Pledge has echoes of the past

Rhode­sia’s white su­prem­a­cists ap­pealed to the white elec­torate by tak­ing a stand against African lib­er­a­tion. Sim­i­larly, Don­ald Trump ap­pealed to white Amer­i­cans

African Independent - - WORLD - BROOKS MARMON

ONALD Trump’s bleak in­au­gu­ra­tion speech has at­tracted at­ten­tion for, among other things, em­ploy­ing the phrase “Amer­ica first”. The term was pop­u­larised by avi­a­tor Charles Lind­bergh and is as­so­ci­ated with anti-Semitic and Nazi sym­pa­this­ers who sought to keep the US out of World War II.

But Lind­bergh and the Amer­ica First Com­mit­tee are not the only 20th-cen­tury white na­tion­al­ists to use the term. The small band of racist whites in Rhode­sia, now Zim­babwe, em­ployed a ver­sion of it as protest against the on­set of de­coloni­sa­tion and the spread of black rule across Africa.

In the 1950s, Wil­liam J Harper, who was also known for his dar­ing avi­a­tion ex­ploits in World War II, made waves by us­ing the slo­gan “Rhode­sia first, last, and al­ways.”

Harper struck one of the most dra­matic blows for white supremacy as a sig­na­tory to Rhode­sia’s Uni­lat­eral Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. He served as min­is­ter of In­ter­nal Af­fairs in the first cab­i­net of prime min­is­ter Ian

DSmith. Smith vowed that the white mi­nor­ity would rule for 1 000 years. But when Harper pop­u­larised the slo­gan, he was lead­ing the op­po­si­tion Do­min­ion Party. The party sought full in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule.

The term was con­tro­ver­sial as South­ern Rhode­sia was then gov­erned within the larger Fed­er­a­tion of Rhode­sia and Nyasa­land. This also in­cluded con­tem­po­rary Zam­bia and Malawi.

By ad­vo­cat­ing for South­ern Rhode­sian pri­macy, Harper made it clear that he was not only op­posed to ma­jor­ity rule, but also to the fed­eral struc­ture of gov­er­nance to which South­ern Rhode­sia was con­sti­tu­tion­ally bound.

The slo­gan prompted a split in 1960 between the ter­ri­to­rial branch of the Do­min­ion Party, of which Harper was the leader, and the fed­eral branch, led by Win­ston Field, who be­came South­ern Rhode­sia’s prime min­is­ter two years later. Field was booted aside in 1964 for be­ing too mod­er­ate.

Harper and his far-right al­lies sought to ap­peal to the white Rhode­sian elec­torate by tak­ing a stand against African lib­er­a­tion. Sim­i­larly, Trump has ap­pealed to an Amer­i­can elec­torate that feels over­whelmed by the forces of glob­al­i­sa­tion. His ad­min­is­tra­tion’s skep­ti­cal ap­proach to aid in Africa and an­tag­o­nism of China is a throw­back to the Do­min­ion Party’s protest against pro­vid­ing so­cial ser­vices for Africans and its stri­dent warn­ing of a com­mu­nist on­slaught in newly in­de­pen­dent coun­tries.

The Fed­er­a­tion of Rhode­sia and Nyasa­land was in­au­gu­rated in 1953 with the en­cour­ag­ing, al­beit vague goal of pro­mot­ing racial part­ner­ship en­shrined in its con­sti­tu­tion. The same year, the mod­er­ate, al­beit pa­ter­nal­is­tic mis­sion­ary Garfield Todd be­came prime min­is­ter of South­ern Rhode­sia’s ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ment.

The coun­try’s vi­o­lent lib­er­a­tion strug­gle of the 1970s, which saw about 20 000 deaths as the whites re­fused to ac­cept ma­jor­ity rule, was a dis­tant prospect at the time.

But the Fed­er­a­tion dis­solved in 1963 and the south­ward march of in­de­pen­dence, par­tic­u­larly the chaotic trans­fer of author­ity in the Bel­gian Congo, rapidly rad­i­calised the small white pop­u­la­tion.

Much as Trump promised his fol­low­ers the se­cu­rity of a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der, whites in south­ern Africa saw the Zam­bezi on Zim­babwe’s north­ern bor­der as a fortress to pro­tect “re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment” and “civilised stan­dards”.

In 1962, the Do­min­ion Party merged with smaller con­ser­va­tive par­ties to form the Rhode­sian Front. In elec­tions that De­cem­ber, the Front, like Trump, de­fied pop­u­lar pre­dic­tions and emerged to form the next gov­ern­ment.

The Front in­creased its stran­gle­hold on the gov­ern­ment and widely cen­sored the me­dia.

In 1962, Rhode­sians made their his­toric de­ci­sion to stand and fight on the Zam­bezi; this was in con­tradis­tinc­tion to ex­ist­ing trends of sur­ren­der and ap­pease­ment to the evils of pan-African­ism.

In 1965. the small band of Rhode­sians de­fied world trends and de­clared their own in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule. Harper, Smith and 10 other white men signed the dec­la­ra­tion. Its open­ing lines con­tained many sim­i­lar­i­ties of both syn­tax and con­tent to that of the US’s. Both re­ferred to an “en­ti­tle­ment of sep­a­rate and equal” rights that were in reality only ac­corded to a mi­nor­ity.

While Trump may not be di­rectly in­spired by white Rhode­sian po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, many white Amer­i­can na­tion­al­ists are. The Charleston church shooter, Dy­lann Roof, a young white su­prem­a­cist, posed for pic­tures wear­ing ap­parel with the Rhode­sian flag. He owned a web­site with the url las­trhode­sian. com. Ac­cord­ing to the his­to­rian Ger­ald Horne, hun­dreds, if not thou­sands of white Amer­i­cans, served as mer­ce­nar­ies in the Rhode­sian mil­i­tary in the 1970s.

Harper and Trump’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reers share an­other cru­cial sim­i­lar­ity. Both were dogged by al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

As Trump tweets with the hash­tag #Amer­i­caFirst, he may not be aware of the Rhode­sian an­tecedent of the term.

But his cam­paign tone is not out of line with the sen­ti­ments of Harper and Rhode­sia’s white na­tion­al­ists. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

Brooks Marmon is a PhD stu­dent, Cen­tre of African Stud­ies, Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh

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