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OPINION: Tendai Ruben Mbofana – Maybe Ian Smith was right after all!

Today is 11 November – a day marked in this country’s history as when then Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith, in a daring move, stubbornly cut off ties with the colonial British Crown – by unilaterally declaring Rhodesia’s independence in 1965.

There has understandably always been mixed feelings towards this day – with some regarding it as a brave stand in resisting British hegemony – whilst others believed that it was a dark day that signaled the triumph of white supremacy by those who saw this as a way of blocking black rule.

However, what was the truth?

Smith’s UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) was in resistance to Britian’s insistence on immediate independence based on majority rule, through the principle of ‘one man one vote’ – but, there is more to this story that meets the eye, which I will reveal as we progress.

In fact, after the fall of the short-lived Central African Federation (putting together Southern and Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland) in 1963 – the other two were immediately granted their independence by Britain, becoming Zambia and Malawi – yet, Southern Rhodesia, adamantly refused to give in to this pressure.

As I wrote in a previous article, before even ZANU PF – which today boasts of having ‘fought and defeated the British for our freedom and independence’ – the colonial masters themselves were the first to demand ‘majority rule’ years prior to the nationalist party’s formation on 8 August 1963.

Four of the five conditions laid down by the London administration for independence – first under Alec Douglas-Home, and then Harold Wilson – were that there be ‘principle and intention of unimpeded progress to majority rule’; immediate improvement of the political status of the African population; progress towards ending racial discrimination; and any proposal for independence acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole.

Just before that, another British leader Harold Macmillan had made his famous ‘Winds of Change’ speech in the South Africa Parliament, in Cape Town, on 3 February 1960 – a sign of this change of heart by the colonial masters, and their desire to see the people in their colonies granted total independence.

However, why was Smith so adamantly against this concept of not only immediate independence, but also ‘majority rule’?

Let us start with the latter.

I am sure that most of us will recall the infamous ‘no majority rule in a thousand years’ speech.

Yet, what exactly did Smith say, and what was the true meaning behind those words?

“I have said before, and I repeat, we are prepared to bring black people into our Government to work with us. I think we have got to accept that in the future Rhodesia is a country for black and white, not white as opposed to black and vice versa. I believe this is wrong thinking for Rhodesia.

“We have got to try to get people to change their line of thinking if they are still thinking like that. This is outdated in Rhodesia today. I don’t believe in majority rule ever in Rhodesia… not in a thousand years. I repeat that I believe in blacks and whites working together. If one day it is white and the next day black I believe we would have failed and it will be a disaster for Rhodesia.”

So, what was he saying?

It is quite clear that Smith was not at all opposed to independence for this country – but, what he was vehemently against, and found most unacceptable, was that there would be one race ruling over the other.

The idea of ‘majority rule’ meant, to Smith at least, that black people (the majority) would be the only ones in power – at the exclusion of whites, who like Smith himself, were born in this country, and were equal stakeholders in running its affairs.

That is why a reading of the speech shows that he was even opposed to whites ruling over blacks.

In other words – Smith was not some white racist supremacist desiring to oppress black people for all eternity – but, was merely pushing for an equal society, where blacks and whites ruled together in unity and oneness.

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The question naturally becomes – why then, did he opt for UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) instead of accepting immediate independence, as pushed by the British, and early nationalist movements?

Well, for starters, the British proposal (as mentioned earlier) called for ‘unimpeded progress to majority rule’ – which we have already seen was something averse to Smith, who wanted to see blacks and whites ruling the country together.

Secondly, having noticed what had become of other African countries that had already attained their independence (17 former colonies got their Uhuru in 1960 alone, bringing the total to 26) – the main challenge they faced was a newly emancipated population seriously lacking the requisite skills to effectively manage their countries or the companies they took over.

This, inevitably, lead to gross mismanagement and near failed states.

Smith’s belief was a staggered approach – whereby, blacks with leadership potential were trained to take over the reins, once independence was finally granted.

In Zimbabwe’s case – this was estimated to take about 10 years – meaning that independence was likely in 1974, or thereabouts.

As a matter of fact, at the breakup of the Federation, there were discussions for the future of Southern Rhodesia – with a conference in Zambia at which an agreement was made to ensure independence for the country.

Joshua Nkomo was signatory to this agreement.

The agreement was for a 10 year transition period to enable the proper training of a civil service to take over.

There was to be power sharing (in the same mold as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia), and then after 10 years (c. 1974) there would be total independence – but with a governmental structure in place that could continue the economic growth already witnessed in the country, with management being between both the black and white people of this country.

On returning to the then Salisbury (now Harare), Nkomo was lambasted by Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Ndabaningi Sithole and Edgar Tekere – and was forced to renege on the deal, thereby birthing the armed struggle.

Instead of stability, peace and guaranteed independence by 1974 – the war delayed majority rule until 1980!

In all this, instead of our people spending their time being trained on how to govern effectively and build the country – they were being taught how to kill and bomb bridges.

As such, by 1980 – a good six year delay in Smith’s proposed independence day – there was hardly anyone ready to run the country, since most of the leaders had either been in prison or in the bush.

Is there any wonder Zimbabwe went downhill from independence – as corruption and mismanagement took center stage – a shameful legacy still persisting today, as the country is still in the firm grip of the same people who never had any leadership or governance training.

What else were our leaders expected to achieve, having learnt absolutely nothing about governance and management – only knowing how to kill and destroy?

Even then vice president Kembo Mohadi once lamented how ‘white people never taught us how to run things’!

Well, whose fault was it, really?

Smith, love him or hate him – had offered to delay immediate independence for a reason – for the sole purpose of training the black population how to govern the country post independence.

Nonetheless, due to a power-greedy leadership – that could not fathom waiting for a measly 10 years for independence, rather opting for war – not only did that independence come six years later than envisioned by Smith, but were not prepared to run the country.

Now Zimbabweans can understand why we are in this mess!

If only our leaders had listened to ‘good old Smithy’ – but, their love for paper prevented that!

● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email [email protected], or visit website: