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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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Decolonisation, which in March 1964 had demanded the British Government: ‘warn the minority settler government against the consequences of a unilateral declaration of independence’. 50 Fourth, the British statement gave the Commonwealth and the United States – whom the British Government regarded as essential partners in its efforts to avert a UDI – an early opportunity to express their support for the Labour Government’s policy. 51 Finally, and most importantly, the statement left the Rhodesian Government in no doubt about the Labour Government’s attitude towards any illegal course of action that

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Legislative Assembly that his Government was not considering a UDI, and on 29 October 1964 the Assembly adopted the motion: ‘That the House takes note of the attitude of the British Government towards the independence issue and rejects any policy leading to a unilateral independence based on the result of the referendum of November the Fifth.’52 On the same day Smith admitted in a television broadcast that he had abandoned his hope of independence by Christmas because the British Government’s actions had ‘upset everything’, and assured the Rhodesian public that a UDI would not be undertaken without careful deliberation, which would take some time. 53 The Labour Government’s early handling of the Rhodesian Crisis was therefore extremely effective because it reduced the likelihood of a UDI and allowed more time in which to consider a solution of the problem. From this point onwards, however, the Labour Government’s approach became less robust.


Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp. 245 and 247. For details of Old Commonwealth support see below, Ch. 4, pp. 223-24; and for U.S. support see Ch. 6, p. 312.

Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, p. 247.

Ibid., p. 248; and Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 33.

On the day that the British Government issued its warning statement, the former Rhodesian Prime Minister, Sir Edgar Whitehead, told the Rhodesian Legislative Assembly that the British Government did not use words like ‘rebellion’ and ‘treason’ unless it reserved its right to use force. 54 Ironically, on 28 October 1964 an ad hoc Cabinet sub-committee – chaired by Wilson but attended by only four Cabinet ministers –

agreed that:

[T]here could be no question of military intervention in Rhodesia unless [the British Government was] asked to intervene by the Governor and could rely on the co-operation of the Rhodesian regular forces and on the availability of Salisbury airfield as a point of entry. 55 These conditions were considered unlikely, which meant that the use of force against Rhodesia in the event of a UDI had really been ruled out within two weeks of the Labour Government taking office. The viability of military intervention is discussed at length in the next chapter, but for now it is important to note that Wilson and a handful of Cabinet ministers had imposed a significant constraint on the Government’s policy at a very early stage.

Rhodesian Legislative Assembly, Vol. 59, Col. 436. Cited in Windrich, Britain and the Politics of Rhodesian Independence, p. 33.

TNA: PRO, CAB 130/206, Minutes of Meeting, 28 October 1964. This agreement reflected the advice in a Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Defence, MISC 4/2, ‘UDI: Defence Implications’. The Ministers who attended the meeting were Lord Gardiner, Lord Chancellor; Denis Healey, Secretary of State for Defence; Arthur Bottomley, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations; and Anthony Greenwood, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Anglo-Rhodesian negotiations during 1965 With military intervention ruled out, the Labour Government pursued a Rhodesian policy that was much the same as that of its Conservative predecessor. 56 In January 1965, Arthur Bottomley produced a paper for the DOPC outlining the Government’s approach. 57 In the short term, the Government’s aim was to prevent a UDI, the prospect of which would be damaging to British interests in Africa and the United Nations. A rebellion would have grave consequences for Britain’s relations with the African Commonwealth, which would regard economic action against Rhodesia as insufficient and would therefore call for the use of force. As the British Government was not prepared to intervene militarily, it was ‘liable to be widely held to be condoning a white Rhodesian rebellion.’ 58 If, as seemed likely, an economic war broke out between Rhodesia and Zambia following a UDI, it would severely disrupt the production and export of Zambian copper, which would exacerbate Britain’s economic difficulties. 59 The Government’s long-term aim was to secure conditions under which independence could

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Government appeared to retreat from this position, it ran ‘the risk of alienating African On Conservative policy and attitudes see Philip Murphy, Party Politics and Decolonization. The Conservative Party and British Colonial Policy in Tropical Africa 1951-1964 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). For the factors that contributed to the continuity in policy see below, Conclusion, pp. 390-92.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 10, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations’, 19 January 1965. For the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee discussions of this document see TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, OPD (65) 3rd Meeting, 21 January 1965.

TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 10, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations’, 19 January 1965, para. 4 (a).


opinion in Rhodesia itself, the rest of the Commonwealth and the United Nations.’ If, on the other hand, the Government gave the white Rhodesians the impression that it was ‘determined to push ahead too far and too fast’, it would defeat the short-term objective of preventing a UDI. The Government’s problem was therefore: ‘to break through the political impasse without triggering off the explosion.’ 60 Bottomley noted that Ian Smith had so far resisted the Government’s attempts to persuade him to come to London, 61 but anticipated that in the event of Sir Winston Churchill’s death, Smith would visit for the funeral. This would provide an opportunity for private discussions and the Government could prevail upon other Commonwealth Prime Ministers, especially Sir Robert Menzies, to exercise their influence on Smith.62 Smith did indeed attend Churchill’s funeral, and on 30 January had a somewhat clandestine meeting with Wilson. 63 The British Prime Minister was well briefed for the meeting; his major objective was to prepare the ground for more substantive negotiations at a later Ibid., para. 4 (b).

For the exchanges between Wilson and Smith, November 1964 – January 1965, see Cmnd. 2807, pp. 45TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 10, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations’, 19 January 1965, para. 5. For Smith’s discussions with Menzies (Australia), Holyoake (New Zealand), and Pearson (Canada), see below, Ch. 4, pp. 225-26.

See Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 86-87, which gives the false impression that nothing substantive was discussed; and Wilson, The Labour Government, pp. 73-74, which gives only a general impression of their meeting. For the official, comprehensive version, see TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ff 86-95, ‘Record of a meeting between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith’, by Derek J. Mitchell, Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, 30 January 1965, in S. R. Ashton and Wm. Roger Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Volume 5, Part II: Europe, Rhodesia, Commonwealth (London: The Stationery Office, 2004), pp. 183-87.

date. 64 Smith was largely intransigent: he said that there could be no change in the Rhodesian Government’s position and that it was looking at ways to prolong European control for ‘60 or 70 years, or perhaps even longer.’ 65 Smith rejected Wilson’s proposals for any concessions to the African population in Rhodesia, but he did agree that the Commonwealth Secretary and Lord Chancellor should visit Rhodesia and that they should be allowed to see anyone who was not in prison. 66 Wilson had not achieved much, but at least he had restored the momentum to talks about Rhodesia’s independence, which is one of the key factors affecting the dynamic of negotiations. 67 The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Burke Trend, had already expressed reservations about the wisdom of a ministerial visit to Rhodesia. In a memorandum to the Prime Minister he questioned whether a visit would achieve much. 68 Trend suggested that the British Government was in a ‘morally impregnable position’ because it had stated that it would be prepared to grant independence on any basis that was acceptable to the Rhodesian people as a whole. Trend advised that if the British Government proposed amendments to the 1961 Constitution – and Smith refused to make them, or the African nationalists TNA: PRO, CAB 148/19, OPD (65) 22, ‘Southern Rhodesia: Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations’, 27 January 1965. For the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee discussions of this document see TNA: PRO, CAB 148/18, OPD (65) 6th Meeting, Item 2, 29 January 1965.

TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ff 86-95, ‘Record of a meeting between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith’, by Derek J. Mitchell, Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, 30 January 1965, para. 1, in Ashton and Louis (eds.), BDEEP Series A, Vol. 5,Part II, p. 184.

Ibid., pp. 185-87.

R. P. Barston, Modern Diplomacy (London: Longman, 1988), pp. 85-86.

TNA: PRO, PREM 13/534, ‘Southern Rhodesia’, Memorandum from Sir Burke Trend to Harold Wilson, 28 January 1965, in Murphy (ed.) BDEEP Series B, Vol. 9, Part II, p. 508.

rejected them as inadequate – this would expose the British Government to attack, ‘because we have indicated that we regard it as our duty (rather than Mr Smith’s) to take the initiative in attempting to solve the problem and are therefore blameable to the extent to which we fail to solve it.’ 69 However, the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) did not have in mind that the aim of the ministerial visit should be to produce a solution to the problem, but rather: ‘to re-establish a dialogue with the [Rhodesian] Government; to correct false ideas of British policies; to combat the move to a unilateral declaration of

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objectives that Arthur Bottomley and Lord Gardiner visited Rhodesia between 21 February and 3 March 1965. They had meetings with a wide cross-section of Rhodesian opinion, including: Ian Smith and Rhodesian ministers; the Opposition; the Chiefs and Headsmen; African nationalists; representatives of business, farming, and industrial interests; and educational, cultural, and religious leaders. 71 From the outset some elements of the British press were sceptical that the visit would achieve anything. 72 Towards the end of the visit, one report in The Times suggested that the ministerial tour had proved the intractability of the various factions in Rhodesia and commented that it had been a ‘justification exercise’: the Rhodesian Government could point to their invitation as evidence of good faith in an attempt to negotiate their independence, and the Ibid.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Rhodesia: Visit by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor’, J. B.

Johnston, British High Commissioner, Salisbury, to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Despatch No. 3 (Secret), 12 March 1965; CRO Print, 6 April 1965, p. 1.

See Arthur Bottomley, Commonwealth, Comrades and Friends (Bombay: Somaiya Publications, 1985), pp. 143-48; Smith, Bitter Harvest, pp. 87-88; Wood, ‘So far and no further!’, pp. 276-85; and Young, Rhodesia and Independence, pp. 187-91.

See editorial, The Times, 22 February 1965; and editorial, The Daily Telegraph, 22 February 1965.

British could report to the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference that the UK was doing all it could to find a solution. 73 One of Wilson’s biographers has followed this line, suggesting that ‘The ministerial visit proved fruitless.’ 74 It may certainly be argued that the visit was unsuccessful if it is assessed merely on the basis that it produced no tangible agreement between the British and Rhodesian Governments. On the other hand, the British High Commissioner in Rhodesia, J. B.

(Jack) Johnston, reported that although the ‘realistic picture remains one of irreconcilable positions and immovable views’, the visit had achieved its intended objectives ‘in great measure’. 75 First, the Rhodesian Government had been left in no doubt of the severe consequences of a UDI, which had ‘produced an increased disposition to look at any other way out of the impasse’. 76 Second, a dialogue had been re-established, albeit within narrow limits. 77 Third, and most notably, ‘the sedulously fostered myths and misconceptions about the British Government’s policy and purpose’ had been dispelled effectively, which had produced a ‘tangible lessening of the previous tension.’ 78 Finally, ‘a balanced assessment of the state of Rhodesian opinion, and of the possibilities of ‘Mr Bottomley Hears Tough Talk From Farmers’, The Times, 1 March 1965.

Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 368.

TNA: PRO, FO 371/181877, ‘Rhodesia: Visit by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chancellor’, p. 1.

Ibid., para. 25.

Ibid., para. 26.

Ibid., para. 27. This was confirmed by other sources. According to the editor of the Guardian, Sir Roy Welensky shared the CRO view that the visit had been a success because they had made it clear that the British Government did not intend to impose a settlement. BLPES: Papers of Alastair Hetherington [hereafter Hetherington Papers], Hetherington/9/12, ‘Note of a meeting with Sir Roy Welensky’, Salisbury, 17 March 1965. The RAF Liaison Officer in Salisbury reported that the visit had done much ‘to calm things down’. TNA: PRO, AIR 20/11189, Group Captain Johns to MOD (Air Department), 1 April 1965.

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