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International Socialism, Spring 1961


Notes of the Quarter

Central Africa


From International Socialism (1st series), No.4, Spring 1961, pp.3-4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It bears repeating: big British capital wishes to relinquish its role as ‘old style imperialists’ in Africa. There is too much at stake – solid investments amounting to some £2,500 million, a powerful bargaining counter in international rivalry, markets and prestige – for them to risk all in a Congo-type conflagration. The changing character of investments, from extractive industry for foreign markets to manufacturing for local ones; the ability of the nationalist movements to exploit the potential presence of the US, Russia or even Germany; the potential presence of these rivals itself – these and more are pulling towards a withdrawal from direct control and towards reliance on the nascent African ruling class.

But the changeover is not easy. The Imperial Guard has to be paid off, not a simple task in itself, and then re-educated in the ways of salesmanship, and this is wellnigh impossible.

Central Africa illuminates every corner of this craggy problem. For years the white population of 300,000 have ruled absolutely over the eight million Africans. In Southern Rhodesia, their stronghold, they built a thriving agricultural export economy based primarily on tobacco and, to a lesser extent, on maize and cotton. To aid this venture, they have, by virtue of the various Land Apportionment Acts, their equivalents and amendments from the end of last century down to the present, deprived the African population of landownership rights in 54 percent of the country, herded them into the rest and used the consequent jobless millions to work on the stolen land. For them control of the State, the legal machinery, the police, and the consistent denial of formal African equality is crucial to the continuance of these privileges. They will fight like hell for this, their ‘way of life’, whether by brutal repression, by nailing their flag to Federation and so adding the vast economic resources of Northern Rhodesia (copper) and Nyasaland (manpower) to their own, or, if this fails, by institutionalizing this repressive regime in joining Verwoerds’ South Africa. With Roy Welensky as their spokesman they are Macmillans’ most awkward customers: they have no alternative, cannot pack their assets and leave quietly and – a great discomfort this – are well connected in British ruling class circles. Macmillan’s son in law, Julian Amery MP was a director of the powerful British South Africa Company; his brother-in-law, C.J. Holland-Martin MP, Joint Honorable Treasurer of the Conservative Party since 1947, is chairman of Rhodesia-Katanga Ltd and director of Nyasaland Railways; the Marquess of Salisbury is a present Director of British South Africa. The list is longer.

Northern Rhodesia is a different setting. There the major operations – copper mining – are truly gigantic involving British, South African and American capital. Were it not for South African government pressure on their affiliated interests – the Anglo-American group of companies in particular – and for Southern white pressure – exercized through the Federal government, they would be quite happy basing themselves more securely on the aspiring local ruling class. As Sir Ronald Prain told shareholders of his company the Rhodesian Selection Trust recently: ‘some African employees have become shareholders – the start, he hopes, of an African shareowning class’ (Times, 8 April 1960). Of course, such ‘liberalism’ is not disinterested: there is the high cost of white skills (average white wages on the copperbelt in 1959 were £1,868 a year compared with an average African wage of £218 a year) and its short supply at any price; there is the threat (epitomized in neighbouring Congo) of unsatisfied African national aspirations.

Nyasaland, backward and poor, is a necessary counterpart to the Rhodesias. A reservoir of labour, she will go where they go.

Where to? British capital has spoken through Monckton, chairman of the Advisory Commission on the Review of the Constitution of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (and chairman of the Midland Bank) ‘Federation’, he declared ‘cannot... be maintained in its present form... No new form of association is likely to succeed unless Southern Rhodesia is willing to make drastic changes in its racial policies... No new arrangement can succeed unless it obtains the support of African nationals’. The settlers have spoken through Sir Roy Welensky: no change in white supremacy or in its instrument and symbol. Federation.

The constitutional conferences in London in February emphasized the stalemate. British capital’s ginger tinkering with settler privileges cannot and has not satisfied the African nationalists. It has horrified the settler microminority and their Tory back-bench allies in this country.

At the time of writing, the British labour movement has not yet spoken. Now, however, is our opportunity to erase Labour’s shameful record on Federation, to help gain victory for African nationalism over settler oppression and imperial two-timing, and begin to transform this quarrel about the identity of the future ruling class in Africa into class conflict over that continent’s future social structure.

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