The End of White Rule?

Ian Smith
Ian Smith; drawing by David Levine


On July 11, 1961, the Independent State of Katanga celebrated the first anniversary of its independence by opening an “International Trade Fair” at Elisabethville. The only official foreign exhibitors were Portugal, with Portuguese Angola and Mozambique, and the Central African Federation.

The Independent State of Katanga ceased to exist in 1963; Katanga is now the Shaba Province of Zaire: Elisabethville is now Lubumbashi. The Central African Federation also ceased to exist in 1963; its successor states are Zambia, Malawi, and threatened Rhodesia. The Portuguese empire in Africa ceased to exist in 1975; Angola and Mozambique have revolutionary governments, proud of their victory over Portuguese imperialism.

The component parts of that illomened International Trade Fair have been scattered by the winds of change. Moise Tshombe—in quest of whom I walked through that fair on that July day sixteen years ago—died in Algeria, having been hijacked to that country by people who felt him to have outlived his usefulness.

But the concept which Tshombe’s Katanga represented has not outlived its usefulness. The forces that created Katanga, as well as those that destroyed it—some of these being the same forces—are still at work in Africa, in relation to the South African “homelands” to certain African states and to plans for Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and for South West Africa/Namibia.

The concept represented by Tshombe’s Katanga was that of the preservation of the reality of white power—especially the power of white business—in conditions which made it advisable to concede the trappings of power to selected black people.1 It is safe to assume that this same concept is strongly present in the minds of Mr. Smith and his white Rhodesian colleagues today as they seek to negotiate an “internal settlement” with Bishop Muzorewa and other African political leaders living in Rhodesia.

But the history of the Congo showed that different ideas about how to embody the same basic concepts may negate one another. The Independent State of Katanga was in effect an improvised interim embodiment of the concept, filling a gap between an initial unsuccessful embodiment, also improvised, for the whole Congo, and a later embodiment, also for the whole Congo, which has proved remarkably successful, at least so far as the Western nations that support it are concerned.

The initial embodiment—Belgium’s 1960 formula for decolonization of the Congo—resembled the formula for which Mr. Smith is now looking, in combining the same two principal elements: a general election, based on “one man one vote” and producing a mainly black parliament and government, together with continued European control over the security forces. The commander of those forces in the Congo, General Janssens, using a blackboard to instruct his black NCOs, explained the situation, as far as they were concerned, in terms of the chalked equation:

After Independence = Before Independence

The equation, however, failed to convince those to whom it was addressed, and in whose power it lay to…

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