New Ar—Ar dating of rocks dredged from seamounts and ridges distributed along the St. Helena and Gough volcanic chains suggests that these features were formed by, respectively, the activity of the St. Helena and Walvis hot spot-plume systems. The St. Helena and Walvis (referred to elsewhere as Tristan) hot spots probably consist of broad zones of diffuse volcanism (i.e. oceanic islands, seamounts, and small ridges), at least 500 km in diameter. It remains unclear as to whether one or several narrow plume(s) is (are) upwelling to form these broad zones of hot spot volcanism, which results from decompression melting across parts of the broad, impacted 'mushroom head' of the plume(s). The very slow velocity of the African plate, in association with the westward flow of St. Helena and Walvis plume material to the South Atlantic spreading-axis, are likely to be important factors in the development of these broad fields of mid-plate volcanism. On a more localized scale, lithospheric structure (e.g. fracture zones) probably controls the locations of sites of hot spot volcanism. The distributions of Ar—Ar ages along the St. Helena and Gough chains, in conjunction with the proposition of their having been formed by broad hot spots, have been incorporated into a reconstruction of African plate motion over hot spot-plume systems since the opening of the South Atlantic. Estimates of the velocity of the African plate suggest that the African plate might have slowed significantly between ∼ 31 and 0 Ma. The South Atlantic spreading axis migrated westward away from the (fixed?) St. Helena and Walvis hot spot-plume systems, this migration beginning between ∼ 80 and 70 Ma. This led to a transition from an on-spreading-axis to a mid-plate constructional setting along the St. Helena Chain and the Walvis Ridge.