The discussions had been conducted in the strictest secrecy and an anxious public therefore gave close attention to Mr. Wilson's farewell message at a Press conference before he left Salisbury on his return to London on October 30. He said he had found the situation "charged with emotion, the predominant emotion being that of fear. with the attendant emotions of distrust and suspicion." lt was scarcely the right atmosphere in which to find the right answer.

He reassured the white Rhodesians in regard to the possible use of force. He had told the African (nationalist) leaders:

that their demand for Britain to attempt to settle all Rhodesia's constitutional problems with a military invasion is out.

Although successive British Governments are irrevocably committed to guarantee unimpeded progress to majority rule, Britain does not believe that in the present tragic and divided condition of Rhodesia majority rule could come today or tomorrow. A period of time is needed to remove the fears and suspicions between the races, time to see that the constitution of Rhodesia can be worked and is going to be worked, and that the rule of law, equally with the maintenance of essential human rights, will be paramount. And the time cannot be measured by the clock or the calendar, but by achievement.

The choice facing the country was not a simple one between two extremes - between an illegal assertion of independence today or an African majority tomorrow or next week. "Rhodesia is not faced with these stark alternatives," he said.

He made his attitude to the Chiefs quite clear. Nothing they had told him had changed his doubts about whether they represented African opinion in Rhodesia. lt was clear to him that they did not consult their people, and there had been no consultation within the Council of Chiefs about current questions. "I cannot accept that they can be regarded as a means of consulting African opinion."

But he held out a ray of hope for the immediate future. The two Governments had agreed to examine the possibility of establishing a Royal Commission, and Mr. Bottomley and Sir Elwyn Jones would remain behind for a little longer for this purpose.

He concluded by shaking the inevitable stick.

We have stated the economic, political and constitutional measures Britain would inescapably have to take in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence. I would not wish anyone to be in doubt about our ability and our will to put through these measures, or to be in any doubt about the decisive consequences that would result from them. Financially, economically - for I have said we foreswear the use of force - we would have to do everything in our power to restore constitutional rule.
On his way back to London Mr. Wilson paused in Zambia and Kenya to talk to Kenneth Kaunda and Jomo Kenyatta. Rhodesians learnt of these stop-overs with misgivings. They were Commonwealth Prime Ministers and they had a right to the latest information, but what would they say to Wilson and how would he react? They were not left long in doubt.

The British Prime Minister's speech to the House of Commons on November 3 in which he reported on his Rhodesian visit was not reassuring. He hedged the Royal Commission proposal with a number of reservations, which he also set out in a letter to lan Smith the same day.

The British Government was prepared to agree that the Rhodesian Government's own constitutional proposals should be put to the test of acceptability by the people of Rhodesia as a whole, provided the Rhodesian Government agreed that the British Government should be free to state publicly that they disagreed with them. The Commission's interim report on how it proposed to determine acceptability must be unanimous. And the Commission's final report must also be unanimous, but neither Government should commit themselves to accepting it.

If the Commission found that the Rhodesian proposals were not acceptable, the British Government reserved its freedom of action as to the future course to be followed.

If Rhodesia was not prepared to accept these suggestions, Britain would agree as an alternative that the proposals be submitted to a referendum of the whole Rhodesian population

provided it was conducted without restriction on free political activity by all sections of the community, was subject to adequate impartial supervision and incorporated stringent safeguards against intimidation from any quarter.
It was back to square one. If the Commission's report was not unanimous - if the British representative disagreed with his two Rhodesian colleagues - the British Government would not accept it. Even if it were unanimous the British Government would still not necessarily accept it. The House of Commons would be the arbiter, and if the Labour Party's Left Wing did not like it - and they were unlikely to approve of any recommendation that favoured the white point of view or fell short of majority rule - the result would be inevitable. The wrangling, the bitter attacks, the futile arguments would go on. And the Rhodesians were heartily sick of them.

As for the conditions attached to the alternative of' a referendum, Rhodesia had had experience of "free political activity by all sections of the community.'' It would require a far bigger police force and army than the country possessed to guard every house in every African township and every hut in the Tribal Trust lands against the savagery of political thugs if anything approaching "stringent safeguards against intimidation from any quarter'' were to be effective.

Ian Smith replied promptly to Wilson's escape clauses. If the Commission were to make it known that the British Government disagreed with the Rhodesian constitutional proposals it would become a forum for argument and dispute on the merits and demerits of the proposals themselves. It would become the centre of a maelstrom. Wilson's insistence on a unanimous interim report showed a singular lack of confidence in the Commission which, if it were to be entrusted with this task, must surely be competent to fulfil it.

He also did not agree that the final report should be unanimous.

If a Commission is unable to agree on a unanimous report it is customary to have majority and minority reports. It would be wrong to demand of such a Commission unanimity of thought before it has even set about its task.
Wilson's refusal to commit his Government in advance to accepting the Commission's findings even if they were unanimous meant that they would have to be entirely satisfactory to the British Government, irrespective of Rhodesia's wishes.

The idea of submitting the proposals to a referendum was completely unacceptable.

The only conclusion to be derived from your letter is that it is tantamount to. and can only be interpreted as, a rejection of the proposals agreed with you in Salisbury,
lan Smith concluded.

In a broadcast at about the same time Smith said the differences between the two Governments were irreconcilable.

I think it is pertinent to point out that we have an agreement with the British Government whereby under no circumstances will they attempt to initiate legislation dealing with Rhodesia unless it is requested by the Rhodesian Government. This surely reinforces my argument that unless the terms of reference given to the Royal Commission are acceptable to the Rhodesian Government, the whole exercise will be a complete waste of time.
Mr. Wilson wrote on November 7 that the rights of the House of Commons, which alone could take the ultimate decision, must be tully reserved. He suggested that Sir Hugh Beadle, in whom both sides had complete confidence, should come to London to discuss the Commission's procedure. Following that, he proposed that Smith and he should meet at some convenient place, such as Malta, to discuss the matter further.

lan Smith could see no purpose in a further meeting.

Even if we were to agree on the procedure and substance of the Commission's work, it is clear that you are not prepared to accept its decision in advance, that you are not prepared to accept a majortiy report and that you are not prepared to commit vour Government to advocating its acceptance in Parliament. These three points are fundamental. The views of our respective Governments are irreconcilable.
Sir Hugh Beadle flew to London on his own initiative to discuss the Commission with Mr. Wilson. On the morning of November 11 the British Prime Minister put through a telephone call to Ian Smith in Salisbury, to discuss the Commission's freedom "to see everybody it wants to see''.

He said:

I discussed this with Beadle, and he can tell you all about it when he returns this morning. This must be a matter for the Commission to decide, whether in their view there is a free expression of opinion by the people of Rhodesia. We have got to be satisfied that the Commission can do its job...
He insisted that its report had to be unanimous and that the House of' Commons must have the final say. He offered to send a "senior Minister" to Salisbury to clear up any points.

Ian Smith told him that the two Governments were further apart instead of being closer together.

Hugh Beadle was flying high over Africa on his return from London when this conversation took place. His aircraft landed at Salisbury Airport at lunch time. He did not hurry to the Prime Minister's office to report on his discussions with Harold Wilson on the Royal Commission. Instead, he hurried to Government House to help Sir Humphrey Gibbs face this blood-chilling moment.

For as he stepped on to Rhodesian soil Ian Smith was broadcasting to the nation:

The end of the road has been reached. It has become abundantly clear that it is the policy of the British Government to play us along with no real intention of arriving at a solution which we could possibly accept.
Next: The Rhodesians Rally

Return to Main Page