RHODESIA a landlocked territory in South-Central Africa with a population of four and one half million, of whom 200,000 are of European origin, is jammed between the Zambesi and the Limpopo rivers. White-ruled, nonsovereign but self-governing in internal affairs for forty years, it is the borderland between white nationalism in the republic of South Africa and black nationalism in the republic of Zambia.
Britain is internationally answerable for Rhodesia in the eyes of the world, but the self-governing colonists have frequently warned Whitehall that they would emulate the Boston Tea Party if the British Parliament dared to exercise its residual sovereignty.
For ten years, from September 3, 1953, to December 31, 1963, Rhodesia, Zambia, and the state of Malawi, which became independent on July 6, 1964, were linked together in the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. To a constitutional lawyer the federation was a monstrosity. The federal government itself was nonsovereign, since it was not fully independent of Britain and it shared power with three territorial governments of radically unequal status, Southern Rhodesia being self-governing and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) being protectorates whose constitutions and policies could be changed at will by the Colonial Office. The division of powers was based on race rather than on function, while the preamble to the federal constitution said that the object of the whole operation was to promote racial partnership.
Federation: a package deal
The federation appears to have been a package deal intended to harmonize conveniently a great many separate interests and policy objectives. The first two of these objectives were identified with the white Southern Rhodesians, led by Lord Malvern, the longtime Prime Minister: to emphasize the distinction between Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, which had come some years before under a nationalist regime suspected of aiming at breaking the link with the British Crown and subordinating British to Afrikaner culture; and to tie Southern Rhodesia’s economy, hitherto controlled by South African interests, to that of Northern Rhodesia, formerly a poor cousin but now booming because of copper. Rhodesians were to be taught that the Zambesi was an easier river to cross than the Limpopo; Southern tobacco and Northern copper were, between them, to provide a more diversified economic base than either could separately; the Zambesi, no longer a frontier, could be dammed dramatically; and overseas capital would be attracted to a large market, politically stable because white-ruled on British lines.
A third objective, the policy of the Northern Rhodesian whites, led by Sir Roy Welensky, was to prevent their protectorate, whose small white population was largely concentrated in a string of mining towns just across the frontier from Congolese Katanga, from becoming “another Gold Coast.” By the early 1950s the Gold Coast was well on the way to its present status as the African republic of Ghana. To head off what eleven years later has now come to pass — the African republic of Zambia — Welensky was willing to share Northern Rhodesia’s wealth with Southern Rhodesia’s bigger, constitutionally better-entrenched white population and, if necessary, with the impoverished protectorate of Nyasaland.
Two other objectives were typically British. When Southern Rhodesia had been recognized as self-governing in 1923, nobody thought it peculiar to treat it as a white colony in the same category as Australia and New Zealand. The only doubt had been whether a viable economy could be created by such a small colony. But ideas in Britain changed in the thirty years of Southern Rhodesia’s self-government. How could independence then be granted to a minority white government?
Southern Rhodesia in 1953 lived, though it did not preach, apartheid. No Africans lived in Salisbury, the capital of their country. Racial segregation and discrimination were almost total: strictly speaking, Africans were not allowed to “use" any facility in Salisbury or in any area, urban or rural, designated under the Land Apportionment Act as European. Half the land in the country was reserved for Europeans; the other half consisted either of reservations for the 94 percent majority or of Crown Land, which could under some circumstances be made available for African use.
The status of a self-governing colony was commonly assumed to be a one-way valve: once anything had been granted in the direction of independence it was impossible to take it back. Therefore, Southern Rhodesia’s internal system could be reformed only by indirection.
Lord Malvern, a subtle and persuasive politician of the old-fashioned paternalistic kind, persuaded Britain that this could best be accomplished by inducing the white Southerners to surrender voluntarily some of their internal autonomy and their expectations of early independence for the greater gain of economic union with the North. Moreover, it was argued that association with the more liberal atmosphere of the Colonial Office’s protectorates would undermine the practice of white supremacy in the South. This would all be part of the process of moving Southern Rhodesia out of the South African orbit.
The final British policy objective, in line with the Colonial Office’s standard practice of shifting the burden of carrying a poor colonial territory from the shoulders of the British Exchequer to those of a richer neighboring colony, was to tie Nyasaland into the federation.
Behind these mixed objectives a broader British political strategy could be discerned. In the British Central African salient, pushing down past the Belgian Congo from British East Africa, with Portuguese territory to the east and west and South Africa to the south and southwest, a new Anglo-African nation was to be born, color-blind, African in its destiny, British in its culture, industrial capacity, and democratic ideals. Sometimes this ideal was expressed as a “partnership” between two races whose difference would presumably still be clear, sometimes as the making of “one Rhodesian race.”The larger hope was that if this experiment were a sensational success, it would act as a magnet to draw South Africa away from apartheid by demonstrating across the Limpopo that separate development and black domination were not the only available options.
Failure of the grand design
The Africans of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia were opposed to federation from the outset. There was but one chance for the whole scheme to come to something: that the position of the Africans in Southern Rhodesia, socially, economically, and politically, should be so drastically improved as the result of the association of the self-governing colony with the North that their leaders would beg their Northern colleagues to give the grand strategy a chance of working out. The white leaders of Salisbury, men of some competence but little imagination, failed this test. The grand design, never fully explained or formulated, simply petered out in acrimony and mutual reproach. Left in the ruins was the self-governing colony of Rhodesia, still white-ruled, now actively demanding independence.
One remarkable feature of the ten-year experiment was that Rhodesia is not now a wholly segregated state. It has been contaminated by Northern liberalism, and it is significantly different in tone and daily practice from South African apartheid. The main hotels, movie theaters, park benches, and most, though not all, public facilities are desegregated.
Far too late to save the federation a serious effort was made by Sir Edgar Whitehead, toward the end of his term as Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, to turn his political party into a genuinely multiracial team. The territorial constitution was changed as part of a maneuver which was represented to the white electorate as being a necessary price to pay to obtain virtual independence from Britain.
The electorate ratified the new constitution by referendum, which was a remarkable thing in itself since it committed white Rhodesians to eventual rule by a black parliament. If this had been done in 1953, it might have given the federation a chance; by 1962, when it was done, the federation was as good as dead.
More African representation
Under the old constitution there were no African MPs in the Southern Rhodesian territorial legislature and scarcely any qualified African voters. Under the new constitution, although racial categories were not stipulated, Africans were given the chance of electing fifteen out of sixty-five members of the unicameral legislature and of influencing, by a weighted voting system, the choice of rival white candidates for the fifty remaining seats.
Sir Edgar Whitehead’s existing parliamentary opposition came from the right, from white Rhodesians who argued that he was selling out white supremacy. Having concluded that so long as he had to compete for an almost exclusively white electorate he would never be able to make enough liberal concessions to win African support, Whitehead had deliberately set up a model which would require his party to bid for African votes in order to win.
Moreover, the likely racial proportions of the first parliament would change later since the higher voter qualifications for the fifty seats were expressed in terms of education and income. The requisite income for a man who had not completed high school would for a long time be a hurdle few Africans would clear; but a rapid and sustained increase in African secondary education would, it was calculated, bring about a majority African electorate for the whole parliament in a period of fifteen to thirty years.
Whitehead was able to push through several liberal measures including the partial dismantling of the color bar — carried into effect the new constitution, which includes a bill of rights enforceable by the courts, and made a major bid for the African vote in the coming election, promising that the Land Apportionment Act, the foundation of segregation, would be wholly repealed and that racial discrimination in public places would be made illegal.
But Whitehead’s standing with the African masses was low because he had made a practice of timing crippling security measures against the main nationalist party and its leaders to coincide with liberal concessions on substantive matters of African grievance. On the instructions of their leaders, Joshua Nkomo and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, the Africans succeeded in boycotting voter registration almost totally.
Whitehead thus not only failed to get the African vote, but was also deserted by the majority of the whites who put the Rhodesian Front into office. The Front, first under Winston Field, a man of personal grace who commanded the respect of all races, then under the much cruder and more dynamic Ian D. Smith, announced that it would help bury the dying federation and would then go all out for Southern Rhodesian independence under its existing regime.
It is this commitment to the white voters more than the much publicized external pressures on Britain to intervene that has built up the pressure in Rhodesia at the present time.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home invited Ian Smith for talks, but the Rhodesian Prime Minister declined to come because of his irritation at being refused a seat at the July Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. Britain was urged to break the deadlock by convening a round-table conference of all parties as in any other colony on the eve of independence. But there was no way of forcing Smith to attend.
Britain’s initiative paralyzed
In Rhodesia, quite unlike the situation in its other African colonies. where it never surrendered so many powers so long in advance of discussions about independence, Britain cannot in the last analysis impose a solution in default of round-table agreement. There are simply no means on the spot for enforcing the British government’s will. There are no British civil servants or troops in Rhodesia; the only official from London is the High Commissioner, whose function is a diplomatic one. The governor, a local resident, is Queen Elizabeth’s ceremonial representative, who acts on the advice of the Rhodesian ministers. Army, Air Force, and police are all Rhodesian.
Fear of the consequences if British troops were called upon to open fire on white Rhodesian troops was one of the factors giving pause to the British government throughout the long death agony of the federation. Now British troops could only intervene by landing in the African republic of Zambia (the former Northern Rhodesia) and crossing the Zambesi against possible Rhodesian resistance. This is not a pleasant possibility to contemplate.
Why, then, with British initiative more or less paralyzed and Rhodesia resuming after the death of the federation most of the practical attributes of sovereign representation, should Ian Smith move? The main reason is that he has his own electorate to consider. His cabinet and he himself (a fourth-generation resident of South Africa) are the unsophisticated mouthpieces of still less sophisticated white farmers.
After the rejection of his application to attend the Commonwealth Conference, Smith declared that the Queen was no longer the Queen Rhodesians used to know. She did not speak in her own voice but in that of her ministers. As this has been the constitutional practice since the early eighteenth century, the remark is revealing of the educational standard of the Prime Minister and his colleagues.
Since Winston Field was supplanted for being insufficiently dynamic, his successor must be seen doing something. But most of the Front’s other electoral promises are impossible to carry out because the constitutional bill of rights prevents any further discriminatory legislation. The only recourse Smith has is to scrap the constitution, since action under its amending clause would not be feasible; but so long as Rhodesia is not independent, the integrity of its constitution is guaranteed by the British Parliament. Thus, in whatever direction the cabinet sets out, it always arrives back at the question of independence.
Independence without approval
The threat is that Rhodesia will simply proclaim its independence without Britain’s approval. Early this year the idea began to be actively canvassed in Salisbury, although the government went to extraordinary lengths to prevent its being seriously discussed in the press. By speaking out courageously, Sir Edgar Whitehead, as leader of the opposition, brought the matter into the open. The Front leaders were planning to declare the country independent but at the same time reaffirm loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II.
It has now been made absolutely clear to every minister individually that such a move would be regarded as an act of rebellion and treason against the Queen. Certain possible consequences have also been pointed out, such as the freezing of Rhodesia’s currency reserves (held in London), the invalidation of Rhodesian passports, a ban on its tobacco sales in the British market, a diplomatic boycott. And the Commonwealth Conference of Prime Ministers, held in London in July, issued a final communique which pledged that no Commonwealth country would recognize Rhodesian independence if it were proclaimed unilaterally.
If the Rhodesian Front ministers should attempt a coup, such action would be regarded by Britain as an act of rebellion; Sir Edgar Whitehead has also committed himself to declaring such a government illegal; and African leaders would not recognize the coup and would in turn proclaim the independence of Zimbabwe (the name they wish to give Rhodesia). It is with these many political pressures in the background that Rhodesians face September 12, known as Pioneer’s Day, a day when white Rhodesians annually celebrate the arrival of the first colonists in Salisbury.