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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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consideration to the views expressed but emphasised that the British Government was solely responsible for bringing Southern Rhodesia to independence. 48 According to Miller, ‘The final communiqué reflected the gap between Britain and the Africans’, but ‘Britain could be said to have come well out of the ordeal.’ 49 This is a fair assessment, but the outcome requires some explanation, particularly in light of the fact that there was such a notable build up of tension in the months preceding the Prime Ministers’ Meeting. Some credit should certainly be given to Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who presided over the meetings with considerable patience despite the hostile atmosphere. Menzies commented that the British Prime Minister ‘was tactful; he enlivened the proceedings from time to time with a little humour if things threatened to become a little tense and he was, whenever firmness was required on the part of the United Kingdom, admirably firm.’ 50 Menzies, on the other hand, contributed to the tension for three reasons: firstly, he opposed discussion of the Rhodesian problem on the basis of the domestic jurisdiction principle; secondly, he made his concern for the rights of the Europeans in Rhodesia very clear, particularly the right of Ian Smith to defend himself against his accusers; and thirdly he pointed out that some African Prime Ministers who advocated ‘one-man-one-vote’ and the release of political prisoners in Rhodesia actually presided over one-party government and imprisoned their own political opponents. 51 Thus, according to one reporter’s informant, Menzies demonstrated that he NAC: MG 31-E47, Vol. 66, Cmnd 2441, Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting 1964: final communiqué (London: HMSO, 1964).

Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 195 and 196.

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. 1.

Ibid., pp. 2-4; and Menzies, Afternoon Light, pp. 190-91 and 219-20.

was ‘more British than the British’! 52 However, Lester Pearson helped to offset the antagonism between Menzies and the African Prime Ministers. The Canadian Prime Minister instigated the inclusion of a declaration on racial equality in the final communiqué and toned down the passages that dealt with Rhodesia. 53 It may therefore be argued that a combination of Alec Douglas-Home’s patience and Lester Pearson’s creativity explain the reasonable outcome of the Prime Ministers’ Meeting. 54 A further point that is worth considering in connection with the outcome of the 1964 Meeting is the significance of the proposal for a Commonwealth Secretariat. The idea of a central organisation for coordinating the activities of the Empire-Commonwealth was by no means new, having come up as early as the 1907 Colonial Conference. 55 In the months leading up to the 1964 Prime Ministers’ Meeting Douglas-Home had indicated that he wanted to see a more cohesive Commonwealth and had put forward a number of proposals for greater cooperation, especially in terms of economic development. At the Meeting he suggested several schemes for functional cooperation, including a proposal for a Commonwealth Foundation to foster the development of professional links (this The Guardian, 16 July 1964, report by Patrick Keatley. Quoted in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 195.

Aluko, ‘The Role of Ghana in the Rhodesian Question’, p. 312; Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 195 and 196; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, p. 143.

It may be argued that it was a reasonable outcome for the British Government because it avoided making commitments that it would be unable to discharge, but it was also a reasonable outcome for the Commonwealth as a whole because it averted a bitter split.

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 I: East of Suez (London: The Stationery Office, 2004), Introduction, p. lxxxi.

came into existence in 1966). However, Douglas-Home’s suggestions were overtaken by proposals from Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Milton Obote of Uganda, and Eric Williams of Trinidad, for a central organisation capable of facilitating conciliation, cooperation and coordination. 56 According to one British newspaper the members of the Old Commonwealth were surprised by this development, as the newer members had rejected previous similar proposals from the Old Commonwealth as ‘neo-colonial’. 57 The 1964 Meeting endorsed the proposal for a Commonwealth Secretariat but did not decide what structure or functions the Secretariat should have, leaving these issues to be worked out by a committee of senior officials chaired by Sir Burke Trend, the British Cabinet Secretary. 58 Over the next eighteen months politicians and officials in Britain and Australia became increasingly concerned about the ‘proper’ role of the Secretariat, especially in the context of Rhodesia’s UDI. 59 Nevertheless, in July 1964 the Old Commonwealth responded favourably enough; even Robert Menzies commented publicly that the decision to establish a permanent Secretariat was ‘quite a remarkable achievement and a very powerful answer to the pessimists.’ 60 By accepting the proposal Stephen Chan, The Commonwealth in World Politics. A Study of International Action 1965 to 1985 (London: Lester Crook, 1988), p.

7; Joe Garner, The Commonwealth Office 1925-1968 (London:

Heinemann, 1978), pp. 351-52; Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, pp. 397-98; Arnold Smith, Stitches in Time: The Commonwealth in World Politics (New York: Beaufort Books, 1983), p. 4.

Observer, 12 July 1964. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 398.

Chan, The Commonwealth in World Politics, p. 23; and Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 399.

See, for example, The National Archives [hereafter TNA]: Public Records Office, Kew [hereafter PRO], CAB 148/17, OPD (64) 12, ‘Commonwealth Secretariat’, Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 11 December 1964; NAA: A1838, TS 190/11/1/1, exchanges between DEA, Canberra, and Australian High Commission, London, 22-23 December 1965.

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’.

for a Secretariat the Old Commonwealth had perhaps done enough to demonstrate that they were sensitive to the concerns and interests of the Afro-Asian members. This may well have persuaded some of the newer members of the Commonwealth to give Britain the benefit of the doubt over its Rhodesian policy, at least for the time being.

Finally, a key reason why the 1964 Prime Ministers’ Meeting did not dissolve into bitter acrimony was the fact that there were divisions among the African Prime Ministers about how hard a line to take. The Ghanaian proposal for a meeting of African Foreign Ministers in advance of the Prime Ministers’ Meeting had received a cool response from Sierra Leone and from Nigeria, who had argued that African Commonwealth states should not adopt a separate position on a matter that concerned the Commonwealth as a whole. 61 Between the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meetings of 1964 and 1965 expressions of indignation on the Rhodesian question grew even louder. It is surely significant that the number of Commonwealth Prime Ministers increased during the same period, which further multiplied rivalries and divisions (especially among African leaders), allowing the British Government and the Commonwealth to survive relatively unscathed once again.

The 1965 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting In February 1965 Harold Wilson announced that a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting would be held in London in June. 62 There was little point in re-opening the NAA: A1838, 190/10/1, Part 2, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Secret Brief, [n.d. but June 1964], p. 1.

House of Commons Debates, 4 February 1965, cols. 1280-1283. Cited in Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 198.

question of Smith’s attendance, though Smith issued a statement deploring the fact that he was once again excluded. 63 However, the period leading up to the Meeting was not without controversy, both public and private. The 1965 Meeting was the first attended by Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia. It is noted elsewhere in this thesis that Zambia presented the British Government with an awkward dilemma in the management of the Rhodesian Crisis. 64 Whilst the British Government was engaged in negotiations with Rhodesia, it hoped that Zambia would do nothing to provoke Rhodesia. The British Government was therefore dismayed to learn that the Rhodesian Government had ‘made representations to the Government of Zambia concerning the training of saboteurs and the harbouring of terrorists in that country for use against Rhodesia.’ 65 Wilson questioned Kaunda about these allegations whilst he was in London for Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Kaunda denied everything, which, as one Foreign Office official wrote, ‘is awkward as we know Kaunda was not telling the truth.’ 66 Wilson advised Smith that Kaunda had Miller, Survey of Commonwealth Affairs, p. 199.

Britain was heavily involved in, and dependent upon, Zambian copper production, which would be threatened by economic warfare between Zambia and Rhodesia in the event of a UDI. Britain therefore tried to do everything possible to avoid provoking Rhodesia into a UDI, but also formulated contingency plans in conjunction with the United States and Canada to preserve Zambian supplies of copper if a UDI did occur and relations between Zambia and Rhodesia deteriorated. For details of Anglo-American contingency planning to support the Zambian economy see below, Ch. 6, pp. 316 ff.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181876, Ian Smith to Harold Wilson, 25 January 1965. Smith also made similar allegations against Tanzania, but the Rhodesian High Commissioner in London subsequently indicated doubts about this. See also TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 27, ‘Southern Rhodesia - Relations with Neighbouring Countries’, Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 27 January 1965.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181876, Minute by John Wilson, West and Central Africa Department [hereafter WCAD], Foreign Office, 26 January 1965.

given a ‘firm personal rebuttal’ and suggested that the Rhodesian Government should discuss the matter directly with Zambia, and perhaps agree that a third party should investigate the situation. 67 Fortunately, this delicate situation – which could have caused a great deal more trouble for the British Government in advance of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Meeting – did not come to anything. By March, Kaunda was seeking to moderate the position of other African governments, which reflected Kaunda’s recognition of the damage that was likely to be inflicted on the Zambian economy in the event of a UDI. 68 Since the Wilson Government came into office it had been trying to establish a meaningful dialogue with the Rhodesian Government. In January 1965 Wilson persuaded Smith to accept a visit by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Lord Chancellor and the Rhodesian Cabinet agreed that this would take place the following month. 69 Arthur Bottomley and Lord Gardiner did not achieve anything dramatic, but in fairness they were not seeking to do so, as Jack Johnston, the British High Commissioner in Rhodesia, acknowledged: ‘The political situation imposed limited but important objectives – to re-establish a dialogue with the Government; to correct false ideas of British policies; to combat the move to a unilateral declaration of independence TNA: PRO, FO 371/181876, Harold Wilson to Ian Smith, CRO Cable No. 239, 18 February 1965, p. 2.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 13th Meeting, 5 March 1965, p. 4. Presumably, Kaunda’s attitude had been shaken by the pessimistic conclusions of the early British and American contingency plans to support the Zambian economy in the event of a UDI.

Smith to Wilson, 5 February 1965; and Wilson to Smith, 8 February 1965, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 56-57.

(u.d.i.); and to assess public opinion.’ 70 The Bottomley-Gardiner mission may be said to have succeeded within its limited objectives, 71 but it did not satisfy Commonwealth opinion, especially as there were some unwelcome developments in Rhodesian domestic politics.

At the end of March Ian Smith announced that a general election would be held on 7 May. Kenneth Young suggested that although a general election was not due, there was

nothing sinister about the dissolution of the Rhodesian Legislative Assembly:

Smith believed that it was important that the electorate, which had not voted since the time of Federation, should have an opportunity to give or refuse to give the Government a fresh mandate. In particular he wished to have a two-thirds majority in the [Assembly] because this would strengthen his hand in negotiations between him and the British

–  –  –

electorate a considered analysis of all the reports received from various bodies consulted on the question of a UDI. But he could assure the public that such a step was not contemplated while negotiations continued. 72 TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Rhodesia: Visit by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor’, British High Commissioner in Rhodesia to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 6 April 1965, p. 1.

See also TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, Minutes of OPD (65) 13th Meeting, 5 March 1965, pp. 3-4.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Rhodesia: Visit by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor’, British High Commissioner in Rhodesia to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, 6 April 1965, pp.


Young, Rhodesia and Independence, p. 194.

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