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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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therefore argues that although considerable time and effort went into the making of Labour’s Rhodesian policy, the end result was largely ineffective.

Labour’s Rhodesian policy in Opposition Before examining the Rhodesian policy of the Labour Government elected in October 1964 it is necessary to analyse the Party’s policy whilst in Opposition during the preceding thirteen years, which encompass the life and death of the Central African Federation. In his study of the domestic consequences of decolonisation Miles Kahler has


The question of the Central African Federation, endorsed by the Conservative Government, brought to the fore the question of settler power and racial inequality that had aroused the Labour left during the Seretse Khama case. More significantly, it unified the Labour Left and

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Miles Kahler, Decolonization in Britain and France. The Domestic Consequences of International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 244. For details of the Seretse Khama case and the dissent that this caused in the Labour Party see ibid., pp. 238-41.

The following discussion suggests that this is an accurate assessment, but it must be qualified by observing that some Labour MPs and officials became more equivocal in their attitudes towards the Central African Federation and the future of Southern Rhodesia during the months preceding Labour’s return to office in October 1964. Yet Harold Wilson, who quickly came to dominate Labour’s Rhodesian policy after he was elected Party leader in 1963, demonstrated that he was somewhat out of step with the increasingly cautious approach of some of his colleagues.

In June 1951, the Attlee Government published a report on closer association between Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia. Under pressure from the Fabian Colonial Bureau, the Labour Party accepted that any arrangements for closer association should deliver not only economic advantages but also political advancement for the African majority in those territories. 3 It was the absence of the latter that prompted the Labour Party to oppose the Conservative Government’s plans to establish the Central African Federation in 1953. James Griffiths, Labour’s former Colonial Secretary, highlighted the undesirability of white minority power, which was assured by the adoption of the Southern Rhodesian franchise for the Federation as a whole. Some rightwing Labour MPs abstained in the vote, including Patrick Gordon Walker and George Brown, because they accepted the arguments that the Federation would bring economic benefits and forestall the growth of South African influence in the region. 4 Harold Wilson voted with the majority of Labour MPs against the creation of the Federation, but

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he did not raise the issue outside Parliament. 5 Throughout the 1950s the Labour Party supported the African nationalists in their aspirations for greater democracy in the Federation, but ‘The party was slow to accept a right of secession by the African states [Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia] at the time of constitutional review, scheduled in 1960.’ 6 In 1959, however, rioting broke out in Nyasaland and the Labour Party was very vocal in criticising the Federal authorities for brutally suppressing the rioting and arresting prominent African nationalists. When the Conservatives established the Monckton Commission to investigate the future of the Federation the Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell, sought to widen the Commission’s terms of reference to include the right of secession. This was a clear indication that the Labour leader was prepared to staredown the white minority in the Federation, and there was little dissent over this position within the Party. 7 Wilson, who was at that time Shadow Chancellor, continued to support the Party line but once again did not address the issue in his constituency. 8 The next key development was British affirmation of the 1961 Southern Rhodesian Constitution. Wilson recalled in his memoirs that it was ‘passed by the British Parliament in a highly controversial atmosphere. The Labour Party had voted solidly against it.’9 The Labour Party believed that the 1961 Constitution did not contain adequate safeguards Paul Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 258; and Robert C. Good, UDI: The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 47.

Kahler, Decolonization in Britain and France, p. 248.

Ibid., pp. 248-49.

Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson, pp. 258-59.

Harold Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964-70 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and Michael Joseph, 1971), p. 22.

for the African population in Southern Rhodesia. James Callaghan warned with great prescience that the British Government was taking a major risk in passing its reserve powers to a territory that might elect a party that was representative of extremist white interests. 10 In March 1963, shortly after Wilson became leader of the Labour Party, he

gave a clear indication of the action that a future Labour Government would take:

We have said that no constitution is defensible which fails to allow the people of those territories to control their own destinies. We have bitterly attacked the Southern Rhodesian constitution for that, and a Labour Government would therefore alter it – let me make that very very plain. 11 Wilson reiterated this position during a speech on foreign affairs at the 1963 Labour Party Conference in Scarborough, in which he went even further in proposing how the future of

Southern Rhodesia should be handled:

You now face the ultimate decision in Southern Rhodesia. We insist, as we have repeatedly insisted, that Britain cannot morally confer independence on a Southern Rhodesia which defies the most elemental

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your debts are too great, your moral reserves too low, the problem of Callaghan recalled Keir Hardie’s speech against the South Africa Bill in 1909. House of Commons Debates, Vol. 642, Col. 1808, 22 June 1961. Cited in Elaine Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence (London: Croom Helm, 1978), pp. 43-44.

Cited in Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson, p. 259; Good, UDI, p. 47; and Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 30.

Central Africa can no longer be dealt with on a unilateralist basis, it must now be referred to the arbitration and good offices of a Commonwealth

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These statements reflected not only the convictions of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), but also the views of some Labour constituencies, which were worried by developments in Southern Rhodesia and anxious to secure a commitment by the Labour leadership to do something to prevent the white minority from further consolidating their dominant position.13 The National Executive Committee (NEC) fully supported the demand of the PLP that Southern Rhodesia should not be granted independence until ‘genuine representative government’ was established. 14 The Labour Party was also highly critical of the Conservative Government’s handling of the dissolution of the Central African Federation. At the Victoria Falls conference in June 1963 Winston Field and Ian Smith were unsuccessful in their bid to obtain a British commitment to confer independence on Southern Rhodesia, but they did manage to Harold Wilson, Purpose in Politics. Selected Speeches by the Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), p. 10. The reference to Commonwealth involvement would have alarmed the Rhodesian Government because it was extremely resistant to Commonwealth interference in Rhodesian domestic affairs (which is discussed below, in Chs. 4 and 5).

National Museum of Labour History, Manchester [hereafter NMLH]: Departmental Correspondence, Commonwealth Papers, Southern Rhodesia, Correspondence, 1961-1969 [hereafter Southern Rhodesia, Correspondence], Resolution of the General Management Committee of Hornchurch CLP, March 1963;

Resolution of South Paddington Divisional Labour Party, April 1963.

NMLH: Southern Rhodesia, Correspondence, David Ennals, Secretary, Overseas Department, National Executive Committee, to Councillor W. Dow, Hon. Secretary, South Paddington Divisional Labour Party, 23 April 1963.

secure the bulk of the Federal military forces. Robert Holland has acknowledged: ‘This is what really mattered to them, because it put the R[hodesian] F[ront] leadership in a position to threaten a unilateral declaration of independence.’ 15 Of course, if the Rhodesian Front leadership could see this, so could their opponents in Rhodesia, Africa, and Britain. Labour’s NEC expressed its concern that the transfer of Federal military assets to Southern Rhodesia would inflame the already dangerous situation in central Africa, and Labour MPs also pointed out that the decision to transfer Federal forces to Southern Rhodesia put Britain in violation of a request by the UN General Assembly not to do so. 16 Yet Labour’s public position masked some doubts about the issue. George Cunningham, an adviser in the Labour Party Overseas Department, pointed out that there were a number of reasons why the Southern Rhodesian Government had a good claim to the Federal armed forces. First, Southern Rhodesia had contributed the majority of the armed forces to the Federation and it was therefore logical that they should revert to Southern Rhodesia. Second, only the Southern Rhodesians were competent to use the more sophisticated military equipment operated by the armed forces. Third, as the troops and equipment were already in Southern Rhodesia, ‘it would be impossible for Britain to remove them or disband the troops without interfering in a major way in Southern Rhodesian affairs.’ Finally, the greater part of the cost of the forces had been borne by the Southern Rhodesian Government and not by the northern territories. Cunningham concluded: ‘By every kind of logic, therefore, Southern Rhodesia has the prior claim and I cannot see the Conservative Government doing anything about this point and, quite

Robert F. Holland, European Decolonization 1918-1981: An Introductory Survey (Basingstoke:

Macmillan, 1985), p. 233.

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 15-16. See also NMLH: Southern Rhodesia, Documents, 1963-1966, NEC Statement on Southern Rhodesia, 23 October 1963.

frankly, I can’t see that we would be able to do anything different if we were in power.’17 This kind of pragmatism became highly characteristic of the Labour Party’s Rhodesian policy once it was in power after October 1964, especially in relation to the question of using force to impose a settlement in Rhodesia.

Indeed, there is some evidence that Labour MPs and Party officials became more cautious in dealing with the Rhodesian issue during the period leading up to the 1964 General Election. In March 1964 the Africa Bureau discussed the possible action that a future Labour Government might take to solve the problem of Rhodesian independence. 18 Some members of the Bureau argued that talk of a UDI had been stimulated by Rhodesian European fears that a Labour Government would not observe the convention of nonintervention in Rhodesia’s internal affairs. It was therefore suggested that the Labour Party should declare that its approach would not be different to that of the Conservative Government. Lord Walston, who became Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, doubted the wisdom of this. He said that if the Labour Party did form the next Government it would not wish to be ‘unnecessarily hampered’ by previous declarations. 19 Similarly, in July 1964 George Cunningham advised the NEC: ‘it is important not to allow ourselves to be steramrollered into initiatives which do not solve NMLH: Southern Rhodesia, Correspondence, George Cunningham to Arthur Bottomley, 13 September 1963.

The Africa Bureau was founded in 1952, ‘to advise and support Africans who wished to oppose by constitutional means political decisions affecting their lives and futures imposed by alien governments.’ P.

M. Pugh, The Papers of the Africa Bureau (Oxford, 1980), p. 1.

Rhodes House Library, Oxford [hereafter RHL]: Papers of the Africa Bureau, MSS Afr. s1681, Box 255, File 1, ‘Private Discussion on Southern Rhodesia: Notes on the discussion which took place at Chatham House on Monday 23rd March 1964’, pp. 3-4.

the problem and may react to our detriment.’ 20 Against this background of increasing caution it is difficult to comprehend why, just two weeks before the 1964 General Election, Harold Wilson entered into an explicit commitment to bring about African majority rule in Rhodesia. When Dr E. Mutasa, a member of the Rhodesian Committee against European Independence, enquired about Labour’s Rhodesian policy, Wilson gave an unequivocal response: ‘The Labour Party is totally opposed to granting independence to Southern Rhodesia so long as the Government of the country remains under a white minority.’ 21 This comment was obviously compatible with Wilson’s previous statements on the Rhodesian issue, but it was at variance with the more reserved approach of others in the Labour Party during 1964. It has been suggested that the Mutasa letter ‘was a vast hostage to fortune and, although in practice Wilson departed totally from this commitment, the existence of the letter, which was never formally repudiated, was to be a

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correspondence between Smith and Wilson demonstrates that this is a fair comment.23 From the very beginning the Rhodesian policy of the Labour Government was conflicted.

Labour’s pre-existing commitment to granting independence to Rhodesia on the basis of African majority rule was incompatible with its public assurances that it had no preconceived ideas about the formula for independence. Wilson’s hope for a negotiated NMLH: Southern Rhodesia, Documents, 1963-1966, George Cunningham, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, paper number OV/1963-64/29, 21 July 1964.

Quoted in Foot, The Politics of Harold Wilson, p 259; Good, UDI, p. 47; and Windrich, p. 31.

Miles Hudson, Triumph or Tragedy? Rhodesia to Zimbabwe (London: Hamilton, 1982), p. 46.

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