Sir Garfield Todd, who died on 13 october 2002 aged 94, was the missionary and former prime minister of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) whose commitment to African advancement exasperated his successors in the former British colony.
He was locked up twice by Ian Smith’s government for supporting black majority rule. Yet later, after being created a senator by President Robert Mugabe in 1980, Todd became increasingly appalled by the suffering, torture and humiliation being inflicted on Zimbabweans.
During the general election of 2002, he was stripped of his Zimbabwean citizenship. A curt note informed him of the decision only days after three schools, near his home at Bulawayo, had been named after him and his wife Grace.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Todd said that he was grateful that his wife, who had died two months earlier, had not lived to witness this insult, since she had had high hopes of Mugabe when he was a young teacher. “What is that expression about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely?” he asked. On arriving at his polling station to vote he was turned away by an election officer whom he had once taught.
It is doubtful whether the policies aimed at achieving a genuine multi-racial society, which Todd introduced as prime minister of Southern Rhodesia from 1953 to 1958, could have succeeded for long; the pan-African desire for independence had been fanned by Harold Macmillan’s “Wind of Change” speech. But Todd’s fall from power certainly ended any chance that the blacks would perceive the white-led Central African Federation as the appropriate channel for their aspirations.
His rise to the colony’s premiership was proof of his remarkable abilities and charismatic personality, since the white electors had a strong antipathy towards missionaries such as himself. Even after they had rejected the pace of African progress which Todd demanded – a policy dictated by his own autocratic character as much as by his principles, some believed – the white majority found it impossible to ignore him.
Long before Ian Smith declared independence, Todd found himself increasingly harassed: he was subjected to house arrest, imprisoned and charged with treason for aiding terrorists. Each threat only strengthened Todd’s resolve and drew the world’s press to his comfortable farm in the bush.
Reginald Stephen Garfield Todd was born at Invercargill, New Zealand, on July 13 1908, the grandson of a Scottish brickmaker who had been employed on the Marquess of Bute’s estate before emigrating.
Young Garfield began work in his father’s brickworks, swinging a pick for 22s 6d a week, before going to Otago University and Glen Leith Theological College. After two years as a Church of Christ minister at Oamaru, where he married Jean Wilson, with whom he was to have three daughters, he set out for Southern Rhodesia in 1934.
As Superintendent of the mission at Dadaya, 300 miles south of Salisbury, Todd put his practical skills as a bricklayer, stonemason and carpenter to good use in expanding the local school. He also found himself regularly acting as a doctor, binding up wounds and assisting at births – tasks which became so frequent that he felt obliged to take a year off on a medical course at Witwatersrand University in South Africa.
But if Todd joined in every aspect of the Africans’ lives – for 14 years his family had no white neighbours – he also had a strong Christian belief in the duty to chastise wrongdoers. This led to trouble when he personally caned on the buttocks a group of rebellious girl students, much to the consternation of their parents who regarded them as of marriageable age. A brief strike in protest was led by one of the teachers, Ndabaningi Sithole, the future founder of the Zimbabwe African National Union.
Todd was unlike other missionaries, who rejoiced in embracing as closely as practicable the Africans’ poverty, in that he not only shared the settlers’ belief in their value to the country but was willing to take up land for a private farm. For a time he owned 90,000 acres, though later he gave much of it to Africans.
His first foray into politics came at a meeting in 1942 when he so vigorously heckled the prime minister, Sir Godfrey Huggins, that four years later Huggins wrote inviting him to make amends by standing as a candidate for the governing United Party.
Not long after his election as a United Party MP, Todd proposed giving an address on “The Native as a Human Being”, but withdrew gracefully after Huggins made it known that the subject might prove embarrassing.
Over the following years Huggins talked freely to Todd about his colleagues, making it clear that he had no intention of offering him a post. But when Huggins resigned in 1953 to become Prime Minister of the new Central African Federation (made up of Nyasaland, Northern and Southern Rhodesia), Todd was chosen to be his successor as premier of Southern Rhodesia.
On forming a United Rhodesia Party government and decisively winning a general election, Todd settled into office without any sign of self-doubt. He showed little reluctance to call in territorial troops to suppress a strike by black miners and white railwaymen which he said followed a “Communistic pattern”. A trouble-making union leader was sent back to Britain. Todd also threatened to suppress the local African National Congress.
But, while recognising the colony’s need for skilled white labour, he soon began to express disappointment that Commonwealth countries failed to provide £5 million for African housing projects.
He attacked Huggins for faltering over the location of the Kariba dam in Southern Rhodesia, and made a speech calling for the veteran prime minister’s retirement, which had the effect of making Huggins stay on an extra year. “Why did you do that?” Todd was asked by Sir Roy Welensky, Huggins’s acknowledged successor. “You knew he was going.” “God told me to make that speech,” Todd replied.
The Central African Federation was committed to partnership between the races intended to lead at some unspecified date to equality. Todd encountered no difficulties when he introduced the appellation “Mr” for Africans instead of “AM” (African Male), or when he permitted blacks to drink European beer and wine, though not spirits.
But as the white electorate became aware of the high hopes he was creating in the black population, trouble surfaced in cabinet over a Private Member’s Bill to make sexual relations between white men and black women legal. It took a more serious turn when Todd managed to push through a measure increasing the number of African voters by threatening to resign if it failed.
There was more dissent during talks about amalgamating his party with the Federal United Party; it emerged that Todd had been talking privately to the African leaders Sithole and Joshua Nkomo, as well as to the white liberal Guy Clutton-Brock.
Eventually, Todd demanded the resignation of his four cabinet ministers and governed alone for a week – a unique achievement in the parliamentary history of the Empire – before appointing new, more liberal colleagues. Instead of meeting the Assembly, he chose to face a party congress.
Here Todd was at his best. A tall, commanding figure with a noticeable New Zealand twang emphasising his difference from those present, he drew applause for his eloquent and witty speech. But he decisively lost a vote of confidence, and resigned his office.
It became an article of faith for white Rhodesians that Todd’s successor, Sir Edgar Whitehead, advocated equally liberal policies. But the fall of Todd, already considered “the Moses of our times” by some Africans, was marked by a popular African record which had the refrain Todd has left us/Go well old man.
Freed from the necessity of carrying the support of white electors, Todd made some show of supporting the federation, but within two years he was describing it as a police state. An attempt to form a genuine multi-racial Central African party failed. Todd’s strident warnings put off white recruits, while black members soon decided to switch to their territorial African National Congresses.
By 1962, he was appealing at the United Nations in New York for Britain to retain its powers in Southern Rhodesia even if it granted independence to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the future Zambia and Malawi.
Just before the unilateral declaration of independence by the colony in 1965, now called simply Rhodesia, Todd was served with an order restricting him to his farm. He was about to fly to Britain to address a teach-in at Edinburgh University with Sir Alec Douglas-Home.
Ian Smith, the prime minister, feared that if Todd was abroad when UDI was declared, Harold Wilson might try to set him up as an exiled leader. But the order attracted far more attention and sympathy for Todd than he would have received if he had been able to go. Fourteen television crews appeared on his lawn to record his comments and admire the persecuted man’s gardens, which were beautifully tended by African servants.
Todd’s 22-year-old daughter Judy flew to Edinburgh to capitalise on the righteous indignation being expressed in Britain. On her return home, in a black leather coat and Dior dress, she told reporters at Salisbury airport that white Commonwealth troops should be sent in to end UDI.
By now Todd was a hated figure among the whites in Rhodesia, although he shared with his former colleagues their contempt for the pusillanimity of all British governments. He had 30 pieces of silver hurled at him at Salisbury airport; a baboon was loosed in the centre of Bulawayo with “Garfield Todd” written on its back.
In 1971 Todd warned Lord Pearce’s committee that any new settlement arrived at with London should not be rammed down African throats. Smith then locked him up for two months, and placed him under house arrest for another four years. Every afternoon Todd sat on his verandah counting the number of railway tankers carrying sanctions-busting petrol to Salisbury, then passed the information to MI6 contacts.
He finally emerged to join Joshua Nkomo’s team visiting London in search of a settlement, and found Smith’s hatred as strong as ever. Just as the transition to direct British rule was finally being effected, Todd was arrested for supplying food and a motor car to terrorists near his farm. The charges were dropped only at the insistence of the Governor, Lord Soames.
After an independent Zimbabwe was achieved, Todd told the Guardian that a one-party state might indeed be best for the country. But as the standard of living for the ordinary African declined, Todd became so appalled by the spread of corruption that he declared that Mugabe should go. He was not reappointed to the senate.
In his later years Todd surprised many by his ability to greet former enemies as though there had been no rift between them. Britain might not have appreciated his efforts, but his fellow New Zealanders showed they had not forgotten him when he was recommended for a knighthood in the dominion’s 1986 honours list.
If at times Todd’s actions seemed inspired as much by his own personality as his principles, he was steadfast in his Christian belief in the goodness within every man; and he retained, in private at least, an awareness of what a sacrifice had been demanded in expecting the whites to give up all they had built up in Africa. “Living as we do,” he told the historian Lord Blake, “all of us are guilty.”
First Published in October 14 2002.We republish in the interest of our valued readers .