Zimbabwe: a nefarious proposal

In 1972 Julius Nyerere, one of Africa’s iconoclastic leaders, stated that the African position in relation to southern Rhodesia ‘is now, as it has always been, the attainment of independence for Zimbabwe on the basis of majority rule, and under conditions which allow the development of human dignity for all citizens.’ (http://www.juliusnyerere.org/ uploads/after_the_peace_ commission_1972.pdf). Notwithstanding the 1960 ‘wind of change’ promise of majority rule before independence, in November 1971, the British government negotiated a nefarious deal with the racist Rhodesian government that would have meant that majority rule would only come to Rhodesia after the year 2040, which in effect amounted to,  as the moderate leader and 1979-1981 Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, stated, ‘never majority rule’ (https://johnnyryan.wordpress.com/2004/02/20/ principled-failure-british-policy-toward-rhodesia -1971-72/). Unsurprisingly then, when early in 1972, the British government established the Pearce Commission to objectively gauge the support of the Rhodesian African leadership, who had been deliberately left out of the negotiations, the answer was resoundingly negative and the war of liberation began again in full force.

With that observation, let me briefly recap this reminiscence. Lord (Baron Arnold Abraham) Goodman, whom the Independent newspaper obituary referred to ‘as the greatest negotiator of the age’, was intricately involved in the Rhodesian debacle. Writing about the breakdown of a 1968 meeting he helped to organise between Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Ian Smith aboard the British Royal Navy  HMS Fearless, he said, ‘I am sufficiently egotistical to believe that one of the reasons they failed was that I was not present.’ At the end of June 1971, he landed in the capital of Rhodesia for talks about talks on behalf of the British government, and in July of that same year, Goodman, also referred to as ‘the chairman of almost everything’ – he chaired The Arts Council of Great Britain, British Lion Films, the Committee of Inquiry into Charity Law, the Committee on London Orchestras, the Housing Corporation, the National Building Agency, the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association and The Observer Trust, and was a director of the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells, governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, member of the Planning Committee for the Open University and president of the Theatrical Advisory Committee – became Chairman of the Council and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick.

At that time Warwick was one of the most radical universities in Britain, and the students of what some referred to as ‘red Warwick’ called upon the university’s administration to end all dealings with Lord Goodman and his Rhodesian enterprise. As the chairperson of the African Society, I had to take a leading role in the ensuing process, which actually began with a lunchtime meeting of the general student body to pass a resolution calling for the resignation of Goodman and establishing a working committee. About three of us spoke in favour of the resolution and my contribution was much along the lines I have previously mentioned (the time for negotiations was long past and force should have been used against the racist regime; the British government’s position was inconsistent and racist: it did not want to use force against its kith and kin and Goodman was simply attempting to prop up the Smith regime; negotiations and sanctions would not work as the Rhodesian government was being succored by its companion racist regime in South Africa). The motion was easily carried because, as the Birmingham Daily Post later reported, ‘An overwhelming majority of the students objected to the part Lord Goodman took in the Rhodesian settlement’. A committee of about half a dozen, including representatives of the International Marxist Group, the Communist Party, and the International Socialists, and a few unaffiliated students such as myself, was established. But examinations and then the summer vacation intervened and all activities had to be temporarily postponed until the new academic year.

I was usually one of the few students who would regularly remain on campus during the holidays to try and catch up with work I had not done during the term. Sitting in the lounge of the social building one lunchtime, the bar attendant informed me that Lord Goodman was on the phone for me. I almost passed out and had I known then what I later came to learn about Goodman, I would have! I had not expected to, did not want to and was not prepared to, but had to speak to Lord Goodman, who invited me to London at his expense for a frank discussion on his involvement in the Rhodesian matter. The little I knew of him and the environment on campus told me that I should not be speaking to Goodman: much less doing so alone. Indeed, all that came into my mind was how to get out of conversation without making any commitments, so I informed him that I did not have a mandate to speak to him and that as it was vacation time the other members of the committee had dispersed. To my surprise, Goodman said he would request the Vice-Chancellor to make arrangements at his expense for all the other members to be contacted and invited to the meeting.  The VC later informed me that arrangements had been made for us to travel to London.

When we arrived at London’s Euston Station, Lord Goodman had sent well-appointed executive- looking cars to meet us, but when one of our more radical members said that he was not travelling in such ‘bourgeois’ opulence we decided to take public transport to the meeting. Lord Goodman was quite welcoming and I suppose that few of us had ever been in such a palatial office. During the introductory session, the same member who had said that we should not travel in the cars sent for us, extracted and began to set up a tape recorder. Goodman immediately objected, declaring that the meeting would not take place if we insisted on recording it. ‘Look at this place, we have no idea what you are recording here,’ was the response, whereupon Goodman said ‘You have my word that no recording whatever is taking place here’ and the meeting proceeded.

Lord Goodman attempted to present himself as ‘the man of justice sent to reconcile the quarrels of the passionate and the prejudiced’. The burden of his case was that he was not a racist as we were implying and that his entire record in the Lords – samples of which were in some Hansard he distributed – would demonstrate that as a fact.  His involvement in the Rhodesian dispute was an effort to get the best deal possible to bring comfort to all sides. (We should bear in mind that the proposal to the African leadership would have pushed back black majority rule in Zimbabwe to 2040 or never). It was a masterful presentation and Goodman knew we were impressed, but so far as his involvement in Warwick was concerned, it was overconfidence that led to his downfall. He said, ‘If there is a single student at Warwick who does not want me I will resign.’ Without the blink of an eye, our South African member raised his hand and other affirmations followed. Goodman said, ‘Gentlemen, my resignation will reach Warwick before you.’

I surmise that Goodman told the VC he was resigning shortly after our meeting in around September, but perhaps for personal and political reasons it was not announced until the students were on vacation again, and the immoral deal between the British and Rhodesian governments was signed at the end of November. It was a small win and on 20th December, the Birmingham Daily Post reported ‘A spokesman for the University authorities said yesterday that the Vice-Chancellor had been told by Lord Goodman that he was resigning.’

Of course, not even later allegations of dubious financial dealings (http://www.independent. co.uk/news/the-great-and-not-so-goodman-1074673.html) could obstruct the rise of a favoured scion of the establishment. By 1976, Goodman was the Master of University College, Oxford, when the Camp David negotiations over the Middle East deadlocked in 1978 he was in Paris to speak with President Sadat of Egypt, and when the Prince of Wales experienced matrimonial difficulties the ‘good Lord’ was also on hand to advise.



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