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Rhodesia: The regime's propaganda machine and its operations

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1. Before IDI [Illegal Declaration of Independence]

In May, 1964 the Rhodesian Government appointed a South African propaganda specialist, Ivor Benson, as a special adviser attached to their Ministry of Information. He had previously held an appointment as adviser in the South African Broadcasting Corporation. It has been said that he had Mosleyite sympathies.

2. It was Benson's task to build up an effective propaganda machine: and in it he had the active encouragement and support of P K van der Byl, who had been appointed to the newly-created post of Parliamentary Secretary for Information in March, 1964.

3. Specific measures included the following:



(a) The Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation, a statutory body, was subjected to close Government control. This primarily affected the content of news bulletins and news commentaries, and the interference led to a series of resignations of BBC staff.

(b) In December, 1964 there was instituted a regular weekly radio commentary (prepared by the Ministry of Information) which by the technique of selective and slanted reporting attempted to build up a black picture of the independent African states to the north, combined with an image of Rhodesia, South Africa and the adjacent Portuguese territories as havens of good government and fair play.

(c) At the end of 1964 relays of BBC news bulletins were reduced, those excised being replaced by South African broadcasts.

(d) Also at the end of 1964 Rhodesia Television, an independ­ent commercial concern, was taken over by the Government (by purchase of a majority share-holding) and thereafter controlled as closely as RBC. Even before the take-over, the Government had on more than one occasion intervened "in the national interest" to prevent television appearances by certain persona, including Joshua Nkomo and the liberal Hardwicke Holderness.

(e) Faced with a daily national press that was unsympathetic to them, Rhodesian Front politicians consistently endeavoured to discredit it; and they were aided in their campaign by the Ministry of Information's propaganda unit. As part of their witch-hunt against the press, the Government took to court the chief sub-editor of the "Rhodesia Herald@ in an attempt to force him to divulge the source of certain documents that he had received, although they were not Government documents. The journalist spent several days in prison, but eventually appealed successfully to the High Court.

(f) In addition, both the Rhodesian Front and the Ministry endeavoured (albeit without lasting success) to promote the estab­lishment of a right wing periodical. One virulent fortnightly ("Newsfront") lasted a few months and then collapsed. Later, a weekly newspaper was launched shortly before IDI, but seems to have disappeared after only two or three issues.

(g) The newspaper mainly directed at African readership, the "Daily News", was banned in August, 1964 on grounds that it was subversive (it was staunchly pro-Nkomo and ZAPU).

(h) To fill the vacuum, the Ministry of Information about a year later promoted a (? weekly) newspaper called "The African Times". This duly set out to depict the Government as a fairy godfather to whom all Africans should be eternally grateful.


Information activities

(i) Apart from normal information pamphlets about Rhodesia, some special material was produced, primarily for consumption over­seas (and particularly in Britain). For example, specially printed air-letters were distributed to householders in European areas throughout Rhodesia, which they could post to friends and contacts abroad. They would generally contain a printed propa­ganda message, and leave space for the sender to add some personal greetings. One issue in mid-1965, extolling the delights of (European) life in Rhodesia, formed part of an immigration drive.


II. The IPI period onwards Information activities

4. Overt information activity reached an obviously planned climax in the last weeks before IDI. In late October, 1965 a pamphlet proclaiming "Rhodesia's Case for Independence" was widely distributed; it was primarily designed for the "enlightenment" of people overseas. Shortly before IDI advertising space for similar material was bought in British newspapers. Material distributed in quantity from Rhodesia House at this time included car stickers bearing the slogan "Support Rhodesia". A few days after IDI pamphlets were posted from Rhodesia to Britain appealing to British people to support Rhodesians in their "hour of need".

5. Some literature has been distributed specifically to British Members of Parliament. This has included a White Paper prepared by the regime on the Federal pensions issue (February 1966) and, recently, leaflets alleging British Government and BBC involve­ment in "seditious" broadcasts beamed on Rhodesia by Zambian radio.

6. The Rhodesian Information Department has also been active in contributing to the correspondence columns of newspapers and magazines abroad. This has no doubt included the 'planting’ of letters purporting to come from private persons.

7. About the beginning of February, 1966 the Rhodesians opened an Information Office in Washington.

8. Supplementary Estimates introduced on 2 February, 1966 provided an additional £70,000 for the Ministry of Information, including £29,000 for special publicity in connection with the independence issue.



9. From 5 November, six days before IDI, all relays of BBC, (and South African) news bulletins were stopped under the Emergency Regulations then introduced. South African relays have since been re-introduced, but none from the BBC.

10. On 6 December the "Rhodesia Herald" began publishing each day full details of the programmes in the BBC World Service, and the relevant wavelengths. This was stopped by the censors nine days later.

11. On 7 December the regime issued a new regulation making it an offence for people to allow external broadcasts of a "subversive or seditious" nature to be heard in a public place. This may have been mainly directed at broadcasts on Zambia radio by ZAPU spokesmen; but it could well have been intended also to dis­courage listening to the planned BBC relays from Francistown.



12. As from 11 November, the day of IDI censorship of the press was introduced. The press were not allowed to publish any statements by the Governor; and any references to him as "the Governor" were deleted. Reports of British ministerial statements were truncated. Any mention by name of any restrictees (including the former Prime Minister, Mr. Garfield Todd) or detainees was forbidden. The chief censor was Mr Benson (see paragraph 1 above).

13. Outgoing press reports were not affected by the censorship. But incoming newspapers were, and a number of issues of British newspapers (and even some South African) were banned.

14. On 2 February the regime's Minister of Internal Affairs said that, although Hansard would continue to be privileged, newspaper reports of Parliamentary proceedings would be subject to censorship.

15. On 5 February more stringent censorship regulations were introduced. Under these, newspapers were forbidden to continue their existing practice of leaving blank spaces where passages had been censored and of inserting a notice in every issue reminding readers that it was subject to censorship. (The principal news­papers have ignored these new regulations). Censorship officials were also empowered to require the alteration of any material that was to be published, or its positioning in the newspaper.


Propaganda - General

16. There is known to have been close co-operation between regime's information services and the Rhodesian Front party organisation. An example of Rhodesian Front participation provided by a guidance paper distributed by party headquarters to branches throughout Rhodesia in January. This set out a series of questions on the Rhodesian issue that might be asked by people abroad, and gave suggested answers. Party supporters writing to friends and contacts in Britain were asked to make a point of working in some of this material. They were also invited to recommend to their correspondents the periodical "East Africa and Rhodesia" and pamphlets issued by the Monday Club.

17. Another agency for propaganda has been the Candour League, an ultra-right wing organisation which is at least in some degree Rhodesia's counterpart of the League of Empire Loyalists. Whether its activities receive any special assistance from the Ministry of Information is not known; but it certainly maintains close links with the Rhodesian Front. The League distributes literature within Rhodesia, and possibly abroad as well, through liaison with similar organisations in other countries (e.g. the Candour League in South Africa and the League of Rights in Australia). Principal themes in the League's literature are (a) the Communist threat and (b) the racial superiority of the white man.

18. The regime have encouraged the development abroad of such organisations as the Anglo-Rhodesian Society in Britain and the Friends of Rhodesia in South Africa. There is no doubt that such organisations are used as channels for propaganda.

19. Both before and since IDI the Rhodesians have exploited the propaganda potential of visitors favourably disposed towards Rhodesia. Selected visitors are accorded special treatment, including conducted tours of prestige projects and meetings with the "right" sort of people, and can often be relied on to contribute, consciously or unconsciously, to Rhodesia's propaganda after they return to their own countries.

20. The Rhodesians have also made use of visitors to Britain. Perhaps the most notable example of this was the group of Rhodesian Europeans who toured Britain shortly before IDI on a 'private' mission, the main purpose of which was clearly to put over "the Rhodesian case" to the British public.


Covert propaganda activity

21. Benson ostensibly resigned from his existing Government appointment in December. He is understood subsequently to have been engaged on organising 'black propaganda'. A notable example of Rhodesian involvement in such activity is their attempt to influence voters in the Hull by-election campaign in January, 1966. Pamphlets purporting to come from the (non-existent) "Tudor Rose Society for the Protection of the British Way of Life" but in fact prepared by the Rhodesians, were posted in England to electors. The Rhodesians were also no doubt responsible for a short 'pirate' radio broadcast in England in early February by "Radio Free Rhodesia"; this reproduced a Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation news commentary.

22. Some RAF personnel in Zambia have recently received copies of a circular letter purporting to come from an organisa­tion called "the British Forces Friends of Rhodesia Association" and headed by a secret group of senior British officers. This urged them to defy any orders they might be given to go into action against their "kith and kin in Rhodesia".


The character and effects of Rhodesian propaganda

23. Before IDI Rhodesian propaganda was, both internally and externally, devoted primarily to the presentation of Rhodesia's case for independence. To this end, Rhodesia was depicted as a haven of responsible government where every person, regardless of race, had a fair deal and where not only the Europeans but the majority of Africans supported the Government and its policies. The few recalcitrant thugs who opposed them were the puppets of international Communism. The Communist threat in Africa served as an admirable Bogey No. 1. Rival candidates for second place were the United Nations, the Afro-Asian bloc and the new-fangled Commonwealth. Then came Britain, which was everywhere capitulating under pressure and handing over her colonies in Africa and elsewhere with abject haste and utter irresponsibility. Against such a background, it was up to Rhodesians, supported by their South African and Portuguese neighbours, to stem the tide and uphold "Christian civilisation".

24. Since IDI the propaganda barrage has been directed, with ever increasing viciousness, on the British Government in general and the British Prime Minister in particular. Vitriolic personal attacks on Mr Wilson have been frequent and have regularly featured in speeches by Mr Smith and his colleagues. The purpose has been clear: to discredit the British Government to such a degree that all (European) Rhodesians would fall in solidly behind the regime. The regime are, of course, now drawing the harvest from ground well prepared and carefully sown. For over three years the philosophy has been assiduously developed that Rhodesians must stand together and that anyone who opposes the Government is to all intents and purposes a traitor to his country. There is no doubt that among Europeans this is now widely accepted doctrine. It is combined with an animosity towards Mr Wilson and the British Government that is reflected in the "I hate Wilson" window stickers recently distributed in Rhodesia. An atmosphere has been effectively created where it is easier to maintain a prudent silence than to risk, social ostracism - or worse - by the expression of contrary views.

25. Propaganda and censorship combined have clearly also enabled the regime to keep from "the man-in-the-street" the hard facts about Rhodesia's situation and prospects in the face of sanctions, thus nurturing a widespread belief that Rhodesia will win. Until sanctions bite more widely and deeply, Rhodesians will continue to discount British claims about their effectiveness, both actual and potential. Meanwhile, in so far as sanctions are felt (e.g. in petrol rationing and some shortages in the shops), Europeans in Rhodesia are ready to put the blame on Mr Wilson and the British Government rather than upon the regime. This is a clear victory for Rhodesian propaganda.

26. The propaganda campaign has also set out to discredit the BBC, depicting it as a propaganda organ exploited by the British Government without any regard for objectivity or respect for the facts. The recent attempts to link the BBC with "seditious" broadcasts from Zambia radio (see paragraph 5 above) were no doubt part of this campaign. The aim is clearly to destroy Rhodesians' former traditional respect for, and confidence in, the BBC, and thereby to counter any influence which the Francistown relays might otherwise have.



27. It is clear that the Rhodesian propaganda campaign is highly organised. It has moreover been conducted with consider­able skill. Its effectiveness, especially inside Rhodesia, is patent.

Rhodesia Political Department
Commonwealth Relations Office
16 March, 1966


[Source: TNA DO 207/220, transcribed by]



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