26 MARCH 1965, Page 5

RHODESIA Hurrying backwards

LEO BARON writes from Bulawayo:

Mr. Bottomley's statement at the conclusion of his visit to Rhodesia was a masterpiece of diplomacy; it could be interpreted almost at will according to the position of the reader. Yet for all the diversity of press comment, one detected a fairly general belief that Mr. Bottomley's hope of reaching an agreed solution amounts to no more than the hope of persuading everyone con- cerned to work the 1961 Constitution. Now one detects too an effort to condition the British public to an acceptance of the myth that majority rule is 'in sight' under the existing franchise; one political observer, for instance, has suggested that under present conditions Africans could win `Shut the door, please.' eight 'A' roll seats. This is so ludicrous a state- ment that it can only be partisan propaganda.

The mathematics of Rhodesia were dealt with in these columns on July 24 last year. Pre- supposing both favourable economic expansion and goodwill on the part of the government, it would take upwards of fifty years for the present franchise to produce majority rule. But if one assumes, as one must, a determination on the part of the minority to delay majority rule by every possible means, one must assume also the employment of such tactics as the blocking of secondary education for Africans, the granting of citizenship and voting rights to immigrants after, say, three months' residence, and so on ad nauseam. It will be simplicity itself to ensure that the European electorate will retain its numerical superiority indefinitely.

If Mr. Bottomley's hopes have been correctly assessed, they are vain indeed. He would, of course, have little difficulty with the European electorate, the majority of whom would gladly accept the status quo even without independence; but he must know that he has not the slightest chance with the African people, who already see in his reported plans a vindication of the nationalists' stand in 1961. They see fifty European MPs who are solid in their desire to maintain government in white hands; they see a completely ineffectual opposition. It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that the nationalists were wrong, for it caq no longer be seriously contended that fifteen of them in the House would have had any significant effect on govern- ment policy. But even if they were wrong then, they are certainly not wrong today in rejecting a franchise structure which offers no hope even in their children's lifetime, and a declaration of rights which has given them nothing at all.

But perhaps the most depressing aspect of the whole sorry situation is that Britain should even contemplate such a solution. The 1961 Constitu- tion was heralded as marking the turning point in Rhodesian political development; it was to lead smoothly to majority rule, while the declaration of rights was to ensure the elimination of discri- mination, equality before the law and the pro- tection of the rights and freedom of the individual. Instead, the country has moved at breakneck speed in the opposite direction. There is no longer even the pretence that majority rule is the objective. Political opposition has been ' silenced, and in the process the rights and freedoms of the individual have been eroded almost to extinction.

Yet this is apparently not enough. More and more offences are to be visited with the death penalty; powers of restriction, without trial or review, are to be increased to five years (only

'You're beautiful when you work.' last year the period was increased from three months to one year), and power is to be sought to prevent publication of anything written or said by restrictees—all in the ministers' discretion, of course.

Britain cannot conceivably be deluding her- self that Rhodesia today is being governed accord- ing to the spirit—or indeed the letter—of the constitution; nor can she believe that the govern- ment will have a miraculous change of heart. Mr. Bottomley can seriously contemplate a solution based on the status quo only if he can succeed in reconciling his political and moral principles with the perpetuation of a complete negation of democracy.