A crucial watershed in Southern Rhodesian politics : The 1961 Constitutional process and the 1962 General Election

University essay from Högskolan på Gotland/Institutionen för humaniora och samhällsvetenskap

Abstract:

The thesis examines the political development in Southern Rhodesia 1960-1962 when two processes, the 1961 Constitutional process and the 1962 General Election, had far-reaching consequences for the coming twenty years. It builds on a hypothesis that the Constitutional process led to a radicalisation of all groups, the white minority, the African majority and the colonial power. The main research question is why the ruling party, United Federal Party (UFP) after winning the referendum on a new Constitution with a wide margin could lose the ensuing election one year later to the party, Rhodesian Front (RF) opposing the constitution. The examination is based on material from debates in the Legal Assembly and House of Commons (UK), minutes of meetings, newspaper articles, election material etc.

The hypothesis that the Constitutional process led to a radicalization of the main actors was partly confirmed. The process led to a focus on racial issues in the ensuing election. Among the white minority UFP attempted to develop a policy of continued white domination while making constitutional concessions to Africans in order to attract the African middle class. When UFP pressed on with multiracial structural reforms the electorate switched to the racist RF which was considered bearer of the dominant settler ideology.

Among the African majority the well educated African middleclass who led the Nationalist movement, changed from multiracial reformists in late 1950‟s to majority rule advocates. After rejecting the 1961 Constitution they anew changed from constitutional reformists to supporter of an armed struggle.

Britain‘s role was ambivalent trying to please all actors, the Southern Rhodesian whites and Africans but also the international opinion. However, it seems to have been its own neo colonial interests that finally determined their position and its fault in the move towards Unilateral Declaration of Independence and the civil war was huge.

On the main research question the analysis points to two reasons. Firstly, the decision by the Nationalists to boycott the election and the heavy-handed actions they took to achieve this goal created a white back-lash against the ruling party and the loss of the second vote advantage. Secondly, when the ruling party decided to make the repeal of the Land Apportionment Act a key election issue they lost not only indifferent voters but also a major part of its normal electorate. They threatened the Settler State‟s way of life for the white minority.

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