Roy Welensky

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Person.png Roy Welensky  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Roy Welensky.jpg
BornRaphael Welensky
20 January 1907
Died5 December 1991 (Age 84)
"Sir Roy Welensky was blamed for Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane crash at Ndola"

Sir Roland "Roy" Welensky was a Northern Rhodesian politician and the second and last Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.


Born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) to an Afrikaner mother and a Lithuanian Jewish father, he moved to Northern Rhodesia, became involved with the trade unions, and entered the colonial legislative council in 1938. There, he campaigned for the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (the latter under white self-government, the former under the Colonial Office). Although unsuccessful, he succeeded in the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a state within the British Empire that sought to retain predominant power for the white minority while moving in a progressive political direction, in contrast to South Africa under the apartheid system.

Becoming Prime Minister of the Federation in 1956, Welensky opposed British moves towards black majority rule, and he used force to suppress politically motivated violence in the territories. After the advent of black majority rule in two of the Federation's three territories (Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, now Zambia and Malawi, respectively), the Federation collapsed in 1963. Welensky retired to Salisbury, where he re-entered politics and attempted to stop Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia) from unilaterally declaring itself independent. With the end of white minority rule in 1979, and the recognised independence of Rhodesia as the Republic of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe in 1980, Welensky emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he died in England in 1991. A fervent admirer of Britain and its Empire, Welensky described himself as "half Jewish, half Afrikaner [and] 100% British".

Biographical details

THE flag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was navy blue with the Union Jack in the left hand corner. On the right side was a shield with a rising sun which represented Nyasaland, a lion which represented Southern Rhodesia and black and white wavy lines which represented Northern Rhodesia.

Godfrey Huggins, who was leader of the United Federal Party in Southern Rhodesia, became the first Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He preferred and tried to negotiate for Dominion status for the federation.

After failing to achieve his objective of Dominion Status, Sir Godfrey Huggins refused to stand for his party’s leadership at its conference in September 1956. In October 1956, Huggins resigned and this paved the way for Welensky to become the second and last Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland on 1 November 1956.

“The first few years of the federation were characterised by a relatively peaceful political atmosphere and a booming economy. The government’s coffers were kept full through revenue from Northern Rhodesia’s copper mines, and overseas investment saw the rapid expansion of the cities of Salisbury (Harare), Bulawayo and Lusaka.

High-standard tar roads replaced dirt tracks and the railway system was expanded. Welensky credited the high rate of development to the astute management of the federal Minister of Finance, Donald Macintyre.” (Blake (1977), page 289 & Welensky, 1964, page 67) Before taking over as Prime Minister, Welensky in his capacity as Minister of Transport had allowed for railway dining cars to be multiracial.

But when it came to liberalising alcohol restrictions on blacks, he vehemently argued against doing so stating that such an action would cost the UFP votes at the next election. Meanwhile in Southern Rhodesia, under the leadership of Garfield Todd, the civil service opened more positions to blacks and the title for African males was changed from AM (African Male) to Mr.

It was not too long after its founding that the federation started to decline. Attitudes towards colonisation changed rapidly all over the world. British colonial policy changed significantly and moved from the gradual approach to decolonisation to a more rapid and speedy process. The federation seemed to be an unwelcome obstacle at a time when many colonial powers were rushing their colonies to independence.

In Britain, the Labour Party became more critical and in the federation itself, African nationalists were dissatisfied with the slow liberalsation that was taking place and demanded faster advancement.

The African nationalists did not accept Welensky’s approach of gradual inclusion of Africans into the established political process. Radicalised African National Congress parties were formed in all the three territories. The Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) was particularly vocal and demanded an African majority in the legislature in 1957. The leader of the NAC Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda returned to the territory in 1958. He toured the country sending crowds into a frenzy with his speeches boasting in January, 1959 that: “I put Salisbury (the Federal capital) on fire … I got Salisbury rocking, rocking and got it awake out of its political sleep.” (Welensky 1964 page 114)

The NAC followers rioted after this meeting and soon afterwards, the federal government met with the territorial governments from Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia to plan a response should the violence get out of hand. Welensky did not rule out the deployment of federal troops and he informed the defence chiefs at a meeting in Salisbury that he was expecting serious trouble.

“During the next three months we can expect some fairly serious trouble in Nyasaland ….It is my concern to ensure that this government is in a position to exercise its responsibilities if trouble comes,” he said.

It did not take long before Welensky acted against the nationalists in all the three territories. An NAC meeting was held outside Blantyre on 25 January. The Nyasaland security officials alleged that the meeting discussed a detailed plan to overthrow the Nyasaland government and massacre all whites in the territory and any blacks who collaborated with them.

Although a Royal Commission established that there was no substance in the allegations against the NAC, Welensky obtained a copy of the meeting’s proceedings in early February and decided to act after meeting with the territorial governments. He immediately deployed federal troops on 21 February, the governor declared a state of emergency in Nyasaland 14 days later and the nationalist leaders were arrested and sent to jails in Southern Rhodesia.

The African population reacted, riots broke out and the troops used excessive force to end the violence. Almost 50 people died in the unrest. Welensky did not understand the NAC’s demand for more representation in the legislature or secession because the proponents of the federation never wanted Nyasaland to be included in the first place. Nyasaland was in the federation primarily because it was not economically viable by itself. He did not appreciate NAC’s demand for independence when Nyasaland relied on the federation for its well being. He thus reacted with a very heavy hand and all the main militant political parties in each territory were banned, but within months they reorganised under new names.

The Southern Rhodesia ANC became the National Democratic Party and later known as Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Northern Rhodesia Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) became the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and the Nyasaland ANC became the Malawi Congress Party.

Public opinion in the territories and in Britain became intensely anti-federation. The media described the federation as a police state and this outraged the Liberals, the Church of Scotland, leftist Conservatives and the Labour Party in Britain. This led to the appointment of a Royal Commission known as the Devlin Report to investigate the violence. Welensky was indignant and refused to contribute to the commission.

Welensky at this time seemed to have lost grip of the situation in the territories and completely misread the attitude of the British government. Events followed quickly and a second commission known as the Monkton Report was appointed to advice on the future of the federation. The Monkton Commission toured all the three territories to gather evidence from the public. The government of Southern Rhodesia and the Attorney General of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland issued orders protecting witnesses from prosecution. The Monkton Report was released in October 1960. It advocated sweeping changes to be made to the federal structure including African majorities in the legislatures of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Welensky rejected the report out of hand and called it the “death knell of federation.” Earlier that same year, 1960, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan journeyed to the federation and held personal talks with Welensky. He also held meetings with the territorial governments and gauged African opinion towards the federation. Macmillan also wanted to meet the jailed African nationalists but was blocked by Welensky. It was during this same visit that Macmillan made his now world famous ‘wind of change’ speech to the South African Parliament.

Subsequently, Welensky was informed that the Malawi Congress Party leader, Hastings Banda, would be released so that he could join in the discussions with the British government over the future of the federation. Banda’s release was against Welensky’s wishes and he expressed his frustration with the British government responding: “I have tried all along to behave in a reasonable and responsible manner. Now I’m seriously wondering whether restraint has been the right policy.” (Welensky 1964), page 181) At this time, the nationalist resolve had become irreversible.

Welensky was lampooned, jeered and ridiculed in nationalist speeches and songs. He was nicknamed Masambani and on the Zambian Copperbelt the song Kenny’s Whip was sang to tease Welensky. It became popular at both political and social gatherings: “Chikoti cha kwa Kenny, chilifye ichapambana, Welensky nga achimona, no mutima munda waya. Waya ku Kitwe, waya, Waya ku Luanshya waya” (Kenny’s whip is busy, when Welensky sees it, his heart (Welensky’s) jumps. It runs to Kitwe, it runs to Luanshya)

Under nationalist pressure and a tide of anti-federation opinion in Britain, new constitutions were enacted and elections were held throughout 1961-62. Welensky’s United Federal Party lost in all the three territories. The Malawi Congress Party won a huge majority and Banda started lobbying the British government for the break up of the federation. In Northern Rhodesia none of the parties won a majority but the African parties, UNIP and the ANC formed a coalition government. The Southern Rhodesian constitution favoured the whites at the election and prolonged white minority government.

While grappling with the nationalist demands and British pressure for rapid decolonisation, Welensky was faced with another problem on the Northern border. The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 and collapsed into total anarchy within two weeks. There was a large Belgian population, especially in the mineral rich Katanga province, which was forced to flee to neighbouring states.

Welensky dispatched the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF) to assist in their evacuation but was prevented by the British government from entering the Congo. The refugees fled by foot to Ndola in Northern Rhodesia from where the RRAF flew more than 6,000 people to camps in Salisbury.

Leader of the Katanga Province Moise Tshombe declared unilateral independence on July 11, 1960 and made a formal request for British and Rhodesian forces to enter Congo. Welensky was sympathetic to the situation but unable to act as the British government which had jurisdiction over the federation stopped him from mobilising the armed forces. The British hoped that the United Nations would bring back order in the Congo and establish a wholly neutral or anti-communist state.

United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold agreed to meet Tshombe at Ndola to resolve the Katanga secession. Unfortunately, Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane crashed near Ndola and he was killed. Welensky was blamed for the accident and became a hated figure throughout the communist and Afro-Asian world and his attitude towards Katanga strained relationships between the British government and the federation until its resolution.

By the end of 1962, there were new constitutions in all the three territories. Welensky reluctantly accepted majority rule in Nyasaland but as a Northern Rhodesian, he refused to accept majority rule in the territory whose copper wealth was the driving force of the federation’s economic boom. He now wanted to hang on to a union between Northern and Southern Rhodesia. “I am not prepared to hand power to the blacks. Personally, I could not live in a country where they were in control,” he emphatically said about the prospect of Zambia’s independence. (Smith 2001, page 42)

When the new Northern Rhodesian constitution appeared likely to grant the Africans a majority in parliament, Welensky entertained the idea of a ‘federal unilateral declaration of independence’. But he was scared that the British might use military force if he prevented the inevitable changes that were sweeping the territories. However, the British did not carry out such an invasion because the leading nationalist party in Northern Rhodesia, UNIP, won a resounding victory which led to majority rule and independence.

With Nyasaland headed for independence as Malawi and Northern Rhodesia also headed for independence as Zambia, Welensky accepted the end of the federation and set about transferring the assets of the federal government. He set the transfer of the assets as a condition for attending the federation dissolution conference which was held at the Victoria Falls. Welensky refused to dime with the British delegates on the grounds of ‘not chocking on his food’ but ensured that the talks went smoothly.(Blake 1977, page 351)

The federation was legally dissolved on 31 December 1963. The Zambians bade farewell to Welensky in typical nationalist fashion: “Welensky, Welensky, Taubambilwa pa ng’oma, Kaunda Umwine wa chalo, eubambilwa pa ng’oma.” (Welensky, Welensky, we cannot drum for you, Kaunda the owner of the country, is the one we can drum for.)

Welensky moved to Salisbury and tried to re-enter politics. But he was humiliated in a by-election by a candidate of the Rhodesian Front which was led by the late rebel leader Ian Smith. The Rhodesian Front declared unilateral independence (UDI) in 1965. Welensky did not support the UDI because he was opposed to illegal action.

He continued living in Salisbury until Zimbabwe gained independence. He moved to London already a widower and remarried Valerie Scot who was thirty years his junior. He moved to Blandford Forum in Dorset after his re-marriage and died there on 5 December 1991.[1]

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