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U.D.I: The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion

U.D.I: The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion

by Robert C. Good

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Fearing that their "civilization" would be overwhelmed, a tiny enclave of whites in Central Africa rebelled against a power which a little more than twenty-five years before had ruled the largest empire the world had ever known. Robert C. Good provides an immensely readable account of the international politics of the Rhodesian rebellion which, as he demonstrates,


Fearing that their "civilization" would be overwhelmed, a tiny enclave of whites in Central Africa rebelled against a power which a little more than twenty-five years before had ruled the largest empire the world had ever known. Robert C. Good provides an immensely readable account of the international politics of the Rhodesian rebellion which, as he demonstrates, put great political and financial strains on Great Britain, placed Zambia in mortal danger, almost destroyed the multiracial Commonwealth, and promoted an unprecedented involvement of the United Nations in programs of dubious effectiveness and doubtful wisdom.

The complex sequence of events which led to the "unilateral declaration of independence" of November 1965 and the settlement of November 1971 are probed, and the policies of the British and Rhodesian governments analyzed, particularly the actions and responses of Harold Wilson. Above all, the Rhodesian crisis is placed in its international setting to show that the failure to impose a transition towards majority rule in Rhodesia has meant that a significant chance to reverse present trends in Southern Africa towards the hardening of racial attitudes and erosion of African confidence in Western intentions has been lost.

Originally published in 1973.

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U. D. I.

The International Politics of the Rhodesian Rebellion

By Robert C. Good


Copyright © 1973 Robert C. Good
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05647-0


11 November 1965

It was an insignificant beginning, considering the furore that would follow. Ian Douglas Smith, Prime Minister of the British self-governing colony of Rhodesia, spoke into the microphone: 'Your Government has issued the following proclamation which I will read to you.'

Outside, a scattered crowd stood under the African sun in Salisbury's Cecil Square listening to loud speakers. The clock on the bell tower of the Anglican Cathedral read 1.15 p.m. It was Armistice Day, 1965. 'Whereas in the course of human affairs,' the flat voice continued in that vowel-pinched accent characteristic of many European settlers in Southern Africa, 'history has shown that it may become necessary for a people to resolve the political affiliations which have connected them with another people and to assume amongst other nations the separate and equal status to which they are entitled. And whereas in such event,' the purloined phrases droned on, 'a respect for the opinions of mankind requires them to declare to other nations the causes which impel them to assume full responsibility for their own affairs....'

A bill of particulars followed. It noted that Rhodesia had enjoyed self-government since 1923. It asserted that Rhodesians had demonstrated their loyalty through two World Wars both to the Crown and to 'their kith and kin' (Mr. Smith was referring to Rhodesia's 210,000 whites who controlled the country), and that they 'now see all they have cherished about to be shattered on the rocks of expediency' (Mr. Smith had in mind the danger of rule by Rhodesia's 4.2 million blacks who presently controlled nothing). Moreover Britain had consistently refused to accede to Rhodesia's entreaties for full independence (under a constitution which would have perpetuated for an undetermined number of years rule by the white minority). Now this day by proclamation Rhodesia assumed her independence unilaterally. In so doing, the rebel Prime Minister concluded: 'We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization and Christianity.' Government censorship had just been imposed and the already existing state of emergency was now further embellished by eight additional arbitrary regulations.

Some two hours before, Smith had gone to Government House to advise Rhodesia's Governor, Humphrey Gibbs, of the imminent broadcast and the rupture with Britain. Gibbs, utterly loyal to the Queen who had appointed him Governor of the British colony of Rhodesia, told Smith he was making a great mistake. From a nearby table he picked up a copy of the October 1965 issue of the Rhodesian journal, Property and Finance. Leafing through its record of the country's economic progress, the Governor warned him that all this would be sacrificed if Smith were to promulgate a U.D.I. The abbreviation for a 'unilateral declaration of independence' had become a household word in Rhodesia in prolonged anticipation of the event.

The Governor had been forewarned of the illegal act, which in prospect he had both feared and condemned, eight days before when Smith had paid him an earlier visit. It was the evening of 3 November. Smith had brought for the Governor's signature an order declaring a state of emergency throughout Rhodesia. It was a peculiar matter because Rhodesia for some weeks had been extremely quiet. The crime statistics hardly justified exceptional measures. Accordingly, the reason for the emergency order, as disclosed in an affidavit drawn up by Police Commissioner F. E. ('Slash') Barfoot, was not domestic unrest at all, but the alleged assemblage of Rhodesian African guerrillas in Zambia to the north. The Governor signed the order but failed to date it or to keep a copy. Strangely the following day the order was not gazetted. Angry inquiries from the Governor's office revealed that the document had been placed under lock and key by Smith.

The manœuvre was now becoming transparent. If there had been need for a state of emergency, the order would have been promulgated immediately and regulations issued under it. Clearly it was part of a larger plan in the service of which the Governor's signature on a state of emergency order would be highly useful when the right time came. The Attorney General now advised that if not promulgated right away the order would lose efficacy. By this time two days had elapsed since Gibbs had signed the document. Smith and his colleagues, noting the Attorney General's judgement, dated the order 'November 5' and it came into effect forthwith.

It was under this order that censorship was imposed just prior to Smith's U.D.I, proclamation. A counter-proclamation made immediately by the Governor was caught by the censor and received almost no notice in Rhodesia. Prepared weeks before and held for just this contingency, Gibbs's message, 'in command from Her Majesty the Queen', dismissed the members of the Rhodesian Government and called upon Rhodesian citizens to refrain from any acts that would help the illegal Government in pursuing its illegal objectives, but otherwise to maintain law and order.

The balance of the day passed without event. The vast African townships west of Salisbury seemed numb. Representatives of the United Peoples Party, the small all-African opposition in Rhodesia's Parliament, had presented a memorandum that afternoon to the British High Commissioner in Salisbury expressing opposition to U.D.I, and allegiance to the Queen. It was an undemonstrative gesture. (Leaders of the mainstream African nationalist movements of Rhodesia were under Government restriction or in exile.) That evening Salisbury was quiet, more empty than usual. British High Commissioner Jack Johnston and American Consul General Ross McClelland, who together had listened to Smith's broadcast in Johnston's office, were at home finishing their packing. Each had been recalled.

* * *

The Salisbury sun contrasted with London's chill grey sky. So too was Salisbury's introspective almost torpid mood at variance with the dramatic tension in Whitehall and Westminster when at 11.15 a.m. G.M.T. (two hours behind Salisbury) the B.B.C. broke into its morning broadcast. It was Ian Smith's voice announcing U.D.I.

Parliament sat at 2.30 p.m. The customary prayers were said. From the packed visitors' gallery a number of intent African faces fixed upon the figure at the dispatch box. Prime Minister Harold Wilson began: 'Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I should like to make a statement on Rhodesia. The House will have heard with deep sadness of the illegal declaration of independence by the men who until that declaration constituted the Government of Rhodesia.' Wilson recalled the interminable year-in and year-out negotiations to break the Rhodesian impasse, seeking a workable balance between Britain's responsibility for effecting ultimate majority rule and white Rhodesia's fear of it – negotiations which had persisted to the last possible moment. The Prime Minister described an incredible telephone exchange he had had with Smith at six o'clock that morning: a final effort to demonstrate that there were no procedural differences between the two sides and culminating in an offer to fly one of his Ministers to Salisbury for further clarification. Smith said he would take Wilson's message to his Cabinet but added, 'It looks as though this thing has gone too far.'

Wilson dismissed, as he had often before, the use of military coercion against the rebellious white Government of Rhodesia, then turned to a staccato account of the economic penalties to which these 'lawbreaking men' were immediately to be subjected: trade was to be restricted including a ban on tobacco and sugar purchases which constituted 70 per cent of Rhodesia's exports to the United Kingdom; arms exports were to cease; all aid was to be terminated; Rhodesia was to be removed from the sterling area, exchange controls applied, export of British capital and access to the British capital market disallowed; credit guarantees were no longer to be available; and Rhodesia was to be suspended from the Commonwealth preference area.

Moreover, Wilson continued, Britain had asked the United Nations Security Council to meet the following day in support of British action. (Within hours, in fact, the United Nations General Assembly would interrupt its general debate to adopt a resolution condemning U.D.I., urging the United Kingdom to take the necessary steps to end the rebellion and recommending that the Security Council consider the issue as a matter of urgency.) Britain's Foreign Minister was already en route to New York.

Across the aisle, speaking for the Conservative Opposition, Edward Heath noted 'how deeply we on this side of the House also deplore the unilateral declaration of independence by the former Government of Rhodesia today'. He emphasized 'the importance at this time, in every action which is taken and every word which is spoken, of maintaining our own national unity and thus helping to maintain the unity of the Commonwealth, to which we hope that at some future date an independent Rhodesia will be able to return'. Nevertheless, many Tories seemed restive as Wilson revealed his arsenal of sanctions, and some openly protested against his initiative at the United Nations.

There were rustlings of discontent also from those who wanted more action, not less. Liberal Party Leader Jo Grimond raised the question of curtailing oil supplies to Rhodesia and was told swiftly, 'We have no proposals to make on this subject.' And when the following day a Member of Parliament inquired what steps Her Majesty's Government was taking to protect loyal Rhodesians, the Attorney General Sir Elwyn Jones replied grandly that the protecting arm was that of Governor Gibbs – the Queen's arm and voice.

Back at Rhodesia's Government House, Gibbs, lonely and powerless, was about to begin a frustrating tour of duty which would run for forty-four months, while in London H.M. Government assumed the uncertain mandate of Rhodesia's 'government-in-exile'. But for the moment drama conjured its own reality. The Rhodesians, as Harold Wilson explained to a national television audience on the evening of 11 November, had put themselves 'beyond the pale of world society'. It was a ponderous peroration faintly reminiscent (as Wilson no doubt hoped it would be) of Churchill's style. 'At this anxious time I hope that no one in Rhodesia will feel that Britain has forgotten them or that we are prepared to yield up the trusteeship which is ours – trusteeship for the welfare of all the peoples of Rhodesia. Whatever the cost to us, we shall honour that trusteeship until we can bring the people of Rhodesia, under God, once again, back to their true allegiance, back to the rule of law, and forward to their true destiny in the family of nations.'

* * *

During these events, Sir Richard Luyt found himself in the Colonial Office in London and, by chance, in conversation with Britain's Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley. Before his appointment as Britain's last Governor in Guyana (negotiations for whose new constitution had brought Luyt back to London from Georgetown), he had served as Chief Secretary and on occasion Acting Governor in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. Luyt knew Central Africa intimately, both black and white, and had won the lasting friendship of Zambia's first President, Kenneth David Kaunda. Luyt and Bottomley talked of the disturbing news from Salisbury. 'But the real tragedy of U.D.I.', Luyt said, 'will be Zambia.'

There was reason for apprehension concerning the newly independent country located on Rhodesia's northern boundary. Zambia's African-controlled Government relied upon a substantial community of more than 70,000 whites for technical skills both in the Government and in the huge copper industry. According to the 1961 census, 63 per cent of the whites living on the Copperbelt (Zambia's Ruhr) were natives of Southern or Central Africa. It was inevitable that many would be sympathetic to Smith – and hardly enthusiastic when Kaunda, the passionate advocate of majority rule and non-racialism throughout Southern Africa, declared in a nationwide broadcast on 11 November that Zambia was determined that treason should not be permitted to prosper and that the rebellion be brought to an end.

In the white communities on the Copperbelt, sentiments were running strong. At Chingola, white locomotive engineers working the still unified rail system that linked Zambia and Rhodesia celebrated the announcement of U.D.I, by prolonged blasts on their whistles. A white labour union meeting at Mufilira mine turned into a 'bloody independence celebration' according to a union leader who was present. A more provocative situation was difficult to imagine in a sensitive African state still aching from the discriminatory practices of the recent colonial past. No one could predict the flow of African emotion. At the offices of the British High Commission in Zambia's capital, Lusaka, workmen were labouring to install a heavy wrought-iron security grill.

Zambia's plight arose even more from its continuing reliance on the rebellious colony with which it shared a long border at the Zambezi River. Transport links, communications networks, power supplies and trading patterns joined the Zambian and Rhodesian economies as inextricably as Siamese twins. Britain had announced that it would respond to Rhodesia's rebellion with economic sanctions. The implications for Zambia were obvious and ominous: to punish Rhodesia was automatically to penalize Zambia.

So, on 11 November 1965, Kaunda appealed for calm – and declared a state of emergency. Carriers were made ready to transport some three companies of Zambian troops to the border in answer to Rhodesia's deployment made in preparation for U.D.I. More than two battalions of Ian Smith's troops were positioned along the southern bank of the Zambezi River.

* * *

Elsewhere in Africa, and in many other parts of the 'coloured world' – Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean – emotions rose. Particularly concerned were members of the Commonwealth, linked by their colonial history to Britain, and hence by association to one another. As a self-governing British colony, Rhodesia had until 1964 enjoyed the status of an observer at meetings of Commonwealth leaders. U.D.I, now made Rhodesia a Commonwealth pariah.

After his appointment as Commonwealth Secretary-General in June 1965, Arnold Smith, a skilled and respected diplomat of the Canadian service, placed the mounting Rhodesian crisis at the head of his agenda. On 11 November he was travelling in Africa, urging that in the event of U.D.I. Commonwealth states should not withdraw from the organization in protest against what they might consider to be an inadequate British response. For, Smith argued, the Commonwealth would then more than ever need their support to exert constructive influence. The Canadian Secretary-General was working hard to disentangle the Commonwealth from its uniquely British past, and one suspects that 'constructive influence' meant among other things keeping pressure on the British Government. Returning to London, Arnold Smith sent cables to the leaders he had been visiting further emphasizing his concern. Demonstrations against the British, meanwhile, were erupting in a number of Commonwealth states. The leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, all members of the Commonwealth, convened in Nairobi and talked about the possible need 'to take the matter out of British hands'.

11 November 1965 sent an equally strong tide coursing through the Organization of African Unity. Meeting in Nouakchott, the heads of four French-speaking African states, Mali, Senegal, Guinea and Mauritania, called on every African state to consider itself at war with Rhodesia. In Accra President Kwame Nkrumah called for the immediate creation of an O.A.U. military force. In Cairo President Nasser declared that the United Arab Republic was in a state of war with the illegal Government of Rhodesia and had a right to seize all Rhodesia-bound goods in transit through Suez. Congo (Brazzaville) announced it was ready to place volunteers at the disposal of the O.A.U. for service in Rhodesia. A few days later the O.A.U.'s Defence Committee met in Dar es Salaam where a senior Tanzanian Minister vowed: 'No power on earth will stop us from a final duel with the forces of white racism in Southern Africa.'


Excerpted from U. D. I. by Robert C. Good. Copyright © 1973 Robert C. Good. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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