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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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‘Record of a Meeting Held at 10 Downing Street’, 8 October 1965, Cmnd. 2807, p. 86. On the day of UDI Wilson contradicted himself by telling Smith: ‘We have never said, as far as I am aware, that there is anything against continuing as you are’, and ‘we have never ruled out the status quo.’ 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. 569 and 570; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 535 and 536. When Smith and Wilson met in January 1965, they were both explicit that the status quo was unacceptable. TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ff 86-95, ‘Record of a meeting between Mr Wilson and Mr independence issue would have suited the British Government because in the short term it would have allowed it to focus on a plethora of other domestic and foreign policy problems. It would also have removed the threat of a UDI, given time to implement confidence-building measures among the Europeans in Rhodesia, and to prepare the Africans for majority rule. This was in fact suggested by Oliver Wright in advance of the final round of negotiations in Salisbury. 179 It should have been a British objective from a much earlier stage, for it was blindingly obvious that the economic situation in Rhodesia presented an opportunity that the Labour Government could have exploited to its advantage.

In July 1964 the Rhodesian Government requested financial assistance from the South African Government in the form of a public loan of £2.5 million and a government-togovernment loan for a further £2.5 million. The South African Government stipulated that the second loan should be used for non-military purposes, such as irrigation projects, railway and canal construction, expansion of hydroelectric power, and the building of an airport at Chiredzi. This stipulation masked the real purpose of the loan, as Sue Onslow

has recently commented:

The clandestine agreement behind this apparently anodyne financial arrangement was that the money thus saved by the Southern Rhodesian exchequer could then be diverted into national defence, offsetting the 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. 183.

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.

anticipated shortfall in tax revenue caused by falling investment and obviating the need for tax increases in an acutely sensitive political

–  –  –

This demonstrates that the Rhodesian Government was short of money: it could not afford the burden of increasing defence expenditure and the financing of major infrastructure projects simultaneously. At the same time that Ian Smith was negotiating the loans from the South African Government he told the Canadian ambassador in South Africa that the level of British aid to Rhodesia was almost negligible. Further, Smith said that British aid was directed towards the Africans in Rhodesia, whereas private capital was flowing towards the Europeans, so he was unconcerned that the British Government might discontinue its aid because it would hurt the Africans rather than Europeans. 181 In October 1965 a delegation from the Confederation of British Industry told Wilson that in a recent visit they had noticed: ‘Much play had been made in Rhodesia that whereas Britain gave a vast quantity of aid to other African countries, she has given nothing to Rhodesia over the last few years.’ 182 It was untrue that Britain had given nothing, but British aid to Rhodesia was limited, and the aid issue generated tension rather than goodwill. The Rhodesian Government had been promised £4 million following the dissolution of the Central African Federation, and had received £2 million by the time that the Labour Government came into office. The remaining £2 million was due to be Sue Onslow, ‘A Question of Timing: South Africa and Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1964-65’, Cold War History, Vol. 5, No. 2 (May 2005), p. 136.

NAC: 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, Part 3, ‘The economic situation’.

‘Record of a Meeting between Mr Wilson and a delegation from the Confederation of British Industry’, 19 October 1965, Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, p. 554.

paid in April 1965, but the Labour Government indicated that it had reservations about

–  –  –

Rhodesian Government interpreted this as ‘financial blackmail’ and accused the British Government of ‘immoral behaviour’. 183 When Wilson met with Smith in January 1965, he said that the British Government was prepared to enter into negotiations about financial aid and whilst it was ‘not taking the line that these should be suspended because there had been talk of a unilateral declaration of independence … the signing of a cheque must depend on the state of relations between the two Governments at the time.’184 Wilson subsequently confirmed that the British Government would pay the remaining £2 million in April (unless there was a UDI), and pointed out that his Government had also provided other forms of financial assistance, including a guarantee for a World Bank loan of £2.75 million to the Kariba Dam authority, and a loan of £1.5 million from the Commonwealth Development Corporation (a British Government agency) to Central African Airways. Although Smith was not unappreciative of these various forms of assistance, he asserted that the British Government’s warning statement of 27 October 1964 ‘had definitely [had] an inhibiting effect upon the attitude of both British and foreign investment in Rhodesia.’ 185 Smith to Wilson, 13 January 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 53-55. TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 3rd Meeting, 21 January 1965, p. 3; CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 10, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Memorandum by Arthur Bottomley, 19 January 1965, para. 1.





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. 5, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, pp. 184-85.

Wilson to Smith, 29 March 1965; and Smith to Wilson, 23 April 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 59-61. See also Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 84-85.

It may certainly be argued that Wilson’s position was not unreasonable, but perhaps a bolder financial approach would have yielded better political results. What the British could have done at this juncture was to offer a much bigger incentive: in other words, to buy off the Rhodesian Government. In November 1964 Arthur Bottomley and Barbara Castle suggested that the British Government should offer ‘considerable’ financial and technical assistance, and send an economic mission to Rhodesia, but ‘not before there has been progress in the political talks, since otherwise Mr Smith will use it against us by saying that we are trying to bribe his Government to abandon their objectives.’ 186 Given the state of the Rhodesian Government’s finances this is debatable, but it is of course necessary to consider what level of financial aid might have been sufficient to induce a more cooperative attitude on the part of the Rhodesian Government, and whether Britain could afford the sums of money required. In May 1964 the former Rhodesian Prime Minster, Garfield Todd, wrote to Sir Alec Douglas-Home suggesting that the British Government should be prepared to offer substantial assistance of £10 million per year for ten years in order to facilitate a political agreement. 187 Of course, the political situation in Rhodesia made financial bargaining a very difficult issue, and it is by no means certain that the Rhodesian Government would have been prepared to concede a specific timetable for African majority rule. It may, however, have been prepared to stop talking about the need for a UDI, which would have reduced the tension in Anglo-Rhodesian relations. It might also have been more reasonable about arrangements for an accelerated educational TNA: PRO, PREM 13/87, ‘Southern Rhodesia – policy and tactics’, Minute by Sir Burke Trend to Harold Wilson, 24 November 1964, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, pp. 498-99.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, Garfield Todd and Hardwicke Holderness to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Letter, 15 May 1964.

programme for Africans, land reform, and a gradual extension of the franchise, if the Europeans in Rhodesia stood to benefit substantially from British aid.

Could Britain afford an agreement of this kind, both politically and economically? £100 million over ten years was indeed a substantial sum, though major levels of transitional aid for newly independent countries were not unprecedented. 188 From a political point of view, if the aid package were not tied explicitly to a timetable for independence then it would no doubt have been difficult for the British Government to ‘sell’ it to the Labour Party, the British public, and African nationalists. From an economic perspective, the British Government would have found it difficult to increase its level of aid to the figures suggested by Todd, since this would have taken a disproportionate share (one-sixth) of Britain’s annual African aid budget. With the benefit of hindsight it is also obvious that massive aid would have become more difficult in the context of the Wilson Government’s subsequent economic retrenchment, which cut deep into total overseas development funds. 189 On the other hand, in June 1965 the Board of Trade warned that the annual balance of payments costs to Britain of economic sanctions against Rhodesia in the event When Malta became independent in September 1964 Britain signed a defence agreement and a financial agreement that were designed to ease Malta’s loss of service expenditure. Britain paid £5 million annually to station troops in Malta and to use air and naval facilities, and contributed £29.5 million (75 per cent loan and 25 per cent grant) over five years to develop new industry and tourism. Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part III, p. 99, editor’s note.

In 1966 Britain provided £63 million to African countries, of which £60 million was allocated to Commonwealth countries. The sterling crisis of 1965 generated cuts in the overall aid budget from £250 million to £225 million and as a result of the 1966 sterling crisis a further £20 million was pruned from the aid programme for 1967-68. Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part I, pp. cvii and cxvicxvii. See also Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, Ch. 12 ‘The Sterling Area, Trade, and Aid’, especially pp. 296-306.

of a UDI could be anywhere between £50 and £200 million.190 On that basis the British Government might have calculated that aid of £100 million over ten years represented excellent value if it could be tied to a Rhodesian pledge of good behaviour. If the aid package could have been used to secure an agreement for a specific transition to African majority rule rather than a moratorium on the independence issue then so much the better.

In the absence of a firm plan to obtain either, the British Government needed to ensure that its contingency plans to meet the eventuality of a UDI were sound. However, it was in this crucial respect that the formulation of Labour’s policy was weakest.

British contingency planning for a UDI Historian John Young has observed that from Wilson’s viewpoint, ‘it was a success to defer UDI as long as possible, delaying a crisis in which unpleasant, and economically costly, decisions would have to be made.’ 191 However, although the British Government sought to defer a UDI for as long as possible it was simultaneously engaged in an enormously complex contingency planning operation, which was weakened by some major deficiencies. First, there was a plethora of committees involved in the process, which meant that few officials or ministers had a clear view of the overall situation. This suited Wilson because it augmented his control over the Government’s Rhodesian policy, especially the decision to implement economic sanctions against Rhodesia despite the fact that officials and ministers harboured many doubts about this. Second, the Government’s TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Implications of economic pressure against Rhodesia’, Paper by the Commercial Relations and Export Department of the Board of Trade, 12 May 1965, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, pp. 188-90.

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

contingency planning lacked sufficient momentum. Crucial decisions were often deferred pending an assessment of the circumstances that prevailed at the time of a UDI, which hindered coordination with the Old Commonwealth and the United States, 192 and inhibited the initial response to UDI. Third, contingency planning involved many departments and it generated bureaucratic conflict over key issues. Rhodesia was chiefly within the remit of the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), but the Cabinet Office, Foreign Office (FO), Ministry of Defence, Treasury, Board of Trade, Department for Economic Affairs, Ministry of Power, and the Home Office were all concerned with various aspects of the Rhodesian Crisis. One scholar has suggested: ‘it is not clear that any interdepartmental rivalry reflected actual differences of opinion on how to resolve the Rhodesian Crisis.’ 193 Yet as the following discussion demonstrates, this is clearly at variance with the considerable weight of evidence in The National Archives, which indicates concern in the FO about complacency and inefficiency in the CRO. 194 Peter Hennessy has observed that: ‘Wilson bids fair to be the untidiest of all the postwar premiers in administrative terms despite his pride in his housetraining.’ 195 This refers to This is discussed at length below, in Chs. 4 and 6.

Richard Coggins, ‘The British Government and Rhodesian UDI’, paper presented in ‘Rhodesian UDI’, Institute of Contemporary British History Witness Seminar, Public Records Office, Kew, 6 September



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