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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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Affairs, which took the view that ‘We ourselves have neither the resources nor the intention to extend our existing commitments in Africa.’ 37 Another way in which the Old Commonwealth might have helped Rhodesia was through the offer of assisted immigration for European Rhodesians who did not wish to remain in Rhodesia under African majority rule. The Australian Government did consider this matter but decided not to facilitate emigration from Rhodesia for two reasons. First, the Federal Government in Salisbury had in 1959 asked Canberra not to extend the General Assisted Passage Scheme to Southern Rhodesia, presumably because the Federal Government wanted to stem the flow of European emigrants (which by 1964 had reached the rate of 1,000 per month) rather than encourage it since this would erode the European position in Rhodesia. Second, Australia did not wish ‘to gain a reputation as a refuge for Europeans from Africa, unwilling to come to terms with African nationalism.’ Thus, when Ghana proposed that Australia and Canada might assist a solution in Rhodesia by taking white migrants, the Australian Government did not comment on the suggestion. 38 This was unfortunate, because a public commitment to assist migration would have provided an obvious alternative for those European Rhodesians who were convinced that African majority rule meant certain disaster.

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 ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, DEA, Wellington, to New Zealand High Commission, London, Cable No. 1074, 5 May 1964, para. 3.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 2, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, brief for 1964 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting [n.d. but June 1964], p. 4.

ministers argued that independence would create conditions of certainty that would attract investment, which Rhodesia desperately needed. 39 The economic situation in Rhodesia therefore presented an opportunity that Britain and the Old Commonwealth could have exploited to their advantage. As the Rhodesian Government admitted, proposals for aid and technical assistance were a useful way of demonstrating Commonwealth interest in Rhodesia without implying any interference in Rhodesian constitutional affairs. 40 Yet schemes for training African teachers and administrators, or the development of Rhodesia’s infrastructure, required a huge level of investment to be effective in terms of advancing the status of Africans and creating confidence among Europeans in Rhodesia.

The British Government, let alone those of the Old Commonwealth, balked at this degree of commitment, especially since the Rhodesian Government gave at best conflicting

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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, AMED, DEA, Ottawa, 21 October 1963, para.13; RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1SR, Part 1.1, Ralph Collins, Canadian Ambassador to South Africa, to DEA, Ottawa, Cable No. 85, 3 July

1964. 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.

NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, ‘Southern Rhodesia – Canadian role’, Tom Carter, AMED, DEA, c/o Canadian Embassy, Cape Town, to Paul Martin, Ottawa, Despatch No. 142, 7 April 1964, para. 7.

In August 1964 Oliver Bennett told British officials his Government had calculated that under the 1961

Constitution an African majority government could emerge in ‘significantly less than ten years.’ TNA:

PRO, DO 183/317, John Wakely, British High Commission, Ottawa, to Godfrey Bass, Southern Rhodesia Department, CRO, Letter, 2 September 1964. However, in January 1965 Ian Smith told Harold Wilson that the Rhodesian Government was looking at ways to prolong European control for ‘60 or 70 years, or perhaps circumstances it would have been politically difficult for Britain and the Old Commonwealth to justify an aid programme for Rhodesia that exceeded levels of assistance for all other African countries combined, particularly as those other countries were in a much worse economic state than Rhodesia. Taxpayers at home would probably not have been sympathetic to a massive assistance programme for Rhodesia, whilst African Commonwealth states may have been critical of a policy that afforded special treatment to a white minority regime. Nevertheless, Britain and the Old Commonwealth failed to explore sufficiently their opportunity to influence the Rhodesian Government through positive inducement, and Australia and New Zealand were notably unenthusiastic about participating in schemes to improve the position of Africans in Rhodesia. If greater levels of aid and technical assistance had been offered it might have created a more favourable impression in Salisbury of the value of the Commonwealth. Certainly it can be argued that this approach would have been easier than trying to persuade the Rhodesian Government to accept Commonwealth proposals for constitutional change or suggestions for Commonwealth political involvement in discussions about Rhodesian independence, as the following discussion demonstrates.

even longer.’ 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. The record of this meeting was conveyed to the Australian High Commission in London (and presumably to the Canadian and New Zealand High Commissions also). NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 4, Australian High Commission, London, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No. 796, 2 February 1964.

Commonwealth constitutional proposals and suggestions for Commonwealth participation Canadian interest in the Rhodesian problem was manifest in suggestions for a Commonwealth conference to discuss the issue, and in proposals for constitutional arrangements that would facilitate Rhodesian advancement towards independence. These proposals, put forward mainly by Canadian officials between 1963 and 1965, foundered on two big rocks: a lack of enthusiasm among Canada’s Old Commonwealth partners (and sometimes even among Canadian politicians), which tended to undermine the force of the proposals; and outright opposition from the Rhodesian Government, which was impervious to any suggestion that the Commonwealth might have a role to play in finding a solution to the problem.

The impending dissolution of the Central African Federation prompted greater Commonwealth scrutiny of the problems in its successor states. In September 1963, Canada and Tanganyika jointly proposed to the British Government that there should be a Commonwealth meeting to discuss Southern Rhodesia. On this occasion the British Government was less than enthusiastic, which caused frustration and bemusement among Canadian officials who had a progressive attitude to the Rhodesian problem. The

Canadian High Commissioner in Tanganyika wrote:

I find it somewhat difficult to reconcile the British view that little could come out of a Commonwealth meeting at this time … and Lord Home’s disenchantment ‘with behaviour in [the] UN of African members of [the] Commonwealth who never seem to make the slightest effort to consult with [a] view to devising formulas that Britain could accept’. 42 The High Commissioner pointed out that an African member of the Commonwealth (Tanganyika) had just taken the initiative along with an older member of the Commonwealth (Canada) in an effort to facilitate an agreement on Rhodesia, but the British Government had indicated that it was not interested in such an initiative. He


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where moderate countries would take the initiative, with the British view that discussion of Southern Rhodesia by the Commonwealth group at the UN is probably unavoidable anyway! One would have thought that, if Britain believes Southern Rhodesia is going to be discussed, it would be to

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Despite initial British reluctance the proposal for a conference resurfaced later in the year.

In October 1963 Sir Alec Douglas-Home took over from Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister, and Duncan Sandys, who retained his position as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, succeeded R. A. Butler as the responsible minister for Central Africa. In November Sandys reiterated to the House of Commons that the British NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, N. F. H. Berlis, Canadian High Commissioner, Dar Es Salaam, to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Ottawa, Letter, 16 September 1963, para. 3 Ibid.

Government was concerned for the unity of the Commonwealth and he stressed the necessity for Commonwealth consultation on the Rhodesian problem. Sandys set off alarm bells in Salisbury when he said that he was ‘wondering whether we might not go further than that. Might it not perhaps be possible for other members of the Commonwealth to help in a more positive way in the task of finding a generally acceptable solution?’ 44 Winston Field wrote to Sandys asking for clarification of the role that he envisaged other members of the Commonwealth might play. Field affirmed that the matter was one for determination between the British and Rhodesian Governments and indicated his apprehension of the effect that Sandys’ remarks might have at the United Nations, where the British Government had consistently maintained that the grant of independence to Rhodesia did not admit of outside interference. 45 Sandys conveyed through Sir Roy Welensky an invitation to Field to attend a conference at which the Commonwealth Secretary and Rhodesian Prime Minister would discuss the problem of Rhodesian independence with Robert Menzies, Lester Pearson, and Julius Nyerere, but Field replied that he was not prepared to discuss Southern Rhodesia’s independence with any country other than Britain. 46 Sandys tried to persuade Field that he was not asking the Commonwealth to ‘sit in judgment’ on Rhodesia and he was not thinking of a formal conference, but rather talks without any fixed agenda that were ‘entirely exploratory and consultative in character’, which ‘would not in any way affect the responsibilities of our two governments for the ultimate solution’. Sandys encouraged Field to accept the Quoted in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 188. For the whole speech see Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 15 November 1963, cols. 584-87.

Field to Sandys, 27 November 1963, paras. 1 and 2, Cmnd. 2807, Southern Rhodesia: documents relating to the negotiations between the United Kingdom and Southern Rhodesian Governments November 1963 – November 1965 (London: HMSO, 1965), p. 5.

Field to Sandys, 2 December 1963, Cmnd. 2807, p. 6.

proposal because it would ‘tend to create a more sympathetic atmosphere and a better understanding in other Commonwealth countries of the nature of Southern Rhodesia’s problem and of the policy and attitude of your Government.’ 47 However, Field rejected the proposal for three reasons: first, it was ‘without precedent in British Colonial history’;

second, it would be interpreted as a breach of ‘the principle of exclusive responsibility’ that Britain claimed at the United Nations; and third, the attitude of Commonwealth Governments was ‘likely to be conditioned either by doctrinaire considerations or by considerations of national interest which will have little or no bearing on the best interests of the people of Southern Rhodesia now or in the future.’ Field also indicated that he did not agree with Sandys’ view that willingness to enter into discussion with the Commonwealth would create greater sympathy and understanding of Rhodesia’s problems, since he saw no evidence of ‘of a willingness to view the political circumstances in Southern Rhodesia with a degree of objectivity and a sense of historical perspective.’ 48 Field’s emphatic rejection therefore contained some indication of the Rhodesian Government’s general attitude towards the Commonwealth (which is explored in more detail in the next chapter).

There were also some concerns in Ottawa about the viability of a conference, which is somewhat surprising considering that the proposal was first mooted jointly by Canada and Tanganyika. In March 1964 Paul Martin confessed to Oliver Bennett that although he had agreed with the proposal for a conference Sandys put it forward, ‘he had always been dubious about its efficacy and had been somewhat relieved when it was turned down by Sandys to Field, 7 December 1963, paras. 8-10, Cmnd. 2807, p. 7.

Field to Sandys, 13 December 1963, paras. 3 and 4, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 8-9.

Field.’ 49 This suggests either that Canadian officials were more progressive than Canadian ministers, or that Canadian ministers were more realistic than their officials.

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