The news of the death of the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, came as I was preparing to write an article on Central Africa.  This month marks the 50th anniversary of the dissolution of the Central African Federation, a short-lived experiment in multiculturalism that brought incredible development to the center of the continent in a short period of time.  The federation was more formally known as the “Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland.”  Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) were the three constituent parts.

When you visit any of these countries today, you will find the main roads were built at this time, as was Kariba Dam.  The federation was largely financed by the white settlers in Southern Rhodesia, who had made their country an African success story.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say on the origins of the federation.  “After World War II, the growth of secondary industries and greatly increased white immigration in Southern Rhodesia, compounded by the copper boom in Northern Rhodesia, led white political leaders and industrialists to urge even more strongly the advantages of an amalgamated territory that would provide larger markets and be able to draw more freely on black labor, especially in Nyasaland.”

Apart from the economic arguments, there were also political reasons for federation.   In 1948, the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa, then a British dominion like Canada and Australia.  The new government introduced separate development (apartheid), the strict separation of the races.  Britain was concerned about losing influence in the region as the Nationalists were generally anti-British – some had been pro-Nazi during World War II.  The British also wanted to show there was an alternative to separate development.

The federation brought together two British colonies, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, together with the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia, a territory that had never been ruled directly from London.  Britain’s hope was to show that a multiracial state based on cooperation between the races was far better than the neighboring South African model.  The first Prime Minister of the Federation was Sir Godfrey Huggins, earlier the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia.  When he stepped down in 1956, he was the longest serving prime minister in the history of the British Commonwealth.

However, the federation made the whites in Southern Rhodesia richer and more influential.  Black African nationalists stirred up sentiment against it.  The Colonial Office in London, always sympathetic to African nationalist demands, decided to disband the union, giving both Malawi and Zambia independence in 1964.  The whites in Southern Rhodesia voted to disassociate themselves from Britain (UDI), but 15 years later were forced to hand over power.

Economically, there is no doubt that the federation was a good thing and achieved a great deal.  This was the decade of the greatest economic expansion in Central Africa.

In stark contrast, independence led to dictatorship, socialism and economic decline.

All three countries had the same president for three decades.  Malawi’s Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda led his country from independence until 1994; Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda from independence until 1991; Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe, from independence in 1980 right up until the present.  The Westminster style parliamentary systems that the British had in place in the three territories during the colonial era did not survive independence, each country sliding into dictatorship.  Zambia and Zimbabwe also embraced socialism.  Zambia has since seen the light, but Zimbabwe remains in darkness.

The multicultural ideal was dead in Central Africa and the three component parts have suffered because of it.

It was not to be realized again until the end of apartheid and the first black African government in South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela.  Mr. Mandela only served one term, previously unheard of in Africa.  As a leader, he was a light on the Dark Continent, standing out over all other post-colonial rulers.  “What is the future of South Africa?” asked former US Secretary of State James Baker on CBS this morning.  He added:  “I think a lot of the groundwork has been laid by Nelson Mandela.”

It is misleading to say, as was said on CBS this morning, that “Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he fought against apartheid.”  Many people opposed apartheid but did not go to prison.  Helen Suzman, a prominent member of parliament, comes first to mind.  Mr. Mandela was, in fact, imprisoned for acts of sabotage.  Today he would be called a terrorist.  Violently opposed to apartheid, many whites now see him as the one who saved them and the country from a bloodbath when the white minority handed over power.  He was the only one who could pull the transition off successfully.  For this, South Africans of all races are mostly grateful.

For a long time, many whites have expressed fears for their future in the post-Mandela era.

The whites have the skills the country needs for further prosperity.  They also pay most of the taxes, without which social programs to help the poorest members of society would not be possible.  The countries of the Central African Federation learned the hard way the negative consequences of driving the whites out.  Hopefully, South Africa will not make the same mistake and Mandela’s “rainbow nation,” a multicultural country made up of various races, will succeed.

Thinking has changed, even in the West.  Socialists in England in the 1950’s were advocates of decolonization.  One point repeatedly made was that, in Northern Rhodesia, whites were paid on average seven times what black Africans were paid;  today, after five decades of independence, the ratio is 28 to 1.  Whites no longer want to settle in central Africa.  They would rather go out on contracts and want big money to take what they consider are big risks, hence the greater pay differential.  If South Africa can keep the white settlers, the country will continue to prosper.

Interestingly, Zambia is now encouraging white farmers to settle, granting them 99 -year leases on land.  Food production doubled with the first hundred farmers, bringing down food prices and strengthening the currency.  Zambia benefitted from Zimbabwe’s expropriation of white farmland.

The handover to majority rule in South Africa took place in 1994.  By that time, the country had had the opportunity to see the disaster that had befallen many nations to the north.  Whereas Zimbabwe’s post-independence leader, Robert Mugabe, reverted to his radical revolutionary agenda after gaining power, Mandela gave an assurance right at the beginning that South Africa would be a democracy and would have a free enterprise system.  So far, it’s worked.

We will soon know whether it will continue to work in the post-Mandela era.


  1. One problem with the ANC’s rule in South Africa has been the imposition of a social liberal agenda. The old Apartheid government had kept abortion illegal, but then the ANC-led government legalized it. Hence, racial oppression was ended in South Africa, but other problems were created, including a much higher murder rate. It’s one more reason why we need the Kingdom of God to rule in place of men, who lack a proper overall moral perspective of what is righteous.and what is justice.

  2. Your focus on Rhodesia and going 50 years back blurs the real incredible thing Nelson Mandela did, and what he embodied by the choice he made “after” he left his 27 year stint in prison (regardless of the reason he was there). During that 27 years he was patiently paying for a huge national audience as well as world audience. He had two choices, as he walked into freedom after paying that heavy price, he could have raised his fist and said “REVENGE!” Instead he raised his hands, and said “RECONCILIATION!” What a great lead-in to United’s and Gary Petty’s series on Reconciliation. I’ve even got it posted on the WCG section of my website. Missed opportunity, Mr. Rhodes, sad to say, considering the size of your audience.

  3. It’s educational to hear this other angle of the story. Meanwhile I’m thinking: Yes but… regardless of the economic successes of the commonwealth, apartheid really was unjust and racist, wasn’t it? What do you see as what “should have happened” in Africa ideally?

    1. That’s a good question. We must realize what Nelson Mandela did, be honest about it, and realize what he was as a politician in this world. For one, looking into his background, he tried to end apartheid, which under the Afrikaners was genuinely evil. When all peaceful means he tried failed, he supported the armed overthrow of the South African government (how much he may have participated in the “armed overthrow” part I haven’t been able to ascertain). For this he was imprisoned for 27 years. The miracle of what he did, was although a carnal man, he strongly embraced, without flinching, two very strong and related Biblical principles. One, he embraced and promoted “forgiveness” of the whites for all past sins. Second, and related to that, he embraced “reconciliation” with the whites. Clint Eastwood’s movie “Invictus”, based on the factual account in ESPN’s documentary “The 16th Man” detailed the strong character Nelson Mandela exhibited in pursuing total “forgiveness” of the whites and total “reconciliation” with them. He never wavered from these two principles, which he made into government policies. I dare say, a man with the Holy Spirit indwelling him couldn’t have done a better job (we probably would have done worse, because we’re not politicians). Those two movies show what he actually accomplished in this area. But aside from that, he was a very liberal politician, supporting such agendas (just as our own President has) such as abortion and gay rights. Hey, he was a politician, didn’t have God’s Holy Spirit. I think it’s time to stop judging him as if he was a Bible believing Christian, and judge him for who he really was, and what he did accomplish. God tells us to judge righteous judgment. If we would apply “forgiveness and reconciliation” in the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God denominations like Nelson Mandela did in South Africa, we’d all be one. Maybe it’s time for us to look in that mirror, rather than trying to pass judgment on Nelson Mandela. If Nelson Mandela had pursued vengeance instead of forgiveness and reconciliation, 7 million whites would have died and perhaps 20 million blacks, in one of the most bloody civil wars we’ve ever witnessed. Our own civil war in the U.S. would pale to 2nd or 3rd place after the one which would have occurred in South Africa.

    2. You can’t compare Africa to Australia or the UK. The question is what has worked best for Africa. Post-independence black African leaders have generally been disastrous. Each country ends up a dictatorship, the leaders take everything for themselves and the economy collapses — that’s the way it usually goes. The ordinary people have suffered greatly under their own leaders. Older people will tell you things were much better under the British. (This does not apply to the Belgians or Portuguese!) The British were quite liberal — the people had freedom of the press and freedom of religion; the whites also did not interfere with local customs. Every colony had it own parliament, with both white and black members.

      Apartheid was introduced in South Africa in 1948 by the new Afrikaner government to totally separate the races. Prior to that, the country was dominated by the white English speakers. In the British colonies in Africa, there was a qualified franchise, as there was in the UK itself before 1867. The system was non-discriminatory, based on merit. I did not qualify to vote in Rhodesia, but many black Africans I knew did. This ensured a much more responsible government. Under apartheid, non-whites had no say — the intent was to create independent black homelands, totally separate from “white” SA. Not only was it oppressive — it also negatively impacted economic growth.

      Corruption has been a major problem in Africa since independence — again, it wasn’t a problem in British colonies but was in Portuguese colonies. Corruption is a big problem in SA and is a major reason for the fact that most blacks have not seen an improvement in their lives since the end of apartheid. At the same time, the top leaders have benefitted greatly from the change — note how well dressed Mandela’s family members are compared to others you see on the news. African leaders tend to give top jobs to family members, who then want bribes and kickbacks before giving licenses to businesses. (These things happen in the US, too, but not to the same extent.)

      BTW, during the handover to Mandela, the Detroit Free Press sent an African-American writer to SA to report on the last year up to the change. He often commented on how race relations in SA were better than in the US — and that was at the end of the apartheid era.

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