir Alfred Milner resigned as Cape Governor in 1901 while retaining the Governorship of the Orange River and Transvaal Colonies. (Later that same year he became Lord Milner).  This situation ended in 1905 when Milner left the country and the new Cape Governor was again appointed High Commissioner. From 1910 to 1931, the office of High Commissioner was attached to that of Governor-General. The flag badge bearing the initials “S.A.H.C.” was used from 1910 to 1928, although Brownell does not spell out under what circumstances the flag bearing it was flown. Between 1928 and 1931, the initials read “H.C.”, and the crown and initials were surrounded by a circular wreath. I’m not sure what sort of branches made up the wreath.
According to Brownell’s caption, the flag badge inscribed “H.C.” was used until 1931 by the “High Commissioner for Basutoland the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland”.  Why such a distinction was necessary I don’t know, since the High Commissioner was still, at this stage, also Governor-General (the King’s representative as Head of State).
Separate appointments made in 1931 divided the two offices, the Governor-General being regarded as the King’s representative and the High Commissioner the representative of the British Government (in fact a fancy title for an ambassador to South Africa). The High Commission retained its responsibility for the administration of the three “High Commission territories” until they became independent in the 1960s, after which it became solely an ambassadorial position.
Mike Oettle, 11 May 2002

After I’d sent off the above about High Commissioners I realised that I needed to make one or two small corrections.

1. The additional title of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Eastern Province was Commissioner-General, not merely Commissioner. (This title was revived under apartheid when it was given to the officials appointed to liaise between the autonomous Bantustan assemblies and the apartheid government, functioning effectively as deputy heads of state. Following Bantustan “independence” in Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei, these Commissioners-General became ambassadors).

2. Regarding High Commissioners in the recent past:  Since South Africa became a republic in 1961, the High Commissioner in Cape Town/Pretoria then took on a dual role, being Ambassador to South Africa and High Commissioner to Basutoland/Lesotho, Bechuanaland/Botswana and Swaziland.

Following South Africa’s readmission to the Commonwealth in 1994, the ambassadorship was raised to High Commission level, and South Africa’s ambassadors in Commonwealth countries likewise became High Commissioners.

(I refer to Cape Town/Pretoria, since the diplomatic corps follows the government in its annual migration from Gauteng to the Western Cape and back.)
Mike Oettle, 13 May 2002

There are some details about the SAHC flag which might be incorrect:
A letter of 29 January 1907 referred to this flag -
"Special flag when embarking or paying official visits at ports in South Africa. Following similar case of Western Pacific High Commissioner.  Badge consisting of the letters S A H C surmounted by a Tudor crown emblazoned in the centre thereof on a white ground encircled by a garland."
The garland was standard laurel leaves.
Source: Public Record Office, Kew ADM 116/1063D.

One would suppose that this flag went out of use in 1931, at the same time that the Union Jack of the Governor-General of the Union of South Africa was replaced by the royal crest and scrolls on a blue flag.  However the S A H C replacement, a Union Jack with the letters H C on a white circle surrounded by a laurel-leaf garland in the centre, did not receive a warrant until 16 August 1935; so perhaps the S A H C badge continued to be used until then.  The HC badge fell out of use in September 1968 when Swaziland gained independence.
David Prothero, 16 May 2002

I have a history book with a map as of 1895 which shows:
(1) British Protectorate of Bechuanaland;
(2) British Colony Bechuanaland; and
(3) Togoland (north of Zululand)

Was the British High Commissioner's flag used both in (1) and (2)?
Where was Togoland (Amatogoland) and what flag was flown?
Nozomi Kariyasu, 15 Nov 2003

Nozomi, the British South Africa High Commissioner's flag was not introduced until 1907.

To answer you other queries:
(1) On land the flag of a British colony or protectorate was the Union Jack. The High Commissioner's flag (1935 design) may have been used on land after 1942; before that it should have been used only when the High Commissioner was embarked in a vessel.
(2) The colony of Bechuanaland was incorporated into Cape Colony in 1895
(3) I think the spelling should be Tongaland / Amatongaland. It became a British protectorate in 1895. In 1897 it was incorporated into Zululand, which was annexed to Natal in the same year.  I believe the Union Jack was used.
David Prothero, 15 Nov 2003

High Commissioner's Flag:
26 July 1902. High Commissioner's Office Johannesburg to Colonial Office. Ref. Secretary of State telegram 19th July No.5 regarding Colonial Office Regulations,
Chapter 20 on flags. There are no provisions for High Commissioners. Presume Lieutenant-Governor's fly Union Flag and Royal Standard in accordance with regulations, but is not High Commissioner for South Africa, as a diplomatic officer, entitled to flag on page 281 (No.1 in Foreign Office List) ?
Note in minute.
Not a diplomatic post, but he should have a special flag like that of Western Pacific High Commissioner.
David Prothero, 21 Mar 2005