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Obituary: Sir Garfield Todd
The Guardian (UK)
by Patrick Keatley and Andrew Meldrum
October 14, 2002

Becoming a legend in his lifetime is a heavy burden for any man to bear. But it was typical of Sir Garfield Todd, the progressive prime minister of Southern Rhodesia in the mid-1950s, who has died aged 94, that he carried the load lightly, though being an internationally respected guru was little consolation for decades of exclusion from active politics. Todd's involvement in public life sprang from the empathy he felt with the Africans whose interests he had looked after as superintendent of the Dadaya mission school, in the vast Shabani district. This led him to conclude that only if he became an MP could he improve the prospects of black Rhodesians who, in that era, amounted to barely 2% of the voters' roll. Parliament in Salisbury (now Harare) was, of course, all white.

In 1946, Todd won the Shabani seat for the United Rhodesia Party, the most liberal of the groupings in the field. After rising through three ministerial postings, in 1953 he became prime minister and party president. He proceeded to introduce various progressive measures, including, in 1955, a five-year plan to give elementary education to every African of school age. His 1957 franchise bill cleared the way for multi-racial trade unions. He went to South Africa and the United States in search of financial backing for a new system of land husbandry in the tribal trust areas. As a sop to critics who said that Todd was "soft on natives", he dealt drastically with the first big African strike, at the Wankie colliery in 1954, calling in the tough mobile police unit. But basically, he was turning a blind eye to the old rule of white settler politics, which was "never be overtaken on the right".

His fall came when he proposed a revision of the franchise qualifications, which, he estimated, would add between 6,000 and 10,000 Africans to the roll. It was perhaps naive of him to try to reassure his critics that these black voters would amount, at most, to 20% of the number of qualified whites. In fact, the figure would have been closer to 16%, but Todd was not wily in those ways. When his ministers resigned en bloc in outrage at the proposals, he formed a new cabinet, but, three months later, the party rejected him as leader, in favour of Sir Edgar Whitehead. Todd went into the wilderness, initially forming a splinter party, which failed to win a single seat in the 1958 election. In a farewell statement, he spoke from the heart: "We must make it possible for every individual to lead the good life, to win a place in the sun. We are in danger of becoming a race of fear-ridden neurotics - we who live in the finest country on earth."

Todd was born in New Zealand, and worked, in his student years, at his father's brickmaking business. After university at Otago, he went to the Glen Leith Theological College, took holy orders in 1931, and was assigned to mission work in South Africa. This was interrupted by studies at Witwatersrand University, in Johannesburg, and at Butler University, in the United States, leading, in 1934, to the Dadaya mission posting. With his deep love of the land, and the perception that it was being neglected under a racially divisive system, Todd began buying up tracts of cheap land, until a very considerable agricultural development began to take shape. He built a school for African children. Indeed, several of today's leading Zimbabwean figures - including President Robert Mugabe - got their first experience of authority by trekking out to Shabani to teach at the Todd school.

Todd's period in power was followed by years of frustration and political humiliation. In an attempt at a comeback, he joined Sir John Moffatt, of Northern Rhodesia, in forming the Central Africa Party in 1960. But this, like another party he tried to form the following year, failed to gain seats in elections where white voters never numbered less than 96% per cent of the electorate. He further alienated himself from the settler community when, in 1960, he shared a platform with the African nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo, and jointly appealed to the British government to suspend Rhodesia's colonial constitution. Gradually, however, Todd began to emerge as the conscience of his country, increasingly honoured in the outside world. His handsome appearance and his remarkable fluency - he spoke at 200 words a minute - ensured him frequent radio and television exposure.

His appearance before the United Nations colonialism committee in New York, caused a particular furore in settler circles at home, and it was as more UN invitations began to arrive that, in 1965, the rightwing Ian Smith, who had recently declared Rhodesia's unilateral - and illegal - independence, decided to immobilise him. Todd, and his wife Grace, were put under house arrest at their ranch, for a renewable period of one year, and further harassments followed. Full-scale detention was ordered in 1972, and extended to Todd's daughter Judith, who had been campaigning on his behalf in London and other European capitals. Each promptly went on hunger strike, but the net was closing in. Judith went into exile for eight years, while her father remained at the ranch until June 1976, banned from even writing or receiving letters. For long periods, the phone line was cut. That October, Nkomo invited him to join his delegation at the unproductive Geneva conference on the future of Rhodesia.

However, as the Todds well knew, the bush war directed by Mugabe's skilful guerrilla commander, Josiah Tongogara, was getting under way. Seven years later, Smith and the settlers recognised that the game was up, and surrendered at the Lancaster House conference in London in 1979. With Zimbabwean independence, and the transfer of power to the African majority the following year, Todd was invited to serve as a senator for five years. In 1985, he was given a long-overdue knighthood, at the instigation of the New Zealand government. In his later years, with African majority rule spreading to South Africa, he found himself regarded as a source of wisdom, and the ranch at Dadaya drew a succession of admirers seeking enlightenment. Recent visitors found him as incisive and positive as ever; clear of mind and warm in his forgiveness of those who had persecuted him. He said his philosophy derived from the Bible: "Just keep throwing your bread upon the waters; if you're lucky, it will come back as ham sandwiches." Todd is survived by his three daughters, Judith, Cynthia and Alycen; his wife died last year.

Andrew Meldrum writes: Garfield Todd remained a vital, vigorous voice in Zimbabwean politics right up to his death. The nation paid close attention to his principled and pointed statements against corruption, human rights abuses and the worsening plight of the average Zimbabwean - even if Robert Mugabe did not heed his words. Last February, when told he had been stripped of his citizenship - like thousands of Zimbabweans whose parents were born in foreign countries - and would not be allowed to vote in the hotly contested presidential election, the former premier responded in typically forthright fashion. He said he would not willingly agree to lose his vote, and felt bound to "shoulder the responsibility of totally rejecting the disenfranchisement of Zimbabweans by Zanu PF [Mugabe's ruling party].

"I am horrified by the destruction of our economy, the starving of our people, the undermining of our constitution, the torture and humiliation of our nation by Zanu-PF," he said. "Just as we stood with courage against the racism of the past, so today we must stand with courage against the terror of the present. Come what may, I will be going to the polling station to claim my right as a very senior citizen of Zimbabwe, to cast my ballot for good against evil." So, on voting day, the defiant Todd stood in the polling queues, his erect bearing and full shock of white hair belying his years, only to be turned away by apologetic officials. He remained determinedly optimistic that good would prevail.

Reginald Stephen Garfield Todd, politician, born July 13 1908; died October 13 2002

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