Donal Lowry. Cold War History. Volume 7, Issue 2. May 2007.
Anti-communism has often been seen as a marginal aspect of white Rhodesian political ideology, designed to manipulate eccentric metropolitan and American opinion. However, it was neither shallow nor peripheral, but integral to it and essential to an understanding of the politics and ideological resilience of White Rhodesia in its closing decades. Many white Rhodesians regarded African disaffection as externally fomented and international, so that there appeared to be no need to address any grievances. The Cold War crucially sealed Rhodesia’s political fate, since the successful encouragement of anti-communist sentiment made it difficult for a Rhodesian government to advocate compromise of any kind.
During the years of the Rhodesian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), 1965-80, it was common for external observers to ignore or dismiss anti-communism and the Cold War as significant factors in the developing crisis over Rhodesian independence. Much is made of the communist threat in former Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith’s autobiography, but anti-communism has often been seen at most as a marginal aspect of Rhodesian Front ideology, designed to appeal to alienated, eccentric and sympathetic right-wing elements in the United States of America and within the British Conservative Party, or simply a shallow and hypocritical attempt to hide from public opinion in the West the Rhodesian Front’s real objective of maintaining white supremacy. The principle of white supremacy had, of course, been the white Rhodesians’ overriding political priority since the first establishment of a permanent European settlement in the 1890s, long before the manifestation of international communism as a major force on the world stage. It is certainly true that the Rhodesian Front attempted to use Cold War issues to manipulate international opinion, not least in the United States. Such use of anti-communism was evident, for example, in the attempts by a largely secular-minded white Rhodesian government to woo right-wing American evangelical opinion. It will be argued here, however, that anti-communism was neither superficial nor peripheral in white Rhodesian political strategy during the UDI era, but integral to it. Indeed, an awareness of the politics of the Cold War is essential to an understanding of the ideological resilience of white Rhodesia and its particular failure to reach an advantageous constitutional settlement with the African majority in the era of UDI.
The roots of anti-communism in Southern Rhodesia go back at least to the early 1920s and the highly charged referendum campaign that led in 1922 to the white electorate choosing a uniquely wide degree of responsible government over incorporation in the Union of South Africa as a fifth province. At that time, embarrassingly for supporters of incorporation, much attention was drawn to the white labour crises of the Union, which came to a dramatic head in the Rand uprising of 1922. In the eyes of many contemporary Southern Rhodesian observers, this revolt appeared to be capable of destabilizing the government of the Union, whose membership of the Empire was already endangered by resurgent Afrikaner nationalism. Many white Rhodesians shared the widespread conviction that the Rand revolt had been orchestrated by international Bolshevism, which, like Afrikaner republicanism, threatened to de-nationalize them and deprive them of their status within the British Empire. Other factors were involved in the Rhodesian vote by a margin of 8,774 to 5,989 against inclusion in the Union, including the material impact of incorporation on various occupational sectors and in Southern Rhodesia. The fact that white Rhodesian women, unlike their southern sisters, already possessed the franchise, also contributed to the Rhodesian vote against entry into the Union. Nevertheless, with the British and South African governments, along with the ruling British South Africa Company and local big business, supporting incorporation, the strongly emotional factors of imperial sentiment and opposition to the volatile ideologies of the Union, whether of the Afrikaner republican or communist variety, were critical factors in the defeat of the scheme for incorporation.
Communism, however, made little headway in Southern Rhodesia in the 1920s, even though the popular leader of the Labour Party, Jack Keller, had been an inveterate Scottish syndicalist. As organizing secretary of the Railway Workers Union, and MP for Raylton, the white railwaymen’s suburb near Bulawayo, he saw in the 1926 Southern Rhodesian Defence Act establishing compulsory military service a thinly disguised ‘fascist’ attempt to suppress the white working class. Keller was typical of the Southern Rhodesian white working class: ideologically and socially disdainful of white upper-class capitalists, vigilant against exploitation and anxious to protect the interests of white union members, but ultimately patriotic and attached to citizenship of the British Empire and the wider pan-imperial white proletariat rather than the promises of international communism. Activists of this type included Jimmy Lister, the Railway Workers Union leader, a passionate socialist veteran of ‘Red Clydeside’, and Jack Allen, an old Rand miner who was dying of lung disease, who lived on the edge of the coloured township where he befriended African and Coloured trade unionists. These shared the general white Southern Rhodesian socialist fear of communism, and were in any case subject to factionalism and the apparent willingness in the 1930s and 1940s of Sir Godfrey Huggins’ right-leaning government to safeguard skilled white jobs and nationalize key industries, thus further encouraging white working-class division. With the outbreak of the Second World War, communism made its first noteworthy inroad in the Rhodesias. While Keller joined the Southern Rhodesian government, on the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt, strategically vital to the war effort, an ideologically bizarre alliance was formed between Nazi-sympathizing Afrikaner nationalist workers and the Mine Workers’ Union. The miners were led by Frank Maybank, an enthusiastic admirer of Stalin, though not to the extent of supporting the common war effort after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. In the following year, fearing a serious outbreak of violence on the pattern of the Rand Revolt of 1922 and doubting the dependability of white reservists in crushing white workers, the Northern Rhodesian governor asked the Southern Rhodesian government to dispatch its Armoured Car Regiment to quell the strike; the leaders were promptly arrested and deported, an action which, tellingly, was quietly accepted by the Rhodesian Labour Party.
Following the Nazi invasion of Russia, the Soviet Union gained an unprecedented degree of popular acceptance in allied countries, particularly in reaction to the Soviet defence of Stalingrad, and Southern Rhodesia proved to be no exception. The Current Affairs Group, a local branch of Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club founded in Southern Rhodesia in 1938 to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, provided a focus for such sentiment. The Rhodesian Friends of the Soviet Union was formed to organize local support for the USSR. The Medical Aid for Russia organization was less politicized, but it lent further respectability to the communist cause, since it included four Rhodesian cabinet ministers and was presided over by the Anglican Bishop of Mashonaland. Such organizations provided rallying points for what passed, in a small, scattered, parochial and white population of some 70,000 (living among over 2 million Africans), for a counter-culture. Interest in communism was boosted, moreover, by the influx of thousands of British and Commonwealth, including South African, service personnel, who had in the Western Desert and Italian campaigns been exposed to political education and debates about the future shape of the post-war world. There were also numerous allied airmen from occupied Europe in training in the Colony. These included significant numbers of servicemen, as well as displaced European radicals and Jews, many of whom were socialist autodidacts or refugees from fascism who admired wartime Soviet heroism, or who were, in retrospect, somewhat naively sympathetic to Soviet communism. These years witnessed the political awakening of Doris Wisdom, later better known as the novelist Doris Lessing. She has provided the most complete accounts, in both fiction and non-fiction, of the activities of these organizations. The Left Book Club met once a week at Meikles—tellingly, perhaps, Salisbury’s most respectable hotel—while political education classes convened twice weekly. The South African communist newspaper, the Guardian, was sold or distributed to RAF camps and coloured townships, along with posters of ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalin. More dedicated white Rhodesian devotees of the Soviet system were disappointed by the Friends of the Soviet Union’s weak political impact and the South African Communist Party’s lack of support for a separate Southern Rhodesian Communist Party. These formed a more disciplined group known as the Left Club, of which Lessing was secretary. There was just one token African sympathizer, the trade union leader Charles Mzingeli, the official Comintern line from Moscow being that Africans were not yet sufficiently proletarianized. Lessing and her comrades hoped to infiltrate the Rhodesian Labour Party (RLP), of which they were also members.
Rhodesian communist sympathizers found a powerful obstacle, however, in one of the leaders of the RLP, Mrs Gladys Maasdorp. She was a dedicated and courageous Cape-born reformer and humanitarian. An active town councillor and, unlike many of her fellow RLP members with whom she was impatient, a genuine socialist, she advocated African advancement, particularly in the area of maternity hospitals, and she was elected mayoress of Salisbury. While sympathetic to a more advanced socialism, and friendly with Lessing’s future husband, Gottfried, who was a Russo-German communist and fellow atheist, she had very little time for ‘Reds’, and would probably have expelled Lessing and her friends from the RLP had she known of the extent of their involvement. Although a sense of pro-Soviet solidarity was not uncommon, the Southern Rhodesian authorities took communism seriously, particularly as it might affect—or, in their opinion, ‘infect’—the indigenous population. The Left Club office came under the surveillance of the CID, and Lessing later recalled that the ‘whole country … rocked with rumour about the Reds who were inciting the natives to rise and drive the whites into the sea’.
Such fears must have appeared exaggerated at the war’s end, as many left-leaning servicemen and politically exotic European refugees left the colony. Doris Lessing embarked on her short-lived marriage to Gottfried Lessing and later went in search of an international world seemingly more sympathetic to communism in Britain. However, to a greater extent than before the war, Southern Rhodesia became a magnet for significant numbers of ideological and financial refugees from Britain. As the wartime British Conservative-Labour coalition broke up and the imperial frontiers of India began to falter, many Rhodesian settlers shared Winston Churchill’s fears of an Iron Curtain abroad and the effects of the nationalizing policies of Clement Attlee’s new Labour government at home, notwithstanding the Southern Rhodesian government’s own periodic and opportunistic willingness to nationalize key industries. Immigrants from British India, sometimes arriving via Kenya, were humorously caricatured as the ‘Bengal Chancers’ or ‘Poonafontein Rifles’. These were widely known for their adherence to an old-fashioned brand of imperialism and opposition to ‘Bolshevikism’. Many more came from Britain itself, as part of the boom in post-war immigration. Not untypical of such metropolitan arrivals was Clifford Dupont, an English country solicitor disillusioned by post-war Britain, who would later become a founder of the Rhodesian Front and Rhodesian head of state. Another was Brigadier Andrew Skeen, later High Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia in London at the time of UDI, whose settlement in the colony was delayed by war service. He arrived in 1947, aged 40, together with his extended family. He later remembered that ‘whole families were arriving [having] cut all ties with Britain and were becoming Rhodesians’. He also recalled that a ‘new phenomenon was manifesting itself’: the Cold War, which in Africa had the effect of the old colonial powers and America naively hoping for African gratitude in the fight against communism in return for independence or appeasement. Skeen had seen the Federation scheme in this light and opposed it accordingly. By then he, in common with a significant section of settler opinion, became aware of the Cold War and its possible impact in Africa, He attributed decolonization to an appeasement policy reminiscent of that of the 1930s, based on the supposition that emergent African states would be grateful for independence. He believed that this policy was doomed to failure.
In 1956, Doris Lessing returned on an investigative visit to central Africa, and found that many of those who had been supporters of the USSR during the war had now adopted the liberal ideals of the supposedly multi-racial Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953-63), a disillusionment that was further encouraged by the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising, which compelled Lessing herself to revise her communist sympathies. By then, she later recalled, with the recent impact of a comparatively more radicalized African nationalism, white Rhodesian attitudes had hardened and ‘the Cold War still gripped’. Soon afterwards, with her contacts with local communists and other dissidents, she was deemed a threat to internal security, declared a prohibited immigrant, and deported to Britain. While the Rhodesian press reported in detail on such Cold War events as the Berlin airlift, the Korean War and the French war in Indochina, some settlers chose to regard nationalism in Africa and Asia as advance guards of communism’s international campaign of subversion. Such fears were heightened by reports of riots in the Gold Coast, as well as, on a wider imperial scale, the declaration of a state of emergency in Malaya. The expansion and modernization of the Rhodesian armed forces in the federal years and their deployment alongside British forces in such trouble spots as Aden and Cyprus further heightened the settlers’ sense of commitment to the globalizing Cold War.
The late 1940s and early 1950s was a confusing time for white Rhodesian confidence. While there continued to be a high turnover of settlers moving between Southern Rhodesia and the Union, immigrants were arriving and staying more permanently in unprecedented numbers, with metropolitan arrivals outnumbering those from the Union for the first time, and local construction companies could not keep pace with the demand for European housing. Corporate American-style high-rise buildings mushroomed in Salisbury and Bulawayo, as the economy expanded to take advantage of opportunities offered by the federation of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland in 1953. Residential segregation, curfews for African townships and the preponderance of white immigration in the urban areas of the colony further reinforced the illusion that Southern Rhodesia would remain a ‘white man’s country’, and a very British one at that, in contrast to the increasingly Afrikaner nationalist-dominated Union; a sort of New Zealand in southern Africa. The colony had, moreover, demonstrated its loyalty to King and Empire in the war, even if many white Rhodesians felt that British governments still had to be reminded from time to time of the advantages of this continuing allegiance. On the other hand, since the Second World War, while the traditional if moderate African political elite also traded on wartime loyalty to King and Empire, African workers began to demonstrate a new assertiveness. The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union had revived under Charles Mzingeli. Although he had been associated with Lessing and the Left Book Club, he was in practice culturally and politically Anglophile and ultra-moderate, and had little time for communism. Manifestly more threatening was the Bulawayo municipal workers’ strike of April 1948. Huggins saw this short-lived action as the result of genuine grievances and, while confronting the strikers with military and police reservists, regarded the strike as little more than marking the emergence of a proletariat that happened to be black.
By no means all white Rhodesians viewed the strike with such equanimity. The avowedly anti-communist Southern Rhodesian Defence of Freedom League, led by a Marandellas farmer, Huntley Wilkinson, argued that the strike was part of a wider and menacing communist movement, while Howard Knill, who represented the League at the Rhodesian Farmers’ Union, attributed it to communist infiltration from the Union. Another leading local farmer in the district, Major English, addressed the Women’s Institute, a major vehicle for white women’s opinion, on this perceived threat. By far the most vociferous anti-communist in this period was Charles Olley, chairman of the White Rhodesia Council, and influential editor of the New Rhodesia and other popular political journals. A former pharmacist and member of the Orange Order from Belfast, he had been the leading champion of right-wing causes since the 1930s. He chose to make his political mark at the municipal rather than national level, becoming mayor of Salisbury and dominating its politics for many years. He defended the rights of vulnerable farmers, small miners, small-scale employers and ratepayers and white workers against international capital, commercial monopolies and African competition and sought to keep Southern Rhodesia in white hands for all time, thus anticipating many of the policies later advocated by the Dominion Party and the Rhodesian Front. He attacked the Southern Rhodesian Labour Party (SRLP) as ‘very definitely communistic’ even though Mrs Gladys Maasdorp, one of its leaders, had strongly attacked the Communist Party of South Africa, arguing that it made headway among Africans in the Union only because the SRLP ignored them. In 1945, African members of the Industrial and Commercial Union rejected Olley’s allegation that they were communist simply for asking for a fair deal. One Mr Kwenje remarked that in his native Nyasaland a communist was someone loyal to Stalin, whereas to Olley, Kwenje argued, even church leaders were communist simply because they preached the equality of all people before God. Kwenje added that the USSR had done nothing for Africans, so that the labelling of any African organization as communist was unjustified.
Nevertheless, fear of communism proved to be a resilient and increasingly central part of white Rhodesian ideology. Even the avowedly liberal Capricorn Africa Society, founded by wartime commando hero and dedicated advocate of racial partnership, David Stirling, regarded the containment of communism as one of the chief objectives of racial conciliation. The coming of the federation in 1953 was heralded by its advocates as a great multi-racial partnership which would provide a reliable British imperial buffer between an increasingly segregationist and republican Union and growing African nationalist militancy in the north. White Rhodesian politicians warned against the dangers of communist infiltration and orchestration of African nationalism, particularly as opposition to federation in the two northern territories increased. The federation’s growing military role in Cold War Commonwealth defence strategy was emphasized by the deployment of Rhodesian troops to assist the British and Australasian counter-insurgency campaign in Malaya, and the continuing modernization and growing sophistication of its armed forces. Rhodesian reverence for the British imperial connection, particularly embodied in the monarchy, remained strong, together with faith in the continuing strength of British global military power. Cinema newsreels celebrated in characteristically authoritative voices British military achievements, including atomic and missile projects in Australia, the British retention of air speed records and the seemingly ‘Dan Dare’-like sophistication of nuclear-armed Vulcan, Victor and Valiant jet bombers of the British ‘V’ force. The fact that the futuristic delta-winged Vulcan equipped 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron of the Royal Air Force further emphasized both the colony’s historic wartime association with that service and its continuing share in Britain’s strategic world role.
White Rhodesians wondered how such a modernizing and apparently still powerful Empire/Commonwealth could possibly be in decline, and shared the belief, reinforced by the victory of 1945 and subsequent cinema films featuring the war, that Britishers could never be defeated or displaced like other peoples in history, no matter how desperate their situation might become. To many of these, any evident deterioration of British influence could only be proof of a wilful decadence, manifested not least in sexual permissiveness and deviance, pornography and drug-based youth musical culture, a failure of vigilance, and an apparent decay at the heart of Empire. It was a traditional Rhodesian claim that they, inheritors of those who had so heroically expanded the British Empire at its final frontiers, should remind their metropolitan cousins of past achievements and play the historic role of summoning them to even greater future greatness. This seemingly thankless sentinel duty made many white Rhodesians acutely sensitive to political change in the post-war world. Some were aware, for example, of the anti-colonial conference of coloured peoples held at Bandung, on the Indonesian island of Java, in 1955, regarding it as little more than a front for Chinese, if not Soviet, communism. Increasingly, politically active local Africans were seen as agitators and fellow travellers of international communism and—a phrase connoting the highest position in the hierarchy of white Rhodesian demonology—’the Afro-Asian bloc’. The Southern Rhodesian prime minister, Garfield Todd, whose political style was authoritarian, rushed through a Public Order Act in 1955 in order to prevent further industrial unrest and Mau Mau-style oath-bound societies. It was soon invoked to crush a bus strike, prevent a threatened railway strike and—significantly for public opinion—deport a member of the British Communist Party who was deemed subversive. Not all white Rhodesian politicians agreed with this approach to African assertiveness. In August 1955, in a parliamentary debate on subversive activities, Hardwicke Holderness, a liberal-minded MP and himself a highly decorated wartime airman, opposed as unwarranted and unwise this blanket condemnation of local African and Asian activists, along with whites who advocated African advancement or who once supported the Soviet war effort, as communist agitators.
Such caution cut little ice with Sir Roy Welensky, who succeeded Huggins, now Lord Malvern, as the fateful Suez crisis broke in November 1956. Welensky had cut his political teeth as a railway union organizer on the Copper Belt, where he confronted both anti-Semitic neo-Nazis and pro-communist trade unionists. His own brother had fallen foul of the South African authorities as a syndicalist on the Rand, but Welensky himself had retained from this period a profound suspicion of communism, which was now heightened by the impact of the Suez fiasco. In February 1957, he warned that communism stood ‘ready to reap the reward of instability in Africa’. Communism was not just a bogeyman to Welensky, to be used in manipulating British and western sympathy; all the evidence suggests that he believed in a communist threat. He despaired of British complacency about this. In 1958, the year the Soviet foreign ministry formed a special African department, he highlighted the impending dangers of Soviet penetration to his British counterpart, Harold Macmillan, and proposed an African version of NATO or SEATO, its Southeast Asian counterpart. Macmillan attempted to soothe Welensky with assurances of British vigilance, but his intelligence chief, Sir Roger Hollis, and Maurice Metcalf, British High Commissioner to Salisbury, came to regard Welensky’s fears as essentially premature and unfounded. In spite of manifest Soviet support for the ill-fated Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba, and the impact of the collapse of the Belgian Congo on white Rhodesian fears of communist subversion, Hollis insisted that Africans were as yet too politically inexperienced and only toying with communism because it was regarded as ‘forbidden fruit’, as well as being due to a general curiosity about the supposedly remarkable modernization of Russia since 1917.
If the true impact of communism on African nationalism was limited, by the end of the 1950s belief in a communist threat had certainly become a permanent feature of white Rhodesian political discourse, heightened by the beaming of subversive Soviet broadcasts into the Federation by the end of the decade. In 1959, two American social psychologists undertook a detailed study of white Rhodesian attitudes. Not surprisingly, they found a high degree of settler suspicion of African nationalism, but more crucially, and perhaps conveniently, a belief in the susceptibility of Africans to communist manipulation and a conviction that African political agitation was inspired from outside, most likely by Russian communism. This had become fundamental to white moral justification for continuing minority rule: ‘Nowhere in the argument is it accepted that African nationalism might be a logical consequence of social and political forces generated within Southern Rhodesia’, they concluded; ‘the blame is primarily attributed to outsiders’. By this time, the largely right-wing Dominion Party had become, in the words of Frank Clements, the liberal-minded mayor of Salisbury, a ‘magnet’ for the eccentric end of the Right, attracting the support of, for example, the Candour League, a strongly anti-communist and anti-Semitic, if not fascist, organization founded by A.K. Chesterton, who co-founded the National Front in 1967. Other supportive and equally anti-communist groups included the League of Empire Loyalists, also founded by Chesterton, and the British Israelites, who believed that the British and their colonial cousins were literally descendants of the fabled Lost Tribe of Israel. The leading exponent of the last was Lord Graham, Duke of Montrose, who later achieved high office in Rhodesian Front cabinets. These elements were caricatured pejoratively as the ‘country and western’ end of Rhodesian politics, and such eschatological approaches to Rhodesian politics did not reflect the views of more than a minority of the Dominion Party and its right-wing successor, the Rhodesian Front; this, like white society in general, was predominantly nominally Protestant but largely irreligious. Winston Field and Ian Smith reflected an ultimately more pragmatic and secular outlook. Nevertheless, such views were held by leading figures in key positions under the Rhodesian Front (RF), which came to power in the general election of 1962.
As Robert Blake has written, the election of the RF represented a seismic shift in settler opinion, and a social revolution against the old Rhodesian establishment, personified by such comparatively patrician figures as Sir Godfrey Huggins and Sir Edgar Whitehead, who were suspicious of metropolitan policy, yet socially familiar with its subtleties, as well as culturally confident in the metropolis. The RF harnessed a populist tradition in Rhodesian politics stretching back to the referendum campaign of the 1920s, encompassing farmers and artisans threatened by African agricultural and industrial competition, small locally-based capitalists fearful of international business, and disillusioned ex-military officers, often of modest means, who believed that Britain had become decadent, even within such a short time of the great victory of 1945. Now, more than ever, Cold War anti-communism was at the forefront of the ideology of this new governing class. Where Welensky and the old United Federal Party Rhodesian establishment had detected British complacency in dealing with the communist threat, the Rhodesian Front and its supporters strongly suspected wilful decadence and conspiracy. Ironically, although the RF reflected a significant white tradition of antipathy not only to communism but to socialism in general, many whites ignored the fact that successive Rhodesian governments had regularly intervened in the economy to safeguard, for example, skilled and semi-skilled white workers and various aspects of agriculture, as well as nationalizing the railways.
The most detailed and authoritative explanation of the significance of the Rhodesian Front in transforming white Rhodesian attitudes is provided by Michael Evans. He has identified a vacuum in settler ideology following the collapse of the Federation, when the Federal ideology of partnership appeared discredited. But the pseudo-scientific theories of racial superiority seemed to be equally outmoded, along with the South African state doctrine of apartheid with which, many settlers believed, Rhodesia needed to avoid identification. The RF continued, of course, to trade on old fears of African advancement and racial integration but, even though right-wing, it was—like white society at large—a broad church. The white Rhodesians were no different to many ruling minorities which attempt to justify morally to themselves as much as to the outside world the manifest political inequalities of their society. Rhodesian Front activists were generally drawn to the United States as the leading western power, now that Britain was manifestly in decline, and were particularly attracted to the ideology of the American radical right, with its emphasis on conspiracy theories. It should be stressed, however, that the RF would not have been able to abandon fully, let alone replace Rhodesia’s British imperial heritage, for this lay at the root of settler culture and to deny it would be a denial of the country’s very origins and raison d’être. The British imperial past was still centrally embodied in the customs of white Rhodesia, including the cult of Cecil Rhodes, the monarchy, Remembrance Day rituals and wartime memories, the ceremonies, pageantry and uniforms of the judiciary and armed forces, as well as in the traditions of the territory’s police force, still proudly called the British South Africa Police (BSAP). Even after UDI, when the territory’s allegiance to the Crown was unrequited, anti-British statements became common, an exclusive loyalty to Rhodesia was emphasized and a drift towards a republic became inevitable, the British imperial character of White Rhodesia, like the title of the BSAP, remained indelible.
The Rhodesia Front sought to combine the notion that Rhodesia embodied the best of true Britishness, the notion that white Rhodesians were ‘the sort of people who once made the “Great” of Britain’, while turning to America as the only remaining champion of the ‘Free World’. However right-wing the RF was, or however much support it drew from such white supremacist groups as the British National Front or the American John Birch Society, in contrast to the Afrikaner Nationalist Party in South Africa, the party had to cling to the idea that the Second World War—the war against Nazism, fascism and Japanese militarism—was a ‘good war’ in defence of common decency and the safety of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Ian Smith’s own wartime service as a fighter pilot was constantly invoked and sometimes exaggerated, but this pro-allied sentiment effectively prevented too overt an identification with ultra-right-wing organizations. Communism was presented as the contemporary equivalent of fascism, as Smith claimed that universal suffrage in Rhodesia would mean the creation of a ‘one-party fascist regime’. Harvey Ward’s regular polemics in the anti-communist World Survey still identified Rhodesia with the past struggle against Nazism, while Desmond Lardner-Burke, the RF’s right-wing minister of law and order employed the anti-Nazi pejorative term of ‘Quisling’ to describe internal white opponents of the government and ‘certain parties closely linked to the British government’.
Thus the right-wing extremism of elements within the RF had to be considerably tempered or adapted against a cultural background of continuing British-style ‘fair play’ and moderation; as already stressed, famously embodied in the colony’s contribution to the war against the militarism of Germany, Italy and Japan. This was an illusion that had been reinforced by the proud boast that, before UDI, the BSAP had not fired a shot in anger since pioneer times, elections continued to be held, and occasional independent and black members of parliament continued to voice dissent, although against the background of growing government control of broadcasting. Even on radio and television, government bias was to some extent disguised in a BBC-derived dispassionate and unemotional style of delivery, providing an illusion of continuing ‘objectivity’. Moreover, the cause for the preservation of minority rule had to appeal to more than crudely expressed racial self-interest. The perceived communist threat thus became both crucial and central to government policy. Godwin and Hancock, acute observers of white Rhodesian society in the UDI years, conclude that ‘perhaps [the Rhodesians’] worst collective fault was an almost infinite capacity for self-deception’. They also highlight a key factor which should perhaps be obvious, but is worth reiterating as an essential factor that is so easily overlooked in any analysis of white Rhodesian ideology:
[M]ost Rhodesians … preferred to see themselves as warm and generous, courageous and fundamentally decent, and as a people who stood up for the basic Western and Christian values which the British had abandoned, the communists were trying to undermine, and the black Rhodesians were not yet ready to inherit.
In March 1964, Winston Field, RF prime minister, warned Duncan Sandys, the Commonwealth Relations Secretary, that ‘[there was] no doubt that African Nationalism in this country [was] directed and financed by communist countries’. This anti-communist imperative was strengthened still further when the more resolute Ian Smith replaced Field as prime minister in 1964 and the RF set about an unprecedented attempt to gain control of the broadcasting media. Smith created a new office of Parliamentary Secretary for Information, under P.K. van der Byl, an anti-communist Rhodesian Front hardliner. This was kept separate from the Government Information Department, which dealt with press releases, ministerial statements and the care of foreign journalists. Van der Byl imported from South Africa Ivor Benson, an even more pronounced anti-communist and conspiracy theorist, to become director of the Government Information Department, a hitherto non-political civil service post. The pretence of a non-politicized civil service was dropped and disaffected civil servants squeezed out as the department became in effect the propaganda wing of the RF, with Benson even speaking on RF platforms at by-elections. Benson shared the views of the Candour League and similar groups about a communist world conspiracy, combining the BBC, the World Council of Churches, Wall Street, the Kremlin and other advocates of a denationalizing and ‘one world philosophy’. Next the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation (RBC), hitherto modelled on the BBC, was infiltrated and then politicized under an anti-communist RF nonentity named Helliwell, who became director. Other key figures included John Gaunt, an RF MP who originally came from Northern Rhodesia and was appointed in 1965 as Rhodesian diplomatic representative in Pretoria. He was paranoid about communism, discerning, for example, in pornography, ‘unmistakeable signs [of a] communist conspiracy’, even if, as he admitted, ‘concrete proof’ was lacking. Also foremost in the government’s propaganda machine was Harvey Ward, who did so much to transform Ian Smith’s image of a somewhat underwhelming personality into that of a ‘dour iron man’ and indomitable cold warrior.
Along with the media and civil service, the armed forces came within the remit of the RF and its anti-communist agenda. The Rhodesian Army and Royal Rhodesian Air Force had already been assessing threats to the region from outside forces, including communism, at regular meetings of the Joint Planning Staff. Continuing wider communist threats to India and British interests in the Middle East were noted, along with the potential for infiltration of African nationalist movements. In April 1964, the committee concluded that a communist threat to Rhodesia was imminent:
In general terms the Communists are becoming more active in Africa and this situation is aggravated by the rivalry between Peking and Moscow. Southern Rhodesia is not yet ripe for direct Communist penetration but it may be assumed that this country is a long term Communist target, and their attempted infiltration of the trade union movement here is to be anticipated, possibly within the forthcoming quarter.
However, the committee did not apparently share the RF’s view that communism and African nationalism were essentially the same, or suggest that a UDI was necessary to contain either. Rather it assumed that African disaffection offered opportunities for communism to succeed, and it still broadly placed Rhodesia’s defence within the wider context of Cold War strategy. Smith’s replacement of the army commander, Major-General John Anderson, a well-known opponent on constitutional grounds of UDI, by a more pliable officer, Sam Putterill, removed perhaps the most significant military obstacle to RF control of the armed forces in the event of a UDI.
By the close of 1964, potential opposition to UDI among the upper ranks of the armed forces had thus been neutralized and radio and television had effectively passed into the hands of the RF, which was now in an unchallenged position to disseminate its particular world view. A vulgarizing of white Rhodesian politics was immediately apparent to contemporary observers. When Welensky unsuccessfully fought a by-election against the Rhodesian Front in Salisbury, he was greeted with shouts of ‘bloody Jew’, ‘traitor’, ‘coward’ and ‘communist’. The journalist Richard West captured this general coarsening in a quotation from a middle-aged and ‘purple-faced’ Welsh copy boy: ‘After all, the rest of Africa is going Communist, innit? It’s all going to the f-ing blacks? I mean they’re not f-ing educated, are they?’ It is important to stress that the available evidence suggests that Rhodesian anti-communist convictions, however misplaced, were profoundly held by its protagonists, including Harvey Ward and Ivor Benson, as well as overseas supporters, including the British right-wing Conservative MP, Harold Soref, A.J. Peck, and Douglas Reed. These writers, who were frequently quoted in the state media, appeared to vindicate RF claims that Rhodesia was the victim of a nefarious communist conspiracy of international proportions, supported by often naïve liberal elements and decadent church leaders largely concentrated in the World Council of Churches. Other pro-Rhodesian support came from as far afield as Australia, and—more crucially—the American Right. The most prominent of the latter included the former Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, former USAF General Curtis Le May, a handful of congressmen, and lesser figures who visited Rhodesia periodically.
The high-point of a sense of support for Rhodesia’s stand ‘on behalf of the West’ came much later, of course, with Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd’s amendment allowing for American importation of Rhodesian chrome, in spite of UN sanctions. The justification for this amendment was the American need for a non-communist source for chrome, but this was presented in Rhodesia as evidence of a wider American support for Rhodesia’s stand. For those of a conservative but less conspiratorial outlook, notions of a communist onslaught also appeared subsequently to be supported by the works of historians and journalists such as Kenneth Young and Peter Joyce, who lent some considerable credibility to theories about communist takeover bids in Africa. And of course there was the continuing support of the British Conservative Party’s Monday Club, bastion of the pro-Rhodesia lobby, which included such Tory stalwarts as Julian Amery, Patrick Wall and John Biggs-Davidson. Further expressions of solidarity came from such war heroes as Air Marshal ‘Johnny’ Johnson, Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader and SAS Brigadier Mike Calvert, as well as Sunday Express journalist, John Junor. British comedians Jimmy Edwards and Eric Sykes later visited Rhodesia and made a point of visiting air force and army bases, all of which made Rhodesia appear to its protagonists to be a repository of traditional imperial Britishness rather than a rebel state. As Harold Soref, a Tory and Jewish MP who once dabbled in British fascism, argued: ‘Rhodesia represents Britain in its halcyon days: patriotic, self-reliant, self-supporting, with law and order and a healthy society. Rhodesia is Britain at its best.’ Inevitably, contrary opinions from critics of UDI such as Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor, or Rhodesia’s own highly decorated but liberal-minded airman, Hardwicke Holderness, were largely ignored within the colony.
When UDI finally came in November 1965, Smith was careful to emphasize that it was a break with the threat of unwarranted interference from the British government, which he distinguished from true Britishness and continuing allegiance to the sovereign as Queen of Rhodesia, rather than Harold Wilson’s constitutional instrument, and as a stand against communism and the ‘Afro-Asian bloc’, rather than a simple oligarchic defence of white supremacy. In the broadcast accompanying the UDI declaration, no doubt with both a domestic and foreign audience in mind, Smith appealed to wider anti-communist sentiments:
I call upon all of you in this historic hour to support me and my government in the struggle in which we are engaged. I believe that we are a courageous people and history has cast us in a heroic role. To us has been given the privilege of being the first western nation in the last two decades to have the determination and fortitude to say ‘so far and no further’.
We may be a small country, but we are a determined people who have been called upon to play a role of world-wide significance. We Rhodesians have rejected the doctrinaire philosophy of appeasement and surrender. The decision which we have taken today is a refusal by Rhodesians to sell their birth-right, and even if we were to surrender, does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the Communists and the Afro-Asian bloc?
We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization and Christianity.
UDI thus encapsulated RF ideology and some of its paradoxes, symbolically combining appeals to British imperial values and traditional ties of kinship, opposition to appeasement, wartime solidarity and the monarchy. The document ended with ‘God Save the Queen’, in sentiments recalling the vociferous if conditional loyalty of the Ulster Covenant of 1912, as well as the bold direct action on the lines of the Boston Tea Party, with its claim to respect ‘the opinions of mankind’; the latter was partly modelled on the American Declaration of Independence. Crucially, references to appeasement recalled the weaknesses of the 1930s, while the communist threat appeared to elevate what critics of UDI caricatured as a self-interested putsch by a parochial-minded oligarchy to a righteous struggle against an international evil of millenarian proportions.
Following UDI, RF ideology continued to reflect these Anglo-American influences and was aimed at sympathetic constituencies in Britain, the ‘Old Commonwealth’ and the United States, even if the American strand was increasingly dominant. The RF could also draw domestically on an existing tradition of anti-communism, already described, and heightened by over three years of RF propaganda. In the farming district of Marandellas, for example, 60.5 per cent of the white electorate believed that the threat of communism had been underestimated by the country. In 1968, Sir Robert Tredgold, a leading liberal opponent of the Smith government, despairingly if realistically reflected on the effectiveness of RF propaganda:
The white people are told, and many of them seem to believe, incredible things. They are told that it is right in all things to place the interests of Rhodesia above every other consideration … They are told and they believe that the people of England, in a short generation from their ‘finest hour’, have lost the qualities that made them great … They are told and believe that this little pool of white people in the heart of Africa has become the repository of these qualities, as if a small branch of a great tree can live on when the roots have been destroyed.
The liberal mayor of Salisbury, Frank Clements, also noted despairingly the constantly asserted theme of a worldwide conspiratorial onslaught propagated by radio and television, about which no effective rational discussion was permitted. He also recalled how comforting it seemed for white Rhodesians to be told that they were engaged in a largely thankless though historic campaign in defence of the West, rather than engaged in a narrow defence of privilege. Ken Flower, the Rhodesian government’s own head of intelligence, similarly—if later—noted that the notion that African nationalists were purely the puppets of communist masters in Moscow and Peking avoided the necessity of referring to white injustice. He recalled the fateful ideological hold the RF had gained on the white electorate, and its promotion of Ian Smith as an infallible Churchillian saviour of ‘Western Civilization’, which prevented any rational discussion of the distinction between fact and fancy and the necessity of achieving an agreement that might be ultimately advantageous to the white Rhodesian minority. Recalling these years, the journalist, Martin Meredith, as astute an observer of settler political culture as any, wrote:
The theory of Western decrepitude and communist encroachment was instinctively believed by most whites; it offered a plausible explanation for everything that was happening: the African unrest in Rhodesia, the chaos in black Africa, the collapse of the Federation. The real enemy was seen to be not the small, gullible band of nationalists but the communists who were using them for their own ends.
Anti-communism had been central to the RF’s strategy of achieving virtually unchallenged control of white opinion following UDI. The emergency legislation and atmosphere following the declaration, the censorship of newspapers on the grounds of national security, the diplomatic isolation of the country, the growing guerrilla threat and the fact that most guerrillas received support from or were trained in known communist countries, the wholesale guerrilla adoption of the communist titles of ‘comrade’, ‘cadre’ and associated Marxist vocabulary, the imposition of sanctions by the United Nations and the consequent need for secrecy, and hostile external propaganda—all assisted the RF in portraying Rhodesia as a victim of an enormous multi-faceted conspiracy to destroy white civilization throughout southern Africa. No one was completely safe from allegations of treason and conspiracy. Even the eminently proper and patrician governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, could be verbally accused of treason by the minister of law and order, Desmond Lardner-Burke. The dissemination of such a conspiratorial world view was further facilitated by the fact that by 1968, 18,000 whites, or an estimated 20 per cent of the electorate, were members of the RF. The anti-communist counter-insurgency in Malaya became the chief military template for the security forces, and by 1970 minister of defence, Jack Howman, claimed that ‘Rhodesia [had] achieved the unique distinction of being the first country in the world to win the first decisive round in its encounter with communist aggression’. In 1966 the RF government established a Psychological Affairs Policy Committee to counteract the propaganda war it believed was being waged by communists and its liberal and socialist fellow travellers in Britain, Europe and the United Nations. P.K. van der Byl used his position as minister of information not only to saturate the white community with the RF’s world view, but to suppress any alternative viewpoints, not least by deporting or arresting unsympathetic journalists, even after the ostensible lifting of censorship legislation in April 1968. The Rhodesian press was largely owned by the relatively liberal South African Argus Press Group, which the RF party chairman strongly suspected of promoting black majority rule. Another institution which eluded RF control was the multi-racial University of Rhodesia at Mount Pleasant, Salisbury, which was regarded satirically as ‘the Kremlin-on-the-Hill’, substantially if anomolously financed by RF-supporting white taxpayers. Terence Ranger, deported before UDI as a young academic historian who sympathised with African nationalism, was widely but wrongly believed by white Rhodesians to be a communist. A more credible bogeyman was the Marxist academic Giovanni Arrighi, who actively collected weapons and recruited supporters of direct violent action.
It is supremely ironic, as Evans emphasizes in his detailed study of the evolution of RF ideology in these years, that the RF became a victim of its own propaganda successes. It succeeded all too well in achieving almost total control of white opinion, but it made the fatal error of believing its own propaganda and thereby limiting its freedom of manoeuvre in negotiating an advantageous settlement in defence of white interests. The RF spent years convincing the electorate what its own leaders and members largely believed: that the war was not being fought to protect white privilege but in defence of ‘responsible rule’; that the great majority of Africans, particularly those living in rural areas and ‘represented’ by traditional chiefs, were satisfied and happy under white rule; and that such disaffection that existed was the product of comparatively few African trouble-makers brainwashed and armed by communist powers and supported by socialist and liberal fellow travellers and naïve communist stooges. According to this approach, it was the duty of white Rhodesians, assisted by ‘noble’ Africans in the police and martial askaris of the Rhodesian African Rifles, to protect black Rhodesians from brutal, godless, destructive and crazed African demagogues. Direct connections were made between African nationalist movements and their communist sponsors, and were therefore regarded as inseparable from them.
Since the political problems of white Rhodesia were thus essentially perceived to be external and international, there was logically no need to address any grievances that black Rhodesians might have, particularly the very real injustice of racially defined land tenure, which guaranteed white privilege. The insurgency problem was perceived to be military rather than political or diplomatic. There also appeared to be little point in negotiating with the British government or the United Nations, since, according to RF propaganda, these were interlocking parts of a unified international communist conspiracy. In this sense, the Cold War was not only a factor in white Rhodesian culture in this period, but it played a central part in sealing its political fate. Of course there were degrees of belief in this conspiracy. Some wholeheartedly believed in it, and thought that even the RF was too soft on communism. It is unlikely that Ian Smith really believed that Harold Wilson was a communist, even if he was willing to infer as much to play politically to white Rhodesian fears. If, as appears certain, Smith genuinely believed in a nefarious international communist conspiracy, the encouragement of anti-communist sentiment made it difficult for an RF government to advocate compromise of any kind, especially as the RF prided itself as being a responsive ‘democratic’ party that reflected in unrestrained fashion the deeply-held convictions of its grass-roots.
By 1971, the RF was confident that UDI had succeeded. Two years earlier, it had felt sufficiently assured of electoral support to remove all vestiges of monarchical legitimacy and proclaim a republic—something which would never have passed the electorate in 1965. There was a new, more segregationist constitution, which removed the notional objective of majority rule from the constitution, replacing this with ultimate parity, whatever the racial demographic disparity might become. Sanctions had successfully been circumvented, even to the extent of relaxing and then abolishing fuel rationing. Guerrilla incursions had been successfully dealt with. The American Senate had authorized the importation of Rhodesian chrome, and at last a settlement with Britain’s Conservative government which would allow white rule until at least well into the twenty-first century appeared to be within Rhodesia’s grasp. The RF, based on wishful thinking and reports from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, really believed that it commanded widespread African acquiescence, even support, apart from communist-inspired agitators. When the Pearce Commission of Inquiry into African acceptance found that African opinion was largely opposed to the agreement, the RF proved to be hamstrung by the ideology it had espoused for a decade. It continued to insist that domestic African disaffection was minimal and that the insurgency was the result of communist intimidation. The supposed African rejection of the Anglo-Rhodesian settlement was clearly the result of a continuing conspiracy by anti-Rhodesian elements, including cowardly and fickle British governments, trade unions, the churches, international finance and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Rhodesian ‘liberal forces’ were also denounced. The vociferous opinions of independent MP Allan Savory, a former RF MP and veteran of the Rhodesian Army’s elite tracker force, fell on deaf ears. In spite of his military and political experience of widespread internal African disaffection, his warnings about the RF’s trust in a military solution and simplistic belief in an external communist conspiracy were depicted as appeasement. General Sam Putterill, recently retired chief of staff, also warned about the political and strategic sterility of the government’s belief in a purely military victory, but to no avail. There was thus no military ‘silver bullet’ to end the insurgency, but the RF remained a prisoner of its own ideology and cherished world view. Characteristically, the RF still put its faith in the ‘bold stroke’, closing the border with Zambia in 1973. In the same year, the intelligence chief, Ken Flower, warned a meeting of Rhodesian and South African defence ministers (including P. W. Botha of South Africa) and chiefs of staff that ‘Communism as such [did] not constitute as great a threat to our respective governments … as say, African nationalism’. The Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation still distinguished between African nationalism and communism and had long believed that too much attention had been paid to the wider communist threat. The RF, however, continued to believe that Rhodesia primarily faced an external communist threat. In 1973 the Ministry of Information issued a book, entitled Anatomy of Terror, which asserted that the country faced internationally armed and financed ‘communist thugs’. Tellingly, even the comparatively white liberal Centre Party, which was opposed to the RF, believed that communism was growing in influence in southern Africa.
South African attempts at détente with black Africa indicated that even South Africa was not a totally reliable ally. Now Smith was attacked by his own right wing for seeking an externally recognized settlement instead of—as his critics advocated—applying a more segregationist policy of provincialization, essentially modelled on the South African Bantustan scheme. Some prominent RF activists began to leave the party, including Lord Graham, and aligned themselves with the Southern African Solidarity Conference, which now included South Africa in the international conspiracy of Jews, the Rockerfeller and Carnegie foundations, the World Council of Churches, as well as, of course, the UN. The influential Rhodesia Christian Movement, led by a conservative Anglican clergyman and later Rhodesian senator, Arthur Lewis, kept communism, rather than African nationalism, in the forefront of Rhodesian demonology. White Rhodesian popular culture very much reflected this Manichean world view. ‘Rhodesians Never Die’, White Rhodesia’s highly popular unofficial anthem, sung by Ian Smith’s son-in-law, Clem Tholet, pledged to ‘keep them north of the Zambezi till that river’s running dry’, clearly referring to ‘communist terrorists’, who were supposedly totally alien to black Rhodesians. This theme was also carried by white Rhodesia’s chief balladeer, John Edmond, whose immensely popular ‘Troopiesongs’ celebrated a deadly and brave struggle in defence of essentially faithful and feudal-minded Africans against externally-based communist agitators. Similarly, most Rhodesian popular fiction relating to UDI and the guerrilla war continually rehearsed the idea that this was a struggle in defence of traditional African people against a communist-indoctrinated and externally-based enemy.
Nationalist guerrillas were usually depicted in popular novels as being either of racially ambiguous origin, or morally degenerate and pro-nationalist missionaries were invariably naïve; Marxist-Leninism, like rocket launchers and AK47s, were alien to ‘true’ and ‘traditional Africa’, while African soldiers of the Rhodesian African Rifles and police embodied authentic, indigenous nobility and dignified archetypal warrior qualities. These images also drew on a long-standing settler prejudice that African guerrillas needed someone else, Russian or Chinese in this case, to organize them. Communists replaced independent ‘Ethiopian’ churches and precocious mission-educated dissidents in the traditional demonology of settler fiction. Ideologically motivated murders of missionaries within Rhodesia in the last decade of white rule only served to convince the white electorate still further that they were dealing with communist-atheist terrorists, rather than nationalists with genuine grievances. After the Lisbon coup and the consequent collapse of the Portuguese Empire in 1975, Rhodesia’s strategic position became suddenly precarious as its whole eastern border became open to guerrilla infiltration. In early 1976, the Soviet-Cuban intervention in Angola appeared to bring the Cold War so much closer, and there was widespread white Rhodesian fear that Cuban forces might arrive in newly-independent Mozambique as well. Most believed that western powers and South Africa would be forced to come to the aid of the Rhodesians in the event of a communist invasion. ‘I cannot see that they would leave us to a sticky end’, Welensky reassuringly stated. ‘We will not be pushed around or surrender to any Marxist-inspired land grab’, warned the army commander, General Peter Walls: ‘We are going to fight.’ Ian Smith attacked the West for its ‘tragic failure’ to respond to the Soviet-Cuban intervention in Angola, as he vainly sought to solicit western support in what seemed to him to be so obviously a front line in the Cold War.
By the second half of 1976, the security situation was deteriorating rapidly, and American pressure, exerted by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the South African prime minister, John Vorster, resulted in Smith’s extremely reluctant concession in September 1976 of the principle of majority rule within two years. The settlement failed, but Smith’s concession of majority rule could not be revoked; the most that the RF leadership could hope for was a favourable internal settlement that left substantial power in white hands. Throughout the RF was torn between the need to demand more in military service and taxation from the white population, and the necessity to reassure them, lest a sense of insecurity further encourage emigration. Even this was too much for RF hardliners, who regarded it as a betrayal, and left the Front to form such dissident groups as the Rhodesian Action Party. Increasingly, this ultra-right-wing group, largely made up of RF defectors who sensed an impending betrayal to the communists by even Ian Smith and still supported by American ultra-right groups, became a political embarrassment to the RF as it sought an international settlement. The Rhodesian intelligence services were also turned on them in order to neutralize an electoral threat to the RF from the far right. These events had little immediate impact on government propaganda, however, even though two key cold warriors, David Williams and Harvey Ward, respectively chairman and director-general of the RBC, resigned in what was widely believed as the RF’s squeezing out of the far right. In 1977, with government assistance, a lavish book was produced on the Rhodesian security forces entitled Contact: A Tribute to Those Who Serve Rhodesia. In spite of the changed political landscape since Kissinger’s intervention, it echoed traditional, widely-held white Rhodesian beliefs about the justice of their struggle. The role of loyal Africans in combating communist terrorism was highlighted throughout, along with coverage of black police units and the Rhodesian African Rifles. John Wrathall, the president of Rhodesia, emphasized in his foreword to the volume that the war was being waged not between black and white, since Africans and Europeans were ‘serving side by side against a common enemy’, but between East and West, which would dictate the whole future of the region. The author, John Lovett, also asserted that the Rhodesians were essentially confronting classic Maoist strategy. ‘It is basically an ideological war, between East and West’, he wrote, ‘and the prize is a strategically valuable piece of African real estate.’ The Rhodesians, unlike the Americans in Vietnam, were clearly winning the battle for hearts and minds.
In reality, while most white Rhodesians were convinced about the existence of a communist conspiracy against them, government attempts to discourage African support for guerrillas by concentrating on their communist character failed abysmally. The more the government castigated the guerrillas as communists, the more attractive communism became in the minds of many Africans, even with evidence of communist-inspired killings of missionaries. Clara Chidarara, an African who worked for the Ministry of Information, recalled that scaremongering had little effect: ‘That’s where this regime lost out—because they stressed too much on communism.’ Clem Tholet, an advertising executive and—as already mentioned—son-in-law of the prime minister, Ian Smith, thus reflected on the ineptness of government propaganda efforts:
We operated on the assumption that the tribesman in the T[ribal] T[rust] L[ands did not] understand a damn about communism, capitalism or any other ideology, and I guess that was part of the problem. We tried to tell them of the evil of communism but we didn’t paint a true picture because we were under the impression that these people just wouldn’t understand.
On the other hand, comparatively liberal, if paternalistic, organizations such as Women for Rhodesia called on whites to accept the end of racial discrimination and the need to welcome the new Zimbabwe, while calling for continuing support for the security forces in its campaign against communist terrorism.
The world view promoted by the RF over 20 years thus effectively prevented a realistic assessment of African attitudes and grievances which fuelled African nationalism. Once Smith had conceded the principle of black majority rule in September 1976, the RF fell back on anti-communism as moral justification for the continuing Rhodesian military campaign and the key issue which could unite the white minority with internal nationalists willing to make a settlement, such as Bishop Abel Muzorewa. It is easy to see why most white Rhodesians could have felt so incredulous and profoundly perplexed when they were informed that African voters had given Robert Mugabe’s Marxist-Leninist Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party a clear parliamentary majority in the 1980 independence elections. Of course, in keeping with RF ideology, many still attributed this to intimidation, which did indeed take place on a large scale, rather than recognize that the image they had long cherished of politically docile Africans, intimidated by comparatively few communist agitators, had been greatly misplaced. White supremacy was always at the heart of the RF cause, of course, but the character of the RF’s campaign before and during UDI had thus been indelibly and fatefully shaped by anti-communism and the politics of the Cold War. We can only speculate, but it would appear certain that had the Cold War ended a decade earlier, the struggle for white supremacy would have been forced to take on a wholly different character, as it did so profoundly in South Africa following the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s.