This week in 1966 | From the Observer archive

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British and Rhodesian prime ministers Harold Wilson and Ian Smith meet to discuss Smith’s declaration of independence

Ian Smith leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Harold Wilson in 1965.




Ian Smith leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Harold Wilson in 1965.
Photograph: J. Wilds/Getty Images

From the Observer archive: this week in 1966

British and Rhodesian prime ministers Harold Wilson and Ian Smith meet to discuss Smith’s declaration of independence

It used to be argued in Britain in the last century that we could not afford to abolish slavery; it would ruin the country’s economy. The same argument is heard today: we cannot afford to abolish political slavery in Rhodesia.

Whatever has happened in the talks between Mr Wilson and Mr Smith on board HMS Tiger, the basic issue in Rhodesia is plain and inescapable. It is whether 95 per cent of the people of Rhodesia are to be forced to accept a detestable racialist dictatorship, or whether the remaining 5 per cent will agree to a peaceful transition to government by consent.

Britain was asked to grant Rhodesia independence on the basis of a Constitution which would entrench the Government of the 200,000 whites and enable them to deny indefinitely any share in political power to the four million Africans. When first a Conservative and then a Labour Government in Britain refused, Mr Smith’s regime illegally made a “Unilateral Declaration of Independence”. During the past year, the British Government has been trying by a mixture of persuasion and coercion to reverse this process, to bring Rhodesia “back to legality” and to secure guarantees that within a reasonable time it will develop a system of majority, not minority, rule.

So far Britain has failed, owing partly to the limited nature of the economic sanctions it has applied. By its continued talks with the Smith regime and its reluctance to intensify sanctions in case they brought on economic conflict with South Africa, the Government aroused the fears of the Commonwealth African States that it was preparing a “sell-out”.

Key quote

“I don’t know whether Churchill enjoyed making speeches. But he looked as if he did.”
Duke of Edinburgh

Talking point

Leaflets delivered by police officers today to every home in Aberfan gave details of an improved warning system in case of another slide on the slurry tips above the village. Four hand-operated air-raid sirens supplied by Merthyr police have been installed to supplement the klaxon previously used by the Coal Board.
Front page story: “New killer tip sirens will warn Aberfan”