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«“Voice and Vision” – The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland’s Public Relations Campaign in Britain: 1960-1963 Andrew Cohen* At present the ...»

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Historia 54,2, November 2009, pp 113-132

“Voice and Vision” – The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland’s

Public Relations Campaign in Britain: 1960-1963

Andrew Cohen*

At present the picture of the white Rhodesian in Britain is still largely compounded

of Sanders of the River, hard drinking and easy living; and the impression of the

African population is of downtrodden labourers, rioting mobs and innocent men in


By the late 1950s, favourable British press coverage of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland1 was waning. African protest against the formation of the Federation was initially disregarded by Whitehall, due to a combination of geopolitical considerations and perceived economic benefits of a closer association of British territories in central Africa.2 However, a downturn in the federal economy brought on by sharply falling copper prices in 1956, and the Federal government’s failure to fully implement its racial partnership policy, brought underlying tensions to the surface.

Furthermore, the announcement in April 1957 that a review of the Federal constitution would be undertaken during 1960, heightened anxiety, as many settlers and Africans realised that if dominion status was granted, there would be no turning back.3 Negative coverage of the Federation by the British press increased in the wake of the British government’s decision in 1957 to overrule the African Affairs Board’s complaint regarding the Constitutional Amendment Bill, and in particular the settlers’ handling of the Nyasaland emergency in 1959. As a consequence of this, the Federal government led by Sir Roy Welensky recognised the need for an efficient public relations campaign in Britain to boost the chances of securing the Federation’s future.

To this end he employed Voice and Vision, a London public relations company. This was the first time that a public relations campaign had been undertaken not merely to promote a political party or a government, but to preserve a whole political and economic system holding power over eight million people.4 In recent years social scientists have investigated the role played by the media in influencing the political attitudes of the British public.5 However, the historical foundation of political media advertising has been overlooked. This study helps to * Andrew Cohen is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Pretoria. He has recently completed his PhD thesis at the University of Sheffield. The thesis focuses on the final years of the Central African Federation. He would like to thank Ian Phimister, John Darwin and Alois Mlambo for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

** Report on Federal Public Relations, January 1961. Rhodes House Library, Oxford, Welensky Papers (hereafter WP) 274/2, Public Relations Proposals (no date) attached to D. Cole – J.M. Baines, 1 February 1960.

1. Commonly referred to as the Central African Federation.

2. R. Hyam and P. Henshaw, The Lion and the Springbok: Britain and South Africa since the Boer War (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003), pp 224-225; P. Murphy, “ Government by Blackmail’: The Origins of the Central African Federation Reconsidered”, in M. Lynn (ed), The British Empire in the 1950s: Retreat or Revival? (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2006), pp 53-76.

3. J.T.R. Wood, The Welensky Papers (Graham Publishing, Durban, 1983), p 532.

4. Rhodes House Library, Oxford, MSS.Afr.s.2152, D. Hobson, “The Last Gasp” (1991), p 6.

5. D. Sanders and P. Norris, “The Impact of Political Advertising in the 2001 U.K. General Election”, Political Research Quarterly, 58, 4, 2005, pp 525-536.

Cohen redress this imbalance by examining the campaign launched by Voice and Vision on behalf of the government of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in London.

The contemporary commentator Patrick Keatley discussed the Federal government’s use of Voice and Vision in his book The Politics of Partnership (1963), however as this work was published before the Federation was disbanded, it does not offer a full assessment of the campaign.6 David Goldsworthy built somewhat on this with his Colonial Issues in British Politics.7 Richard Wood mentioned the campaign in passing in The Welensky Papers and again in So Far and No Further!8 Only Philip Murphy has provided a more satisfactory study, dedicating several pages of his work, Party Politics and Decolonization (1995), to examining the Federal government’s campaign.9 These accounts, although offering a tantalising glimpse of the campaign, fail to establish its significance.

This article does not propose to account for the final years of the Central African Federation, or provide a detailed account of African nationalist lobbying in the United Kingdom. It will however provide a detailed account of the formation and execution of the Federal government’s public relations campaign. It sheds light on how the Federal government misunderstood British politics, and did not grasp the erosion of the ties that might previously have secured the Federation in British public sympathy only ten years earlier. The campaign’s failure to garner sufficient support in Britain reinforces the claim by many recent scholars of decolonisation that, by the late 1950s, colonial policy was strongly influenced by the desire to forge closer connections with Western Europe through membership of the European Economic Community.10 This article demonstrates Welensky’s personal belief that Britain’s changing relationship with Europe was crucial in explaining its policy in central Africa.

Origins of the campaign

The late 1950s saw widespread criticism of settler and governmental policies in much of the British press. Emergencies in Kenya and Cyprus, in conjunction with the Suez debacle earlier in the decade gave credibility to anti-colonial critics’ claims that colonialism depended on repression. The Nyasaland emergency of March 1959, the Hola camp revelations in July 1959 and the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 further brought home to the British public the harsh face of colonialism.11 The British public was more uneasy with the policies adopted in Nyasaland than Kenya.

Andrew Thompson has demonstrated that public awareness of both situations was quite high – 90 per cent of people knew of troubles in Kenya, while 80 per cent were

6. P. Keatley, The Politics of Partnership: The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (Penguin, London, 1963), pp 446-450.

7. D. Goldsworthy, Colonial Issues in British Politics (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971), p 365.

8. Wood, The Welensky Papers, p 371; R. Wood, So Far and No Further! Rhodesia’s bid for independence during the retreat from empire, 1959-1965 (Trafford Publishing, Johannesburg, 2005).

9. P. Murphy, Party Politics and Decolonization (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995), pp 73-87.

10. J. Darwin, Britain and Decolonisation (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1988), p 235;

J.D. Hargreaves, Decolonization in Africa (Longman, London, 1996), p 200; R. Holland, European Decolonization 1918-1981 (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1985), pp 206-210.

11. N. Owen, “Critics of Empire in Britain”, in J. Brown and W.M.R. Louis (eds), The Oxford History of the British Empire IV (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999), p 206.

Voice and Vision aware of the Nyasaland emergency – however support for the authorities’ actions differed markedly. The government’s treatment of the Mau Mau was approved of by 40 per cent of people polled, and opposed by 23 per cent. In this and all other polling data mentioned here, the views of the remainder of the sampled population were not given. Only 25 per cent backed the handling of the Nyasaland emergency, while 23 per cent did not. Arguably of more importance to the Federal government was the fact that British sympathies were directed more towards the Africans (30 per cent) than the settlers (18 per cent).12 This shift in opinion was noted by an employee of the Rhodesian Selection Trust (RST) mining company who was in Britain during the Nyasaland emergency. He recognised the danger of unchecked negative press

coverage in Britain and commented:

... you will no doubt have seen the outpourings and headlines appearing in the U.K.

Press, which seems to have gone a little hysterical about the whole thing [the Nyasaland emergency]. Whatever may be the feelings of the people in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, current events have not done the Federation’s cause any good at all.13 The United Federal Party (UFP), and its predecessor, the Federal Party, had received organisational assistance and funds for public relations in Britain from the region’s major copper mining companies during the early 1950s.14 Initially the funds had been used to campaign for the creation of a Federation; however after 1953 they were used to cover general party expenses. The copper companies’ willingness to provide economic assistance later changed as the febrile political landscape caused the RST to stop its financial contributions by 1959. The Anglo American Corporation also publicly withdrew financial contributions to the UFP during 1959, though, unlike the RST, they refrained from directly criticising the Federation. They secretly continued financial contributions anyway.15 The loss of funding from the RST and the difficulty in obtaining funds from the Anglo American Corporation led the UFP to reassess the way that their public relations were managed. At this point, the Federal government’s public relations were handled by the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Committee in London. Although the Committee had good contacts with the Colonial Office, Commonwealth Relations Office and church leaders, it was judged to be unable to extend its range of activities to deal with newspapers and Members of Parliament (MPs) “of the more aggressive or controversial sort”.16 The assessment was carried out by David Cole, the head of a Salisbury public relations company, who had been employed by the Federal government since 1955. Cole reserved particular criticism for the Director of the Committee, remarking that he found him

12. A. Thompson, The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact of Imperialism on Britain from the MidNineteenth Century (Longman, Harlow, 2005), p 212.

13. WP 600/4, J. Thompson – D. Cole, 5 March 1959.

14. The Federal Party represented mainstream settler opinion in the Federation during the early 1950s, and was renamed the United Federal Party in 1957, after its merger with the United Rhodesia Party in Southern Rhodesia. For more detail on the UFP, see: J. Greenfield, Testimony of a Rhodesian Federal (Books of Rhodesia, Bulawayo, 1978).

15. A. Cohen, “Business and Decolonisation in Central Africa Reconsidered”, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36, 4, 2008, pp 641-658.

16. WP 600/3, D. Cole – R. Welensky, 3 October 1958.

Cohen... a stiff, rather pompous unspectacular little man … such characteristics – while they might be alright in the C[ommonwealth]R[elations]O[ffice] – they are nothing like as welcome in Rhodesia and seem positively incongruous when they are attached to a man whose job is to put the Federation over in England.17 He concluded that the government’s public relations campaign would have to be reorganised in Britain. He first suggested that they should follow a campaign similar to that of the Kenyan government, who gave their public relations man in London a lavish budget to entertain MPs and opinion makers. He spent little time wooing right-of-centre Conservative MPs or established gentlemen already sympathetic to the cause, instead choosing to spend most of his time in clubs like the Reform Club “because they tend to be frequented by people like the staff of the Economist and up-and-coming but serious minded Labour and Liberal MPs”.18 The result of this was that Kenya, once regarded “as a place where white settlers were beating up the natives or drinking themselves to death with other people’s wives, is now treated seriously and sympathetically”.19 Cole’s belief that Kenya’s image in Britain was a success story is indicative of how out of touch with British opinion many Federal officials were. Even at this early stage of their campaign, his plan did not receive unqualified support. Another of Welensky’s advisors suggested that it “over simplifies the problem” and attributed the change in British perceptions of Kenya to the murder of Europeans and the “fact that Mau Mau oaths and practices were so obviously evil”.20 Cole’s next move was to approach Sydney Wynne, Managing Director of Voice and Vision, regarding Federal public relations.

Initially Cole argued that the Federal government should provide “tacit approval” to the campaign, rather than direct support.21 He believed an “independent” campaign would be more effective in defending the Federation in Britain. However, Welensky rejected the idea of a “secret” campaign, believing that “the allegiance which would be shown by the consultants to the Federation would inevitably be linked to the Federal government [and] as such it would be better to openly employ them”.22 Welensky’s fear would prove prophetic in the case of South Africa during the 1970s.23 The need for the Federal government to appoint professional public relations consultants in Britain demonstrates the weakness of its existing connections to the British establishment. Philip Murphy has demonstrated that the settlers in central Africa differed markedly from their east African compatriots. The Kenyan settlers exploited their “close links” with the British elite and preferred to “exert pressure directly through informal contacts”. This was possible in the Kenyan context due to

17. WP 600/4, D. Cole – J. Thompson, 12 March 1959.

18. WP 600/4, D. Cole – R. Welensky, 10 April 1959.

19. WP 600/4, D. Cole – R. Welensky, 10 April 1959.

20. WP 600/4, P. Brownrigg – J. Thompson, 30 April 1959.

21. WP 274/2, Memorandum regarding public relations, 25 January 1960.

22. WP 274/2, Memorandum regarding public relations, 8 March 1960.

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