22 JANUARY 1972, Page 4


Recent events in Gwelo and other Rhodesian towns suggest that the business of extracting Britain from the messy and sometimes bloody heritage of her African empire is going to be more prolonged, and perhaps more embittered, than seemed likely after Mr Smith and Sir Alec DouglasHome had agreed the terms of Rhodesian settlement. What needs to be emphasised now, in spite of the rioting, in spite of the apparent incapacity of Mr Smith to deal sensibly and moderately with disorder, in spite of the detention of Mr Todd and his daughter, in spite of the bumbling hand ling of their job by the Pearce Commission, in spite of the refusal of the Salisbury regime to let Sir Dingle Foot visit the country, is that the realities of the situation have not changed. There is still, as the Foreign Secretary made clear in the House of Commons last Monday, very little indeed that the British Government can do to influence the evolution of events in Rhodesia. If — as we believe the system of sanctions and semi-blockade, of Britain pretending to be responsible for, and ultimately in control of, a situation over which she has no influence, was a charade before terms were agreed, then it is still a charade, and will remain a charade whatever the Africans themselves decide about the settlement terms.

The nature and context of the settlement terms must be borne constantly in mind during the present trying period. In the context of British helplessness they were a triumph, offering some hope of African political, economic and educational advance, with reasonable safeguards against retrogressive amendment. It would have been easy — and tor many people morally more gratifying — for Britain either to have continued with the sanctions system, or to have cut the painter altogether. The more difficult task of persuading the Rhodesians to enter into an agreement which satisfied the five principles was instead attempted. After the Home-Smith talks, it looked as if the agreement was going to be successful in almost every respect. It now appears as if it may not be consummated, because of a failure to satisfy the fifth principle — that requiring the consent of all the peoples of Rhodesia to any settlement terms. It makes no difference: if the Africans reject the terms, as is their right, Britain will once again be unable to influence the situation, and the case for deliberate and immediate withdrawal from all involvement in the future of Rhodesia will become stronger, not weaker.

In commending the settlement termsto the House of Commons Sir Alec DouglasHome gave it as his opinion that, should the test of acceptability fail, then the status quo of sanctions would continue. There is no reason why this should be so: indeed, there is no justification for allowing that situation to continue. The only conceivable argument against washing British hands of the Rhodesian affair in the event of the Africans refusing to accept settlement terms is the argument that Rhodesia must be treated differently from any other African country, black or white; that what we find perfectly tolerable in other countries we find intolerable in one particular ex-colony. Recent events in Ghana should surely have shown us the apparently inherent instability and totalitarian tendencies of most black African states. Certainly, their inability to rule themselves consistently, sensibly and decently is a part of their heritage from us, and is, in part, our fault. Certainly — at least in terms of race relations — the professed aspirations of the black African states are higher than those of the government of Rhodesia. Certainly the Smith regime is not the kind of body that any British government would choose to place in power in Salisbury. Nonetheless, its determination to defend itself and its power, and the position of the white minority, is understandable, given the instability so regularly made manifest in neighbouring states.

If, because of the fifth principle, the African population of Rhodesia is enabled to refuse the terms of settlement, then that is their responsibility and the responsibility of their leaders. It has been perfectly possible for African opinion against the settlement to make itself heard by Lord Pearce and his colleagues. The African National Council and its followers have chosen the road of dissent and violence. By doing so they have put little trust in the probity of Lord Pearce and his fellow commissioners. If there is no trust on their part, either in the British government or in its representatives, then there can hardly be much ground in logic for the British government to continue indefinitely to follow the wishes of African opinion in its Rhodesian policy, and to continue to alio°, its foreign policy to be tied down sa" handicapped by people who refuse to fad the facts of life and their situation. If th Africans accept the settlement then the) will receive — and be entitled to receive British political and financial support making it work. But if they reject tl settlement, then they will have to live WI' the impliacations of their policy, CO pelling themselves to accept a situation which Britain is without effect's', influence and unlikely in the extreme to17 able or willing to negotiate more favour able terms. The British government, in its recell conduct of Rhodesian policy has not sP', out this brutal choice. If the settlement " rejected then this country has no rl choice but to disengage, unilaterally all for good, from internal Rhodesian polit1c5f It was wrong — and lacking in comip°, sense — for Sir Alec to imply that thr was any serious alternative. It is per110, even now not too late for the Brit's government to make clear what it will (101 the settlement is rejected: the reward clarity and honesty, however late 01 come is substantial just as the punishnlet,li for pretence and vainglory is condign. only alternative td the present settle, ment is no settlement at all, and in probability a far worse future for ° African in Rhodesia. Rhodesia is a symbol for an unrealiaei system of relations between Western African couuntries. That system, in will"( former imperial powers are expected continue to behave towards their fortile subject peoples in a more kindly, resP°,11 sible, permissive and dutiful fashion OW they behave towards one another, hi been the cause of a good deal of misunde: standing, and damage, in internatioll:i relations. It is satisfactory neither to 0, interests of the ex-imperial countries 11°6 to the dignity and independence , coloured peoples and their governmetl'i Whatever now happens in Rhodesia, all, whatever future policy the Brte government follows towards that counP'., will in the long run influence if a..; determine the pattern of relations betAO: developed white and underdevelor coloured countries. Let what weight If; have be cast on the side of realism; and us reject the hypocrisies of double stll dards.