Monday, November 26, 2007

Hurrah for Peter Godwin!

For the first time ever that I have seen, that Ian Smith quote has been given accurately.
The second plank of the 'Smith legacy', his 'never in 1,000 years' quote, is also unfair and inaccurate. Over the years it has become shorn of all context and compressed into a free-floating clip that has now become his epitaph - the epitaph of a white King Canute railing against an inevitable black tide. In fact it was not a prediction of a millennium of white rule - as Ian Hancock and I tried to explain in our book, Rhodesians Never Die.

It was quite the opposite. Made on 20 March 1976, Smith was actually conceding for the first time that UDI was negotiable and that power-sharing with blacks was inevitable. But in tortuous phrasing, he was also trying to placate his white constituency (and the right wing of his own Rhodesian Front party), assuring them that black rule shouldn't happen overnight. What he actually said was: 'I don't believe [my emphasis] in majority rule ever in Rhodesia... not in 1,000 years. I repeat that I believe in blacks and whites working together. If one day it is white and the next day it is black, I believe we have failed and it will be a disaster for Rhodesia.' The language was tortuous, but what is clear (especially if you read the whole speech) is that he was advocating, not predicting, the survival of white rule and telling his people that while he was still opposed in principle to black rule, he had not ruled out the possibility of power-sharing in the immediate future. He was actually laying the ground work for compromise. And in negotiations with the black Zimbabwean leader Joshua Nkomo, he had privately accepted the timetable of black rule in five to 15 years.
As Godwin says, there's enough to condemn Smith as a short-sighted bigot who did desperate damage to his country without making stuff up as well.

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