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 disprove it, as they did. The Belgian formula for safe decolonization was destroyed by the mutiny of the Force Publique and the expulsion of the Belgian officers. It seems that black NCOs and troops, seeing black men in (at least apparent) supreme political power, and perhaps excited by the rhetoric of some of those politicians (notably Patrice Lumumba), rejected their own continued subordinate status and wrecked the system based on the presumption of continued military subordination.

Mr. Smith—whose political sagacity is more often underestimated in Europe than in Africa—has certainly long reflected on the significance of those transactions, and on the threat which they imply to the system which he is now trying to build. In a major speech on November 7, 1960, attacking the Monckton report—which heralded the eventual break-up of the Central African Federation—Mr. Smith specifically linked “the fiasco which we have recently witnessed in the Congo” with “the rot setting in within our own borders” (i.e., the borders of the Federation). The rot has now set in more deeply, after the dissolution of the Federation and Portugal’s abdication of its African role, with the increase in guerrilla activity in Rhodesia and the consequent strain on the white economy, and the increase in European net emigration. Of the 260,000 Europeans who lived in Rhodesia until recently, a considerable number have left. There are more than five million black Africans.

Yet the measures designed to check this “rot” have these ominous points in common with those Congo measures which, in seeking to check a similar “rot,” resulted in the great “fiasco” of mutiny followed by United Nations intervention. In assuming—or working in the hope—that a similar fiasco can be averted in Rhodesia, Mr. Smith certainly relies on a vital distinction which he made in the course of his November 1960 anti-Monckton speech. That distinction was between, on the one hand, “the powers that be [who] sat six thousand miles away trying to control operations—Belgium, Britain, Portugal,” and, on the other hand, “the best people to make decisions for any country, those who have their roots deep down in the country…those people who have to live with the decisions they make.”


That distinction—however one might choose to word it—remains important. Smith’s Rhodesians do know they will have to try to live with the consequences of the choices they now make. They see their future as dependent on the loyalty of the security forces—loyalty to a constitution protective of the whites—and they therefore have had to give much more thought to these forces than the Belgian government did to the Force Publique, whose loyalty was generally assumed as axiomatic. The equivalent forces in Rhodesia—unlike the Force Publique—are now designed to have a significant number of African officers, as well as a high proportion of white fighting men. Nonetheless the central reality—that of a largely black force controlled by white senior officers—remains precarious, and possibly at the mercy of similar forces to those which took over in the Congo. Even assuming a “successful” outcome to the present negotiations, a subsequent “fiasco” cannot be excluded from the possibilities.

Yet the history of the decolonization of the Congo showed that even fiascoes are not necessarily irreparable. The particular system designed by the Belgians broke down over most of the Congo. It was possible, however, to salvage it in one province, the richest, that of Katanga, and to try to use that province as a springboard for a “restoration” throughout the rest of the Congo. In the event—and by a process which no one had planned—the “restoration” turned out to involve the destruction of the “springboard.”

In this part of the Congo story also there appear to be some lessons for present-day Rhodesia (and to a lesser degree for South Africa). Independent Katanga—like Rhodesia since it unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965—was an illegal and militant anticommunist state entity.

It would be wrong to assume, as both Katangans and Rhodesians have done, that the second characteristic necessarily compensates for the first. Under certain conditions, militant anticommunism may compound the international embarrassment—embarrassment to potential friends, that is—created by illegality. Thus, in the phase in which Katanga’s fate was decided, the exuberance of Katanga’s anticommunism was among the factors that swung the United States, slowly and reluctantly, but at last firmly, in favor of the use of United Nations forces to end the secession of Katanga. The idea was that anticommunist secession in Katanga could be seen as justifying procommunist secession in Orientale Province, thus giving the communist bloc (or Sino-Soviet bloc, a term then still heard) the foothold in central Africa for which it was assumed to yearn. In order to keep out the communists, then, the anticommunists had to be crushed by force.

One of President Kennedy’s close advisers on African matters, Mr. Roger Hilsman, has described in his book To Move a Nation with what reluctance, repugnance, and even bewilderment he and his colleagues felt constrained to advise this step. And the step was taken. The existence of the Independent State of Katanga was terminated by United Nations forces, with the backing of the United States, in January 1963.

None of the parties to the present disputes in southern Africa can afford to forget that that happened, because the forces that made it happen are still at work, though in greatly changed circumstances. Last September the US and the UK made proposals for a transition to majority rule in Rhodesia in which the UN would have a part: no one can foresee—any more than anyone foresaw in the Congo—how exactly that part might come to be played. Juridically, Britain, as sovereign over the area, has authority to invite United Nations forces into Rhodesia, but the forces will not arrive unless the Security Council (or, in certain circumstances, possibly the General Assembly) agrees. It is hard, but perhaps not impossible, to envisage circumstances in which Britain and the other four permanent members of the Security Council, including the Soviet Union and China, could agree on a mandate for a United Nations force in Rhodesia; if there is agreement on such a mandate it seems safe to predict that, as in the Congo, there will be disagreement about its interpretation.

Katanga, we must remember, was sacrificed in order to safeguard, throughout the Congo, the same general interests—though not the identical specific interests—that Katanga itself was intended to safeguard. The pressures on white Rhodesia are similar in kind: that regime has become an embarrassment to its “natural” friends, with whose interests in the rest of Africa it conflicts. Paradoxically, it now seeks to extricate itself from its perilous position, not by diminishing but by increasing its resemblances to the state of Katanga: by appearing, that is, to acquire a black front for white power. On the face of it, and in the light of that ominous precedent, this does not seem to be a promising move: it has already been denounced, and in much the same terms as Tshombe’s Katanga used to be denounced.


Yet precedents in politics are only suggestive, not determinant. There are very important distinctions between the cases. Independent Katanga was rigged up in feverish haste, an improvisation within the only slightly less feverish improvisation of the decolonized Congo. It lasted just two and a half years. Smith’s independent Rhodesia has already lasted twelve years.

In Katanga, too, the black collaborators, generally unprepared and apprehensive, were hurriedly pressed into service and furnished with masterful white “advisers.” The local whites often seemed anxious to prove that those who were called their “black puppets” were indeed just that, and could never be more than just that.

There are probably whites in Rhodesia who take a similar view of the attempted “internal settlement,” just as the critics of that attempt do. But such a view is imprecise. In essentials a “black front” is no doubt what the whites want. But if they are going to have any kind of internal settlement at all, protecting even their minimal interests, it will have to be with blacks—civil or military—who will want to be, and are capable of being, much more than a front. And it is with such blacks that Mr. Smith now has to negotiate, including Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole.


In November and December 1977 I visited London, New York, Washington, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Maputo (formerly Lourenço Marques), Johannesburg, Pretoria, Salisbury. It was an element in the Anglo-American proposals for Rhodesia, published in September, that started me on that journey. That element was the proposal that the United Nations should have a role in Rhodesia. A role, I thought, or roles…. I was not thinking of the Congo as a precedent, or set of precedents, though some people were already thinking of it in that way. The shadow of the Congo fell across the Security Council debates of late September on the Anglo-American proposals and the appointment of a representative of the Secretary General in Rhodesia. For the United States, Mr. Andrew Young had tried to lift that shadow:

There is some trepidation whenever the United Nations gets involved in this kind of exercise because over the past years, especially in Africa, our history has been somewhat spotty. There have been difficulties when we have attempted this kind of exercise on the African continent, but I would contend that there is a tremendous difference in that continent in 1977 from the time in 1963 when the Security Council was last involved there.2

For the Soviet Union on the other hand that shadow remained dark. Its representative, Mr. Troyanovsky, said:

At this stage we consider it necessary to express our categorical objections to the fact that the United Nations should be in one form or another involved in measures connected with a Rhodesian settlement which might be prejudicial to the national liberation struggle of the people of Zimbabwe. In this regard we cannot forget the sad experience of United Nations participation in certain sad events in the African continent which led to tragic consequences.

When I visited Africa I was to find that the tragic consequences of the sad experience were present in the mind of at least one of the living protagonists, Robert Mugabe, the leader of the ZANU forces in the Patriotic Front.3 I had never before met Mr. Mugabe but I had heard much about him and much that was confusing: that he had been a village schoolmaster and had taken university degrees while in prison; that he was both devoutly Catholic and drawn to Marxist ideas; that since he emerged as the most prominent ZANU leader only a few years ago, his guerrillas, now based largely in Mozambique, have become the most effective in the Patriotic Front. I found Mr. Mugabe in Maputo, Mozambique, in the living room of his suburban house at the end of December. Mr. Mugabe is a man of courteous but reserved manner; his personality is in marked contrast to that of his co-leader in the Patriotic Front, Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU, whom I had met in Lusaka a week or so earlier.

Mr. Nkomo seems to get on well with American and British politicians and with Kenneth Kaunda, the president of Zambia, and also with Russians. I have heard some of these politicians express confidence in his ability, and flexibility, and also misgivings about what they estimated to be the extent of his support within Rhodesia. Mr. Nkomo is a huge man who—like, in that, to the Reverend Ian Paisley—uses his vast bulk to political effect. He wobbles cumulatively as if in physical corroboration of the weight of his argument. He has an ursine authority; in fact he resembles Kipling’s dual concept of the bear: a cosy paternal Baloo who might also, in some unfortunate conjuncture, just possibly rip half your face off. Mr. Nkomo, like most successful political men, is something of a ham.

Mr. Mugabe is entirely lacking in histrionics, he speaks quietly, without gestures; on the afternoon I met him he seemed sad. Having a deplorable bent toward incongruous comparisons, I saw him for a moment as Laurel to Mr. Nkomo’s Hardy; but this partnership is not a comic one; it may be potentially tragic. Mr. Mugabe’s sadness on that particular day might have been because of the successful attack carried out a few days before by forces of the Smith government on the ZANU guerrilla camp at Chimoio in Mozambique. Rhodesian officials claimed that 1,200 guerrillas had been killed. I doubt, however, whether this was the sole cause; Mr. Mugabe did not make much of this attack and when I inquired about it, I found, to my surprise, that he had not visited the area since the attack took place. He seemed preoccupied by some somber train of thought, to the nature of which his final question to me—set out below—may suggest a clue.

At this time, the backers of the Patriotic Front, and to some extent the leaders of the Front themselves, were divided in their attitudes to the Anglo-American proposals for a Rhodesian settlement. The divergences concerned the important question of elections, envisaged in the Anglo-American proposals as preceding legal independence (as distinct from Mr. Smith’s illegal independence of 1965). President Kaunda and Mr. Nkomo wanted independence first and then elections—maybe. That is, they wanted power to be handed over to the liberating forces of the Patriotic Front—or, as some thought, just to Mr. Nkomo.

President Nyerere of Tanzania was exasperated by this demand. He is a good-humored man and his friendship for Kaunda is real and old, but he got quite peppery on this subject when I met him in Dar es Salaam. There was an extra flash in the concentrated brilliance of his eyes as he said: “I broke off relations with Britain on the issue of elections!—No independence before majority rule—that’s what we all said. How can I turn round now and say to the British: ‘Oh, forget about elections—just hand over to the Patriotic Front’?”

President Nyerere’s position was supported—rather paradoxically, some would think—by Mr. Mugabe’s hosts, the Frelimo government of Mozambique, which itself came to power without elections, by negotiation, from a position attained mainly by the use of force.

Mr. Mugabe showed himself more favorable to elections than Mr. Nkomo had done. He was frank about the reason: he thought he would do better in elections than Mr. Nkomo would do. He cited a secret survey which he said “the Americans” had carried out in the Rhodesian towns. The survey, he said, showed ZANU ahead with 35 percent support; Bishop Muzorewa’s party next with 26 percent; Nkomo’s ZAPU with only 5 percent.4 As ZANU’s support was less strong in the towns than in the countryside, the overall percentage of support for ZANU in Rhodesia would be higher than the 35 percent reflected in the urban sample. He therefore would welcome elections, and would also welcome UN observers to attest the fairness of such elections. He opposed the idea of any United Nations military force. The Patriotic Front would, it appeared, be in charge during the elections. As the two wings of the armed entity responsible for order during the elections would themselves be contesting these elections, there seemed to be rather good grounds for President Kaunda’s fear that the electoral process, in such conditions, would disintegrate into something like civil war.

We skirted delicately around this thought. Then, when Mr. Mugabe appeared to have said all that he was prepared to say about the attitude of ZANU to the Anglo-American proposals, I got up to go. Mr. Mugabe stopped me. “Now I should like to ask you one or two questions,” he said. “Do you support the freedom-fighters in your own country?”

I said that if by “freedom-fighters” he meant the Provisional IRA, I not only did not support them, but favored their suppression by all lawful means.

“You are a traitor, then?” asked Mr. Mugabe. He smiled as he put this question. It was the first time I had seen him smile.

I said that it was not treason to uphold democracy and the rule of law, and to oppose forces which threatened these. If the Patriotic Front chose to bracket itself with groups like the Provisional IRA, it could only damage its own cause. The case for the use of force by the Front was that, in Rhodesia, an armed minority was imposing its will by force, and could only be displaced by counter force. In Ireland, on the other hand, the Provisional IRA was itself the armed minority seeking to impose its will on a majority which had decisively rejected it.

Mr. Mugabe’s voice, in his two questions about Ireland, had a certain undertone of irony. On the next question, his voice was lower, and entirely serious.

“What exactly happened to Patrice Lumumba?”

Mr. Mugabe is an intellectual, with a sense of history, but I did not feel that his interest in this question was merely academic.

I said that Patrice Lumumba was murdered in Katanga in January 1961. His death was announced by one of his presumed murderers, Godefroid Munongo, minister of the interior in the government of Katanga, in February 1961. I did not myself arrive in Katanga until May 1961. What I had learned about the circumstances of Lumumba’s fall and death was therefore at secondhand but I believed it to be reliable. Lumumba’s downfall had become an objective of President Eisenhower’s government from the time when Lumumba, as prime minister of the Congo, asked for Russian military aid in ending the secession of Katanga and the Russians agreed to provide such aid. Prompted by the American Embassy, President Kasavubu announced the dismissal of the prime minister. The prime minister in his turn announced the dismissal of the president, and rallied the support of a parliamentary majority.

In this constitutional crisis the United Nations force, responsible for the maintenance of order at the time in the Congo, was officially neutral. However, when Kasavubu proved ineffective, the United Nations in the Congo threw its weight decisively behind the effort to end Lumumba’s political career. Andrew Cordier, at the time in charge of the UN operation in the Congo, effectively cut off Lumumba’s communications by denying him and his supporters access to airports and broadcasting.5

The United Nations also gave Colonel Joseph Mobutu five million francs with which to pay the troops whom he used a few days later to carry out a military coup “neutralizing” both Kasavubu and Lumumba and the Parliament. United Nations protection was then extended to Lumumba, on condition that he remain in his official residence, refraining from political activity—on condition, in effect, that he accepted the “neutralization” decreed by Colonel Mobutu. Ceasing to accept it he left his residence and tried to reach his distant political fief at Stanleyville.

United Nations forces were officially instructed “to refrain from any interference in regard to Mr. Lumumba’s movements or those of his official pursuers.” When these official pursuers caught up with Lumumba in Kasai, the commanding officer of the UN forces there (who were Ghanaians) requested permission to rescue him and place him under UN protection. This request was refused. Lumumba was brought back to Leopoldville, held there as a prisoner, and then transferred to Elisabethville, where he was murdered. The airports which had been closed to him by the UN during the “constitutional crisis” were available for his transfer as a prisoner.

Mr. Mugabe listened to this story with close attention. When I had finished telling it, he made no comment and asked no question. I felt that, left without comment, the “anti-UN” implications of the story would be quite excessive for the late Seventies. I therefore pointed out that it would be quite impossible, in the circumstances of today, for any non-African power to make use of United Nations forces in Africa in a manner which ran counter to the consensus of African states, and in particular to that of the front-line states. The attitudes of these states would in fact be decisive for what a United Nations role in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe might prove to be. This was essentially the argument with which Mr. Andrew Young, at the Security Council, had tried to exorcise the Congo precedent.

Mr. Mugabe looked at me impassively, and maintained his silence. It was evident that the thought which I had offered by way of reassurance—the thought of the influence of African states—in fact conveyed no sense of reassurance at all.

Thinking over the conversation later, I put a hypothetical question to myself.

Suppose the efforts at an internal settlement in Rhodesia came to fruition. Suppose there were elections in Rhodesia without interference by the security forces. Suppose the black population were free to participate in those elections, and that they did so participate. Suppose foreign correspondents were free to cover those elections, and suppose those correspondents reported that the elections were fairly conducted. Suppose that a black majority parliament and government then sat in Salisbury.

And suppose that, in those conditions, the Patriotic Front went on killing people.

If those conditions were fulfilled, would the behavior of the Patriotic Front really become morally equivalent to that of European antidemocratic terrorist groups: IRA, Baader-Meinhof, Italy’s Autonomi, etc.? As far as I am concerned there can only be one honest answer to that question. The answer is, yes.

Of course Mr. Smith would not have moved as far as he has done in the direction of majority rule were it not for the strain placed on the Rhodesian economy and polity by the activities of the Patriotic Front. But it does not follow from that that the blacks of Rhodesia necessarily wish to be governed by the Patriotic Front. The initial eagerness of the Front leaders to ensure a transfer of power to themselves before there are elections clearly implied at least doubt whether they have majority support.


The reasons for certain signs of disquiet in Mr. Mugabe became a little clearer in my mind after I met, on the following day, Joaquim Chissano, foreign minister in the government of Mozambique, Mr. Mugabe’s host government. It is in part because Mr. Mugabe is a guest of the revolutionary government of Mozambique that he tends to be regarded with some suspicion in the West, and has been given some reason to think of possible consequences of such suspicion. However, a conversation with Mr. Chissano quickly dispels any impression that Mr. Mugabe’s hosts may be pushing him into extreme and intransigent courses.

Mr. Chissano is a cool, confident, incisive man. Unlike most African leaders he wears conventional European civilian clothes. There is no trace in his language or manner of the ideological enthusiasm displayed in the newspapers controlled by his party or by himself in speeches reported by those newspapers. Nor is there any trace of that tendency to waffle which is the legacy of democratic process to some other African politicians. He talks not like a politician but like an administrator, one of patrician tastes and temperament, with military experience. More than any other African politician with whom I spoke, he comes down in favor of accepting the Anglo-American proposals for Rhodesia. The Patriotic Front groups, he thinks, should avail themselves of these proposals, and accept elections under United Nations supervision and British responsibility (but not British dictatorship) in the transition.

That is the analysis of Frelimo for what the Patriotic Front should do. It is true that Frelimo itself came to power by quite a different route. After the Portuguese revolution—“after we defeated the Portuguese”—Frelimo had been offered a referendum or elections, had refused both, and had demanded a simple handing-over of power to Frelimo. Superficially, that resembled the current position of the Patriotic Front. But the difference is that the Frelimo then, unlike the Patriotic Front today, was in a position to make that demand effective. “We had beaten the Portuguese army. We had also penetrated that army. We knew that it would never fight us again. We had only to maintain our demands, we knew they would have to accept them. But the Patriotic Front has not beaten Smith. They are imitating Frelimo’s political tactics of 1975, without being in a position to imitate them effectively. They should go back to NIBMAR [No independence before majority rule].”

This meant going along with the substance of the Anglo-American proposals. While he favored acceptance by the Front of the substance of these proposals, he did not believe either that Ian Smith himself was near to accepting these or that South Africa would effectively press him into accepting them or that the Anglo-Americans could press the South Africans into passing on such pressure. The armed struggle of the Patriotic Front was therefore the only effective pressure on Smith.

Mr. Chissano appeared to be resigned to that conclusion rather than in any way exhilarated by it. Rhodesian attacks on guerrilla bases had, he claimed, done more damage to the economy of Mozambique than they had to the bases. While he accepted the continuance of the conflict in Rhodesia, he was clearly not anxious for it to spread. As for Mozambique’s relations with South Africa, both sides needed to maintain economic cooperation. Although he did not go into details, it is no secret, for example, that hundreds of thousands of people from Mozambique work in South African mines and that the payments made in gold for their labor are an important source of income for Mozambique. The South Africans continue to ship goods through the port at Maputo and to supply technicians for the operation of the port and other services. “They need us,” said Mr. Chissano, “and we need them.”

A LUTA CONTINUA is the Frelimo slogan best known in the outside world. It was not the slogan most conspicuous on the walls of Maputo during the municipal elections at the end of November. The most conspicuous slogan there by far was that on the government’s official poster: CONSOLIDAR A REVOLUCAO. Mr. Chissano’s analysis was one illustration of the concept of consolidation; the elections themselves were another. Every day, the Frelimo morning paper, Noticias, announced, together with lists of persons whose nominations had been approved, the names of the rejected.

The most frequent reasons for rejection were “alcoholism,” “sexual corruption,” and past support for the Portuguese police or Portuguese-sponsored groupings. (One woman was rejected for “absence of clarity in her autobiography”; the Oscar Wilde flavor of this criterion is no doubt misleading; she presumably just left some blanks in the answering of a questionnaire.) The newspaper accounts were stylized and impersonal in their references to this electoral process; it was not clear how the rejections were prompted; they just took placed. Clearly the mechanism of rejection supplies the responsavels—the Party leadership—with interesting possibilities for eliminating inconvenient candidates and ensuring the docility of the elected body.

The elections dominated the newspapers and no doubt the radio (like many others, I can read Portuguese without being able to follow it in its spoken form). They were also reflected in mural inscriptions, posters, and streamers. On the lives of the citizens I could not see that they made any impact at all. On the afternoon and evening of the elections, all shops and places of public entertainment were closed, supposedly in order to permit the masses to participate in the electoral process and perhaps even to vote. That day I walked through the city for several hours, from the affluent suburb around the Hotel Polana to the poorer areas around the railway station and the docks. Once, in Avenida Mondlane, I heard a group of about a dozen young men singing a song, which was perhaps a political song. Once, by the river ferry, I saw another dozen young men, one of whom was carrying a Frelimo flag. They weren’t singing; they were just standing there, waiting for the ferry.

These two groups were the only examples I saw of human beings engaged in something apparently associated with political or electoral activity. In the evening, near the bus station, I did run into a sizable crowd, which in the distance I took to be the remains of a political rally. When I got nearer to them, however. I found that most of them were carrying food: people taking advantage of the holiday to visit their villages and stock up against urban shortages. For the rest, people were walking around, standing around in groups of three or four, or sitting at empty tables in front of the closed cafes.

A favorite Frelimo word is, or was, dinamizar. It was a principal duty of a responsavel to “dynamize” the masses. In Maputo at least the responsavels seem to have been singularly unsuccessful in this aspect of their task. It would be hard to imagine any group of people less dinamizado in their demeanor than the population of Maputo on that afternoon when they were supposed to be choosing their municipal leaders. It was also true, however, that the people showed no sign of resenting either their new rulers or their former rulers. Occasionally one met a jeep full of soldiers or a couple of armed policemen.

I did not happen to see—during a week in Maputo, much of it spent in walking about the city—either the people taking any notice of the soldiers or police, or the soldiers or police taking any notice of the people. As for the former rulers, the Portuguese, there were some of these in evidence in every quarter of the city, in small groups, sometimes together with Africans, more often on their own. The Portuguese did not seem in the least apprehensive or unpopular. Some of the older faces were melancholy enough, but so are they in Portugal. I never saw the slightest sign of any racial tension; my own Caucasian features provoked neither animosity nor even curiosity.

Frelimo is the Liberation Front; Maputo is a liberated city. But what does liberation mean for so passive a population? It does not mean that they rule themselves, or that they can choose their own rulers. Elections conducted as these were being conducted—with the extravagant contrast between the world of the streets and the world of the newspapers—could only mean that rulers were selecting approved representatives for the people, the means of adding a rubber-stamp of democratic legitimation to future decisions of the rulers. It was a legitimation for export; on the spot, no thirst for democratic legitimation was detectable.

The real legitimation was that conferred by the former sovereign when it handed over power to Frelimo, without referendum or election. Such a handover is obviously effective in terms of physical power, control of the apparatus of coercion. But I believe it is also important psychologically in establishing popularly perceived legitimacy. I had seen this at work earlier: first in the Congo and then in Ghana. In the town of Albertville, in northern Katanga, in October 1961, I had heard a Lumumbist leader—Mwamba Ilunga Prosper—justify the authority of the Congolese Parliament over Katanga by frequent reference not to Congolese precedent or practice but to “Roi Baudouin,” who had decreed that this should be so. In Ghana up to the mid-Sixties Kwame Nkrumah was making a basically similar point when he caused photographs of himself with Queen Elizabeth to be displayed in state offices.6

This appeal to the concept of a legitimate transfer of sovereignty appears to imply that a certain legitimacy was popularly attributed to the former sovereign. The matter may be of some importance for the future. For example, if Bishop Muzorewa (or some other African leader) is seen as accepting power from the hands of Ian Smith, this might be quite widely (internally) seen as confirming the legitimacy of a Muzorewa-type government, rather than detracting from its legitimacy, as many observers have assumed it would (and as it would in practice in areas under the de facto control of the Patriotic Front). As against this, the African leaders outside Rhodesia agree with British official policy in stressing the illegitimacy of Smith’s power—and therefore his incapacity to convey legitimacy to others. But since the supposedly legitimate power—that of Westminster—has never been effectively exerted in Rhodesia there seems some reason to doubt its charisma on the spot.

Superficially, there is a contradiction between the concept of a transfer of legitimacy from the colonial power to its successor and the Marxist rhetoric of Lumumbists, Nkrumahists, Frelimo, and the Patriotic Front. But in fact the Marxist rhetoric can buttress the legitimacy acquired by transition, by bonding the new ruling class—including inter-tribal bonding—providing it with a dialect of rule, with the means of inculcating its legitimacy, and the dialect which upholds it, into those whose education it controls. Marxism does not in practice commit an African government to any particular course of action; rather, it permits great flexibility in practice, together with an impressive style and vocabulary for the denunciation of those who criticize any course of action the rulers may decide on.

More than this, in African conditions, Marxism in its Africanized adaptations—and sometimes in odd symbiosis with Christian and pre-Christian faiths—provides appropriate concepts for justifying the existence of a special political caste, taking the place of the former colonial administrators. Those administrators derived their mandate, their sense of the legitimacy of their power, from the concept of the superiority of the culture whose values they considered themselves to be transmitting—to the rather small extent, and at the very slow speed, which they thought of as within the capacity of those who were to receive what they had to transmit.

The new rulers have also a culture to transmit, again a culture of European origin—their own adaptation of Marxism—and they also have a low estimate of the present receptivity of those who are to receive this culture. They speak and write incessantly of “the need to raise the level of consciousness of the masses.” It is assumed by the rulers that their own level of consciousness is vastly higher than that of the masses, and that it is for the rulers, the responsavels, to be the judges of signs of a rise or fall in the level of consciousness of the masses. It is also unmistakably implied that the required rise in the level is likely to take a very long time, and that the ascendancy of the ideological elite will be of corresponding duration.

This is paternalism of a truly Victorian solidity and self-confidence, as befits the lustiest ideological child of the Victorian era. I am using the terms “paternalist” and “Victorian” not to belittle, but to situate. The best of the Victorian paternalists were unusually good men, with a great devotion to the welfare of backward peoples, as they conceived that welfare. The same is true of a number of the modern African elite who have taken up the white man’s burden. Members of Frelimo and of ZANU clearly see themselves as an aristocracy of service, though that phrase is not in their vocabulary. (As for Bishop Muzorewa, an English reporter on Rhodesia wrote, “Curiously enough, a high proportion of [his] group were educated or militarily trained in the USSR.”)7 To be served—and ruled—by an ideological aristocracy is hardly liberation in the ordinary meaning of that word. It can only be understood as liberation if we accept the claims made on behalf of the ideology, that it frees people from something called false consciousness and so on.

No non-Marxists can logically accept this phenomenon as constituting liberation. Some non-Marxists accept it illogically. However, it is possible that most people, including most Africans, do not aspire to be liberated but only to be governed in some reasonably tolerable manner. Clearly the population of Maputo would not care to be liberated in the metaphysical way in which the Khmer Rouge are said to have liberated that other easy-going city, Phnom Penh. Rhetoric is hardly likely to worry them. Very few people in Maputo read newspapers. I never saw anyone look even once at any of the ever-present wall posters and streamers. But for most people Frelimo rule, cautious and discreet in practice as distinct from rhetoric, appears acceptable enough—just as Portuguese rule was acceptable while it lasted in that city.


(This is the first of a series of articles on southern Africa.)

This Issue

March 9, 1978