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Response to Review of Settlers at the End of Empire: Race and the Politics of Migration in South Africa, Rhodesia, and the United Kingdom

This is a very generous and engaged review. I especially appreciate the ways in which Duncan Money situates my book within the longer history of British migration to Southern Africa and connects it to recent work in the area by scholars such as Nicola Ginsburgh. I was really pleased that the ‘ordinariness’ of emigration from the United Kingdom to South Africa and Rhodesia came through clearly in for example, as Money notes, the ways in which residents of Salisbury, Wiltshire, could peruse and consider job ads in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) as this is one of the main points I was hoping to make. The account Money cites of the elderly colonial official reminiscing in Lusaka about the royal tour arriving in Cape Town in 1947 also resonates with my own research on this period and speaks to the ways in which the imperial connection and its legacies was often much more visible from southern Africa than from the United Kingdom. Like Money, it is very much my hope to see more work on the ongoing history of emigration from the United Kingdom and crucially, to see this history more thoroughly integrated with the history of post-war Britain especially in the ways that it speaks to questions of race and identity and of class and social mobility. 

I would like to respond to one point in the review, however, about the place of Britain in the comparative framework that my book aims to establish. This is fundamental to my book’s argument and so I want to take the opportunity to clarify. As Money describes, I argue that all three nations under scrutiny, South Africa, Rhodesia, and the United Kingdom in the wake of imperial collapse employed migration policies that aimed towards what I term a demographic defence of nations imagined as white. In the cases of South Africa and Rhodesia this was primarily through the recruitment, and from the 1960s, the subsidy of white migrants, although it was also through policies that aimed to deter its white citizens from leaving and restricted permanent settlement on racial lines. In the United Kingdom, however, dwindling support for assisted emigration schemes to the settler colonies of the Commonwealth was only one small part of the demographic defence of a white nation.  

The most crucial aspect, and one which was not addressed in the review’s discussion of the transnational framework, was the way that the British government, starting with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act enacted a migration regime designed to restrict the migration of people of colour from the Commonwealth. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the British government in the 1960s adopted racialised migration policies of the sort that had long been employed by the settler colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Rhodesia.(1)  These policies of restriction, which culminated in the British Nationality Act of 1981, are the clearest and most important example of the ways in which the migration policies of the British state amount to a demographic defence of a nation imagined as white In some ways these policies of restriction can be seen as the inverse of the policies of recruitment enacted by South Africa and Rhodesia at the same time. This point is particularly important to stress, not only because it is a fundamental aspect of the book’s argument, but because the legacies of these policies continue to haunt the contemporary politics of migration in the United Kingdom today, from the hostile environment policy to the Windrush scandal and beyond.(2)

Related to this is another point raised by Money, in his discussion of my chapter about the trajectory and identity of white British migrants after decolonisation and the collapse of both the Rhodesian and apartheid regimes. Money notes that in their serial migrations, the white British migrants I discuss continued to benefit from a tremendous amount of privilege, that they had the option to move from Rhodesia to South Africa, or from either South Africa or Rhodesia to Australia, the United States, or back to the United Kingdom. Elsewhere I’ve discussed this privilege, both extraordinary in a global sense and yet also—as is in the nature of privilege—taken for granted, but I agree that I could have placed more emphasis on this in the chapter he cites.(3)  Who has the ability to be mobile and which migrations appear unremarkable is, after all, a central concern of the book. This oversight speaks, I would venture, to the power of the often racialised discourses that normalised and continue to normalise white British migration as well as the state policies that enabled and continue to enable it, while pathologizing other migrants, whether from the Global South or, more recently, from Eastern Europe. Such understandings continue to inform much of the contemporary politics of migration in the United Kingdom and beyond. I would be really pleased if my book stimulated more scholarship on these issues and I agree that a lot more remains to be said.


  1. Jean P. Smith, 'Persistence and Privilege: Mass Migration from Britain to the Commonwealth, 1945-2000', in The Break up of Greater Britain, ed. Christian Damn Pederson and Stuart Ward (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021),p. 254.Back to (1)
  2. Nadine El-Enany, (B)ordering Britain: Law, Race and Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020); Maya Goodfellow, Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats (London: Verso, 2019).Back to (2)
  3. Smith, 'Persistence and Privilege'.Back to (3)