South Africa becomes a republic

On 31 May, South Africa becomes a republic. Queen Elizabeth II, who has intrigued St Mary’s girls for almost 20 years, first when she visited the country as Princess Elizabeth in 1947, ceases to be Queen of South Africa. The country leaves the Commonwealth and replaces British sterling with a new currency; St Mary’s girls now have to grapple with rands and cents instead of pounds, shillings and pence.

This marks the start of apartheid South Africa’s increasing international isolation. One St Mary’s girl, Moira Abernethy, had won bronze swimming for South Africa in the 1956 Olympic Games, but this will not happen again until South Africa is readmitted to world bodies and a St Mary’s Old Girl represents South Africa at the Games in 2008. In the interim, a number of talented sportswomen lose the opportunity to represent their country.

The ANC, forced underground following its banning the previous year, establishes an armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, led by Nelson Mandela. Whereas before the ANC had espoused non-violent revolution, it now embraces armed resistance.