Mr. Wilson proposed that the Commonwealth Secretary and the Lord Chancellor should visit Rhodesia, and Mr. Smith agreed. He also agreed that they could see anyone they wished
who are not in jail for criminal offences, but if any persons they wish to see are in detention or restriction the necessary arrangements will be made.Mr. Bottomley and Lord Gardiner visited Rhodesia during February. On their return to London Mr. Wilson found their report encouraging, for he wrote on March 29:
I hope that you and I can now cease dwelling on arguments about the past and instead concentrate together on the future. The two Ministers have made it clear that we do not contemplate the immediate imposition of majority rule, nor the advent to power of persons who have not served a political apprenticeship.But nothing happened for many months and finally, at the beginning of October, Ian Smith decided to go to London with three of his Ministers - Mr. W.J. Harper (Internal Affairs), Mr. D. Lardner-Burke (Justice) and Mr. J.J. Wrathall (Finance). They were a formidable team.
At the first meeting at 10, Downing Street, Ian Smith explained that the constitutional uncertainty was harming Rhodesia's economy and could not be allowed to continue. Britain seemed to be concerned only with the Africans in Rhodesia and was insisting on greater African representation. On their side the Rhodesians had made some real concessions, such as having a Senate composed wholly of Chiefs who, with the 15 African "B" Roll members in Parliament, would constitute a blocking third in any attempt to amend the Constitution. They were also prepared to concede what amounted to universal adult suffrage on the "B" Roll, which would give about a million more Africans the vote.
Arthur Bottomley outlined the basic differences between them. Rhodesia rejected a referendum as a means of testing African opinion on the constitutional proposals and wanted a Senate as an alternative safeguard for the entrenched provisions. But Britain did not consider this an adequate substitute. On the question of racial discrimination, Britain wanted some dramatic move forward in relation to, for example, the Land Apportionment Act. But Rhodesia was unable to make any significant concession on this point.
Mr. Wilson said that a Senate composed of Chiefs could not be considered a democratically-elected block to prevent retrogressive amendments. He would not be able to justify it either to the House of Commons or to world opinion.
Ian Smith defended his Senate proposal, and in regard to the Land Apportionment Act pointed out that it was not rigid or static. It was continually being amended as circumstances changed. Its abolition was out of the question.
The two sides were unable to reach agreement on any of the five principles laid down by Britain for Rhodesia's independence, and the conference ended in stalemate.
After the Rhodesians had returned home, Mr. Wilson reiterated British warnings about the consequences of "the illegal and unconstitutional action which you have said you have in mind." He wrote:
Before any irrevocable step is taken, I beg you yet again, even at the eleventh hour, for the sake of your country, for the sake of Africa and for the sake of future generations of all races, to pause before bringing hardship and misery, perhaps even worse, to your own people and to countless others far beyond your borders.Ian Smith replied with vigour:
If you were negotiating for a settlement you could surely have reached a comprmise with us. We have our principles as well, but we went beyond what we were originally prepared to do in an effort to satisfy the implementation of your principles . . . Rhodesia is being condemned not for what we have done but for what others say we might do in the future. The statesmanlike thing for you to do is to grant us our independence and put us on trust to observe and abide by the principles of the 1961 Constitution.He went on to suggest that the two countries should sign a
solemn treaty to guarantee our undertaking. Should a breach occur, that would be the appropriate time for the British Government to take whatever steps it thought fit . . .He concluded ominously:
We have made our decision on what our next step should be. Its implementation and the consequences that flow from it now depend on your response to this appeal I now make to you at this eleventh hour.Harold Wilson seized on the suggestion of the treaty as a means of prolonging the discussion a little longer. But it was no use conducting it by correspondence, he wrote on October 21, so he proposed to fly to Salisbury immediately to try to resolve the deadlock. Ian Smith agreed to the visit.
Mr. Wilson arrived at Salisbury Airport on October 25 accompanied by a retinue of 50 assistants, secretaries and security guards. If he expected to see sandbags, gun emplacements and armed police, he was disappointed. Salisbury was calm and peaceful in the October heat. During the next five days he spent nine and a half hours in frank talks at Government level and 29 hours in meetings with other leaders of public opinion, of whom he saw 126 altogether.
When he welcomed his visitors on the morning of October 26, Ian Smith said there was a new ray of light. There were signs of a more reasonable movement of African opinion among both the nationalists and the Parliamentary Opposition. He had been told that the nationalists might now be prepared to accept something less than one-man-one-vote. But this was the only field in which there was room for manoeuvre - with the possible exception of the proposed treaty - since on all other points negotiation had ended when he was last in London.
The Rhodesian Government, he explained, was trying to create conditions in which, in course of time, it would be immaterial whether a Cabinet Minister was African or European. The criterion would be merit and ability. If he had a suitable African in his party he would bring him into the Government now. But he did not think this could be done before independence. After independence was granted, he was convinced, Europeans and Africans would work together for the common good.
Wilson said he was satisfied that the 1961 Constitution - which the Labour Party in the United Kingdom had opposed just as Ian Smith himself had opposed in it Rhodesia - had not been put forward as providing a suitable basis for independence.
In view of what Ian Smith had said about a change in the attitude of the African nationalist leaders, it was agreed that Mr. Wilson should meet Nkomo and Sithole to see whether they would agree to independence under the existing Constitution. He had talks with both of them and returned to report that he had been disappointed at the lack of any indication that they would be prepared to accept any grant of independence that had not been preceded by the establishment of majority rule. He had made it quite clear to them that there could be no British military intervention in the event of a UDI, and also that the African nationalists could not expect to attain majority rule in the immediate future.
Mr. Wilson urged that more time be allowed for discussions with all shades of political opinion. He suggested that a Royal Commission, predominantly Rhodesian but including at least one eminent representative from Britain, should study the basis on which Rhodesia might proceed to independence as rapidly as possible in a manner acceptable to the people as a whole. The Commission should be able to move freely among the people and obtain their views in an atmosphere of frankness and informality. He thought it should take about two months to complete its task.
Ian Smith doubted whether a Commission would be able to find a solution, but he was willing to give it a try. The Commission's terms of reference should be:
(a) Independence on the basis of the 1961 Constitution;
(b) the creation of a House of Chiefs of 12 members;
(c) a two-thirds majority of the House of Chiefs voting with the Rhodesian Parliament to have the power to alter entrenched clauses;
(d) the Commission to consist of the Rhodesian Chief Justice as chairman, one United Kingdom representative and one Rhodesian repretentative;
(e) Mr. Wilson to sign that he would grant independence if the Commission found that this was acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole.
The conference adjourned to allow the British to mull it over. At the final meeting on the evening of October 29 both sides spent several hours discussing the various proposals, but they were unable to reach agreement.
They were, however, able to reach a measure of understanding in regard to the Royal Commission. The Rhodesians insisted that the terms of the Independence Constitution which the Commission should put to the people must first be acceptable to the Rhodesian Government, and the British accepted this. It was decided that Mr. Bottomley and Sir Elwyn Jones should consult with the Rhodesian Ministers to explore the extent of agreement that could be reached and identify the points of disagreement.
They came up with a document listing the points of disagreement, and they were many - regarding ordinary constitutional amendments, the amendment of specially entrenched clauses, additions to the specially entrenched clauses, and so on. The only point of agreement was in regard to the franchise. Rhodesia was willing to extend the "B" Roll franchise to include qualified indigenous adult taxpayers, and Britain was prepared to accept this provided the qualification was reasonable.
It was obviously impossible for the two sides to reach complete agreement. Neither was prepared to trust the other an inch. The Rhodesians suspected that the British were trying to create loopholes that would enable them to interfere in Rhodesian affairs and also to hasten the advent of majority rule, and the British suspected that if they granted the Rhodesians independence without stringent safeguards they would try to whittle down African political rights and entrench white control indefinitely.
In that atmosphere compromise was out of the question.
1. The principle and intention of unimpeded progress to majority rule, already enshrined in the 1961 Constitution, would have to be maintained and guaranteed.
2. There would have to be guarantees against retrogressive amendment of the Constitution.
3. There would have to be immediate improvement in the political status of the African population.
4. There would have to be progress towards ending racial discrimination.
5. The British Government would need to be satisfied that any basis proposed for independence was acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole.
6. It would be necessary to ensure that, regardless of race, there was no oppression of majority by minority or of minority by majority.
Next: The Die is Cast
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