1966 was a turbulent year for central Southern Africa.
In January of 1966, my parents were still living in South Africa and would have observed the goings on north of the border in Rhodesia, with interest.
Three British members of parliament visiting the country (Christopher Rowland, Jeremy Bray and David Ennals) were allegedly assaulted by supporters of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith. The three were on a mission to see what conditions were like in the country following the November 11, 1965 unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).
Supporters of Ian Smith had asked to meet them, unexpectedly, more than 400 supported turned up and a rowdy meeting ensued. At the conclusion of the meeting one of the supporters made a grab at Rowland’s papers and Rowland, while attempting to get them back, fell and was kicked, punched and had water thrown over him.
The humiliation resulted in Rowland insisting that UK Prime Minister Wilson’s government should not back down on confronting “Ian Smith’s Rhodesia”.
And so the saga began, later that month The Queen commuted the death sentences on James Dhlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadreck, three black Rhodesians convicted of murder and terrorist offences before UDI in Rhodesia, two months after its abolition in Britain. But the Smith government rejected the Royal Prerogative commuting the death sentences. Dhlamini, Mlambo and Shadreck were hanged on 6 March.
By January end the United Kingdom had officially ceased all trade with Rhodesia and in February Britain protested to South Africa over its supplying of petrol to Rhodesia.
In April the UN Security Council was asked to authorise to use of force to stop oil tankers that violated the oil embargo against Rhodesia. This authority was granted shortly after resulting in Rhodesian PM Ian Smith breaking diplomatic relations with Britain.
In May some African members of the UN Security Council suggested that the British army should blockade Rhodesia. Britain was still keen to find a middle ground between the demands of the indigenous African population and the rest of the Rhodesian population and in trying to broker some arrangement, ired the recently independent Zambians (formerly Northern Rhodesia) who then threatened to leave the Commonwealth because of the British peace overtures.
A year after Rhodesia’s UDI, 38 African states demanded that the United Kingdom use force against Rhodesian government resulting in Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Rhodesian Prime minister Ian Smith attempting negotiations on HMS Tiger in the Mediterranean.
Reaching an impasse following the talks and an ultimatum, Harold Wilson withdrew all his previous offers to Rhodesian government and announced that he agreed to Rhodesian independence only after the founding of black majority government. Smith declared that he already considered Rhodesia a republic.
The UN applied international sanctions intended to cut off Rhodesia from the rest of the world due to Rhodesia’s (later Zimbabwe) opposition to majority rule and so the struggle began.
It would be another four years before my parents would make the journey North, from Johannesburg, over the Limpopo and into Matabeleland.