2: The politics of racialism?

Lord Salisbury is more, much more, than a moribund aristocrat. In almost every way possible Salisbury has helped preserve white government in Africa based on the paternalistic theory of the trusteeship of the white man. Both in his business and parliamentary connections he has sided consistently with the forces preserving racism and oppression in Africa.

To study the life of Lord Salisbury is to be involved in ideas that are as much a part of history as the British Empire. A devout believer that the strength of all that is British is inextricably linked with conservatism and the monarchy, he resigned from his presidency of the Anglo-Rhodesian Society in March 1970, angry at a situation that had brought his basic beliefs into conflict: the clash between the Monarch and one of her colonies was the ultimate tragedy in his eyes.

Since the war, Salisbury has spoken on several hundred occasions in Parliament and his preoccupation has been almost totally with stemming the tide of African self-government.

Somewhere in his arguments in favour of white rule, “exploitation” becomes ”trusteeship”, ‘oppression’ becomes “cultural differences”. As white minority rule increasingly becomes an indefensible political position, its supporters have taken to adopting a language of euphemism.

The basis upon which Salisbury has supported white rule in Rhodesia and South Africa, and opposed independence in Kenya, Nyasaland and elsewhere, has been that the civilised and advanced Europeans are being differentiated against in favour of a primitive and savage people.

The sole criterion raised is the evident prosperity of the central African countries under European rule, and the danger to that prosperity if the African peoples are allowed the power to guide their own futures.

“The Rhodesians, just like ourselves,” Salisbury argues, “are intensely proud of their British traditions. They regard themselves, as we do, as trustees for their fellow-African citizens. Make no mistake, were the British to abandon their trust in this part of the world, those countries would go straight back to the condition in which we found them, until they were gobbled up by others far less enlightened than ourselves. If political and social progress is to continue in these territories it will be through the guidance and leadership which men and women of British stock can give”. (6)

Always the insistence is that Africans have not reached the higher stage of human development that white Europeans have. In a debate on Kenyan independence in the Lords some years ago, Salisbury spoke against African independence:

‘That, my Lords, was the situation until a few years ago. And what is the position of the country now? As I already said earlier, the European population, who have been the backbone of Kenyan prosperity, are rapidly losing heart and hope. They know that they are likely to be handed over in one, two or three years at the most, to the tender mercies of men who are still only one generation removed from a savage state: men without any inherited understanding of our traditions of tolerance. Men still primitive, and many of them only avid for political power”. (7)

And again, brief and to the point: “There are, of course, some extremely intelligent Africans …. but the great majority are still extremely primitive”. (8)

Commenting on Salisbury’s appointment as Acting Foreign Secretary in 1953, the Observer wrote: “his realism forsakes him when confronted by the emergent nationalisms of the subordinate, or formerly subordinate, peoples …. Since returning to the government he has treated the opinions of all Africans in Central Africa as of negligible importance”. (9)

What Salisbury has never admitted is that he is determined to protect a power structure that excludes the African from any political, industrial or administrative representation whatever: to protect the prosperity of the minority controlling the economy. Underlying all of Lord Salisbury’s arguments is a fierce, blind determination to prevent the African people assuming power in their own countries.

His speeches are couched in terms of ”education” and ‘prosperity’, but their essence is to oppose any loss of the white minority’s power. The implication is always that Africans are unfit to govern their own affairs.

“My Lords, is it not a fact that one of the reasons for the present bloodbath in Nigeria is that the white government ceased to obtain and was succeeded entirely by a black government”. (10)

That was said in defence of the white government in Rhodesia during the 1968 sanctions debate. A month later he returned to the same, point:

“Would the noble Lords prefer the situation in Nigeria and Biafra, where the African people are in complete control, to what it was before the white man left?(11)

The culmination of Salisbury’s staunch support for the white minority in Africa came with his views on Rhodesia at the time of U.D.I. He termed Ian Smith a man ‘of outstanding rectitude and honesty’, and was totally opposed to the severance of any links with the government in Salisbury which was gradually, but perceptibly moving towards apartheid.

Being extensively involved in central African affairs all his life, Salisbury naturally became one of the foremost members of the Anglo-Rhodesian lobby in Parliament, a group consisting of high Tories, many with extensive business interests in central and southern Africa, who have campaigned actively for retaining connections with Rhodesia and South Africa.

Salisbury was, of course, already a member of the Monday Club and President of the Anglo-Rhodesian Society. The membership of these groups overlap with the Anglo-Rhodesian parliamentary lobby.

A measure of the accomplishment of Lord Salisbury’s abilities as a politician was highlighted in the confidence with which he refuted allegations of his support of apartheid.

“I am not, and never have been, (in favour of apartheid), and I challenge anyone to produce any evidence that I have ever supported it” (12) he told Guild Gazette after the February occupation of the Union to prevent him attending the Guild Ball.  The reply was born of a confident knowledge that he has rarely expressed himself on South African affairs. (His interests, too, both personal and financial, have always been centred mainly in Central Africa). But one thing is certain: he has never at any time explicitly condemned apartheid.

There are many instances of his giving tacit approval to the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1961 he was bitterly opposed to excluding South Africa from the Commonwealth because of its racist policies. ln a Lords debate on the subject that year he said:

‘Some of us feel that, in a multi-racial state it is impossible to ignore the fact that some sections of the population are less advanced, less mature, than other sections, and that a period of education may be necessary before the more primitive sections can be regarded in all respects as entirely the equal of the other section. Frankly, I feel that myself”.(13).

“Frankly, I feel that myself”. Need more be said? But there is more: support for the apartheid regimes need not only be manifested through public statements. South Africa and Rhodesia live through trade and investment returns, and British industry still has the largest financial stake in this part of Africa (14). Through his own business connections with the area, Salisbury lends support to apartheid.

One can only judge Salisbury’s words on this occasion as a tacit approval of apartheid. For if there is any differentiation between these carefully-chosen words and the very philosophy upon which Verwoerd and Vorster have based their theories of white supremacy and apartheid, then it is not apparent. It is this veiled phraseology which illustrates how apparent reasonableness can be used to justify oppression and racism. Words directed to the uninformed and the ignorant using the same methods used byMosley and Powell.

There can be little doubt that, as well as his opinions on the African’s position in his own land, Salisbury shares the same views as Powell concerning coloured immigration to British shores. There are rumbles of Powellism in Salisbury’s speeches in 1958 after the Notting Hill riots. It was he who produced the now familiar argument that the solution to the racial problems of this country lay in the restriction of immigration.

“The British people”, he said at the time, ”are neither inhuman nor reactionary. I think they are probably the most tolerant and humane people in the world …. but if we delay too long we may be too late to avoid growing, quite gratuitously, a new and terrible problem, a problem which it may be impossible for those who come after us to entirely solve.

“In my view we have nothing to apologise for in our colonial record. Whatever other arguments may be produced in favour of unrestricted immigration, arguments, economic or other, I certainly feel that it wou|d be most unwise for us to base our future policies on this hypothetical moral debt (to Britain’s colonial subjects) which I believe is at least of doubtful validity”. ( 15)


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