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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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Both should certainly have had no illusions about Rhodesian attitudes towards Commonwealth involvement in the Rhodesian problem. During his visit to Ottawa in September 1963, Jack Howman, the Rhodesian Minister of Internal Affairs, expressed doubts about whether ‘African Commonwealth countries would help to find any solution short of complete surrender to African demands which his Government was not prepared to make.’ Although Howman was interested to hear that Julius Nyerere was willing to consider a compromise solution in Rhodesia that would give Africans less than ‘one man one vote’, he suggested that ‘Radio Dar-Es-Salaam was one of his Government’s most troublesome enemies and Mr Nyerere might best do something to curb their propaganda.’ 50 Howman indicated that he did not think that the Commonwealth could play any special role in the Rhodesian problem and when the idea of a Commonwealth good offices mission was put to him he ‘clearly implied that his Government would regard [the] appointment of such a mission as unwarranted interference in their affairs.’51 Similarly, when Tom Carter, a senior Canadian External Affairs official, visited Salisbury in April 1964 he found that Rhodesian ministers and officials ‘were very anxious to explain their points of view, but with only one or two exceptions, they did not envisage any role for Canada in the resolution of Southern Rhodesian constitutional difficulties.’ NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR Part 1.1, ‘ Meeting of Mr Bennett (Southern Rhodesia) with Minister, March 17’, Memorandum by R. E. Collins, AMED, DEA, 18 March 1965, para. 3.

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. 4.

Ibid., para. 5.

Carter advised: ‘We should not, of course, delude ourselves as to the role Canada might play … The Canadian role, at best, would be a marginal one.’ 52 Nevertheless, Canadian officials were not wholly discouraged by Rhodesian intransigence. Conscious of the need for new ideas in advance of the 1965 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting, the Canadian High Commissioner in Nigeria, Harrison Cleveland, launched a diplomatic initiative on the Rhodesian problem, which was apparently shot down by his own ministers and the Australian Government.

Cleveland observed that in order to forestall the influence of more radical elements in Rhodesia, such as the Organisation of African Unity, and Russian- and Chinese-backed African nationalists, it might prove necessary to ‘associate the Commonwealth in some way with the transitional arrangements leading to independence’. 53 Cleveland proposed setting up in Rhodesia a Commonwealth Commission of Government similar to that used in Newfoundland during the 1930s and 1940s. 54 Cleveland recognised that the situation 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. 2.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 2, Harrison Cleveland, Canadian High Commissioner, Lagos, to Arnold Smith, Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Ottawa, Letter No. 226, 21 May 1965, para. 3.

Ibid., para. 4. The Dominion of Newfoundland was unable to pay the interest charges on its national debt as a result of the Great Depression and in 1934 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the situation. Newfoundland surrendered its Dominion status to Britain until it was once again able to support itself and in place of responsible government Britain established a Commission of Government, which consisted of appointed British and Newfoundland civil servants, to administer Newfoundland. The outbreak of the Second World War revived Newfoundland’s economy, but the British Government feared that after the War it would once again collapse and become a drain on the Treasury. Britain therefore encouraged Confederation between Canada and Newfoundland, which was narrowly approved by in Rhodesia was ‘obviously not on all fours’ with the conditions that had prevailed in Newfoundland, but suggested that ‘a comparable constitutional basis might be sought.’ A Commission of Government for Rhodesia could include representatives of the United Kingdom, Rhodesia, one African and one non-African Commonwealth country.

Cleveland suggested that:

The Commission of Government would not need to exercise authority in matters which are being satisfactorily handled by existing ministries.

However, it could have sufficient authority to ensure that the terms of any agreement reached between Britain and Rhodesia are implemented.

Among its responsibilities the Commission of Government could recommend the date on which Rhodesia would have fulfilled the

–  –  –

Cleveland also suggested that this proposal might be easier for the British Government to accept if a Commonwealth Court was established to hear cases involving racial discrimination in Rhodesia. The continuation of the Commonwealth Court after Rhodesia became independent on the basis of African majority rule would also provide some measure of protection for the European settlers. 56 Cleveland advised that from his conversations with African Prime Ministers he believed Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the referendum, and in March 1949 Newfoundland became a province of Canada. See David MacKenzie, ‘Canada, the North Atlantic Triangle, and the Empire’, 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), pp. 589-91.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 2, Cleveland to Smith, 21 May 1965, para. 4.

Ibid., para. 5.

Gambia would support a coalition government in Rhodesia if Ian Smith included two or three Africans in his Cabinet. 57 It is uncertain how Cleveland’s proposal was received in Ottawa, but Australian officials formed the impression that whilst the idea of a Commission of Government was not likely to commend itself to Lester Pearson the proposal for a Commonwealth Court might hold some attraction. 58 The fact that neither of these ideas were mentioned in Canadian briefs for the Prime Ministers’ Meeting and were not raised by Pearson in London suggests the Canadian Government thought that Cleveland’s proposals were not worth pursuing. 59 Even if the Canadian Government had decided to pursue them it would not have received any support from Australia. When Paul Hasluck, the Australian Minister of External Affairs, heard about Cleveland’s proposals he exclaimed: ‘What a damn silly idea! I will take a copy to London with me in case it comes to the surface.’ 60 Why Hasluck should have thought this is not clear. Cleveland admitted that the circumstances in Rhodesia in Ibid., para. 6.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 2, ‘Rhodesia: Possibility of Canadian Initiative’, Memorandum by C. T.

Moodie, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Division IV, DEA, Canberra, to Minister for External Affairs, [n.d. but June 1965], para. 4. Australian information was based on discussions with T. W. H. Read, the Canadian Acting High Commissioner in Canberra, who was not acting on instructions from Ottawa. The reaction of the Canadian Government is most likely recorded in RG 25 Vols. 8985-8987, 20-RH-1-4, (multiple parts), but those files were reviewed and declassified in January 2006, shortly before submission of this thesis.

NAC: MG31-E47, Vol. 66, ‘Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference, London, June 17-25, 1965’, External Affairs Confidential Brief, 7 June 1965; Minutes of PMM (65) 8th Meeting, Item 5, ‘Rhodesia’, pp.


NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 2, ‘Rhodesia: Possibility of Canadian Initiative’, Memorandum by C. T.

Moodie, marginal hand-written minute.

1965 were not exactly analogous to the situation in Newfoundland in the 1930s, but it may be argued that this did not automatically invalidate the proposal for a transitional arrangement based on a Commission of Government. If the Commonwealth had accepted Cleveland’s ideas the biggest stumbling block would no doubt have been the attitude of the Rhodesian Government, which would have protested this form of Commonwealth interference perhaps even more vigorously than it resisted proposals for a Commonwealth conference.

The idea of a special Commonwealth mission surfaced in October 1965, immediately after the breakdown of negotiations between the British and Rhodesian Governments in London. Harold Wilson wrote to Ian Smith advising that Sir Robert Menzies had agreed to take part in ‘a small Commonwealth mission of respected senior statesmen which could go to Rhodesia and examine the whole situation.’ Wilson hoped that the Prime Ministers of Nigeria and Ceylon and one other Commonwealth state would accompany Menzies. 61 Wilson also made a television broadcast announcing the proposal, which he ended with an appeal: ‘I know I speak for everyone in these islands, all parties, all our people, when I say to Mr Smith, “Prime Minister, think again.”’ 62 The seriousness of the

–  –  –

immediately endorsed Wilson’s proposal by issuing a press statement that he was confident ‘a mission of Prime Ministers could give new perspective to the problem and clarify the implications of differing courses of action.’ 63 Yet despite the public support Wilson to Smith, 12 October 1965, para. 2, Cmnd. 2807, p. 95.

Harold Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970: A Personal Record (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and Michael Joseph, 1971), p. 150.

NAA: A1838, 370/1/26, Part 1, Australian High Commission, Wellington, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No.

502, 13 October 1965.

given by Old Commonwealth leaders they must have privately felt that this proposal was a measure of the British Government’s desperation. Wilson told his Cabinet that the Rhodesian Government would no doubt agree to a Commonwealth mission by Menzies, but it would be unacceptable to the British Government (and the Commonwealth) if the mission were confined only to Menzies and/or representatives from white Commonwealth countries. 64 In fact, whilst the Rhodesian Government expressed its high regard for Menzies, and highlighted a standing invitation for him to visit Rhodesia, it was not prepared to accept any form of Commonwealth mission. Smith replied to Wilson that those involved in such a mission would be ‘so far from the issues involved that … they could not better any contribution made by you and the Commonwealth Secretary’, and reiterated the fact that the Rhodesian Government had ‘always maintained that the Commonwealth has no jurisdiction as far as Rhodesia is concerned.’ Smith also pointed out that a Commonwealth mission would ‘have within its ranks people who have openly expressed themselves as enemies of the present Rhodesian Government and Constitution.’ He highlighted Tanzania’s pledge to withdraw from the Commonwealth if Britain granted independence to Rhodesia on the basis of anything less than African majority rule, and noted that Zambia and India had both raised objections to the proposal for a Commonwealth mission. 65 ‘In other words’, as Smith later recalled in his memoirs, ‘Wilson’s plan was floored before it started, so the whole thing turned out to be an utter farce.’ 66 TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 44th Meeting, 15 October 1965, p. 3.

Smith to Wilson, 18 October 1965, paras. 3-5, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 96-97.

Ian Smith, Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath (London: Blake, 2001), p. 95.

Yet whilst the Rhodesian Government was disdainful of the Commonwealth and particularly its African members (which is discussed in the next chapter), it was not entirely unreceptive to the Old Commonwealth. In July 1964 Ian Smith told the Canadian Ambassador to South Africa that the views of Canada, Australia and New Zealand were ‘the only ones that count’. 67 Moreover, in his memoirs Smith portrayed his personal relationship with Menzies and Holyoake as perfectly amiable. 68 Perhaps, then, the Old Commonwealth Prime Ministers might have had a greater role to play after all. Menzies and Pearson both had experience of crisis diplomacy and were respected Commonwealth statesmen who enjoyed considerable prestige. 69 It is not inconceivable that had they been able to discuss the Rhodesian problem with the Rhodesian Government at an early stage, well before negotiations with Britain entered a critical phase, they might have been able to inspire sufficient confidence to arrive at a formula for a solution. On the other hand, as one Australian diplomat noted in October 1965, for almost two years ‘British officials have cudgelled themselves numb in search for various alternative formulae which might be negotiable with Salisbury and which international opinion might be brought to tolerate.’ 70 It might therefore be presuming too much to suggest that Pearson or Menzies could have established a breakthrough, but the unwillingness of the Rhodesian Government to admit any form of Commonwealth interference ultimately renders such speculation idle. However, in the absence of more determined attempts at constructive NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, Ralph Collins, Canadian Ambassador to South Africa, to DEA, Ottawa, Cable No. 85, 3 July 1964.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 87.

Melakopides, Pragmatic Idealism, pp. 80-81; and Russel Ward, The History of Australia: The Twentieth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 337.

NAA: A1838, 935/9/5, Part 9, A. J. Eastman, Senior External Affairs Representative, Australian High Commission, London, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No. 9138, 22 October 1965, para. 3.

engagement the British Government sought to involve the Old Commonwealth in its halfhearted attempts to deter the Rhodesian Government from a UDI.

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