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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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government was ‘astounded’ by the suggestion that Smith might attend, and warned that it would not participate in the Meeting if that were the case. 23 The Indian Government had also indicated its opposition to Smith’s attendance. 24 Smith, however, did ask to be invited and the British Government therefore initiated consultation on this issue with the Old Commonwealth representatives in London and directly with their Prime Ministers. Sir Saville Garner, the Permanent Undersecretary at the Commonwealth Relations Office, emphasised to the High Commissioners of Australia, New Zealand and Canada that an invitation to Rhodesia to attend the Prime Ministers’ Meeting would be conditional upon the prior endorsement by all Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and that there was no precedent by which the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia should be invited automatically. They were told that the British Government was anxious to obtain the views of the Old Commonwealth before requesting the formal advice of the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers. 25 DouglasHome wrote to Pearson, Menzies, and Holyoake, acknowledging that there were advantages and disadvantages associated with Rhodesian attendance at the Meeting. On the one hand, if the Rhodesian problem was going to be discussed it would be fair if Smith was present, and if an invitation was not extended it could lead to resentment in Rhodesia. On the other hand, there were procedural implications associated with Smith’s attendance, because colonies that were already scheduled for independence (such as Northern Rhodesia) or enjoyed self-government (such as Malta, British Guiana, and The Times, 25 April 1964, cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192; and Ghana Today, 6 May 1964, cited in Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question’, p. 312.

The Guardian, 28 April 1964. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192.

National Archives of Australia, Canberra [hereafter NAA]: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, Sir Eric Harrison, Australian High Commissioner, London, to Sir Robert Menzies, Canberra, Cable No. 2863, 6 May 1964.

Barbados) might ask to attend. More significantly, there was likely to be strong opposition to Smith’s attendance: Ghana and India had already objected, and it was likely that other newly independent members of the Commonwealth would do the same. Newer members of the Commonwealth who did not object would probably have the intention of putting Smith ‘in the dock’. Douglas-Home feared that in such circumstances ‘the question of Southern Rhodesia would be so highlighted by the press that it would overshadow all else, and would thus present the world with an altogether distorted picture of our Prime Ministers’ Meetings.’ The British Prime Minister therefore concluded that it would be in the best interests of Rhodesia and the Commonwealth if Smith did not attend, but invited comments from Pearson, Menzies, and Holyoake. 26 Australian officials were concerned that if Menzies ‘places his weight on one side or the other at the present juncture, it might sharpen the controversy’ and therefore advised ‘the Prime Minister should not positively take sides on the substantive issue but should point to the need to continue the search for a compromise.’ 27 Menzies was apparently already thinking along these lines. 28 In his reply to the British Prime Minister Menzies suggested that Smith should make himself available for informal discussions in London outside the Prime Ministers’ Meeting, which he thought ‘would be not only fair but also of considerable value.’ 29 The major concern of the New Zealand Government was that ‘the invitation question should not be allowed to divide Commonwealth members nor provide NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, ‘Southern Rhodesia and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting’, text of a message from Sir Alec Douglas-Home to Sir Robert Menzies, 5 May 1964.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Presence at Prime Ministers’ Conference’, Memorandum by M. R. Booker, First Assistant Secretary, Division IV, DEA, 6 May 1964.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, Foreign Minister’s hand written minute on Booker’s Memorandum.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, Sir Robert Menzies to Sir Alec-Douglas-Home, 7 May 1964.

any of them with an excuse for flamboyant gestures of disapproval.’ It thought that Smith’s attendance would not confer ‘any advantages which outweigh the risks of a serious dispute’ and sought to avoid making any public statement on the issue because it would ‘merely serve to bring Smith’s attendance even more within the realm of public controversy and give credence to the existence of a crisis within the Commonwealth.’30 The attitude of the Canadian Government is less clear due to lack of documentary evidence. Bruce Miller suggests that Canada was ‘strongly opposed’ to Rhodesian attendance, 31 but it appears that opinion in Ottawa was actually divided. Some officials were in favour of inviting Smith to the Meeting on the basis that failure to do so could be interpreted as a signal that the Commonwealth had no role to play in the Rhodesian question. 32 Yet it was clear to Douglas-Home that there was no support among the Old Commonwealth for Smith to attend the Prime Ministers’ Meeting, and by the end of May Pakistan and Kenya had also made their opposition clear. 33 In June the British Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the consensus of Commonwealth opinion was that because of the size of Commonwealth, only representatives of fully sovereign states should attend the Prime Ministers’ Meeting. 34 Douglas-Home thus attempted to avoid Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, Wellington Office [hereafter ANZ]: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, DEA, Wellington, to New Zealand High Commission, London, Cable No.

1074, 5 May 1964.

Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192, n. 5.

ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, J. S. Reid, New Zealand High Commissioner, Ottawa, to DEA, Wellington, 15 June 1964.

Daily Telegraph, 26 May 1964. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192.

House of Commons Debates, 3 June 1964, cols. 239-240. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192.

antagonising Smith by justifying the outcome of the whole issue in strictly procedural

terms. Smith, however, did not see it that way, and declared:

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to the ideals on which the Commonwealth was founded. Nor was our case judged on its merits. We are excluded because the Commonwealth has

–  –  –

small countries which have recently acceded to independence and been admitted to the Commonwealth without regard to their adherence to the

–  –  –

One commentator suggested that, ‘The snub to Smith cut the ground from under the feet of such men as Whitehead who were pleading for restraint and no UDI, and united the

–  –  –

Government had managed to defuse a potentially explosive problem that could have wrecked the Prime Ministers’ Meeting before it even began. Miller also observes that it prevented a direct clash between Smith and the Commonwealth African Prime Ministers similar to the confrontation that had led to the withdrawal of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961. 37 Yet the Meeting itself was still bound to be difficult, as the New Zealand Government advised its High Commission in London: ‘Whatever illusions the British may cherish, it seems to us that Southern Rhodesia will inescapably be the The Times, 8 June 1964. Quoted in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192; and Kenneth Young, Rhodesia and Independence (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967), p. 139.

Young, Rhodesia and Independence, p. 139.

Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 192.

central and pressing preoccupation of the Afro-Asian members at the Conference.’38 There were certainly signs that this would be the case. Ghana surreptitiously attempted to convene a meeting of African Commonwealth Foreign Ministers in Lagos to discuss the Rhodesian issue in advance of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting. When it was apparent that Nigerian support for this proposal was not forthcoming the Ghanaian Government sent out emissaries to propose a meeting in Accra. 39 These initiatives were not successful but the African members of the Commonwealth did gather in London on the eve of the Prime Ministers’ Meeting to discuss Rhodesia. 40 Ghana also published several hundred copies of a pamphlet entitled Britain’s Responsibility in Southern Rhodesia, the significance of which ‘lay in the fact that it represented a direct appeal by the Ghana Government over and above the British Government to the British public and the organizations shaping public opinion in Britain.’ 41 The Old Commonwealth formulated similar contingency plans for dealing with the strain that the Rhodesian question was sure to impose on the Prime Ministers’ Meeting.

Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand officials anticipated the demands that African Prime Ministers would most likely articulate. They would call upon Britain to implement the provisions of United Nations resolutions requiring the release of political prisoners in Southern Rhodesia, suspension of the 1961 Constitution, and the convening of a constitutional conference representative of all political parties and races to draft a new ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, DEA, Wellington, to New Zealand High Commission, London, Cable No. 1074, 5 May 1964.

NAA: A1838, 190/11/1, Part 1, B. G. Dexter, Australian High Commission, Accra, to DEA, Canberra, Cable No. 119, 6 May 1965.

Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 194.

Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question’, p. 312.

constitution based on ‘one man one vote’, which would lead to early independence. 42 Australian officials suggested that these objectives were not practical, and anticipated that African members of the Commonwealth would be realistic enough to recognise this. It was therefore likely that the African Prime Ministers would at a minimum seek an endorsement of the principle of racial equality as the foundation of the Commonwealth, and a statement that independence would not be granted to Rhodesia until that principle was given effective constitutional expression. 43 Old Commonwealth officials accepted that such minimum expectations should be met, 44 but did not advance any common constitutional proposals for discussion at the Prime Ministers Meeting, which reflected their belief that this was a matter for negotiation between Britain and Rhodesia. 45 There was also no consensus about the utility of aid and technical assistance as a means to facilitate African advancement in Rhodesia and induce a more co-operative attitude on the part of the Rhodesian Government. 46 NAC: MG 31-E47, Vol. 66, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, 26 June 1964, para.

2; ANZ: ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, 29 June 1964 Section 2 (A); NAA:

A1838, 190/10/1, Part 3a, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, [n.d. but June 1964], p. 3.

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 2, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Secret Brief [n.d. but June 1964], p. 2.

NAC: MG 31-E47, Vol. 66, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, 26 June 1964, para. 15; ANZ:

ABHS 950, W4627, 245/8/3, Part 9, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, 29 June 1964, Section 4;

NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 2, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Secret Brief [n.d. but June 1964], p. 3; and A1838, 190/10/1, Part 3a, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Confidential Brief, [n.d. but June 1964], p. 1.

Unusually, Australian officials did make some suggestions, specifically a Bill of Rights to guarantee the rights of Europeans and reservation of a number of seats in the legislature for members of non-African minority groups. NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 2, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Secret Brief, [n.d. but June 1964], p.

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The Prime Ministers’ Meeting played out very much as the Old Commonwealth officials had anticipated in their briefing papers. 47 The final communiqué recognised that it was not a function of the Commonwealth to act as an arbiter in disputes between member countries but the Prime Ministers agreed that, ‘Commonwealth countries could play a role of conciliation and, where possible, consider using their good offices to help towards the settlement of disputes between member nations provided the parties concerned accepted such mediation.’ The Prime Ministers welcomed the British announcement that sufficiently representative institutions were a precondition of Rhodesian independence and that a UDI would not be recognised. Some Prime Ministers expressed the view that a constitutional conference should be convened, attended by leaders of all parties in Southern Rhodesia, in order ‘to seek agreement on the steps by which Southern Rhodesia might proceed to independence within the Commonwealth at the earliest practicable time on the basis of majority rule.’ The communiqué appealed for the release of all detained African leaders and called upon all leaders and their supporters to refrain from violence.

The communiqué affirmed the Prime Ministers’ belief that the best interests of all parties lay in developing confidence and co-operation based on tolerance, mutual understanding and justice. The communiqué recognised the necessity of giving confidence to the

–  –  –

communiqué recorded the fact that the British Prime Minister undertook to give For a discussion of the proceedings see Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 194-95. Even though the meetings were conducted in private the press was able to report the proceedings in great detail because – as Menzies noted – many speeches were passed to the media before they were delivered at the meetings. NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 3a, ‘Press, Radio and Television Conference given by the Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Menzies, at Canberra on Sunday, 19th July 1964’, p. 4.

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