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Liberal dreams – Garfield Todd & the people of Zimbabwe

Garfield Todd

Few Zimbabweans born after independence know the story of Garfield Todd who was Prime Minister, from 1953 to 1958, of what was then Southern Rhodesia. During his tenure, he pushed for numerous reforms to make education, voting and even alcohol more accessible to black Zimbabweans. A new book tells his story and fills the gap in an often unshared part of Zimbabwean history.

On a picture-perfect Saturday morning, May 12, 2018, in Harare on the grounds of Gallery Delta, Weaver Press launched the book, an authorised biography of the former Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister.

The author of Garfield Todd: The End of the Liberal Dream in Rhodesia, Susan Woodhouse, now nearly 90 years of age and living in Edinburgh, Scotland, was resident in Zimbabwe from 1948 – 70.  She worked for Todd for nearly a decade, first as his Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, and subsequently based at his Hokonui Ranch near Zvishavane.

The book has been more than two decades in the making.  Woodhouse could not attend the launch due to the advice of her doctor, but Weaver Press’ Murray McCartney read her prepared remarks, with references to the Todd’s family’s reliance on ‘humour and laughter, even in the dark days.’

Todd’s removal from office may have been a watershed moment in Rhodesian politics.  He lost office in 1958 when his cabinet revolted after he had made proposals to make education and property more accessible to black Zimbabweans.  Had he managed to maintain power, it is possible that many tragic aspects of the country’s history may have been avoided or ameliorated.

By 1960, Todd had joined with Joshua Nkomo to call for British troops to restore order in their colony and in the following year, he co-founded the New Africa Party, a political party whose mission was to assist the nationalist cause.  His political career was briefly resuscitated after independence when he was appointed to the Senate, but he fell out of favour with the government and by the time he passed away in 2002 he had been stripped of his citizenship and had been unable to vote in the election earlier that year.

The guest speaker at the launch, the outspoken author and journalist, Pius Wakatama, praised the book, which he noted reignited a long-standing sense of frustration with previous administrations in both Rhodesia and Zimbabwe, the leaders of whom he said with some wistfulness, he’d like to punch on the nose.

Buoyed by these comments, the crowd, which sprawled across the Gallery’s impressively decorated grounds and inside its historic building, informally debated Zimbabwe’s current moment of political transition for several hours, fortified by wine and an array of baked hors-d’oeuvres.

The audience consisted of former students of Todd’s at Dadaya Mission, former nationalists and members of Todd’s short-lived Central Africa Party, a number of educators, Todd’s daughter, and the author Petina Gappah.

Despite the vicissitudes brought on by the economic crisis, Weaver Press continues to persevere and publish a rich variety of titles that illuminate the important individuals, decisions, and events that have played prominent roles in the making of Zimbabwe.  The travails of Garfield Todd may be unique in light of his political and racial profile, but they constitute a path that many will identify with in light of continuities in Zimbabwe’s political system over the past half-century.

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Brooks Marmon
Brooks Marmon is an American PhD student at the University of Edinburgh whose research overlaps with the peak period of Todd’s political career. He is presently based in Harare and tweets @AfricaInDC

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