An addition to the literature on the Federal period

Title: The End of the Liberal Dream in Rhodesia.
Publisher: Weaver Press
ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-77922-323-4.
The book review by Paul Hubbard

In light of the current academic focus on the liberation struggle post-1963 as a way of exploring Zimbabwe’s current predicaments, it is not surprising that except for the marvellous book by Holderness (1985), the “liberal interlude” of the Federation, mostly headed by Garfield Todd has remained quite unremarked by many scholars. This book is thus a welcome addition to the literature on the Federal period as well as one of the best biographies on a significant political figure in Zimbabwe’s history.

The tale of how a New Zealander came to occupy the highest political office in Southern Rhodesia is a fascinating one, especially considering that it happened less than 20 years after his arrival in the country and less than a decade after he entered political office for the first time. The ideas and ideals of the Todds were to find difficult purchase in Southern Rhodesia of the 1930s, in particular their notions of equality and industry alongside the people to whom they ministered. Their vision of what life could become here is intoxicating, even 80 years later, showing what hard work, respect for others and compassion for all can achieve when melded with leadership that is focused on a vision for a better, more equitable future.

The story of the continued expansion of Dadaya Mission is inspirational. Rather bland sentences mentioning the opening of new classrooms, housing, wells, fencing and other developments disguise the vast amount of labour and effort required to achieve such improvements, while also dealing with the massive minutiae of administering a mission station. There remains a need to write a history of the mission as a whole, from its founding to the present day, in order to better appreciate its impact and significance in the country, especially given the many political luminaries who are linked with the school and mission, both as teachers or students. In these pages, Garfield and his wife, Grace, appear as a solidly unified team, in love with their career, country and congregation.

The Dadaya Strike of 1947, one of the major blemishes on Todd’s career and character, is covered in fair detail but in a mere five pages (p.73-77). In defence of her protagonist, Woodhouse is perhaps understandably dismissive of West’s (1992) more nuanced article on the strike and the resulting fallout. But there is a great deal more to the story than that presented in these pages, including Todd’s attempts to have Ndabaningi Sithole barred from ever teaching again in a deeply personal vendetta. That they healed their relationship later is an important revelation but the acrimony left a bitter taste.

Astonishingly, it was a stand against the removal of a black laboratory assistant at Wits University that launched Todd’s career in politics. Voted in as head of his student body, Todd found new confidence as a leader which may have prompted his heckling of the Prime Minister, Godfrey Huggins, at a meeting in Zvishavane in 1945, in defence of the socialist policies of the New Zealand government of the time.

Impressed, Huggins invited the young missionary to join the United Party as their parliamentary candidate; to his eternal surprise, Todd won the election by a wide majority which gave him confidence in the growing liberalism in the country. Or at least he thought so: “They put me in. So then I believed they were much more liberal than I had taken them for — a belief I had to change later on” (p.66).

“Garfield was not and never would be wedded to any particular political principle, except democracy” (p.133). This generous assessment of his career and principles can perhaps be challenged on several fronts but there is little doubt that Todd saw the changing future of Southern Rhodesia much more clearly than his contemporaries.

Dealing with land, housing and the financial sector took priority as Prime Minister, followed by efforts in 1956 to fix the franchise and create a common voter’s roll for all races, qualified by income and education. This was a deeply emotional proposal and Todd gravely underestimated the antipathy of the white electorate to a long-term and peaceful integration of the races.

Todd’s fall was immediately owing to his proposal to enfranchise black teachers and nurses who met certain educational criteria, but it was also symptomatic of a hardening of attitudes and prejudices. His eviction from the leadership was underhanded and acrimonious but, given later events, arguably sanitised his image for the future.

Much rightful and necessary criticism of Todd’s career and accomplishments has likely been averted in favour of his more positive role and suffering during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.

This is not to tear him down, but is necessary to bring forth the full story and better appreciate him as a man and not just an icon. Todd’s identification with the moderates won him few friends, but did usefully serve as a prick to the conscience of the electorate and their disastrous leadership of the 1960s and 1970s.

Todd’s years after his stint as Prime Minister were little known to me beyond the fact of his astonishing restriction and then imprisonment. Woodhouse follows his trials and tribulations at this time in good detail, deftly intertwining personal events such as serious illnesses and farm developments at Dadaya with national events such as UDI, the Pearce Commission and the effects of the escalating war.

The euphoria of Independence was welcomed by Todd, who accepted a five-year appointment by Prime Minster Robert Mugabe as a Senator in the Zimbabwean Parliament. In that role he contributed significantly to professionalising the behaviour and activities of the Upper House.

While being “careful not to criticise the Prime Minister,” (p.455), after the 1984 ZANU Congress resolution to create a one-party state, he would presciently state “I would hope ZANU could be thrown out by means other than the army” (p.464).

Thanks to his principled stance on human rights and later endorsement of the opposition MDC party, Todd would, by the late 1990s, become an enemy of the man whom he had once respected and assisted,, recognising that most here were “living with evil” and that “this is not just incompetence or even greed but the intelligence and determination of the Government are a manifestation of evil and it is frightening” (p.507).

There are a couple of minor errors in the book, such as identifying Mzilikazi’s Memorial as his Grave in the pictures, but overall, the entire book is a wonderful example of the exceptional standards adhered to by Weaver Press.

In this sympathetic but mostly honest hagiography, Woodhouse has done an exceptional job in bringing forth the man behind the headlines while also reviewing the political and socio-economic convulsions within the country and region to create a dense and fascinating narrative.

I hope this book will sell well; the life of the man and his family within deserves to be known across the nation and beyond. Zimbabwe aches for a leader of his calibre once again.