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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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difference regarding the proposed constitution. 154 Smith advised Wilson that the Royal Commission was a non-starter unless the British Government agreed that the independence constitution should be acceptable to the Rhodesian Government. Smith also reasserted his claim that he had an agreement with the previous British Government that Rhodesia should be granted independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution.155 At Cabinet meetings on 1 and 2 November, British ministers debated four choices: (i) accept Smith’s document for submission to the Royal Commission to see if the Rhodesian people wanted it; (ii) submit Smith’s draft to the Commission while publicly dissociating the British Government from it; (iii) put both drafts before the Commission; or (iv) insist that only the British Government’s draft be submitted. It was thought that that the first two options would buy some time, whereas the third and fourth options were likely to provoke a UDI. 156 The Cabinet agreed to support the second option, provided that the Royal Commission’s report was unanimous and there was unanimous agreement on the mechanism for consulting the Rhodesian people. 157 Wilson put these terms to Smith, but he replied that they were so hedged with restrictions ‘that the only conclusion to be derived from your letter is that it is tantamount to, and can only be interpreted as, a ‘Report to the British and Rhodesian Governments: Independence of Rhodesia, Proposed Royal Commission’, 31 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 132-35. See also: Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp.

439-42; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 268-69.

Smith to Wilson, 31 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 135-36.

Barbara Castle, The Castle Diaries 1964-1970 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), pp. 62-63, entry for Tuesday 2 November; Crossman, Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 1, pp. 367-68, entry for Monday 1 November; Ponting, Breach of Promise, pp. 149-50.

The Defence and Oversea Policy Committee also reiterated this position two days later. TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 48th Meeting, 3 November 1965, pp. 5-6.

rejection of the proposals agreed with you in Salisbury.’ He concluded: ‘the impression you left us with of a determined effort to resolve our constitutional problems has been utterly dissipated. It would seem that you have now finally closed the door which you claimed publicly to have opened.’ 158 Meanwhile, on 5 November, a state of emergency was declared in Rhodesia, which was an obvious prelude to a UDI, even though the Rhodesian Government denied that this was the case. 159 There were further, desperate, efforts to prevent a UDI. At Wilson’s invitation Sir Hugh Beadle flew to London to discuss how the Royal Commission would work under the circumstances of a state of emergency, but Smith declared that Beadle was travelling ‘entirely on his own initiative.’ 160 Wilson also offered to meet Smith again, this time in Malta, but Smith merely replied that no agreement was possible on the Royal Commission. 161 On 10 November Wilson sent another lengthy message to Smith, reporting his discussions with Wilson to Smith, 3 November 1965; and Smith to Wilson, 6 November 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 136-40.

Flower, Serving Secretly, pp. 52-54; and Megahey, Humphrey Gibbs, pp. 106-07. According to one report, CRO officials were not sure what to make of the state of emergency. Desmond Lardner-Burke (the Rhodesian Minister of Justice, Law and Order) said it was intended to counter the threat from saboteurs, but British officials did not think that the security situation warranted this. Alternatively it was thought it could be designed to demonstrate the Rhodesian Government meant business and was an attempt to compel the British Government to accept Rhodesian terms for independence. Another possibility was that Smith was trying to placate the extremists in the Rhodesian Front and thereby maintain the unity of his government.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 15, New Zealand High Commission, London, to Department of External Affairs, Wellington: Cable No. 3928, 5 November 1965.

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 54; Wood, So far and no further!’, p.

461; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, p. 274.

Wilson to Smith, 7 November 1965; and Smith to Wilson, 8 November 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 140-42.

Beadle, explaining the British Government’s position on the Royal Commission, and

once again suggesting a further meeting. 162 Clive Ponting has commented:

By now the British government was essentially shadow-boxing to establish their position after UDI. Their aim was to show how hard they had tried to avoid it. But this was important politically because Wilson, who had carefully been keeping Heath in the picture, had obtained an undertaking

–  –  –

Commission then the Conservatives would not support UDI. 163 On the night of 10 November Wilson received intelligence that a UDI would take place the next day. He telephoned Smith early the following morning, but it was too late to avert the course of action to which Smith was committed. 164 The Rhodesian Government unilaterally and illegally declared its independence at 11 a.m. that morning. 165 A critical analysis of the Anglo-Rhodesian negotiations Was there ever any possibility of a negotiated settlement that would have averted a UDI?





Robert Holland has contended that: ‘Anglo-Rhodesian talks were really concerned with Wilson to Smith, 10 November 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 142-43.

Ponting, Breach of Promise, pp. 150-51.

Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 169-71; Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 101-02. See also TNA: PRO, PREM 13/545, ‘Transcript of a telephone conversation between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith’, 11 November 1965, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, pp. 568-71; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 534-37.

For the Unilateral Declaration of Independence see Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 104-06.

the cultivation of images for media presentation, since the two sides were too far apart for a real agreement to be practicable.’ 166 There is much to be said in favour of this argument, as the foregoing discussion has suggested. Although the British and Rhodesian Governments agreed that there could and should be no immediate transition to African majority rule, the Rhodesian Government made it clear in each round of substantive negotiations that it was not prepared to countenance transitional arrangements that would have produced majority rule within a timeframe acceptable to the British Government, international opinion, or Rhodesian African nationalists (for whom immediate majority rule was the only acceptable outcome). 167 The unwillingness of the Rhodesian Government to accept that the problem had international dimensions that conditioned the scope of any bilateral agreement was a serious handicap to the negotiations.

A further complication from the British perspective was that they were never really sure what to make of Smith. 168 In September 1964 British officials described Smith to Sir

Alec Douglas-Home:

Holland, European Decolonization, p. 234.

It was never really clear what timeframe the Rhodesian Government did envisage. When Smith and Wilson met in January 1965 the Rhodesian Prime Minister suggested that his Government was looking at ways to extend European control for ‘60 or 70 years, or perhaps even longer’, but during negotiations in October 1965 Clifford Dupont, the Rhodesian Minister of Defence and External Affairs, said that he believed majority rule was ‘perhaps seven years ahead; but it might come more quickly, e.g., in only five years.’ TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ff 86-95, ‘Record of a meeting between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith’, by Derek J. Mitchell, Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, 30 January 1965, para. 1, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, p. 184; and ‘Record of a Meeting Held at the Prime Minister’s Residence, Salisbury’, 29 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, p. 129.

Young, The Labour Governments 1964-70, Vol. 2, p. 171.

He is a simple-minded, politically naïve, and uncomprehending character.

His political approach has been described as ‘schoolboy’. He possesses a strong vein of schoolboy obstinacy and there is a mixture of schoolboy stubbornness, cunning and imperception about his speeches. Likewise there is a Boys Own Paper ring about his patriotic utterances.

Nevertheless his pedestrian and humourless manner often conceals a shrewder assessment of a particular situation than at first appears on the

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Wilson’s initial impression of Smith was that he was ‘very far round the bend’ and ‘a nut case’, but by October 1965 he no longer believed that Smith was ‘neurotic and temperamental’. 170 The British Government clearly came to believe that Smith wanted an agreement, 171 and thought that Smith was different from the extremists in the Rhodesian Front. 172 Yet even if the British Government were correct in its calculations that Smith was a moderate, it would have been difficult for Smith to sell an agreement to the Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. ix. Also quoted in Rebellion (BBC Television 1999), Part 1, ‘Treachery’.

BLPES: Hetherington Papers, Hetherington/8/12, ‘Note of a meeting with Harold Wilson’, 11 January 1965; Hetherington/8/5, ‘Note of a meeting with the Prime Minister’, 10 February 1965; and Hetherington/10/3, ‘Note of a meeting with the Prime Minister’, 11 October 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 21/5513, MISC 51/1, Minutes of Meeting, 25 March 1965, in Murphy (ed.), BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, p. 524; and TNA: PRO, CAB 130/228, Minutes of Cabinet Sub-Committee, 30 July 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181876, Minute from Lord Walston to Patrick Gordon Walker, 19 January 1965;

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 26th Meeting, 19 May 1965, p. 4; and Minutes of OPD (65) 49th Meeting, 7 November 1965, p. 3.

Rhodesian Front, as the British Government recognised. 173 This became obvious during Cledwyn Hughes’ visit to Rhodesia in July 1965, when Smith had to give assurances to the Rhodesian Front Chairman, Lieutenant-Colonel William Knox, that ‘the Government is not contemplating any action which could be construed as contravening the principles and policies of the Rhodesian Front’ and that independence, whether negotiated or not, would be ‘without strings’. 174 Given the difficulties of reaching a negotiated settlement of the independence issue, the British Government really ought to have considered negotiating for an alternative

–  –  –

Rhodesian Government, a moratorium may have been hard to contemplate. Southern Rhodesia had been a self-governing Colony since 1923, and the fact that it had not been granted full independence at the same time as Malawi and Zambia injured the pride of the Rhodesian Europeans. More importantly, the Rhodesian Government was explicit on many occasions that the state of the Rhodesian economy was the main reason why it must gain independence. Rhodesian ministers argued that only independence would create conditions of certainty that would attract investment, which Rhodesia desperately needed. 175 When Labour ministers suggested that there was only limited investment in TNA: PRO, CAB 21/5513, MISC 51/1, Minutes of Meeting, 25 March 1965, in Murphy (ed.), BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, p. 524. ‘There could be no certainty that Mr Smith would accept an agreement … or that, even if he himself did so, he could carry his Government and the white population of Southern Rhodesia with him.’ Quoted in Wood, So far and no further!’, p. 332.

NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, ‘Visit to Ottawa by Mr J. H. Howman, Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government and African Education of Southern Rhodesia, Sept. 12-13 1963’, Memorandum by D. B. Hicks, African and Middle Eastern Division, Department of External Affairs Rhodesia because of the threat of a UDI, Smith asserted: ‘the facts were that since his Party came to power three years before and began to campaign for independence, investment had substantially increased, even though it was still insufficient.’ 176 In May 1965, Smith had publicly dismissed as impractical the Rhodesia Party’s idea of maintaining the status quo because it was economically and politically dangerous. 177 Yet this position was taken in the context of a general election campaign, when Smith was trying to distinguish the Rhodesian Front’s policy from those of its political rivals. It is interesting to note that in October 1965, Smith privately asked whether the Labour Government believed ‘that an alternative lay in the maintenance of the status quo’, and

–  –  –

[hereafter DEA], Ottawa, 21 October 1963, para. 13. RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, Ralph Collins, Canadian Ambassador to Pretoria, to DEA, Ottawa, Cable No. 85, 3 July 1964. ‘Record of a Meeting Held at 10 Downing Street’, 7 September 1964, Cmnd. 2807, p. 23. TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ff 86-95, ‘Record of a meeting between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith’, by Derek J. Mitchell, Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, 30 January 1965, para. 6, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, p. 185.

‘Record of a Meeting Held at 10 Downing Street’, 8 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, p. 86. Smith also contended that as long as the British Government retained some say in Rhodesia’s internal affairs there would never be political unity because the African nationalists would continue to look to London for support rather than seeking a solution with the Rhodesian Government.

Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, p. 310.



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