Rhodesia's Position Within the Commonwealth
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 8 Apr 1965, p. 314-319

Welensky, The Right Honourable Sir Roy, Speaker
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Item Type:
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The present Government of Rhodesia and its treatment by the Government of the United Kingdom. Rhodesia's attendance at the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference. The issue of Rhodesia's barred attendance at the 1964 Conference. A discussion of the Commonwealth today. A suggestion for a two-tier system of Commonwealth. Foreseeing a dangerous situation developing in Malaysia. Possible aid from other Commonwealth countries. Pruning the Commonwealth.
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8 Apr 1965
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Full Text
APRIL 8, 1965
Rhodesia's Position Within the Commonwealth
CHAIRMAN, The President, Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn


In introducing our guest of honour and speaker today I could use the words of Horace Greeley when summing up the character of Benjamin Franklin. He said that he revered him as one who was frugal and didn't drink; one who rose from want to competence, from obscurity to fame, without losing his head; a statesman who did not crucify mankind with long-winded documents or speeches; a diplomatist who did not intrigue and an office-holder who didn't steal. So is Sir Roy Welensky regarded. A big man in every sense of the word whose drive, vision and forceful personality continue to expand a career that has already contributed a vital chapter to Africa's history.

Sir Roy was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia of early pioneer stock. His father had emigrated from Poland, first to the United States, then to South Africa and finally trekked to the new land of Rhodesia. Leaving school at 14 Roy Welensky wandered over much of Africa for three years finding a variety of employment before he turned to railroading and prizefighting and made his home in the railroad town of Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia. Here he entered the trade union movement and the political field. I cannot comment on the significance of him becoming heavyweight boxing champion of Northern Rhodesia during this period as I am not clear on whether he became a prizefighter because he was a politician or as is sometimes the case here, vice versa.

He rose rapidly as a labour leader. In 1933, at the age of 26, he was elected chairman of the Broken Hill branch of the Railway Workers' Union and a National Councillor holding both positions until his retirement from the railways 20 years later. During this time he became a main line engine driver.

Sir Roy was first elected to the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council in 1938 and continued to serve without opposition at election time until the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed in 1953. Sir Roy was elected to its first Assembly and became the right hand man of its architect, Sir Godfrey Huggins, later Lord Markham. Sir Roy was knighted in that year and on Sir Godfrey's retirement in 1956 he succeeded him as Prime Minister. He continued to head the Federation until it was dismantled in 1963. I am sure that my friend the Hon. Donald Fleming shares my interest in knowing that Sir Roy's finance minister, Donald McIntyre, was a Scottish baker. The kneading of dough would seem an appropriate background to this portfolio together with law and accounting.

Following the breakup of the Federation, Nyasaland became independent as Malawi and later Northern Rhodesia gained its independence. Sir Roy returned to the fray to take

a strong stand in Southern Rhodesia against the threat of a unilateral declaration of independence. I present to you a forceful fighter, pledged to partnership and co-operation with the African community and the Commonwealth, in the words of Sir Walter Scott:

"His square-turn'd joints, and strength of limb, Show'd him no carpe knight so trim,

But in close fight a champion grim, In camps a leader sage."

- Sir Roy Welensky, K.C. M.G.


There is to be a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in June of this year, and from that Conference, Rhodesia will be barred. Perhaps that is not the right way to put it. She has been offered the right to attend, and the right to speak if Rhodesian affairs are discussed at the Conference but has, and I think rightly, rejected this offer because her problems are for settlement between Great Britain and herself.

Now, today I want to try and put the Rhodesian viewpoint on this matter and, if I may, perhaps be permitted to say one or two things about Commonwealth development to you, as Canadians and as citizens of one of the senior members of the Commonwealth.

In the first instance, I want to make it clear that the present Government of Rhodesia has been treated very shabbily by the Government of the United Kingdom. The history of Rhodesia's attendance at the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference goes back for nearly thirty years, and Southern Rhodesia only surrendered that right to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland when it was created in 1953.

In the division of responsibilities between the territorial and Federal Governments, External Affairs became the prerogative of the Federal Government and so Southern Rhodesia willingly surrendered her right to attend the Prime Ministers' Conference to the Federal Government. When, in the fullness of time, the Federation was destroyed, it was clearly understood by those of us who attended the final dissolution conference in 1963, at the Victoria Falls, that Southern Rhodesia would re-inherit her former status. It is true that this was not specifically referred to as an item, but everyone concluded that it would come about automatically.

Now, gentlemen, can you imagine the feelings of Rhodesians when they discovered, in the year 1964, that a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was to be held, and their Prime Minister was to be barred from attending? I want to remind you that I am no friend of the present Government in Rhodesia: I have opposed their policies and can be considered a political opponent. But I was as horrified as any other Rhodesian at this cavalier treatment of a country which has, since its creation, staunchly supported, in every possible way, Britain and the Commonwealth.

Well, gentlemen, can you understand the feelings of Rhodesians when they see their country, which has enjoyed responsible government since 1924, refused attendance at the Prime Ministers' Conference?

Now, it is on this subject that I want to say my piece. I have always believed that Rhodesia should stay within the Commonwealth. I returned to politics a few months ago to oppose the present Government, because I was of the opinion that there was a considerable risk, at that time, of the Government seizing Independence illegally. I felt that it was my duty to do my best to prevent it, because I did not like the look of the prospects my country would face outside the Commonwealth.

However, as one who has loved the Empire and now tolerates the Commonwealth, I have to admit that I begin to wonder whether the Commonwealth, in its present form, can survive.

Surely one is entitled to believe that any great enterprise--and the former British Empire was a great enterprise--has some common objective or objectives. In the Empire, there was loyalty to the Sovereign; there was belief in our democratic system of Government; we believed in justice, basic freedoms, rule of law, fair play and last, but not least, the determination on the part of our leaders to spread what we believed was our doctrine throughout the Empire. And one must admit in all honesty, that today the ideals that we then stood for are not generally accepted by many Commonwealth countries.

Let us take as an example the systems of Government. The Commonwealth today, whether we like it or not, contains everything from democracies to one-party states, and dictatorships. Is it not a well-known fact that quite a number of Commonwealth countries are hard at work attempting to undermine the regimes of other Commonwealth countries?

I submit that, if this present state of affairs continues, it must in the long run lead to an ineffective Commonwealth that will have little or no influence on world affairs. I frankly will regret that day, because I believe the British Commonwealth has been a great power for good. It once spoke with a united voice, and I firmly believe that a strong British Commonwealth is something that not only could, but should, play a part in world events again.

The old Empire, by virtue of its ideals and heritage, was a strong bulwark against the evils of Communism. Can that be said of the Commonwealth today? I believe that the sooner this situation is faced realistically, the better for all of us who live within the Commonwealth.

It is for this reason that, when speaking at the Dorchester Hotel in London last year, I made the suggestion that the time has come for us to consider some sort of two-tier system, of Commonwealth. Let us have a Commonwealth in the one tier, consisting of members who do have something in common: who believe in a loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen; in justice, in basic freedoms, law and order: and who are prepared to defend each other in the event of aggression from outside. In effect, let us have rules and discipline within the Commonwealth, and let those countries who are willing, not only accept the benefits, but accept also the burdens when necessary, and join for the common good.

It would also be possible to have another tier of Commonwealth membership, made up of countries who need not in any way be involved in Defence arrangements, but who would be tied to other Commonwealth members purely by ties of trade and finance.

I am no more equipped to foresee the future than any other man, but I can see a very dangerous situation developing, as a result of the stress and strain that may develop from an attack on Malaysia. Is it intended by some of the Commonwealth countries that Malaysia should be left to her fate? I know the British Government is committed, but what other parts of the Commonwealth will rush to the aid of Malaysia in the event of her being attacked?

I think the time has come for us to consider pruning some of the dead wood associated with the Commonwealth. I would say to those who no longer wish to be associated with us, "Go, and go with our goodwill"; but I do think that those of us who remain, and who do have a common link in the form of heritage and loyalties, would be welladvised to forge a strong chain, the links of which are tempered by a common purpose that can be used for the good of all mankind.


Thanks of this meeting were expressed by The Hon. Donald Fleming, President of The Canadian Club.

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Rhodesia's Position Within the Commonwealth

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto.
The present Government of Rhodesia and its treatment by the Government of the United Kingdom. Rhodesia's attendance at the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference. The issue of Rhodesia's barred attendance at the 1964 Conference. A discussion of the Commonwealth today. A suggestion for a two-tier system of Commonwealth. Foreseeing a dangerous situation developing in Malaysia. Possible aid from other Commonwealth countries. Pruning the Commonwealth.