Ted Grant

Rhodesia—let the people decide

Source: Militant, no. 11 (November 1965)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

History plays some peculiar tricks on those who think they have direct control of the fate of nations. For generations the British capitalists maintained control of the areas of Africa, which they carved into an Empire; by fire, sword, and the basest trickery. The entire policy was based on domination of the black majority by a small minority of whites. This policy was expressed in the Rhodesias by the domination of the 4 million Africans of Southern Rhodesia by a tiny minority of 220,000 whites.

It is not much more than a decade since the Tory government established the Central African Federation, which in the expression of its first prime minister established “partnership” between black and white, the “partnership of horse and rider.” This collapsed with the opposition of the Africans, and the fear of British imperialism of the development of a resistance movement on the lines of the struggle of the Algerians against French imperialism. Had they resisted the “wind of change” the imperialists stood to lose everything and drive the African peoples into the arms of “communism”, at the least to accept the support of the Chinese and the Russians.

Consequently they changed their tactics and decided to rely on an “elite” of Africans and hoped thus to safeguard their investments and interests. The “settlers” howled about “betrayal” in Kenya, Northern Rhodesia and other colonies. But the imperialists understood that in any event the position could not be maintained. Thus they trampled on the position they had carefully built up for the Europeans and compromised on the basis of African independence, politically if not economically.

Now the stage is set for an explosion in Southern Rhodesia. After the collapse of the Federation in 1961, Southern Rhodesia was given a Constitution which gave 15 MPs out of 65 to the Africans. A ludicrous relationship which the leaders of the African majority refused to accept.

Consequently their organisations were made illegal, and their leaders such as Nkomo placed under restriction. This under conditions so bad they made a terrible impression on Harold Wilson when he heard about them at first hand. It can be imagined what conditions must be like in the gaols, and for the detainees of more humble stature, if that is the condition of the leaders.

1923 and the Archbishop

The Rhodesian Front government is, demanding its “independence”. How did they come to be in a position where the representatives of a tiny minority can make this insolent ultimatum? In 1923 the British government gave virtual control in Rhodesia to the white settlers. They thought the interests of the copper mining magnates and other millionaire investors would best be served with the whites in control. At that time there was no protest from the Archbishop of Canterbury or any other high dignitaries of the Churches at this blatantly racialist policy. Neither unfortunately were there protests from the trade union and labour movement.

The assumptions of the ruling clique were that the colonial peoples would accept the rule of their white masters for generations, if not centuries. In Rhodesia, North and South they created a privileged layer of whites on whom to rest their rule. White control of the police, armed forces, civil service. Colour bar laws and exclusive privileges for the whites. Worse discrimination laws than even in the American South, and on a par with the vicious racialism of South Africa were the rule in Southern Rhodesia. It is on this white caste that British imperialism in Southern Rhodesia based its rule. As recently as a few year ago Africans in Salisbury could be fined for walking to work on the pavements and not in the gutters.

Super exploitation

The imperialists encouraged tens of thousands of whites to settle in the country on the basis of being pampered and maintained as a ruling elite. The correspondent of the Sun speaks of a white barman earning £2,000 a year and having a black assistant to wash the glasses! The African earning about £120 a year, and doing the “menial” tasks, beneath the overlord to do. Incidentally the whites in Salisbury and other towns have swimming pools, cheap native servants to do the housework and look after the children, cars, fridges and other amenities. In general a much higher standard of living than the Americans possess. This standard has been based on the super-exploitation of the African people.

Now that the awakening of the African peoples has begun it is impossible for this artificial privileged society to be maintained for any length of time. The imperialists recognising this fact want to shift the basis of their interests. They created this society of privilege based on a white skin, to increase the exploitation of the Africans. Thus their share of the wealth extracted by the toil and virtual slavery of the Africans, was intended to have a secure base. Now the white privileged layers do not wish to give up their domination. It would rapidly end their privileges. History takes its revenge. The imperialists are now faced with resistance to the idea of handing control, even gradually, and even to a new African elite. Both big business in Rhodesia and the big mining industrial and farming interests, controlled by British capital, would regretfully like to hand over to a new privileged layer of Africans, as the new basis for maintaining their profits. Their erstwhile support cannot reconcile themselves to this. Hence the conflict of the Rhodesian Front government with that of Britain.

It is the world repercussions, as well as those on the whole of the African continent, which dictates the policy of the British government. The world is a different place from pre-war. The colonial peoples are on the march. If Smith and his foolish clique seize independence, the Africans will immediately set up their own government in exile and probably start a guerrilla war at home. With a relationship of nearly 20 to 1, with the Africans already stirring, with the support of the overwhelming majority of the peoples of the world, an “independent” Rhodesian state would not survive for long.

Economic sanctions

It is this which has caused the British government to threaten drastic economic sanctions, which would cripple the weak Rhodesian economy, in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence. The dilemma of the British capitalists is expressed in the declaration of the Archbishop of Canterbury to support the use of force against an “illegal” declaration. How often in the past have the British imperialists used force against recalcitrant colonial peoples. At this moment they have suspended the constitution and are using force in Aden. Only sections of the labour movement have protested.

Wilson and the British capitalists are doing their best to force a “compromise”, to convince the Rhodesian Front government of Smith, of the hopelessness and insanity of their course, and to persuade the African nationalists of the need to accept a gradual assumption of power, probably over a decade or so. This would mean that an African elite would come to power and share this power with a white elite, probably at the expense of the uneducated masses, as in Kenya, and other countries. It is possible that Wilson may succeed in persuading Smith. One thing is sure that the present status quo cannot be maintained. By raising the issue, the Rhodesian Front have made it a world problem. They have thus made in impossible to maintain the old position. They must make a unilateral declaration or retreat. If they retreat that would be the best result for British imperialism. They can arrange for those whites not willing to accept the position of negro equality, however nominal, to emigrate to Australia, South Africa and other countries. They can hope to maintain their investments—at least for a time—virtually intact.

Settler regime doomed

On the other hand a unilateral declaration of independence would force them to take to the road of sanctions. A demand has been raised in the labour movement for force to be used. It is true that time and again to protect the British capitalist interests force has been used both at home and abroad. To protect their interests, if on balance they found it favourable, the British capitalists have never hesitated to use the armed forces. They would do so in Rhodesia if they considered it necessary for their purposes.

Economic sanctions alone within months would mean the collapse of the Smith “government”. It is fear that the liberation of the Africans would be the result of armed fighting in Rhodesia which frightens the capitalists. Either way the settler regime is doomed.

One man one vote

Militants in the labour movement must demand a real democracy in Rhodesia on the basis of “one man, one vote”. The speedy arming of the Africans in Southern Rhodesia and in Zambia is the only real solution of the problem. Only by relying on their own forces, arms and organisation will the African people gain liberation, without laying the basis for a new elite, or protecting the interests of the capitalists and big farmers. Bread and land will only be gained by the Africans by their own struggles. While demanding support for the rights of the Africans. British workers will understand that that is the only solution of the problem which would deal a real blow to the capitalists in Britain as well as Rhodesia.