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Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 6. Tuesday, June 4, 1963

African Leaders Predicted Federation's Failure

page 6

African Leaders Predicted Federation's Failure

When the southerlies blow over Wellington and I shiver in the unaccustomed cold, I cannot help thinking about the brilliant sunshine and windless warmth that I left behind me in the Rhodesias—for here, 4000 feet up on the Central African Plateau, is to be found one of the world's best climates. Unfortunately, not all the hot air in those parts is attributable to the climate: the politicians and not only politicians, the people generally, have generated enough heat in argument and recrimination to warm up even a good New Zealand "blow." Regrettably so, for this was an area developing at tremendous rate along lines that might well have been of fundamental importance to underdeveloped countries everywhere.

This advance has now been halted and in some areas of what is still (but only just) the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, may not be renewed in our time. This is recognised by some at least of those who have laboured to bring about the end of Federation, and taken to be a price well worth paving in order to achieve their immediate ends. These ends may be defined in simple terms as the overthrow of European dominance and the granting of political independence. One statement by Joshua Nkomo, leader of the major African Nationalist Party (now banned) in Southern Rhodesia, illustrates both the determination to achieve these ends and a recognition of their probable cost.

He said:—"It is necessary to retain Europeans in Southern Rhodesia in order to maintain our industrial and commercial growth, then industrial and commercial growth must stop. If your enemy is on the bridge, you destroy the bridge."

The end of Federation will not, of course, mean the immediate disappearance of all Europeans, but it will mean a major set back for the kind of economic structure which was being built up under the Federal system, for the territories by themselves are not nearly so strong, even in aggregate, as they were as a single economic unit.

It is important to remember in this, and other connections, that the three territories which were joined together in a Federation in 1953 are differently endowed with natural resources, and were at different stages of development.

Southern Rhodesia is a rich farming area particularly suitable for tobacco and maize growing and cattle ranching. It has, in addition, a number of small gold and base metal mines, and since Federation, has developed at a fantastic rate as a centre for secondary industry.

Northern Rhodesia is poor agriculturally, but is the second largest producer of copper in the world.

Nyasaland is the poorest of the three with no economic mineral resources but with a developing agriculture, particularly in tea growing and forest products.

Politically, at the time of Federation, Southern Rhodesia was virtually self-governing, Northern Rhodesia a Crown Colony and Nyasaland a protectorate.

The idea of joining these territories together had been advanced and debated for many years. Thus, in 1936 elected members of the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council and members of the Southern Rhodesian Parliament met at Victoria Falls and unanimously passed a resolution that the two territories should become one.

In 1938 the Bledisloe Commission was appointed to consider the possibilities of closer union between the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland. It reported inconclusively that in principle the desirability of some form of closer unity should be accepted but that no active steps towards it should be taken for the present, mainly because of African opposition in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The idea then went into hibernation, to emerge in 1951 when a Conference of Colonial Office Officials met in London to devise a way out of the difficulties noted by the Bledisloe Commission. Their report was presented to Parliament by the Colonial Secretary. Mr. James Griffiths, on June 13, 1951. It states categorically that "On every ground—economic, strategic, administrative, moral and social—some form of closer cooperation between the territories is needed." The difficulty presented by African oposition was to be met by the device that the Federal Government would take over from the territories only such powers and functions as were of interest to Europeans, leaving all matters directly related to African development, still in the hands of the territorial governments.

By Prof. E. A. B. Phillips who has travelled extensively throughout the Central African Federation.

This, in barest outline, was the plan which was discussed at what was to have been the decisive conference, again at the Victoria Falls, in September 1951. The local name for the Victoria Falls is "Mosi-Oa -Tunya"—"the smoke that thunders," and smoke and thunder enough there was at this conference.

No amount of oratory however, could persuade the Africans that Federation was not to their detriment. The basis of their opposition now became clear: they feared that in the proposed Federation. Southern Rhodesia would be dominant and since Southern Rhodesian native policies were less liberal than those of the other two territories, African advancement would consequently be slowed clown. Beyond this rationalisation of the situation there was the age-old, stubborn, conservatism of most African leaders who preferred the Colonial office regime which they had long accepted and understood.

Even a fire-brand like Dr. Hastings Banda could say at a meeting in Glasgow "We want to stay under the Government of the United Kingdom." (At this stage Dr. Banda had been away from Africa for 35 years, and another five were to elapse before his return to become leader of the Malawi Congress Party in Nyasaland in 1956).

Whilst the Conference was still in progress an announcement was made that there was to be a General Election in Britain. This brought the Conference to a rapid end, but not before Mr. Griffiths was able to say that he believed the plan before the Conference was the right one. The British election which followed brought a change of government, but no change in policy over this issue.

This is not to say however, that there was not a great deal of controvesy in the British press over the matter, particularly over the question of the disproportionate share of representation proposed for the European minority as against the African majority. One of the weightier contributions was from the Colonial historian Miss Margery Perham who drew from the history of New Zealand the lesson: "that once the substance of power has been granted to a white colonial community, a British Government cannot retain any effective control over native policy."

There were several more debates in the House, a definite plan was put forward in June 1952—not substantially different from the previous one debated at the Victoria Falls,—commissions were set up to look into fiscal, judicial, and civil service changes which Federation would entail and a final conference met in London on Jan. 1st 1953. The result was a decision to go ahead with Federation and an Order in Council was promulgated setting up the new state on August 1st 1953.

It is significant however, that no African representatives were present at the London Conference in spite of invitations repeatedly sent to political and other leaders by the British Government, and many visits of "persuasion" to Africa by British politicians including not only Conservative ministers, but Labour leaders of the stature of Mr. Attlee and Mr. Gordon-Walker. There was however, in London at the time of the Conference a delegation of Nyasaland chiefs who had come specifically to petition the Queen against Federation. They were not allowed to see the Queen but before leaving they wrote a letter to The Times ending with the warning:

"If Federation is imposed on us, the British Government need have no illusions that it will not be resisted by Africans. All measures, effective and prolonged, will be taken by us to defeat it and Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia will cease to be happy and peaceful countries."

How right they were—though those who saw the splendid economic advance in the first years of Federation could have been forgiven if they had thought the prophesies of impending disaster grossly exaggerted. In fact, those early years of booming prosperity masked the hardening of attitudes which made the ultimate break up inevitable.

If efforts had been sincerely made to change those attitudes,—and in my view they could have been changed—the story might well have been very different. It might then have been possible to show that a co-operative effort between the races was the best way to achieve not only economic advance (which nobody doubts) but political and social advance as well (which now nobody believes). This effort was not made and the result is the costly shambles which we can now see developing in Central Africa.

(Next issue Prof. Phillips discusses Central Africa's future).