Imagining Independence: The Racialized Utopia of Rhodesia in the Era of Decolonization


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Imagining Independence: The Racialized Utopia of Rhodesia in the Era of Decolonization
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White, Luise
White, Luise
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Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University fellowship proposal (awarded)

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Imagining Independence: The racialized utopia of Rhodesia in the era of decolonization Luise White, History University of Florida Fellowship, Davis Center, Princeton University When the prime minister of Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia, after 1980 Zimbabwe) announced that the country had unilaterally declared independence (UDI) from Britain in we have been called upon to a role of worldwide signif be a transcendent project: the state was to transfigure, or at least reverse, the course of world events. Rhodesian independence would do more than preserve Christian civilization; it was defending a way of life aga inst the trend of the late colonial world, political independence through Afro and Lepanto. More often than not Rhodesian officials located themselves in British, rather than itain in the 1940s; Rhodesians were the only true Britons left, they said. That no other country not even South Africa recognized the self proclaimed state simply demonstrated the depths to which the world of the 1930s had sunk. Rhodesian independence, t he foreign minister intoned, might be just the kind This project is about these Rhodesian conceits and the political imaginary of a regime that stood fa st against the cynical tide of decolonization. The political reality of Rhodesia was perhaps less profound. There was the commonplace joke about UDI that first appeared in Punch : d on principles of paternalism and racial domination; by the 1950s its politicians were fond of deploying a language of universal civilization that had already vanished from the imperial heartland. Once it had taken minority rule constrained the rights of its black citizens and expanded the obligations of its white ones, especially as it waged a grueling guerrilla war against two African nationalist armies, a war it lost on the battlefield and at the negotiating tabl e. Thus the two linked narratives of Rhodesian independence, the international outcast state and the country that was the racialzied atopic utopia, require some unpacking. The history of the former is well known, but I want to problematize Rho seems to have carried much greater weight in the twilight of the British empire than it did in the twilight of the Soviet one). UDI made Rhodesia the first modern pariah state; mandatory world wide sanctions were imposed on Rhodesia even when it was unrecognized as a state, and long before such sanctions were imposed on South Africa. But then, as Conservative and Labour Governments kept reminding Rhodesia when it was Southern Rhodesia, South Africa had been sover eign and independent long before it set about stripping its African majority of citizen rights; Rhodesia had taken its own independence in order to specifically do just that. Nevertheless, Rhodesia survived for fourteen years, although no country acknowle dged it, no country traded


with it legally, and no one but African guerrilla armies wanted its currency. The second narrative is the main part of the book I plan to write during a fellowship year, an historical inquiry into the Rhodesia that so quickly be came a right wing utopia (something South Africa never did) and a site of raced ideas about imperialism and civilization. Middle aged men left London to settle in enjoy During the war, the exiled King Zog of Albania offered 500 s oldiers to be trained to fight for Rhodesia. The American novelist Robin Moore, the amanuensis of the Green Berets, arrived and for Rhodesia. He was only occas ionally successful, but at his weekly pool parties the young Americans so recruited would tell journalists including the young Christopher Hitchens and David Caute fighting ecame a locus as much as it was a bounded state in the middle of Africa: somewhere communism had to be stopped, somewhere the white man had to be defended, and Rhodesia was as good as any other place to protect the world from barbarian hordes. All these tropes meant race, of course, and as Benedict Anderson noted years ago, racial slurs and epithets are decidedly un national: gooks and can be anywhere; they have young white men who traipsed around the English speaking world carrying all the baggage of western civilization with them. Such fictive Kenyans or Americans or Australians wanted to figh t terrorism, but they did not seem terribly concerned about where they were doing it. As one people running around killing women and children to get what civilization, of responsibility project; instead it fit neatly with the flamboyant self promotions of the Rhodesian state, that it was anywhere but Africa in the 1960s, that it was just like ancient Greece or they heyday of Victorian England. The historical sources for this material are copious: my own interviews conducted in Zimbabwe, England, and South Africa over the last ten years, Parliamentary papers, the oral history collection in the Zimbabwe National A rchives, personal paper collections in Rhodes House Library, Oxford, the Rhodesian Cabinet papers deposited in Rhodes University in South Africa, the Rhodesian Army papers deposited in the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, Rhodesian propa ganda films and TV commercials and a body of white writing novels, memoirs, polemics and parodies that is in volume unlike anything else in Africa. In every novel, memoir, autobiography, polemic, parody, poem, and regimental history individual Rhodesians grappled with the meaning of their independence and the quality of their sovereignty. They made nation building a cottage industry, imagining a Rhodesian nation that the state never dreamed of. This writing actively debated the politics of race and plac e in ways that consistently opposed the Rhodesian project. Read as history, this literature describes another Rhodesia altogether, in which a classic liberalism and its rigid control of subject peoples outweighed racial privilege.


Read as nationalism, this literature describes another, atopic place, one that was never quite a colony and is never quite a discreet nation state. The Rhodesia described in memoir after memoir was what might be called post imperial but could never be called post colonial, a place that took up the mantle of empire when the British cynically cast it aside. Easily half a dozen autobiographies quote the 1961 encounter between the Conservative Commonwealth Secretary we That will to rule, to lead, to be responsible when the British -or the Commonwealth, or the UN, or the newly independent Congo were not was perhaps the most pr ominent feature of particularly influenced by liberal ideas about strategic inclusions. They argued for years that the qualities of African soldiers could only be nurtured an d promoted by the leadership of whites; they argued in vain against the expansion of all white regiments during the war. The Rhodesian Army obsessed over the ratio of African soldiers to white ones. There were two African volunteer battalions serving Rho desia, whereas most whites served under extraordinary conscription and reserve duty. By 1977 white men 18 25 were conscripted for two years of national service after which they were liable for 190 days reserve duty a year, six weeks and six weeks off. Th e pointed to with considerable pride. As the prospects for majority rule drew near, and as whites clamored for the conscription of African youth, the Rhodesian Army struggled to find the optimal ration for the army of the country when it would be ruled by its African majority. If Africans who had been to secondary school were conscripted, the new ratio would be 204:1, which was simply dismissed out of hand. A nd while commanders allowed that a ratio of 20:1 would be much of 1979 they juggled numbers to achieve the figure of 15:1. The memoirs of young conscript s had very different concerns. They opposed the Rhodesian project, or at least racial segregation (especially in school sports competition), but all served their countries because their parents talked them into it: draft dodging would disgrace their fami lies. Parents presented it as a memoir, sons delay admission to universities abroad to become ambivalent conscripts in the Rhodesian Army. These young men serv e, they fulfil their reserve duties, because it was The question of this project is two fold. H ow does the utopian Rhodesia come into being, and how does that utopia make, or unmake, the independent state of Rhodesia? The intellectual origins of Rhodesia, in which 19 th century liberalism met Carl Schmitt, linked the right wing of the Conservative P arty to local politicians. The right wing Tories had long tried to slow the tide of decolonization in Africa and had sought an audience in settler colonies for years; they may have helped shape the idea of a utopia of responsible, racial domination but t he one they imagined was to be firmly located in Africa. It was Rhodesian politicians who favored the rhetoric that placed Rhodesia everywhere else. The physical, if illegal, state of Rhodesia, beloved of young men who nonetheless wanted to escape to Spa in. was made concrete by the writings of its citizens; even the most dubious of these men re located Rhodesia in Africa every time they debated the meaning of white rule there. These authors debated the obligations of their citizenship and spoke to each other and to a community of nations they insisted they belonged to. In this way, these autobiographies, novels, memoirs, and parodies, read with archives and private papers, disavow


Instead they suggest complicated ideas about race and place and offer a window into the history of late colonialism and rich and analytical literature on w hite politics vanished with UDI in 1965. After that, Rhodesia became too charged to be studied as anything more than a racialist anomaly. Rhodesia was a racialist exception, of course, but not as great as its opponents argued, it was also a state practi ce based on long outmoded ideas about liberal strategies of tolerance and exclusion; Rhodesia was to be the place where responsible men should govern those who had not yet demonstrated responsibility. These ideas were indeed tropes that meant race by 1965 but they also had specific genealogies in their own right. These genealogies are critical to bridging the gap between a scholarly literature of the colonial states. The critiques of the last twenty years do not adequate ly describe the spacey, utopian character of the Rhodesian project. Print capitalism, creolized bureaucracies, or a modular form of the nation born in Europe all fail to adequately describe the imperial fantasies of a Rhodesia said to be spread around th e globe, out of Africa and the Anglophone world, comparing Rhodesian independence to the battles of Thermopylae and Lepanto. Moreover, these theories do not account of the ways that so much Rhodesian prose scoffed at this narrative. With this project I w ant to look at the racialized utopia of Rhodesia as a way to interrogate the workings of decolonization in the broadly theoretical frame. Bibliography histories of white ruled Rhodesia and theoretical works on modern states, for example Colin Leys, European Politics in Southern Rhodesia (Oxford, 1959), Richard Hodder Williams, White Farmers in Rhodesia, 1890 1965 (London, 1967); James Berber, Rhodesia: The Road to R ebellion Rhodesia: Racial Conflict or Coexistence? (Bloomington, 1968) and a great number of articles from about 1959 67. I am also very much influenced by recent work in African history that has challenged the master na rrative of decolonization, most Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in Emergent Ghana (Madison, 1993), and the two most recent works of Frederick Cooper, Decolonization and African Society (Cambridge, 1996) and Afric a since 1940 (Cambridge, 2002). More broadly I Imagined Communities (London, 1991); the Nation and Narration (London, 1990), Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments (Princeton, 1993) and Prasenjit Duara, Rescuing History from the Nation been Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire (Chicago, 1999), although both authors leave militarie s out of their analyses. This current project is very much influenced by John Kelly and Martha Kaplan, Represented Communities (Chicago, 2001) and Manu Goswami, Producing India (Chicago, 2004). The third set of sources are Rhodesian autobiographies and memoirs. The best known of Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (London, 1996) and Alexandra Fuller, (New York, 2001); Mukiwa is fully within the genre of Rhodesian autobi ography while Fuller is an outlier. Although there had been settler memoirs since the late 1890s, independent Rhodesia began to manufacture its own historical memory


industry with a series of chatty autobiographies published in Bulawayo throughout the 197 0s, UDI and those published after. Of the former, the titles say it all: A. T. Culwick, Britannia Waives the Rules (Port Elizabeth, 1965); James Barlow, Goodby e, England (London, 1969), and James MacBruce, When the Going was Rough (Salisbury, 1980). After UDI memoirs tend to be emise. Again, the titles are instructive: Ron Reid Daly, Selous Scouts: Top Secret War (Alberton, South Africa, 1983); Ken Flower, Serving Secretly: (London, 1987), and Ian Smith, The Great Betrayal (London, 1997). forty five in my study as I write this. These are intertextual in the extreme; they owe more to each other and some selected war movies, Patton especially -than they do to the class ics of war memoirs, such as Robert Graves or Siegfried Sassoon. Almost all depict young men conscripted to the war, made into men not by their national service but but the depths of their disillusion, either because of the excesses of white politics or th e excesses of black politics, or both.