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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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See the exchanges during November and December 1964 in Cmnd. 2807, Southern Rhodesia: documents relating to the negotiations between the United Kingdom and Southern Rhodesian Governments November 1963 – November 1965 (London: HMSO, 1965), pp. 47-51.

settlement therefore never looked likely, despite the lengths to which he was prepared to go to try to achieve it.

The Rhodesian policy of the Labour Government Cunningham feared that the possibility of a UDI before or during the general election ‘would mean a Labour government would inherit a situation from which it would be almost impossible to emerge with credit.’ 24 Cunningham’s analysis was prescient in the long-term, but in the short-term his fears did not transpire. When the Labour Government was elected in October it acted resolutely to thwart a possible UDI and in the process gained considerable credit. In September Ian Smith visited London for talks with the Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and the Commonwealth Secretary, Duncan Sandys. 25 When Smith returned to Salisbury the Rhodesian Government ‘sedulously fostered’ the impression that ‘a bargain was arrived at during Smith’s talks in London’. 26 This was clearly at odds with the communiqué issued by the Conservative Government, in which it reserved its position on Smith’s claim that the majority of the NMLH: Southern Rhodesia, Documents, 1963-1966, George Cunningham, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, paper number OV/1963-64/29, 21 July 1964.

See Cmnd. 2807, pp. 21-38.

The National Archives [hereafter TNA]: Public Records Office, Kew [hereafter PRO], PREM 13/85, J. B.

Johnston, British High Commissioner, Salisbury, to Commonwealth Relations Office [hereafter CRO], 16

Quoted in Alan Megahey, Humphrey Gibbs: Beleaguered Governor (Basingstoke:

October 1964.

Macmillan, 1998), p. 91. Similarly, Group Captain H. G. Slade, RAF Liaison Officer in Salisbury, wrote that Rhodesians hailed the communiqué ‘as evidence of a resounding political victory by Mr Smith.’ Slade thought that the Rhodesians were, by this point, clearly delusional. TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Slade to Air Vice Marshal Peter Fletcher, 23 October 1964, p. 2 Rhodesian population supported his request for independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution. The communiqué made it clear that: ‘the British Government must be satisfied that any basis on which it was proposed that independence should be granted was acceptable to the people of the country as a whole.’ 27 In an attempt to fulfil this criteria Smith proposed to stage an indaba of the African Chiefs (who were appointed by the Rhodesian Government) and a referendum of the white population. On 15 October, general election day in Britain, Sandys advised Smith that his proposal for an indaba was inadequate, and rejected his invitation to send observers because this would be ‘interpreted as implying a commitment on the part of the British Government to accepting your consultations as representing the opinion of the people as a whole.’ 28 On 19 October the new Commonwealth Secretary, Arthur Bottomley, wrote what Harold Wilson later described as ‘a stiff letter’ confirming that the Labour Government took the view that an indaba would be an insufficient demonstration of Rhodesian opinion as a whole.29 Nevertheless, Ian Smith pressed ahead with his plans. An indaba was held, beginning on 22 October, and after a display by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (which may be interpreted either as entertainment or as intimidation) the 622 African Chiefs voted ‘yes’ to the Government’s proposals for independence. 30 A referendum of the white electorate was held on 5 November. With only a 60 per cent turnout, 58,000 voted in favour of independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution and 6,000 against. 31 Smith’s ‘Joint Communiqué issued after the talks between the Prime Minister and Mr Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia’, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 38-39.

Ian Smith to J. B. Johnston, British High Commissioner, Salisbury, 14 October 1964; and Johnston to Smith, 15 October 1964, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 39-41.

Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 24. Bottomley to Smith, 19 October 1964, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 41-42.

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 25-26.

Megahey, Humphrey Gibbs, p. 92.

determination to demonstrate – on his own terms – that the Rhodesian population wanted independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution alarmed the Labour Government, and forced it to take a strong public position at an early stage in its dealings with Rhodesia.

In his second letter to Smith, Arthur Bottomley indicated his ‘serious concern’ about the Rhodesian Government’s intent to stage an indaba, and reiterated the British Government’s view that it could not regard this form of consultation as satisfactory. 32 Bottomley acknowledged that it was difficult for the new Labour Government ‘immediately upon taking office to be confronted with a problem of this character.’ He proposed to discuss the situation with Smith by visiting Rhodesia after he attended Zambia’s independence celebrations, arriving in Salisbury on 26 October. Bottomley also asked Smith to make arrangements for him to meet with the African nationalist leaders Joshua Nkomo and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole. 33 On 21 October, Bottomley presented a paper to a meeting of the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee (DOPC), which warned that the British Government was ‘on a collision course with the Government of Rhodesia’, and Bottomley advised ministers that ‘the only way of preventing rebellion in Southern Rhodesia was to warn Mr Smith in blunt terms of the Bottomley to Smith, 19 October 1964, Cmnd. 2807, pp. 41-42.





Ibid., p. 42. Rhodesian liberation movements were deeply divided, which diminished their effectiveness in Rhodesia and undermined their support in the West. In 1961 Joshua Nkomo organized the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) to replace the National Democratic Party, which had been banned by the Federal Government. In 1962 ZAPU turned to violence and was also banned. Some members of ZAPU – especially the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe – were critical of the amount of time that Nkomo spent abroad. In August 1963 they formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which sparked a violent confrontation between the rival groups. Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 23-24.

consequences’. 34 Ministers discussed a draft statement for this purpose and agreed that if Smith did not consent to Bottomley’s condition that he should be allowed to see whomever he wished, the statement should be made public. 35 Smith later wrote that he was incensed Bottomley wished to see Nkomo and Sithole at a time when they were in restriction because of their ‘criminal activities’, and was amazed ‘that there could be such a lack of sensitivity from a British minister’ at a time when ‘the nationalist thugs were intimidating and murdering innocent people.’ 36 Tension escalated further whilst Bottomley was in Lusaka because the British Government received reports that suggested a UDI was imminent. 37 The Cabinet therefore agreed that the Prime Minister should invite Smith to London and, if Smith refused, he would be asked for a categorical assurance that the Rhodesian Government was not contemplating any unilateral action. If Smith would not give such an assurance the British Government would send a statement to Salisbury warning of the consequences of a UDI and, if Smith did not respond, the British Government would then make the statement public on 27 October. 38 This is TNA: PRO, CAB 148/17, OPD (64) 2, ‘Memorandum by Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations’; and Minutes of OPD (64) 1st Meeting, 21 October 1964, p. 5.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/17, Minutes of OPD (64) 1st Meeting, 21 October 1964, pp. 5-6.

Ian Douglas Smith, Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath (London: Blake, 2001), p. 82.

TNA: PRO, PREM 13/85, J. B. Johnston, British High Commissioner, Salisbury, to Sir Saville Garner or Sir Arthur Snelling, CRO, Cable No. 1397, 23 October 1964, in Philip Murphy (ed.), British Documents on the End of Empire Project [hereafter BDEEP] Series B, Volume 9, Central Africa, Part II: Crisis and Dissolution 1959-1965 (London: The Stationery Office, 2005), pp. 490-91.

TNA: PRO, CAB 128/39, CC 2 (64) 2, 22 October 1964.

exactly how events unfolded. 39 Smith declined the invitation to go to London because he was in the middle of his referendum campaign. In his memoirs Smith recalled that he chose not to reply to the British Government’s ultimatum because: ‘This kind of behaviour was completely out of keeping with the accepted code of conduct between members of the Commonwealth and was entirely unprovoked on my part.’ 40 Smith may have found the ultimatum distasteful, but he ought to have recognised that the British Government was genuinely concerned about the prospect of a UDI and that failure to reply would exacerbate the tension in relations between London and Salisbury. In the absence of a response from Smith the British Government’s warning statement ‘was issued from 10 Downing Street at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 27th, 8 a.m. in Rhodesia, where it would be heard on every car radio.’ 41 It observed that reports of a possible UDI had prompted the necessity of a statement warning of the consequences. The statement made it clear that only the British Government could grant independence and would do so only when satisfied that this would be acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. It warned that a UDI would have no legal effect, it would be an open act of rebellion and it

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Government would sever relations with the Rhodesian Government and Rhodesians would cease to be British subjects. The economic effects on Rhodesia would be An ad hoc committee, chaired by Wilson, finalised the warning statement. TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, Minutes of Meeting, 23 October 1964. See also Wilson to Smith, 23 October 1964; Smith to Wilson, 24 October 1964; and Wilson to Smith, 24 October 1964; Cmnd. 2807, pp. 42-43.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 83.

Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 25. Smith was due to debate a motion in the Rhodesian Legislative Assembly on 27 October, which the British Government feared could be the occasion of a UDI. J. R. T.

Wood, ‘So far and no further!’ Rhodesia’s bid for independence during the retreat from empire 1959-1965 (Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2005), p. 245.

disastrous; all financial and trade relations with Britain would be frozen and Rhodesia’s trade with the rest of the world would be disrupted. The statement also warned that Rhodesia would be isolated diplomatically. Membership of the Commonwealth would be out of the question and, with one or two exceptions, foreign governments would not confer diplomatic recognition on the illegal regime, but might recognise a government-inexile if one were established. 42 How successful was the Labour Government’s early handling of the Salisbury regime? In a study published two years after UDI, Kenneth Young wrote that the warning statement was unnecessary. Young attributed it to the fact that Wilson’s position was precarious and he wanted ‘to make some emphatic, powerful gesture as a symbol of leadership’. 43 Smith suggested in his memoirs that the statement was an unsuccessful attempt to swing electoral support away from the Rhodesian Front in the forthcoming referendum, which constituted a breach in the constitutional convention of non-interference in Rhodesia’s domestic affairs. He commented: ‘If I were searching for reasons to support a UDI they [British ministers] were making a positive contribution.’ 44 Similarly, in a recent analysis Richard Wood implied that the statement was futile: ‘If Wilson was hoping to cow Ian Smith, he had misjudged his man.’ 45 Yet the Labour Government’s warning was clearly very effective in several respects. First, it drew grudging support from the Conservative Party. During the debate on the Queen’s Speech, on 3 November 1964, Sir Alec TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, Minutes, 23 October 1964; Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 25; and Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, pp. 32-33.

Kenneth Young, Rhodesia and Independence: A Study in British Colonial Policy (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967) p. 168.

Smith, Bitter Harvest, p. 83.

Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, p. 245.

Douglas-Home described the language in the statement as ‘rough, but right.’ 46 This meant that Wilson had successfully established a bi-partisan approach on the Rhodesian issue at an early stage in his tenure of office, which made it more difficult for Home’s successor, Edward Heath, to deviate from supporting Wilson’s policy later on. Shortly before UDI, Heath contested exactly what Home had said in the House of Commons almost a year before. 47 Wilson wrote to Heath citing several written sources that confirmed Home had said the Labour Government’s warning statement had been ‘right’.

Wilson stressed that this mattered because:

[T]here is a feeling growing in the country – and abroad – that your Party may be re-thinking their attitude both about the points so strongly made by

–  –  –

economic consequences that it was thought all of us agreed must follow an illegal and Unilateral Declaration of Independence. 48 A second reason why the statement may be regarded as successful is that ‘it heartened the African nationalists in Rhodesia, who regarded it as a portent of better things to come so far as they were concerned.’ 49 Third, the statement provided the British delegation at the United Nations with a document that it could present to the UN Special Committee on Wilson, The Labour Government, p. 25.

British Library of Political and Economic Science [hereafter BLPES]: Papers of George Edward Cecil Wigg [hereafter Wigg Papers], WIGG 4/13, ‘Rhodesia: Right and Rough Affair’.

BLPES: Wigg Papers, WIGG 4/13, ‘Rhodesia: Right and Rough Affair’, Wilson to Heath, 26 October

1965. Wilson wrote from Government House, Salisbury, where he had gone for a further round of negotiations in a desperate attempt to prevent a UDI.

Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 33.



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