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«THE RHODESIAN CRISIS IN BRITISH AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS, 1964-1965 by CARL PETER WATTS A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham For the ...»

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concluded: ‘It appeared that there was unanimity between Smith and his colleagues and that the talks were heading for a breakdown.’ 127 It was at this critical juncture that Wilson took over the negotiations. It was made clear that the British Government was prepared to grant independence before African majority rule, but despite this major concession and extensive discussions, no agreement was reached on the implementation of independence on the basis of the Five Principles. 128 The joint communiqué stated that frank and thorough discussions had failed to reconcile the two Governments’ opposing views and no further meeting was planned. 129 Smith later wrote that ‘this was a blunder, because it established the fact that there was only one way out for us.’ 130 Smith and Wilson had discussions independently with the Conservative Party leadership over the course of the weekend. Edward Heath and Selwyn Lloyd suggested that an alternative way to provide constitutional safeguards for the Africans might be to sign a treaty, perhaps registered with the United Nations, guaranteeing that there would be no regression in the constitutional status of Africans after independence. 131 Before Smith departed London he had one further meeting to discuss this idea with Wilson. 132 The British Prime Minister observed that the only precedent for such a treaty of guarantee was Cyprus, and it was ‘not entirely a happy one’, but conceded that the idea might merit Ibid.

Records of Meetings held at 10 Downing Street on 7 and 8 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 69-90;

Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 91-92; Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 146-49; Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, Ch. 23, ‘Fruitless Negotiations with Wilson in London, October 1965’, passim; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, Ch. 12, ‘Irreconcilable: 1-12 October 1965’, passim.

Agreed Communiqué, 8 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, p. 90.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 93.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 93; Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 149.

Record of a Meeting held at 10 Downing Street, 11 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 90-95.

further discussion. 133 Smith pointed out that it would still offer a possible way forward on only one of the Five Principles; the difficulties in respect of the other four would remain. Wilson accepted this, but suggested that it still offered the possibility that some progress might be made. 134 Wilson had, once again, tried to leave the door open to further negotiations even though it was obvious to both sides that there was little, if any, room for agreement.

After Smith departed London, Wilson appeared on television. As Smith later observed:

‘Very adroitly, he changed course from the irreconcilability expressed in the communiqué of [the previous] Friday.’ 135 Wilson explained that he had followed the principles of successive British Governments, and was not giving up because too much was at stake.

He revealed a new initiative, for a Commonwealth mission, and concluded with a dramatic appeal: ‘I know I speak for everyone in these islands, all parties, all people,

when I say to Mr Smith: “Prime Minister, think again”.’ 136 Wilson then wrote to Smith:

‘it is important that everything that is humanly possible should be done to devise a peaceful solution of the Rhodesian problem.’ He urged Smith to accept a Commonwealth mission of senior statesmen, headed by Sir Robert Menzies of Australia, which was ‘genuinely meant as an attempt to open up new avenues of negotiation.’ 137 Smith replied that Menzies had a standing invitation to visit Rhodesia, but the Rhodesian Government Ibid., p. 93.


Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 94.

Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 149-50.

Wilson to Smith, 12 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, p. 95. For further details of the proposed Commonwealth mission see below, Ch. 4, pp. 219-20.

was not disposed to accept the proposed Commonwealth mission. 138 Smith was aware that ‘Wilson was manoeuvring for tactical advantage, and trying to ensure that he did not place himself in a position where he appeared to be responsible for any breakdown of negotiations.’ 139 They continued to exchange correspondence and Wilson put forward a proposal to visit Salisbury, which Smith accepted. 140 Smith could not really have done otherwise, for he was obviously as conscious as Wilson of the need to avoid the public impression that he was responsible for the final breakdown of talks between the British and Rhodesian Governments. From this perspective it may be argued that Wilson’s move was astute because it locked his opponent into a further round of negotiations, with the prospect of indefinite delay. This clearly suited the British Government, but not the Rhodesian Government, which was convinced that it must resolve the uncertainty surrounding Rhodesia’s future. On the other hand, according to Richard Crossman there were serious reservations in the British Cabinet about the wisdom of Wilson’s tactical manoeuvre. Crossman thought that ‘Burke Trend was the decisive influence’, and compared the initiative to Neville Chamberlain’s flight to Munich. 141 Arthur Bottomley later wrote that it was ‘most unwise’, because: ‘Nothing would be gained by such a visit and our Asian, West Indian and African Commonwealth partners would not be enthusiastic about the proposal.’ 142 Smith to Wilson, 18 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 96-97.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 94-95.

Wilson to Smith, 18 October 1965; Smith to Wilson, 20 October 1965; Wilson to Smith, 21 October 1965; and Smith to Wilson, 21 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 96-102.

R. H. S. Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. Volume 1, Minister of Housing, 1964-66 (London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape, 1975), p. 356, entry for Thursday 21 October 1965.

Bottomley, Commonwealth, Comrades and Friends, p. 149.

Oliver Wright, Wilson’s Foreign Office Private Secretary, defined the objective of the visit as an attempt to discover, ‘by personal contact and discussion with all shades of Rhodesian opinion whether there exists a general desire to find a way out of the present deadlock’, and ‘if there is such a desire, to try to crystallize and focus it; and to float a proposition.’ 143 The particular target of the visit was to obtain a year’s moratorium on the independence issue. Wright envisaged that this could be achieved if: (i) the Rhodesian Government withdrew of the threat of UDI; (ii) the British Government withdrew the threat of sanctions; (iii) the African nationalists agreed to set aside their differences, work the Constitution, and adopt legal political methods; (iv) the Rhodesian Government lifted the restrictions on African nationalists in return for their assurance of legal methods; (v) all parties agreed to take stock at the end of one year, perhaps at a constitutional conference in London; and (vi) the British Government sweetened the package through a combination of education and training for Africans, government-to-government loans, and encouragement of private capital investment directed towards Europeans. 144 Tactically, the British would try to hold Smith in the centre through discussions, whilst ‘outflanking him to left and right by taking soundings of moderate opinion among Nationalist leaders, ex-Prime Ministers, business and farming interests etc. to discover whether there is scope for a fresh approach to Rhodesian independence.’ 145 All of this was sound in theory, but what the British Government did not know is that from the very beginning there was no likelihood that Wilson’s visit would succeed, because on 19 TNA: PRO, PREM 13/542. ff 91-93, ‘Visit to Rhodesia: October 1965’, Minute by J. O. Wright, 22 October 1965, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, p. 205.


Ibid., p. 206.

October the Rhodesian Security Council had taken the decision to proceed with UDI ‘at the first favourable opportunity.’ 146 At the commencement of negotiations between the two Governments on 26 October, Smith observed that although the position was generally unchanged, there was a ‘ray of light’. He understood that there were signs of a more reasonable attitude on the part of the African nationalists and the Opposition, who realised that a settlement short of majority rule might be preferable to ‘something worse than the 1961 Constitution’ (by which he meant a UDI). No progress was made on the suggestion of a post-independence treaty of guarantee because the two sides could not agree exactly what constitutional safeguards the treaty would offer, and the Rhodesian Government would not concede sufficient ground on the issue of African political advancement to make it possible for the British Government to agree to independence before majority rule. 147 Wilson then had meetings with the African nationalists, which Elaine Windrich has observed: ‘were an essential preparation for negotiations with the Europeans. If he could be seen to be taking a tough line with them, his chances of getting an agreement with the Europeans would be immeasurably improved.’ 148 However, Wilson found that despite Smith’s optimistic remarks earlier in the day, the African nationalists remained obdurate: they would not Ken Flower, Serving Secretly. An Intelligence Chief on Record: Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, 1964-1981 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1987), pp. 47-48. Flower was the Chief of the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation.

‘Record of a meeting held at Milton Buildings, Salisbury’, 26 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 102-11.

See also: Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 96; Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 155-57; Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 50-51; Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp. 412-14; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 256-58.

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 49.

agree to co-operate with each other, to withdraw their demands for immediate majority rule, or to work legally under the 1961 Constitution. 149 The need to engineer a more reasonable attitude on the part of Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole may well explain Wilson’s otherwise incomprehensible decision to rule out explicitly the use of force against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI. 150 However, even this did not assist his dealings with the Rhodesian Government, which were soured by mutual contempt. One of Wilson’s biographers commented: ‘the ultra-reactionary Rhodesian Cabinet regarded the British premier with macho scorn, while he treated them with headmasterly distaste.’ 151 At their morning meeting on 29 October, Wilson told Smith that he had made it clear to the African nationalist leaders that there would be no British military intervention in the event of a UDI, that the African nationalists could not expect majority rule in the immediate future, and that there could be no fixed timetable for transition to majority rule. Wilson then put forward two proposals: the first was a referendum of all Rhodesian TNA: PRO, PREM 13/543, ‘Record of a meeting between Harold Wilson and a ZAPU delegation led by Joshua Nkomo, Government House, Salisbury’, 27 October 1965, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, pp. 556-61; TNA: PRO, PREM 13/543, ‘Record of a meeting between Harold Wilson and a ZANU delegation led by the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, Government House, Salisbury’, 27 October 1965, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, pp. 206-12. See also Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 158-59, for an account of his explosive reaction to Rhodesian maltreatment of the African nationalists, who had been left in a hot police van all day without food.

For a detailed discussion see below, Ch. 2.

Pimlott, Harold Wilson, p. 369. See also Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 163, for an account of Lord Graham’s offensive behaviour at a social engagement. Smith remarked in his memoirs merely that ‘Angus Graham, (the Duke of Montrose and my Minister of Agriculture) was in his element.’ Bitter Harvest, p. 97.

taxpayers to test the Rhodesian Government’s assertion that the majority of the Rhodesian people were in favour of independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution; and the second was a Royal Commission, under the chairmanship of the Rhodesian Chief Justice, Hugh Beadle, ‘to recommend the constitutional arrangements on the basis of which Rhodesia might proceed to independence as rapidly as possible in a manner acceptable to the people of the country as a whole.’ 152 Smith rejected the first proposal but agreed that his Cabinet should give careful consideration to the second. At a final meeting, Smith made a counter-proposal to Wilson that the Royal Commission should receive from the British and Rhodesian Governments an agreed independence constitution, which it would then put to the Rhodesian people to ascertain its acceptability. This, of course, raised two important questions: the nature of the independence constitution and the means by which its acceptability would be tested. Agreement on these points could obviously not be reached instantly, and Wilson said that he would have to consult his Cabinet on the matter (much to the annoyance of the Rhodesian ministers, who believed that this was simply another delaying tactic). Wilson was also scheduled to embark on consultations with Commonwealth leaders in Zambia, Nigeria, and Ghana before returning to London, so he left behind the Commonwealth Secretary and Attorney General to continue the discussions in Salisbury. 153 However, they were not able to resolve the points of ‘Record of a meeting held at Milton Buildings, Salisbury’, 29 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 111-16.

See also: Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 97; Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 164-65; Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 51; Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp. 429-31; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 262-63.

‘Record of a meeting held at the Prime Minister’s residence, Salisbury’, 29 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 117-32. See also: Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 97-98; Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 165-67;

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 52-53; Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp. 434-37; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 264-68.

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