Did We Deserve Greatness?

Written By: The Lowdown - Aug• 01•13

Cover - 2013-08Coat_of_arms_of_the_Central_African_Federation.svg











Magni Esse Mereamur, ‘Let us deserve Greatness’, was the motto of the ill-fated Central African Federation, a federation of the two Rhodesia’s (Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi) which came into being sixty years ago on 1 August 1953. The Federation lasted a mere ten years and was formally dissolved on 31 December 1963.

The aim of the Federation was to forge a compromise between a fully independent majority-ruled state and the white-dominated territory of South Africa. It was intended that it be a enduring arrangement, but eventually collapsed because black African nationalists wanted a greater share of power than the dominant minority white population was willing to grant.

From the outset, it was clear that Southern Rhodesia, rightly or wrongly, would be the dominant territory; economically, electorally, and militarily. The difference between the number of blacks and whites in the Federation and the difference between the number of whites in Southern Rhodesia compared with the number in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland was a decisive factor in the formation and the disbanding of the Federation.

Godfrey Huggins, the first prime minister of the Federation, and prior to that, prime minister of Southern Rhodesia for over 20 years, was in favour of amalgamation, but this was rejected by Britain as they wished to avoid a situation where Southern Rhodesia dominated the property and income franchise because of their much larger European population. The property and income franchise excluded the vast majority of black Africans.

For Southern Rhodesia, the central motive for Federation was the copper deposits of Northern Rhodesia. It was this that gave rise to Southern Rhodesia being referred to, unofficially, as ‘Bamba Zonke’ (take everything.) Nyasaland, the poor brother of the three, was more a symbolic gesture and a matter of convenience to have the three neighbouring territories under one constitution. It was however ironical that it was largely unrest in Nyasaland that was the catalyst for the dissolution of the Federation.

The constitution of the Federation allowed for five branches of Government – Federal, three Territorial and the British government, making it “one of the most elaborately governed countries in the world.” This could only have been a recipe for disaster with confusion and rivalry amongst the different governments. Yet despite its complex government structure, the economy of the Federation was highly successful, with a GDP of £350 million in the first year, increasing to £450 million two years later. The building of the dam and hydro-electric power station at Kariba, which commenced in 1955, was to add to the impressive performance of the economy as well as being a feat of engineering. Yet the decision to build the dam at Kariba rather than the one at Kafue Gorge was seen as ‘bullying’ by a dominant Southern Rhodesia. During the Federal period, the property and income franchise was much more liberal than previously and black Africans were given more rights than previously. More blacks were also qualified to vote and a number served as junior ministers in Southern Rhodesia. But this was still unsatisfactory for African nationalists and they began to demand majority rule. During 1956, Roy Welensky, a train driver from Broken Hill (Kabwe) was elected Prime Minister of the Federation, a position which he held until its dissolution in 1963.

Back home in Britain, a Royal Commission under Walter Monckton was formed to advise on the future of the Federation, visiting the three territories in 1960. Their recommendation was that the Federation continue albeit with some changes. A new Constitution was negotiated in 1961 which greatly reduced the powers of the British. But by 1962, it had been agreed that Nyasaland should be permitted to secede. This was followed shortly by the same agreement for Northern Rhodesia.

In 1963, a conference was held at Victoria Falls, partly as a last attempt at saving the Federation. The conference nearly collapsed a number of times and by the time it ended in July 1953, the Federation had for all intents and purposes been dissolved. All that remained was the distribution of the Federation’s assets amongst the territorial governments. This was achieved by 31 December 1963, with the vast majority of the assets going to Southern Rhodesia. They didn’t call them Bamba Zonke for nothing!


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