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International Socialism, Spring 1966


Editorial 2

Towards Zimbabwe


From International Socialism, No.24, Spring 1966, pp.3-5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Labour’s tenure of office has tended to coincide with key phases in the consolidation of settler rule in Salisbury. The first High Commissioner from a settler government took up his post in London in August 1924 (when J.H. Thomas was Colonial Secretary), thus confirming the pigmy White-Dominion status yielded to the settlers in internal matters by the Baldwin administration. The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 reserving the pick of the land for Europeans was passed without demur by Labour when Thomas had become Dominion Secretary and Sidney Webb was at the Colonial Office. The first steps towards the settler-dominated Central African Federation (later to collapse like so many of the federal projects of British imperialism) were taken by the third Labour government in 1951 under the keen auspices of Patrick Gordon Walker. The Rhodesian record of the Fourth Anti-International of Wilson and Bottomley has been somewhat devious: as we go to press, the Prime Minister has announced tougher sanctions, and is at the same time opening the door to the inclusion of Smith and the Rhodesian Front in the truce party that will work out the terms of Rhodesia’s return to the Commonwealth.

To date, in the three months following UDI, the variety of attitudes and tactics displayed by Wilson has been extraordinary. The mystique of Queen, Flag and Empire, brandished so signally against the rebellion at its outset, has alternated with a most un-loyalist readiness to treat and (where felt necessary) retreat; occasional lamentations for the African’s lot, with an insistence on ‘achievement’ as the prerequisite of democratic rights; firm declarations ruling out military force in toto, with a hint that British troops might have to be sent to keep order after Smith’s downfall. The tactical waverings have been obvious and remarkable. Oil sanctions, resisted in the face of Labour backbenchers, were swiftly applied when African governments turned on the heat; the visit of Sir Hugh Beadle impelled a drastic revision of previous policy excluding the Smith regime from negotiations.

Such twists and turns are not simply the result of ‘indecision’ (though they are also that); they have proceeded from the application of flexible, day-by-day tactical considerations within a consistent and overriding programme of priorities. These last are roughly as follows (not necessarily in any order):

1 – To avoid interference with British capital interests in Rhodesia – hence the delay over sanctions. Britain’s capital stake in Rhodesia has been variously estimated from £40 million to 200 million; the figure is hard to ascertain owing to the complexity of shareholding arrangements.

’In some cases, British companies operate in Rhodesia through subsidiaries of their South African subsidiaries; in others, British and South African minority holdings are combined with local Rhodesian capital – sometimes in private companies, and disguised as bank nominees’ (The Financial Times, 9 October 1965).

The British firms that can be identified include ICI, BMC, Dunlop, Metal Box, Tate and Lyle, Turner and Newall, Rip Tinto, Stewart and Lloyds, and Lancashire Steel; National and Grindley, and Barclays DCO, are the main British clearing banks in Rhodesia. Wilson’s earliest trade sanctions touched only tobacco (in which there is little British capital and settler farming interests are mainly affected) and sugar. It took nearly three months before a complete trade embargo was imposed from London. Once sanctions have to begin it is in the interests of business that they be drastic enough to work quickly, before Rhodesia’s customers get too settled in other markets.

2 – To ensure a climate of political stability for the long-term interests of British business and diplomacy in Central Africa. Manufacturing and mining business does not need a colon political structure (though its Salisbury offices have gone along with UDI); the main force behind the Rhodesian Front has been the white farmers. From a hard economic standpoint (which it is true is seldom transmitted purely in the real process of history) British and South African capital could operate just as profitably in a black Southern Rhodesia as in Zambia, where African political control guarantees industrial peace for the copper combines. For capital, Smith is too much of a wild man (at least if his party governs alone) –– has he not threatened to blow up the Kariba Dam? A racist policy towards African advancement deprives the Rhodesian structure of any supply of black évolués, and threatens to polarise a society for which Shelley’s appeal, ‘Rise like lions from your slumber/In unvanquishable number ...’ might have been expressly written.

3 – To deal with Zimbabwe nationalism purely as a means for evolving a suitable African elite. In contradiction to the principles which have guided even Tory governments in their negotiations with colonial liberation movements, Mr Wilson has pronounced against any idea that manhood suffrage should be granted as of right to the population of Rhodesia; the’settler mentality’ of the whites, he has remarked, prevented adequate preparation for mass suffrage, which would have to be installed gradually on the criterion of ‘achievement.’ Let us discount the possibility that the Government is under any illusion that the peoples of Southern Rhodesia are lacking in some intellectual factor of endowment or maturation which has enabled their luckier brethren in Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, etc, to gain political self-government. Wilson’s statement can then only mean that the Rhodesian whites have failed to grant proper opportunities to an African middle or buffer class, and that the granting of suffrage will now have to be regulated precisely for this end.

There is one sense, of course, in which Wilson’s thesis of ‘achievement’ is tragically appropriate. The only achievement which has ever been recognised by a colonial power as grounds for its own abdication is the success of a fierce unified mass struggle against it. Such a struggle remains singularly unachieved by the Zimbabwe movements. There are many reasons for their ineffectiveness: the existence within the Settler State of a stooge parliamentarianism which over many years was able to draw off some of the native talent (including some of the present Zimbabwe leaders); the entrenched powers retained for so long by London and the liberal judiciary which, however little used, still caused African politicians to look to the benevolent white boss for help against the malignant one; not least, the efficient repression conducted by successive Salisbury governments, from the massacre of the Matabele and Mashona in the 1890s to the police-state tactics of our Smith and kin. Ever since Lobengula signed his kingdom away and then complained about it to Queen Victoria, it has been fair to say of the African leaders of Rhodesia: never have the representatives of so many been conned out of so much by so few.

Despite all this, there have been notable episodes of African resistance: the mass turnout to greet Wilson (what are those jailed for this demo thinking of him now?), the Bulawayo strikes against UDI, the sporadic terrorism which is at last beginning to hit the whites instead of nationalist rivals. But it would be foolish to imagine that Zimbabwe nationalism can, without large-scale outside help, foreseeably begin to mount any campaign aimed against the citadels of settler power. With ten thousand regular troops and police and almost thrice as many reserve police, a squadron apiece of Hunters and Vampires, Provosts and (above all) Canberras, and expert staffing for all of it, Smith can afford to laugh at black nationalism for a while. The oil stores will peter out, but enough will be kept in reserve for the forces; fuel runners are in any case already making their way up from South Africa. Salisbury is deliberately built on the lines of the classic radial prison of the nineteenth century, controlled from the hub out to the surrounding wings. In the centre, the whites live and rule; the African townships are dispersed and separated on the outskirts, with a cleared security perimeter of a hundred yards between them and the European sector. Along this clearway, troops and artillery can be moved with speed to ring any mischief; and as the guns point in, the Africans’ water-supply can be completely cut off. In these circumstances, what are the prospects for African liberation? At the time of writing, rumours of a ‘shadow cabinet’ that might possibly include senior officers are in the air. It appears that it will take weeks, however, or even months, before the new sanctions will take sufficient effect to force the whites’ morale down; and in this period the likelihood of semi-official provisioning from South Africa will grow. Any compromise that is acceptable to the white Bourbons is, of course, likely to be a thoroughly rotten one from an African standpoint: Rhodesia revived, not Zimbabwe born.

There appears, in short, to be no alternative, in securing majority rule in Rhodesia, to intervention by the independent black African States, or at least to its credible impending threat. The appeal for British military aid, put out after UDI by the Zimbabwe movements (as well as by much of the British Left), was arguably effective as an exposure of Labour’s race-bound selectivity in the despatch of troops to quell rebellion. To address such a call to Wilson now would be soft-headed, or actually dangerous: it might well be taken as justifying a sky-drop à la Congo, in defence of white ‘law and order,’ or a joint coup with the Sandhurst caste in Salisbury. All military preparations made by African governments and movements should be considered for support by the British Left, including the recruiting appeal published by the Committee of African Organisations in London. It is to be hoped that the air-combat facilities available for such a force will be rapidly expanded; a test of the UAR’s sincerity will be the degree to which its 400 fighting planes are called from their dispositions facing Israel. Only within such a strategy can the tactical slogan of calling Zimbabwe’s own citizens to arms be given meaning. Whatever the risks (and they might be substantial) of supporting official intervention from African States, they are considerably less than those of any other course (eg, an appeal to the UN or to Wilson). Of course, in the absence of a full-scale revolt in Rhodesia, relying on external military force (whatever its source) as a substitute for an indigenous movement is liable to sow illusions or be mere phrase-mongering, but such being the objective state of class power in Rhodesia, such an external precipitation of the issue seems the only course open.

The making of Zimbabwe would extend the frontiers of black nationalism from the Zambezi down to the Limpopo, on Verwoerd’s doorstep; the Bechuana would cease to be a black enclave embedded in hostile racist territories. The belt of political Africa would reach contiguously from the Mediterranean to beyond Capricorn, ending in Bechuanaland’s sharp wedge, to narrow apartheid’s dominion and shorten its span of control. The extension of the colonial revolution on this scale would have immensely favourable effects in the black States themselves, by enlarging the internationalism and the confidence of their workers and peasants. It is because Zimbabwe need not simply mean one more seat at the UN, one more nationalist Emperor, one more begging-bowl, that its future is so daunting, and therefore so impeded. But the day will surely come before long when the name of the gangster Rhodes will be expunged from the map of Africa, arid thence from the memory of history.

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