A Rhodesian Remembers
The large freighter The African Sun sat in its berth in East Boston's Pier No. 1. The sun was barely above the row of three-storied houses on the horizon, and the chants of over 100 picketers at the gate leading to the pier created clouds of misty breath. Longshoremen arriving at this early hour to unload the ship's cargo slowed down in their cars as they saw the demonstrators and sleepily took the leaflets handed them.
"Importing Rhodesian Products supports a Racist Government," the leaflet pronounced in large letters. "Refuse to Unload Rhodesian Goods!" According to the American Friends Service Committee, the African Liberation Support Group, and the other organizations which had set up the demonstration, the Sun carried goods exported from Rhodesia. The picketers had come out so early this bright morning to urge the dockworkers to refuse to unload the ship and to support an international boycott against goods from Rhodesia.
In the last several months, dockworkers in both Baltimore and Philadelphia have refused to unload Rhodesian goods, whose shipment directly violates a 1968 United Nations resolution ordering economic sanctions against that country and its white supremacist government. Rhodesia's population is 96 per cent black, but whitesby law control 50 of the 66 seats in Parliament, and 8 of those intended for blacks are appointed by the white government. The average wage of a black Rhodesian is one-tenth that of the white; the black African population is restricted mostly to menial jobs. In the countryside they toil as virtual slaves for the white planters.
The United States, Portugal and South Africa are the three countries that import Rhodesian goods in violation of the U.N. resolution. The U.S. originally voted in favor of the sanctions, but pressure soon mounted from American steel producers who preferred Rhodesia's low-priced chrome to the inflated prices they then paid for the Soviet Union's shipments. Finally, in 1971, Congress relented to the pressure. Under the Byrd Amendment to the 1972 Procurement Authorization Act, the U.S. can import Rhodesian goods designated as "strategic" in importance. The amendment originally allowed for importing chrome alone, but the strategic definition has since expanded to include beryllium, nickel, and asbestos. The African Sun allegedly carried Rhodesian asbestos, and the protestors asked the longshoremen to force the shipment back to Africa. Yet the workers drove through the gates to the loading platforn. Another day of work began.
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Most demonstrators were young and white, many of college age. One, however, was a man in his late thirties, of pure African descent. After three hours of the march, this man stood among the group of picketers and addressed them for a short while about oppression in his native Rhodesia.
Several days later, the spokesman--named Eddison-talked about this work for the cause of African blacks against the white supremacist government in Rhodesia. From the deskchair in the study of his Cambridge apartment, he discussed the past in an almost-tired voice. In 1960, at the age of 24, he had helped found the National Democratic Party, then the most widespread effort to organize the African population against the ruling white minority. "We were a lawful party," he says, "but we operated on all levels, with a program for overthrowing the regime. We had an underground wing to carry out sabotage."
In 1961 the regime outlawed the party, arresting and deporting its leaders. When the nationalist forces set up a new party, the Zimbawbe African People's Union, Eddison represented them before the United Nations. On his return in 1963 to Zimbawbe, the African name for Rhodesia, he was immediately arrested and sent to a concentration camp in the countryside where he remained until 1965.
While still in prison, Eddison received a law degree through correspondence with the University of London. Upon his release in 1971 and after extended pleas to the government, he became one of seven black Rhodesian lawyers in a profession numbering 500.
The police rigorously monitored his activities after his release. "I had to report daily to the police, and could not leave the house between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. During the day, I could not go beyond a four-mile radius from my house. They followed friends who visited me and afterward raided their houses."
After months of this treatment, Eddison fled the country and eventually made his way to the United States. He is now working on his dissertation at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Eddison has vivid memories of the struggle of the Rhodesian guerrilla forces. They fought their first battle with the regime in 1966, and in the next three years there was widespread fighting across northern Rhodesia. After a several-year lag in the fighting, the liberation troops resumed the offensive, directing their efforts primarily against white farmers and forcing many of them to abandon their farms and move to the cities.
He takes a pamphlet from his bookshelf and begins reading a passage from the Rhodesian criminal code: "Anyone is guilty of a criminal offense if he is absent from the farm during working hours, if he becomes intoxicated, if he refuses to obey any command of a master..." The list goes on. The punishment for such offenses ranges from caning and thrashing to two or three months in prison. Anyone unemployed for more then 30 days is also a criminal, subject to work on a farm for three months without pay, to receive "training" in such skills as digging ditches or building a road.
"We in the revolutionary movement have decided the best way to handle such a situation is to regard farmers as fair targets. They came and drove our people from our land. We are now saying the same to them. Many white farmers have been killed. And those who aren't have much difficulty sleeping at night. We tell the servants to work during the day and kill them at night. The regime claims 200 deaths, but our reports show casualties upward of 1000: They're so desperate they've had to move Africans into camps to protect the farmers."
"We feel 1974 is a very crucial year. We propose to move vigorously in the highlands. The regime has reacted strongly, imposing broad punishment. But we will continue. In June I will return to headquarters in Zambia, to insure that we maintain the pressure."
To Eddison, the cause of the United States boycott is very important. After the U.N. imposed sanctions and before Congress passed the Byrd Amendment, he says, Rhodesia suffered both economically and psychologically from the world blockade. Foreign reserves dwindled, and the white regime felt isolated, unrecognized by every nation in the world. The Byrd Amendment had two beneficial effects for the Smith Government: It bolstered the Rhodesian economy by providing millions of dollars in foreign reserves, and it demonstrated that the Nixon Administration was sympathetic to the white cause.
The Senate has already repealed the Byrd Amendment and the House may follow suit despite objections of steel manufacturers and other industrialists. Such a move would serve notice to Ian Smith and his white regime that one less government wishes to condone Rhodesia's racial practices. The demonstration last week was an effort to show solidarity with the 14 million Zimbawbe people. Insofar as the longshoremen did unload the Rhodesian asbestos, the action was unsuccessful. But as one organizer pointed out, the protest had a broader purpose: to show support for a people who live in a state of virtual servitude. Eddison told the demonstrators: "It is very good to see some people who don't want racism to survive in Africa appear at six in the morning to be counted."