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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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The Old Commonwealth: Racial Attitudes and the Rhodesian Crisis Introduction In 1958 the Australian historian Bruce Miller famously described the Commonwealth as a ‘concert of convenience’, and suggested that although it did not go as far as to encompass ‘a common set of values’ its members nevertheless considered it to be a convenient forum for consultation and cooperation. 1 This underlying congeniality may explain why the Commonwealth was able to survive some significant disagreements during the post-War period, most notably during the Suez Crisis. However, during the late 1950s and the early 1960s the admission to the Commonwealth of newly independent African states transformed the nature of the association. 2 African membership heightened sensitivities within the Commonwealth about issues of racial equality, which threatened to undermine the ‘concert’. On the emotional questions of apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination in Rhodesia, it is notable that Canada adopted a much more positive attitude towards African concerns than either Australia or New Zealand. This divergence in attitudes can be explained by three factors: an obvious contrast in their conceptions of the Commonwealth; their different diplomatic styles and political objectives; and, most significantly, a powerful undercurrent of racialism in Australia and New Zealand in the political, official, and public domains.

J. D. B. Miller, The Commonwealth in the World (London: Duckworth, 1958), pp. 275 and 292.

Idem, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs: Problems of Expansion and Attrition 1953-1969 (London:

Oxford University Press for The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1974), Ch. 7, ‘The African Transformation’, pp. 101-25.

The Old Commonwealth and racial equality Canada, Australia, and New Zealand conceptualised their membership of the Commonwealth in radically different terms. For example, in 1966 British officials in Canberra characterised the Australian understanding of the Commonwealth as ‘an ANZAC relationship with Britain’, and observed that ‘for Australia, the only fully meaningful relationship within the Commonwealth is the trilateral one with Britain and New Zealand’; whereas British diplomats in Ottawa reported that ‘the concept of the new, multi-racial, Commonwealth plays a significant part in Canada’s external policies’. 3 In terms of diplomatic style and political objectives, Canada tended to adopt a conciliatory posture towards African states because it emphasised the importance of the Commonwealth as one of several vehicles for increasing Canadian influence in Africa. 4 Australia and New Zealand, on the other hand, had little interest in Africa and tended to The National Archives [hereafter TNA]: Public Records Office, Kew [hereafter PRO], DO 193/79, Eleanor J. Emery, Counsellor, British High Commission, Canada, to R. Walker, CRO, London, 1 December 1966, para. 2; DO 193/79, O’Leary to Walker, 30 November 1966, para. 3; in S. R. Ashton and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), British Documents on the End of Empire Project [hereafter BDEEP] Series A, Volume 5, East of Suez and the Commonwealth, Part II: Europe, Rhodesia, Commonwealth (London: The Stationery Office, 2004), pp. 348 and 354. See also Lester B. Pearson, Mike: The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Lester B.

Pearson Volume 3: 1957-1968 (Toronoto: University of Toronto Press, 1975); Paul Martin, ‘Canada and the Commonwealth’ in Paul Martin Speaks for Canada: A Selection of Speeches on Foreign Policy 1964Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1967); and his autobiography, A Very Public Life Volume II: So Many Worlds (Toronto: Deneau Publishers, 1985). In 1968 Pierre Trudeau replaced Lester Pearson and Canadian concern with the Commonwealth waned as its desire to establish a better relationship with francophone states waxed. Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 371.

TNA: PRO, DO 193/79, Emery to Walker, 1 December 1966, para. 6, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, p. 356. This feature of Canadian diplomacy is explored further in the next chapter.

concentrate more on their regional concerns in South East Asia. 5 As one commentator on

Australian foreign policy in the 1960s noted:

In a broad sense Australian policy had to take account of the fact that the focal point of international tension had shifted from Europe to Asia.

Despite the prominence of Africa and the undeniable importance of the racial controversies surrounding South Africa and Rhodesia, it seemed increasingly clear that the great international issues of the day were finding their strongest expression in Asia and South East Asia, and that this in the immediate future was the area in which they were most likely to be

–  –  –

A significant reason why South Africa and Rhodesia were of ‘undeniable importance’ is that Commonwealth debate about these issues exposed the Old Commonwealth to scrutiny of their own domestic racial policies. Canada, Australia and New Zealand were biracial societies, and their governments pursued policies of assimilation or integration of indigenous minorities. 7 However, racial issues were not as pronounced in Canada as they TNA: PRO, DO 193/79, O’Leary to Walker, 30 November 1966, paras. 6 and 7, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5, Part II, pp. 349-50.





Gordon Greenwood, ‘Australian Foreign Policy in Action’, in Gordon Greenwood and Norman Harper (eds.), Australia in World Affairs, 1961-1965 (Vancouver: University of Columbia Press, 1968), p. 12.

Similarly, New Zealand also remained firmly focused on its interests in Asia and the South Pacific. See W.

D. McIntyre, ‘From Dual Dependency to Nuclear Free’, in Geoffrey W. Rice (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn. 1992), pp. 532-33.

A policy of assimilation aims to extinguish native culture and compel acceptance of the white majority culture, whereas a policy of integration requires indigenous minorities to accommodate to white society but were in Australia and New Zealand, so Canadians therefore felt less vulnerable to criticism from the newer, Afro-Asian members of the Commonwealth and were more willing to engage them on the subjects that were of greatest concern to them, such as racial discrimination, aid and development.

The prospect of British decolonisation in Africa generated a great deal of scepticism among some of the older, white members of the Commonwealth, as historian William McIntyre has observed: ‘when Kwame Nkrumah demanded Dominion Status for the Gold Coast in 1951 there were shudders, especially in Pretoria, at the prospect of a “Black Dominion”.’ 8 Conservative politicians in Britain flirted with the idea of a two-tier structure for the Commonwealth, which would preserve the ‘club-like’ atmosphere for the older members, whilst confining new members to an outer circle. 9 However, these ideas did not get very far and in 1957 newly independent Ghana became a full member of the encourages retention of some aspects of minority culture, e.g. production and sale of native clothing, tools, and instruments. Segregation, as practiced in South Africa, used race and colour as a legitimate basis to differentiate in law and for the provision of services, and aimed at separate development. Colin M. Tatz, Four kinds of dominion: comparative race politics in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa (Armindale: University of New England, 1972), pp. 5-6.

W. D. McIntyre, ‘Commonwealth Legacy’, in Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume IV: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 697.

John Holmes, ‘The Impact on the Commonwealth of the Emergence of Africa’, in Norman J. Padelford and Rupert Emerson (eds.), Africa and World Order (New York: Praeger, 1963), p. 29; Ronald Hyam, ‘Winds of Change: the Empire and Commonwealth’, in Wolfram Kaiser and Gillian Staerck (eds.), British Foreign Policy 1955-64: Contracting Options (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), pp. 203-04; McIntyre, ‘Commonwealth Legacy’, in Brown and Louis (eds.), Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. IV, p. 698.

–  –  –

Australia the political establishment wondered aloud about the viability of the changing Commonwealth. In 1956 Sir Eric Harrison, the Australian High Commissioner in London, opined that it really ought to be a British Commonwealth. 11 In March 1957 Alexander Downer, an Australian MP who subsequently entered the Menzies

Government as Minister for Immigration (1958-63), commented that:

In striving to accommodate many diverse policies, conflicting ambitions, irreconcilable philosophies, in maintaining that opponents are our friends, there is a danger that the whole thing will dissolve into thin air … more than anything else I believe in the Commonwealth, but it must be a co-operative Commonwealth in fact not just a historical fiction. 12 By the end of the 1960s there was in Australia ‘an attitude of near-contempt for the new Commonwealth structure which had arisen’. 13 This reflected a number of developments that had accentuated problems of race relations since the beginning of the decade. In Wm. R. Louis, ‘The Dissolution of the British Empire’, in Brown and Louis (eds.), Oxford History of the British Empire, Vol. IV, pp. 347 and 349.

J. D. B. Miller, ‘An Empire That Don’t Care What You Do’, in A. F. Madden and W. H. Morris-Jones, Australia and Britain: Studies in a Changing Relationship (London: Cass, for the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 1980), p. 97.

Quoted in Sir Alan Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy, 1938-1965 (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1968), p. 287. In August 1965 Sir Alexander Downer became Australian High Commissioner in London.

Miller, ‘An Empire That Don’t Care What You Do’, in Madden and Morris-Jones, Australia and Britain, p. 98.

1960 the United Nations admitted seventeen new states and passed the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which recognised the right of all peoples to self-determination and the obligation of colonial powers to effect an immediate transfer of power to their dependent peoples. In the same year the Sharpeville Massacre in the Transvaal and Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech shone a spotlight on apartheid in South Africa. 14 This issue came to a head at the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference in March 1961, when South Africa applied to retain her membership of the Commonwealth after becoming a republic. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Ceylon vociferously opposed continued South African membership. Julius Nyerere also wrote a newspaper article stating that Tanganyika, which was scheduled to become independent in December 1961, could not join the Commonwealth if it included a state pursuing racialist policies. 15 The Commonwealth avoided a disastrous split because the South African Prime Minister, Hendrick Verwoerd, withdrew his Government’s application and in doing so South Africa left the Commonwealth. Verwoerd claimed that his Government bowed to pressure not only in South Africa’s interests but also in the interests of ‘our friends in the Commonwealth, particularly the United Kingdom. I could not place them Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 140-42. See Ch. 8, ‘The South African Problem’, pp. 126which discusses the South African problem between the late 1940s and the 1960s.

Holmes, ‘The Impact on the Commonwealth of the Emergence of Africa’, in Padelford and Emerson (eds.), Africa and World Order, pp. 29-30; Hyam, ‘Winds of Change: the Empire and Commonwealth’, in Kaiser and Staerck (eds.), British Foreign Policy 1955-64, p. 204; Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 152-55.

in the invidious position of having to choose between South Africa and a group of AfroAsian states.’ 16 The positions taken by Canada, Australia and New Zealand on the South African issue

–  –  –

Canadian Government feared that the Soviet Union would exploit colonial issues at the United Nations to foster an anti-Western attitude among African states. The Canadian Government therefore determined that it should become much more active on colonial and racial issues. 17 By the time of the 1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference it was obvious to Canadians that apartheid was inconsistent with the multi-racial character

–  –  –

Canadian politicians and diplomats worked quietly behind the scenes to produce compromise solutions to difficult problems, but on the issue of apartheid the Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, ‘preferred to appear as one of the lead architects of change’, and took a very personal stand against continued South African membership of Quoted in James Barber, ‘The Impact of the Rhodesian Crisis on the Commonwealth’, Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2 (July 1969), p. 87; also cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 156.

Robert Matthews and Cranford Pratt, ‘Canadian Policy Towards Southern Africa’, in Douglas G. Anglin, T. Shaw, and C. Widstrand (eds.), Canada, Scandinavia and Southern Africa (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1978), pp. 164-66.

Ibid., p. 168.

the Commonwealth. 19 Robert Menzies later wrote that Diefenbaker ‘came armed with a resolution of his Parliament and presented his views with immense emotion. Not even some side-queries to him about the Red Indians and the Eskimos in Canada could deflect him from his course.’ 20 This comment indicates that even the Canadian Government was not immune from criticism on racial matters, partly because of federal laws defining the status of natives and partly as a result of provincial attempts to assimilate indigenous peoples. 21 However, this did not deter Canadian politicians from emphasising the multi

–  –  –

Commonwealth Society in Montreal in May 1966, Lester Pearson, Diefenbaker’s successor as Prime Minister of Canada (1963-68), declared that ‘the greatest value of the new Commonwealth is [that it is] a multi-racial association at a time when the world is crying out for that kind of association.’ Similarly, in his memoirs Pearson described the

Commonwealth as:



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