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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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In strict legal terms, the advancement of colonies was Britain’s business and no one else’s; in political terms it was desirable that other Commonwealth members should concur in, and if possible applaud, the progress which Britain was making. If they could be associated in some way in that progress – as India and Pakistan had been in preparing for the independence of the Sudan, and Australia, India, and Pakistan in that of

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The Rhodesian Government’s unwillingness to countenance Commonwealth involvement in its affairs was motivated by attitudes towards the African Commonwealth that were similar to those of many Australian politicians and officials. In February 1964 Winston Field spoke disparagingly in the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Assembly of the Commonwealth African states, which were characterised by ‘varying degrees of oneparty dictatorship; some just flirting with communism, some obviously in love with communism, if not already married to it.’ Field suggested that these states wanted to interfere in Rhodesian affairs to divert attention from their own poor administration and corruption. 3 The following month Field made it clear to the British Government that for the Rhodesian Government the issue was ‘not the impact on the Commonwealth which the grant of independence is likely to have but the preservation of our Constitution, which is essential to our freedom, against the efforts of international and Commonwealth forces to circumvent, and even suppress it.’ Field went on to suggest that the 1961 Constitution was ‘the very basis for the orderly political advancement of Africans’ and for that reason Rhodesia’s enemies regarded the Constitution as an obstacle. Field also observed ‘There is no doubt that African Nationalism in this country is directed and financed by Ibid.

Southern Rhodesia Legislative Assembly Debates, 26 February 1964. Quoted in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 190.

Communist countries.’ 4 Field’s public and private remarks reflected beliefs that were deeply embedded in the Rhodesian Front, which proved to be insurmountable obstacles to any possibility of Commonwealth engagement in the Rhodesian problem.

Ian Smith’s views about the Commonwealth were certainly no different to those of his predecessor. When Sir Alec Douglas-Home advised Smith that ‘the British Government, either alone or in conjunction with other Commonwealth Governments, will be glad to help in any way they can to bring about a generally acceptable solution’, Smith replied, ‘I must repeat, what my predecessor has already stated, that the issue of independence for Southern Rhodesia is a matter solely between the Southern Rhodesia Government and the British Government and that it is not the concern of any other Government in the Commonwealth or elsewhere.’ 5 Smith continued to profess that the Commonwealth had no jurisdiction; following the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting in June 1965 he informed Harold Wilson: ‘frankly, I am not interested in what the other members of the Commonwealth say about our affairs, and what they do say will not turn us from what we

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negotiations in London in October 1965 Smith emphasised another familiar theme when he remarked that there was no such thing as democracy in the countries to the north of Field to Sandys, 3 March 1964, para. 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. 13.

Douglas-Home to Smith, 20 May 1964, final para.; Smith to Douglas-Home, 24 June 1964, para. 8, Cmnd.

2807, pp. 16 and 19.

Smith to Wilson, 28 June 1965, para. 3, Cmnd. 2807, p. 62.

Rhodesia, and referred to the situation in Tanzania by way of illustration. 7 When Wilson put it to Smith in later negotiations that the Commonwealth was ‘a valuable buttress against the spread of Communist influence in Africa and that it would be gravely damaged by a UDI’, Smith replied that ‘he had heard military experts argue the contrary view, in the sense that the best means of avoiding trouble in Africa or an international war would be to maintain the European influence in Rhodesia, if necessary by a UDI.’ 8 The Rhodesian Government never deviated from its views that the Commonwealth had no standing in the matter of Rhodesia’s claim to independence and that its African members were infected with Communism and were therefore enemies of Rhodesia. 9 Many Europeans in Rhodesia no doubt shared these views. In September 1963 the Canadian High Commissioner in Tanganyika reported an editorial in the Rhodesian Herald that ‘talked about barbarism in some countries which are criticizing Southern Rhodesia.’ He remarked: ‘Livingstone is just across the border, but close enough to remind me of the saying about people who live in glass houses.’ 10 There was indeed much hypocrisy on both sides of the debate, and Bruce Miller has commented on the ‘Record of a Meeting held at 10 Downing Street, 8 October 1965’, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 81-82. One commentator noted in 1967: ‘In Tanzania the concept of Ujamaa, derived from the sense of community of tribal life, is being radicalized into an assertion of modern socialism.’ Ali A. Mazrui, Towards a Pax Africana. A Study of Ideology and Ambition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), p. 97.

‘Record of a Meeting held at Milton Buildings, Salisbury, 29 October 1965’, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 114-15.

Smith continued to condemn African dictatorship and corruption in his memoirs, Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath (London: Blake, 2001). See, for example, pp. 64-66.

National Archives of Canada, Ottawa [hereafter 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, 16 September 1963, para. 10.

African Commonwealth: ‘Their lack of political stability made their complaints against South Africa and Rhodesia less acceptable than if parliamentary democracy had survived in Africa to the same extent as in the Caribbean Commonwealth countries or in India and Ceylon.’ 11 Yet the obstinate refusal of the Rhodesian Government to admit that there was a genuine Commonwealth interest in the future of Rhodesia was a major obstacle to a more constructive approach to the problem of independence.

The 1964 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting Although Rhodesian ministers consistently opposed any Commonwealth interference in the issue of Rhodesian independence – and in doing so lost no opportunity to disparage the African members of the Commonwealth – they also claimed that Rhodesia was a member of the Commonwealth because Rhodesian representatives had, since 1932, attended Commonwealth meetings. Robert Menzies recalled in his memoirs that in June 1963 he had a long conversation about this in London with Jack Howman, the Rhodesian Minister of Internal Affairs, Local Government, and African Education. Menzies pointed out that it was a mistake to believe that Rhodesia was a member of the Commonwealth.

Rhodesian representatives had never attended Commonwealth meetings as a matter of right and Rhodesia could not become a member of the Commonwealth without the approval of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting, which was unlikely so long as the Rhodesian franchise did not include the whole African population. Menzies observed that Howman was ‘genuinely surprised’ by this assessment, and Howman apparently suggested that the only recourse for Rhodesia’s critics was to move for Rhodesia’s expulsion from the Commonwealth, which he thought was unlikely despite the South Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 117-18.

African precedent. 12 Accordingly, Menzies wrote to Winston Field in an attempt to clear up this misapprehension, citing the original basis upon which a Rhodesian representative had been invited to attend the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa in 1932 ‘as an observer, with liberty by permission of the Conference, to speak at its full meetings and with a right to participate in the work of its Committees.’ 13 Yet despite Menzies’ verbal and written advice, the Rhodesian Government still continued to profess that it was already a member of the Commonwealth. 14 In September 1963 Howman told Canadian officials and ministers ‘Southern Rhodesia is and always has been a member of the Commonwealth’ and ‘there could be no question of Southern Rhodesia applying for Commonwealth membership but, rather, a question of whether its membership would be denied it.’ 15 Howman suggested that ‘if other members of the Commonwealth made difficulties then it was time for the old members of the Commonwealth to stand up and support Southern Rhodesia’s right to full membership.’ 16 Sir Robert Menzies, Afternoon Light: Some memories of men and events (London: Cassell, 1967), pp.


Secretary of State for the Dominions to Sir Cecil Rodwell, Governor of Southern Rhodesia, 3 December

1931. Cited in ibid., p. 217.

Probably to make a case for the exchange of accredited representatives, the difficulties of which were examined in the preceding chapter.

NAC: RG 25, Vol. 10071, 20-1-2-SR, Part 1.1, ‘Meeting with Mr J. H. Howman, Minister of Internal Affairs for Southern Rhodesia’, [on 12 September 1963], Memorandum by R. G. Hatheway, African and Middle Eastern Division [hereafter AMED], Department of External Affairs [hereafter DEA], Ottawa, 19 September 1963, para. 4.

‘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. 2.

Thus, on the one hand Rhodesian ministers dismissed the relevance of the Commonwealth, but on the other hand they professed their membership of the Commonwealth and sought to enlist the support of the Old Commonwealth against Rhodesia’s African critics. During the period between the dissolution of the Central African Federation at the end of 1963 and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting in July 1964, the African members of the Commonwealth became increasingly attentive to the issue of Rhodesian independence, particularly as a result of Ghanaian initiatives. In July 1963 the Ghanaian Government sent a note to the British Government, which, inter alia urged Britain to suspend the 1961 Constitution and re-establish direct rule over Rhodesia (as Britain had done in Malta in 1936), and warned that Ghana intended to raise

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Ghanaian Government breached convention by simultaneously sending copies of the note to other Commonwealth governments, which so angered the British Government that it did not reply. 17 In August 1963 the Ghanaian Government did bring the question before the Security Council, in an effort to prevent the British Government from handing over the military assets of the Central African Federation to the Rhodesian Front Government.

Although the Ghanaian initiative was unsuccessful it nevertheless publicised the issue of Rhodesian independence by ‘shedding light on the internal political, constitutional, social, and economic developments of the territory to an extent unknown in many world capitals.’ 18 It has also been argued that British attempts to drive a wedge between Ghana and the other African states enhanced Ghana’s prestige. 19 Ghana was therefore Olajide Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question, 1961-66’, Quarterly Journal of Administration, Vol. 6, No. 3 (April 1972), p. 311.

Ibid., p. 309.

W. Scott Thompson, Ghana’s Foreign Policy 1957-66 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 391.

encouraged to maintain pressure on the British Government. In February 1964, reports in the British press suggested that at least 100 Conservative MPs favoured an immediate grant of independence to the Rhodesian Government on the basis that the recent army mutinies in East Africa proved Africans were incapable of governing themselves. 20 The Ghanaian High Commissioner in London, Kwesi Armah, wrote to Duncan Sandys admonishing that if there was any truth in these rumours it would be ‘a travesty of justice and morality of the highest order.’ 21 Ghana also engaged in a further public controversy that broke out just weeks before the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting, which concerned the right of the Rhodesian Government to be represented at the Meeting.

In April 1964 Sir Alec-Douglas Home announced that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting would be held in London in July. Shortly thereafter he was asked in the House of Commons whether the Rhodesian Prime Minister would be invited to the Meeting. Douglas-Home replied that only Prime Ministers of fully independent Commonwealth countries had a right to attend, and any invitation to the Prime Minister of a country that was not independent could only be extended after consultation with other Commonwealth countries. Accordingly, Douglas-Home had asked Smith if he wished the Commonwealth to be so consulted, but Smith had replied that he did not because he believed he was entitled to attend as of right. Smith had been asked to reconsider his position. 22 The Ghanaian High Commissioner had already stated that his Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question’, p. 311; and Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 191, n. 1.

Ghana Today, 26 February 1964. Cited in Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question’, p.


House of Commons Debates, 30 April 1964, cols. 583-584. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 191-92.

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