Sixty years ago, on 31 May 1961, the Union of South Africa became a republic, automatically ending its membership of the Commonwealth. In UK law the effects of the end of SA’s Commonwealth membership were delayed until 30 May 1962. From that date, South African citizens no longer enjoyed in British law the advantages of being Commonwealth citizens except in certain areas on a transitional basis.

by Bruce Mennell | | Blog

Sixty years ago, on 31 May 1961, the Union of South Africa became a republic, automatically ending its membership of the Commonwealth. Earlier, in February, at a Commonwealth conference, Dr Verwoed had announced the new republican constitution but failed to obtain approval for South Africa to retain Commonwealth membership.

The previous year had been full of political turbulence - the Winds of Change speech in Cape Town, the Sharpeville massacre, the State of Emergency, the Congo Crisis and arrival of refugees, the Treason Trial and the referendum on a republic, which had a small majority in favour.

In UK law the effects of the end of SA’s Commonwealth membership were delayed until 30 May 1962. From that date, South African citizens no longer enjoyed in British law the advantages of being Commonwealth citizens except in certain areas on a transitional basis. South African citizens with an ancestor in the male line from the British Isles or an existing colony were able to register as UK citizens until the end of 1965, and thousands did so.

Paradoxically, however, the change meant that persons born in South Africa and Namibia from 30 May 1962 until 31 December 1982 were from 2017 able to benefit from a route to British citizenship through their mother’s father under the UK Supreme Court judgement Advocate General vs Romein.  Many thousands of South Africans have benefitted.

However, this channel may end with legislative changes anticipated in November this year. Furthermore, some routes via Romein are less obvious to a non-expert and may have been overlooked. We recommend that if you were born in the period 30 May 1962 to 1982 in South Africa or Namibia, and you had a mother who was a UK citizen, or whose father was born in the UK or a British territory, that you get an expert evaluation, even if you tried before.

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