Sanctions – then and now

Some readers have asked about the sanctions we had before independence. Those were real sanctions, even if they weren’t complete.

British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s 1960 speech in Cape Town on a “wind of change blowing in Africa” speeded independence for Britain’s African colonies. The then Rhodesia already had a parliament, but it only represented the white minority (240,000 out of a population of 4 million). Successive British governments insisted that there must be “No Independence Before Majority African Rule”. The white settlers did not accept this.

Ian Smith became Prime Minister by a coup within the Rhodesian Front party and tried to lead Rhodesia to independence under white control. In November 1965 he declared independence unilaterally (UDI). Britain insisted that this was an act of rebellion; the UN objected especially to the racist character of the rebel regime and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions barring members from selling petroleum products and military hardware to the rebels. In December 1966, the UN imposed a ban on these and on the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat and hides.

No international government recognised the rebel Rhodesian regime as legitimate, though South Africa and Portugal, which then ruled Mozambique, broke the sanctions. Britain imposed more sanctions of its own, making it difficult to replace or repair industrial equipment in Rhodesia. It also sent a naval squadron to the Mozambique Channel to monitor oil deliveries in Beira, to the pipeline to Umtali (Mutare), and to deter “by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia”.

Switzerland and West Germany, which were not UN members, did business with Rhodesia. Japan continued to accept more Rhodesian exports than any other nation, and Iran provided oil. A 1971 US law amendment permitted American firms to go on importing Rhodesian chromium and nickel because of their “strategic importance.”

So there were big holes in the sanctions, but nobody, not even the South Africans, would defy the UN by openly recognising “independent Rhodesia”. In 1970, the US government declared that UDI would not be recognised “under any circumstances”.

Sanctions did force Rhodesia to ration petrol and reduced tobacco exports to a trickle, which made commercial farmers turn to maize as a crop they could market at home. This benefited the entire population, as maize meal became plentiful and cheap. In spite of ingenious “import substitution” manufacturing equipment was growing old, threatening industry with collapse in the long run. Rhodesians could only travel to South Africa, Portugal and its colonies, and non-members of the UN; the British government cancelled any passports they found, but gave “UK & Colonies” passports to opponents of the regime.

The war added to the pressure on the rebels. During the 1970s half the white schoolchildren left the country; official migration statistics did not record how many adults “took the gap”, but this suggests half the parents went also.

Those sanctions were a far cry from today’s British and EU personal measures that only prevent some of the Zanu (PF) elite from travelling to those countries and accessing their foreign bank accounts. It is the land grabs by the chefs, not their inability to shop in Oxford Street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, that hurt us.

Of course, nobody will do business with people who don’t pay their debts or keep their promises, but that is not “sanctions”; it’s just sensible if you want to survive in business.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *