Smith Cornered in Rhodesia


RHODESIAN PRIME MINISTER Ian Smith's recent rejection of British proposals to establish black majority rule has all but precluded possibilities for the peaceful settlement of the country's racial power struggle. Smith's rejection of British mediation and last month's collapse of talks between Smith and Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the black African National Council's "internal faction" have brought Rhodesia to the brink of civil war. Moreover, the recent unification of the efforts of the presidents of Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Botswana to form a strategy to end white rule in Rhodesia represents a new solidification of black African opposition to the Smith regime. Mozambique's severing of the railroad that formerly carried 80 per cent of Rhodesian exports to the sea has also shortened the probably life of the Smith regime.

Smith's vacillating policies, repudiation of agreements and stubborn reluctance to establish a definite date for enfranchisement of the black majority is consistent with both his present political position in the white community and his past history. As leader of the country's ruling Rhodesian Front party, Smith must obstinately forestall majority rule in order to prevent the dissolution of his political base which is composed of factory owners and large landholders. Faced with increasing pressure from the African majority to set a definite schedule for their enfranchisement, Smith has opposed the growth and solidification of black opposition. He has also hindered the development of a dissatisfied ultra-conservative white faction by the strategy of repeatedly making incomplete concessions to the black population and then refusing to honor the agreements. One of Smith's former political opponents complains that "dealing with Smith is like trying to nail a jelly to the wall."

THE RENEGADE Prime Minister became prominent in Rhodesian politics through opposing British attempts to promote majority government in the early 1960s. He helped form the Rhodesian Front and led the country's secession from the British empire in 1966. Following independence, Smith sponsored the legislative reversal of the trend toward a majority rule in Rhodesia.

The first ten years of autonomy have been idyllic for Rhodesia's white minority. A pleasant climate and prospering economy have combined to make life very comfortable for white Rhodesians; while personal incomes for both blacks and whites have increased since independence, the gap between the two has grown wider. The average black wage earner's pay is less than one-twelfth of the average income of white Rhodesians, and the earnings of 90 per cent of Salisbury's employed blacks are below the $133-per-month poverty level. The remaining mass of unemployed blacks live under even more marginal conditions, populating an arid area euphemistically described as "African Tribal Lands" comprising 40 per cent of the country. Still, the living standard of even the unemployed is higher than the unemployed in many other parts of Africa, including neighboring Botswana and Mozambique.

Smith's most recent intransigence in the face of the unified opposition of the black African states surrounding Rhodesia and decreasing support from South Africa's prime minister, John Vorster, suggests that he expects economic and military aid from outside Africa. A likely cause for his bravado could be an interpretation of Henry Kissinger's recent vows--to oppose further armed Cuban and Soviet intervention in southern Africa--as a statement of American support. Kissinger has, however, recently endorsed the establishment of majority government in Rhodesia.


A further reason for the cornered tenacity of Smith's opposition to majority rule is his belief in the ultimate backing he enjoys from the white population of neighboring South Africa. Smith appears unmoved by recent nationalist successes in Mozambique and Angola and changes in South African policy which have combined to transform Rhodesia's status from that of a white buffer state firmly supported by Pretoria to a tenuous peninsula of white minority rule with uncertain South African support. Vorster has repeatedly stated that he would rather see a stable black government in Rhodesia than an unstable white one, and he realistically fears that the outbreak of open racial war in Rhodesia could easily spread southward. But Vorster is not joined on this issue by the majority of South Africans, who would react strongly to any overt withdrawal of South African support for the Salisbury regime. Smith's realization of this lack of white South African support for Vorster's cautious policies contributes to his intransigence in dealing with Nkomo's faction of the African National Council (ANC).

BY CONTINUING TO stall for time in a situation in which delay is on the side of Bishop Abel Muzorewa--head of the ANC's more militant "external faction"--Smith has probably destroyed the last chance for the peaceful installation of a majority regime. He has driven even the most moderate black leaders into Muzorewa's camp. Nationalist guerilla attacks from Mozambique and Zambia on Rhodesian forces have been intensifying steadily, white emigration has been increasing and the national economy is severely hampered by a lack of foreign exchange owing to United Nations sanctions. Barring massive outside aid from the U.S., which is unlikely, many analysts expect the overthrow of the Smith government within a year, and the installation of Bishop Muzorewa as the country's first black prime minister.

Smith's gamble that the white population of South Africa will not allow Vorster to remain neutral in the event of a Rhodesian racial war is a dangerous one. If South Africa were to intervene in such a conflict the result would be even greater bloodshed, and might lead to involvement by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, and Soviet-backed Cuban troops. If Smith's faith in South African intervention proves mistaken, however, he will have provoked a suicidal race war which would soon destroy the Salisbury regime. Smith's current policies could also provoke further superpower involvement, the result being a long-term American or Soviet presence in southern Africa. Such a dominating presence would jeopardize the stability and independence of the region.

"Make no mistake about it. Smith is a bloody ruthless man with opponents," warns a member of the white opposition. But Smith's most recent displays of ruthlessness have sharply reduced the options available to his government. White Rhodesians' insistence on racial segregation and Smith's vacillation and calculatedly divisive tactics in dealing with the ANC have led directly to the increasingly violent challenge to continued minority rule in Rhodesia. Smith's attempts to withstand the economic, military and diplomatic pressure to capitulate have made "consequences too ghastly to contemplate" all the more probable. The sooner Smith capitulates the more likely that the black government following him will be moderate and the more likely that southern Africa will be free from superpower intervention and broader racial conflict.