The deep and intense anger of Africa on the subject of Southern Rhodesia is by now widely realized. It is not, however, so clearly understood. In consequence, the mutual suspicion which already exists between free African states and nations of the West is in danger of getting very much worse.

Before November 11, 1965, African states, individually and collectively, had frequently expressed their great concern about the position of Southern Rhodesia. But it was only with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Smith régime that this concern was transformed into impatient wrath. The catalyst of this changed attitude was the rebellion against British sovereignty. This was not because Africa wished Southern Rhodesia to remain a colony; Africa’s earlier demands had been for action to end colonialism. Nor was it evidence of a deep-rooted objection to illegality in the anti-colonial struggle. It is a fact that Africa prefers to use constitutional, legal and peaceful methods in the campaigns for national freedom; but if these fail then other methods are accepted. Thus, for example, an Algerian Government-in-Exile was recognized by many African states long before France conceded independence. And at the present time a government-in-exile, headed by Holden Roberto, is recognized by the Organization of African Unity as the rightful authority in Angola, despite the fact that legally Portugal continues to dominate that area. With respect to Southern Rhodesia, Africa’s objection is to this particular assumption of authority, not to illegality in general. It would be hypocrisy to pretend otherwise.

The hostility aroused by the Smith declaration of independence is based on rational interpretations of its purpose and its effects in relation to the total legitimate goals of Africa. For this rebellion is not an uprising of the people; it represents an attempt to expand the area, and strengthen the hold in Africa, of doctrines which are inimical to the whole future of freedom in this continent. It represents an advance by the forces of racialism, fascism and, indeed, colonialism in Southern Africa.

To the independent states of Africa this is not a development which can be viewed with Olympian detachment. We are on the frontiers of the conflict with these forces, and our own future demands their defeat. Gradually and somewhat painfully, colonialism and racialism have been pushed out of Northern and Central Africa. But while they remain in this continent none of us can really be free to live in peace and dignity, or be able to concentrate on the economic development which was a large part of the purpose of our political revolution. The Smith declaration of independence represents a counter-attack by these forces, and it is in that context that Africa has reacted, and demands its defeat.

This should not be difficult to comprehend. It might have been possible for the Allied powers to make peace with Hitler after France, Belgium and Holland were liberated. They were not prepared to try. Still less were the Jews outside Germany willing to support any compromise which would have left their compatriots under the control of a Nazi régime—even had the ultimate horror of racial extermination been excluded. Both the states concerned and the peoples who were being treated as racially inferior realized that the war had to continue until Nazism was politically ended in Europe.

The parallels are almost exact. The separate freedom movements in Africa were but different arms of one liberation process. When Dr. Nkrumah said in 1957 that the independence of Ghana was incomplete until the whole of Africa was free, he spoke a truth which is still valid for all of us. The struggle has to continue until final victory; colonialism must be wiped out in Africa before any post-colonial independent state can feel secure. And no citizen of Africa—white or black—can live in the comfort of his own self-respect while other African citizens are suffering discrimination and humiliation for being born what they are.

Yet at the present time the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, together with South Africa, South West Africa, and Southern Rhodesia, constitute almost one-seventh of the land mass of Africa. About 12 percent of Africa’s population lives in these areas. And each of these territories in different ways is governed on the principles of racial inequality and minority domination.

Portugal pretends that her African colonies are really part of Europe, and that she abjures racial discrimination. She claims instead to be in the process of making European Gentlemen out of the African inhabitants of those areas, and talks proudly of the policy of equality for the assimilado. But Africans are not European, could not become European and do not want to become European. They demand instead the right to be Africans in Africa, and to determine their own cultural, economic and political future. This right is what Portugal denies. The inhabitants of her colonies can certainly be “African;” but if they are, then they are subjected to special laws, and special taxation and labor levies; their participation in the functions of their own government is ruled out.

In South Africa there is no longer even the pretense that citizens of different races are equal before the law, or in social and economic rights and duties. The “separate but equal” concept which was defeated in the United States in 1954 has been defeated in South Africa too; but there, inside Africa, it is the “equal” aspect which has been abandoned. In providing separate facilities for people of different races, the courts have ruled that the separate schools, housing, waiting rooms and so on do not have to be of equal standard; it is enough that they are separate. Africans can be—and are—treated as a sub-species of mankind. No legal or political restraint now prevents the white minority government in the Republic of South Africa from imposing its harsh, discriminatory will upon the African majority. To be an African is to beg for a permit to live in your own country—or to leave it; it is to need permission to work in a particular place or in a particular job; it is to carry a pass at all times—day and night—and be subjected at any moment to arbitrary arrest. And it is to have no legal means whatsoever to participate in the determination of your own wages and conditions of employment, your own place or conditions of living—much less to participate in the governing of your country. To be an African in South Africa is to have permission, unlimited permission, to say “Yes, Baas”—and preferably even then in Afrikaans. It is to have permission to be humiliated by any man, woman or child who has a white skin just for the reason that he has a white skin.

It is conditions and attitudes of this kind which Free Africa is determined to fight. And there can be no questioning of the fact that (regardless of some reasonable criticisms of particular independent African states) the elimination of colonialism and racial domination in these countries to the south is justified by all the basic principles of mankind. Every principle of national and individual freedom, every principle of human equality, of justice and of humanity, makes it imperative that the rule of the minorities shall be ended. For they are judge, jury, prosecuting attorney and lawmaker in their own dispute. And the question at issue now is whether Southern Rhodesia shall for the foreseeable future be governed on that same basis of human inequality, or whether the existing, at present very slightly modified, version of racial domination shall be replaced by progress toward human justice and equality.


While Africa is determined that the whole of Southern Africa shall be freed before the struggle ceases, it recognizes that the strategy and tactics of the fight will vary according to the particular circumstances of the three different areas (four if South West Africa is counted separately). The monster of “unfreedom” in Southern Africa has three heads, and although each draws strength and sustenance from the existence of the others, it remains true that each has its own separate vulnerability to determined assault by the world forces of freedom.

The best armored, and in many ways the most tragic, of the three heads in Southern Africa is the Republic of South Africa itself. There, racialism has become a self-justifying religion of survival, which demands ever-increasing ruthlessness to protect its adherents against the hatred it has induced. Its doctrines of superiority are inculcated into the white community from the moment of birth; its teaching of inferiority dominates the lives of the non-whites from a similar moment. And it is in grave danger of convincing all South Africans—if it has not already done so—that there are not human beings in the world, but whites and non-whites. If it succeeds in this, then there will also one day be learned the dreadful lesson that the whites constitute less than one-fifth of the South African population, and that numbers provide strength. Yet because this religion of racialism has already been responsible for so much human humiliation and suffering, only a miracle could provide any real hope of its peaceful reversal and the growth of practical brotherhood. For it has already promoted hatred and justified fear. It now appears inevitable that sooner or later an overwhelming internal explosion will occur in South Africa and bring the whole present edifice of apartheid to an end; we can only pray that it is not followed by a mere reversal of the racial domination, for that would be the logic of the doctrines which are now being propagated by the South African Government.

But if there is no hope of peaceful change from inside, it remains true that the Republic of South Africa is an industrial state, inextricably involved in international commerce. It is also true that the South African Government’s policies suffer the expressed disapproval of nearly every nation and political organization in the world. This disapproval, however, remains a verbal one; no action is taken to activate it. This is largely because of the international economic links of the capitalist world (and thus international business involvement in apartheid). This reluctance to take economic action is backed up by the fact that South Africa is a legally constituted, internationally recognized, sovereign nation. Fears of the implications of intervention from outside—through the United Nations or by any other means—have thus caused the democratic and even the anti-colonial nations of the West to eschew, on grounds of legality, any deliberate activity designed to reverse the apartheid policies of South Africa. It is claimed that however reprehensible these may be, there must be no outside intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Legality is given paramountcy over morality. In consequence, the only prospect for South Africa is long, drawn-out suffering, violence and bitterness. For the struggle will go on until the cause of freedom ultimately triumphs.

The position in relation to Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea is different. This is, or should be, a classic colonial situation. The problem is that Portugal refuses to live in the twentieth century; she persists in believing that colonialism can be maintained, even by the poorest and most backward of the states of Europe. The question therefore is how to wake up Portugal to the facts of politics in the modern day.

Portugal’s European and American allies could, of course, have great influence upon her—particularly if they were prepared to deny her the right to use their military strength in her defense while she uses her own (and their ammunition) in suppressing incipient revolt in her colonies. They could even help her to make the transition to the twentieth century by building her internal economy. But if the free countries of the West fail to try, or if they fail to succeed, then Africa will have to pursue this battle on her own, or with what allies she can find. Our own weakness means that we shall have only one way of doing that—by supporting guerrilla warfare until, after suffering and destruction, Portugal wakes up to her own realities.


Until November 11, 1965, there was a hope that Southern Rhodesia would be able to avoid this dreadful path to freedom. Certainly the de facto government was a racialist, racially constituted, minority government. Certainly apartheid, under other names, restricted the Africans’ freedom to choose their place of living and working, and certainly separate educational, health and other public services ensured that the Africans maintained their existing lowly position. But the vital difference was that Southern Rhodesia was legally a British colony; British surrender of power to the settler minority had been tragically real, but it stopped short of legal transfer. This meant that, although she was faced with difficulties of implementation, Britain was the power responsible for the future in Southern Rhodesia. And Africa took comfort from the fact that Britain’s declared policy, in relation to all her colonies, has been to bring them to democratic independence under conditions which safeguard the people from oppression from any quarter.

The legal power and responsibility of Britain therefore meant that Africa expected gradual constitutional advance towards democracy or majority rule. What appeared to be required was to make Britain realize the seriousness of a situation in which Southern Rhodesia existed as an outpost of South Africa, but operated under the name and responsibility of the British Crown. Once this was realized Africa expected that Britain would at last take steps to deal with the white settlers who were misappropriating public power.

In other words, what Africa has been demanding from Britain in Southern Rhodesia is a transition from the white minority domination in government to majority rule, and only after that, independence for the colony. This has been the position of the nationalist forces in the colony; it has been the position of all African leaders. The argument has not been about the timing of this transition—how long it would take, or how many steps are involved—but about the principle of it.

It is in that context that Africa looks at the unilateral declaration of independence by the minority government in Southern Rhodesia; it is because of these reasonable and justified expectations that the Smith move is of such importance. The Settler Régime has said, in effect, that the very existence of legal restraints upon the minority is unbearable. And as Britain refused to give them independence without asking for some assurances about the future development to majority rule, they took independence. And in so doing their leader had the temerity to paraphrase the greatest freedom document of all time—the American Declaration of Independence!

Mr. Ian Smith justified his seizure of power, and his quotations, by claiming that his move was “anti-colonial,” and that his government is the “defender of civilized standards”—not racialistic at all. He has argued that, because countries to the north with black majority governments were granted independence, it is unreasonable that Southern Rhodesia should remain a colony after 43 years of “governing ourselves responsibly.”

The facts do not support Mr. Smith. The facts show that Southern Rhodesia has been governed responsibly only as far as the white community is concerned, and that every aspect of that society is based on racial distinctions to the detriment of the African community. The facts prove, once again, that any elected government is responsive only to the desires of the electorate; even if its ministers wish to consider the interests of non-voters, they are virtually powerless to do anything really effective.

Writing in Punch recently, Mr. Smith said, “Our Parliament is open to all races, our Civil Service offers senior posts on parity terms for all races, our University opens its doors to all races, and our voters’ rolls are open to all races. Merit is, and must be, the only criterion....”

The fact of the matter is that of the 65 seats in Parliament 50 are elected by the “A” Roll, and 15 by the “B” Roll. To get on to the “A” Roll it is necessary to have an income of £792 per annum, or an income of £330 per annum plus four years’ secondary school education (or certain other intermediate combinations) . To get on to the “B” Roll the figures are lower; an income of £264 per annum, or a combination of being over 30 years of age with an income of £132 per annum plus primary education. In consequence, of the 94,080 people on the “A” Roll, 89,278 were whites; Africans predominated on the “B” Roll with more than 10,000 voters, as against 1,000 non-Africans, but these figures are not very revealing, as the nationalist organizations called for a boycott of the elections. The comparative population figures show that there are in Southern Rhodesia almost four million Africans and less than 250,000 people of European descent.

The Government of Southern Rhodesia is thus firmly in the hands of the white voters, and is likely to remain so. The “B” Roll seats are not even sufficient to veto changes in the constitution. Neither are there in fact any Africans in senior positions in the Civil Service; and if there were, the existing legislation would force them to live in the designated “African Areas” of the towns regardless of their income. And behind all this smokescreen of “responsibility” and “merit” are complete segregation and absolute inequality in the availability of education.

Schooling for non-African children is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 15 years; and in 1963 there were 19,898 European children in secondary schools out of the 53,000 total European school enrollment. Only 7,045 African pupils were attending secondary schools during that year, and only 81 of these were in Form VI, where entrance to the University can be attempted. It is hard to argue that these differences of secondary school attendance are due to differences in innate ability when something like ten times more money is allocated for each European pupil than for each African pupil. The truth is that educational opportunities just do not exist for the African community in the way they do for whites. There are places in the sixth-year class for only 50 percent of the African children who attend school for the first five years; out of those who do pass that hurdle, only 25 percent will find a place in a secondary school three years later.

It is not my purpose to deny that there are difficulties in providing the educational expansion which is required in Africa now; Tanzania’s problems are too real for that. But when this racial distinction is made in educational opportunities, it is rank dishonesty to talk of equality of opportunity in other fields which depend on an educational or income qualification. Neither is it realistic to expect the voters (i.e. the people in the upper income brackets, who have reserved educational opportunities for their own children) to break down the racial distinctions which maintain their current privileged position.

Recent history in Southern Rhodesia supports this negative expectation. Since 1957 there has been a steady electoral move toward political parties and groups which have been most fierce in their declared intention to resist racial integration. The Rhodesian Front, which is the party of the present Smith régime, was elected when it opposed the United Federal Party proposal to amend the Land Apportionment Act (which, among other things, reserves 37 percent of the land area of the country for European ownership). In its manifesto the Rhodesian Front declared that it would seek to amend the constitution, on the grounds that it would bring about “premature African dominance;” the manifesto also recognized the right of government to “provide separate amenities for various [racial] groups.”

Since that election, successive Rhodesian Front governments have indeed concentrated on political questions, and particularly on the question of independence. In the process they have gained, and used, all the powers of a police state. All African nationalist parties have been banned, and their leaders imprisoned or detained; meetings have been prohibited, demonstrations broken up by police violence. And since independence, press censorship has been imposed on all media of public communication, and the harshest penalties imposed for any refusal to bow down to the behests of this illegal, minority administration. The régime has, in fact, moved consistently along the path it laid down for itself—the path which leads directly and in a short time to the imposition in Southern Rhodesia of an unabashed apartheid policy as it is operated in South Africa.

Many of these developments, and certainly the groundwork for them, had taken place before U.D.I. Independence merely represented a logical further stage; it had to come—legally or otherwise—or there had to be a reversal of direction. What independence under the present minority régime means, therefore, is that the Rubicon has been crossed. If this independence is sustained, the hope of a peaceful (even if gradual) development to majority rule has been obliterated. The only hope now remaining, therefore, is for the rebellion to be defeated by the legal power and a new start made on the road to peaceful progress.


The importance of this cannot be overestimated. A successful declaration of independence by the minority government of Southern Rhodesia represents an expansion of racialism and fascism in Africa, and a step backward in the drive for African freedom. It is as though one of the southern states in the United States of America now, in the year 1966, succeeded in enlarging and strengthening the segregation and discrimination within its area of jurisdiction. The reaction of the Federal authorities, and of the civil-rights organizations, can be easily imagined. They would know that their future was at stake, and that the battle was joined as surely as it was at Fort Sumter in 1861. So it is in Africa.

But the parallel does not stop there. Just as would be the case in America, so in Africa, the success of the Southern Rhodesian minority would strengthen the forces of reaction in other parts of the continent. South Africa and Portugal must want the Smith rebellion to succeed. Their interest is one of ideological sympathy; but it is also one of geography. The map of Africa shows their reasons for wanting white domination safely entrenched in Southern Rhodesia—just as it indicates the special interest of countries like Zambia and Bechuanaland that it shall not succeed.

Yet although South Africa and Portugal want white domination to be firmly established in Southern Rhodesia, the illegality of the present situation is an embarrassment to them. They cannot afford to intervene actively on the side of Rhodesia unless and until they are certain that the rebellion will succeed. For in supporting the illegal régime they are staking their own future on its success.

South Africa’s strongest defense against international criticism of her policies is the legality of her government, the recognized sovereignty of the state, and the doctrine that the internal affairs of any nation are outside the competence of the United Nations or any other international official body. If she openly supports a rebellion against legal authority in another state, then it is infinitely more difficult for her to resist international intervention in her own affairs. Consequently, we have the position where the Verwoerd Government claims to stand neutral in the conflict between the sovereign authority (Britain) and the de facto authority (the Smith régime) in Southern Rhodesia.

This official neutrality is at the moment possible because the economic sanctions are voluntary acts of each separate nation-state. By refusing to participate in these sanctions South Africa is thus breaking no international commitment and infringing neither domestic nor international law. This situation would be changed if the United Nations applied Chapter Seven of the Charter (even Article 41 alone), which makes sanctions mandatory on all members. South Africa would then either have to cooperate, or she would draw upon herself the international action she is so concerned to avoid. That is to say, she would either have to stop trading with Southern Rhodesia and be prepared to answer questions about the ultimate destination of goods she is importing, or she would be liable to be included in the area covered by sanctions.

The implications of the present position are well understood by the present South African Government. They account for its failure to give the “independent” Smith régime all the support it hoped for. Yet it is clear that white public opinion inside South Africa is willing to do at least some of the things the government fears to do—and that the government will not interfere. The “Oil for Rhodesia” campaign depends for its success on publicity and is thus known outside Southern Africa. There is little doubt, however, that through private business deals with South African firms and citizens, the cutting edge of international sanctions against Southern Rhodesia is being—and will be—blunted. By these means South Africa is able, without risking her own position, to assist the white regime in Southern Rhodesia to survive.

Portugal, too, is hamstrung by the illegality of the present Southern Rhodesian position. She, too, is relying upon legalistic niceties to prevent Western pressure building up against her occupation of Mozambique, Angola and Portuguese Guinea. She can therefore hardly afford to defend and assist a rebellion in the territory of a major European ally. Yet again, it is (to say the least) highly probable that she is giving undercover assistance to Rhodesia. As Sir Edgar Whitehead, a past Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, said in the Spectator of January 28, “Mozambique could not survive if an African nationalist government took over in Rhodesia, and would be utterly ruined if the Rhodesian economy collapsed.” Sir Edgar went on to refer to the oil refinery at Lourenço Marques, and the assistance which it can give quietly to the Smith régime despite the absence of crude oil for the Umtali refinery. Once again, this position exists because there is no international “illegality” in trading with Southern Rhodesia. The situation would be changed if Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter were applied, for in that case Portugal (even more than South Africa) would be forced by her own needs to cease giving active support to the Smith régime.

South Africa and Portugal are thus unable to give open support to Smith because they depend upon claims of legality to defend their own positions. There is thus a weakness in the racialist Southern African front which could be exploited by the forces of justice. And it is, in fact, this same question of legality which makes it imperative for Britain and the West generally to use this weakness and to defeat Smith and white domination in Southern Rhodesia.

Western governments have repeatedly declared their hostility to apartheid and their adherence to the principles of racial equality. They have frequently made verbal declarations of their sympathy with the forces in opposition to South African policies. But they have excused their failure to act in support of their words on the grounds of South Africa’s sovereignty. Africa has shown a great deal of skepticism about this argument, believing that it masked a reluctance to intervene on the side of justice when white privilege was involved. Now, in the case of Southern Rhodesia, legality is on the side of intervention. What is the West going to do? Will it justify or confound African suspicions?

So far the West has demonstrated its intentions by the gradual increase of voluntary economic sanctions; there has been a refusal even to challenge South African and Portuguese support for Smith by making the sanctions mandatory upon all members of the United Nations. And there have been repeated statements by the responsible authority that force will not be used except in case of a breakdown in law and order—which apparently does not cover the illegal seizure of power! What happens if the economic sanctions fail to bring down the Smith régime is left vague. The suggestion therefore remains that, despite legality and despite the protestations of belief in human equality, the domination of a white minority over blacks is acceptable to the West.


This suspicion about the sincerity of the West can be eliminated only by the defeat of the Smith régime, and a new start being made on the path to majority rule before independence. It would not be enough for Smith to resign and for a different “more liberal,” white-dominated, independent government to be legally established. If Britain and her allies, with the support of Africa, defeat Smith, then the minimum must be the reestablishment of effective British authority, and an interim government which is charged with the task of leading the colony to majority rule. This will inevitably require the presence of British administrators and forces. Experience in South Africa, and in Southern Rhodesia itself, makes it absurd for anyone to expect Africa to trust Rhodesian whites (even under nominal British sovereignty) with the task of effecting the transition to majority rule.

It is important, too, that Britain should make a public declaration of her intentions in Southern Rhodesia. It must be made clear that there will be a rapid move (even if in stages) to majority rule, with safeguards for human rights, and after that—but only after that—independence for the colony. This public declaration is essential. Its absence has already caused major diplomatic difficulties between Britain and Africa, because it leaves open the possibility of a simple return to the pre-U.D.I. status quo in Rhodesia.

It is true that such a declaration would be opposed by South Africa and Portugal, and that the Rhodesian whites would be bitterly hostile. But this is what the present crisis is all about: Is Southern Rhodesia to become a nation of equal citizens or is it to become an outpost of white racialism? The fears of Southern Rhodesia’s minorities have been dealt with by Britain’s many assurances about the transitional period after the rebellion comes to an end. It is now time to consider the fears of the African majority, both inside the country and elsewhere in the continent. It is time, in other words, for Britain and the United States of America to make clear whether they really believe in the principles they claim to espouse, or whether their policies are governed by consideration for the privileges of their “kith and kin.”

By its unilateral declaration of independence, Southern Rhodesia has come out openly in support of racialism in Africa. The rest of Africa cannot, for the sake of its own future, acquiesce in this. But circumstances have meant that Southern Rhodesia’s action is also a challenge to Britain and to the West generally. Their future relations with Africa, and Africa’s future attitude to them, depend upon this challenge being answered effectively. At present the world is willing to support them in meeting this challenge; for once no complications of the cold war or the “international Communist menace” enter into the problem. But if the West fails to bring down Smith, or having defeated him, fails to establish conditions which will lead to majority rule before independence, then Africa will have to take up the challenge. In that case there will be no question of a transition to majority rule. And Africa’s economic and military weakness means that she would have to find allies. It is worth considering whether, if that happens, it will then still be true to say that the cold war does not enter into the situation, and that the “Communist bogey” is a nonsensical red herring.

It is vital that Africa’s legitimate concern in this matter should be recognized. For each sovereign African nation has had to overcome the power of racialism in order to become independent. It is, to us, the ultimate horror. We can never surrender to it, or allow it to continue unchallenged on the African continent. Our own future is too much involved.

But the United States, Britain and all other countries of the world are also involved in the issue of racialism. Smith has thrown a challenge at the world, and particularly at the Western powers. He has thrown it on behalf of the whole of Southern Africa. Free Africa is now waiting, with some impatience, to see whether the West really intends to stand on the side of human equality and human freedom.

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  • JULIUS K. NYERERE, President of Tanzania; formerly President of Tanganyika; Chancellor of the University of East Africa
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