Ms Judith Todd, SALO Board Member
Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Senior Reporter
Judith Todd, the second daughter of former Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Garfield Todd, became a strong ally of her father, fighting in the corner of blacks against the wrath of the Ian Smith government.
The Rhodesian Front (RF) regime of Smith had adopted a radical right-wing “world-struggle ideology” to justify settler resistance to African decolonisation.
Blacks suffered racial injustice and brutality at his hands, which angered the likes of Sir Todd, the “Black Lover”, who lost his premiership because he was “giving blacks too many freedoms”.
He had successfully established the Native Education Advisory Board, the introduction of the Unified Teaching Service, and a teachers’ pension scheme.
Sir Todd doubled the number of primary schools and gave grants to missionary-run schools to introduce secondary school and pre-university courses for blacks.
He also introduced the appellation “Mr” for blacks instead of “AM” and he banned white people from calling their black domestic workers, boy.
In an interview at her home in Bulawayo’s Suburbs suburb yesterday, Judith (77) said she got involved in politics because she hated the fact that Smith was getting away with oppressing the people of Rhodesia.
“My father became Prime Minister when I was 10 (years old). In 1956, the Soviet Union had invaded Hungary and there was a lot coming on radio on that. People were crying for help against brutal oppressors and so I went to my father and said, look, if you’re any good as Prime Minister, why don’t you do something for the Hungarians. He explained to me about our relationship with Britain, that we were still a colony, even if we were self-governing,” said the soft-spoken Judith.
She said from then on, her focus was on Britain and why they were not living up to their responsibilities.
Judith said being a white person fighting a white oppressor for the benefit of blacks was a matter of being humane and principled.
“I didn’t even notice my being white because of my upbringing at Dadaya Mission. It didn’t matter what colour people were. I think I was so lucky because of the Dadaya background to, from the time I was very young, know people and be influenced by people like the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and so on.”
Judith said it was tough being a white woman, fighting a white government, for the benefit of blacks.
“We went to school at what is now Zvishavane. It was an all-white school and the children were those of miners, farmers; people who feared to lose their jobs and supremacy and therefore they were quite rough,” she said.
Judith campaigned internationally against white minority rule in Rhodesia. In October 1964, she was arrested by Rhodesian authorities and fined under the Law and Order Maintenance Act.
“Like I wasn’t aware of colour, I wasn’t aware of gender. These are things that were alien to me. There were other women involved in the liberation struggle. When I went to Gonakudzingwa, (Cde) Jane Ngwenya was also there. She even gave me her bed. (Cde) Ruth Chinamano was also there,” she said.
In January 1972, she was arrested again and sent to Marondera Prison. Her father was arrested at the same time and sent to Kadoma Prison.
“That was during the time of the Pearce Commission. The British and Rhodesian governments had come to a settlement and they wanted everyone to accept it. This was in 1972. People like (Dr) Nkomo and (former president Mr Robert) Mugabe, the leaders, were locked up. Bishop Muzorewa and Reverend Canaan Banana were tasked to lead the opposition on their behalf to what was obviously going to be a sell-out. It was going to be a deal between the British and the Rhodesians,” she said.
The Pearce Commission of 1972 was an attempt by both the British and Smith to legitimise Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence. The commission was also responsible for the emergence of Bishop Abel Muzorewa into the politics of the day.
The nationalist leaders had been jailed and tasked Bishop Muzorewa to campaign for a “No” vote.
“My father and I were often invited to meetings. I was in the Midlands then when I went to one in Mberengwa where people were interested to know what the terms were and I knew and I was able to tell them. The authorities didn’t like that very much and so one day, I remember it was the 18th of January 1972, all of these police cars came and left with my father and I. They dropped my father off in Kadoma and I was taken to Marondera. The same day the Chinamanos were arrested. They were also taken to Marondera Prison. My father was kept in solitary confinement and so was I,” she said.
Judith said prison wardens were not sure how to treat her by virtue of her being white.
“The people who were in charge were white and they didn’t really know what to do with me. And so, it was easier for them, for example, to feed me off their own table. I realised that there was so much happening in the country and maybe the Pearce Commission which was measuring opinion would leave without us being released.
“There were people like Daniel Madzimbamuto who had already been in detention for about 13 years and I knew something had to be done. So, I went on hunger strike and told them I wasn’t eating until I went to court,” she explained.
Judith said the authorities panicked and didn’t know what to do.
“The man who was at Marondera Prison said to me, we don’t know where you’ll go. I was scared. Anyway, these new people took me away and I ended up at Chikurubi (Prison). That’s where there was force-feeding. Force-feeding was even worse. I had no communication whatsoever with my dad but there was an Anglican priest who used to come and see me and say he had just been with my father. He said my father was very angry with me and said I must eat. I knew the Anglican priest was lying because that’s not what my father would’ve said,” she recalled.
Judith later discovered that when her father heard she was on hunger strike, he also stopped eating but did not tell the authorities.
“He was pretending to eat and then flashing the food down the toilet. He was 67 then and he wasn’t in good health. He was deliberately trying to collapse because they would’ve been scared to have a former Prime Minister die at their hands. He thought that might be our escape plan,” she said.
They were both released from prison weeks later with Sir Todd being placed under house arrest and Judith forced into exile.
While her father was under house arrest, Judith was given permission to leave the country in July 1972 although she was still subject to a detention order which meant that her name could not be published in Rhodesia.
The agreement was that if or when she came back, she would go back to detention.
“It was only just before Independence when Lord Soames lifted detention orders for people like Enos Nkala that my detention order was also lifted and I was able to come back home,” said Judith.
While she was overseas, Judith felt obliged to do everything she could to help get black people their freedom.
“And how did you get freedom of people when the country was under the thumb of people like Ian Smith and Lardner Burke? You just had to speak and write and do whatever you could.
“My mother suffered a lot for my father and I. She would’ve liked a peaceful life but she was brave. My father used to say she was at her best when there was a crisis and all he had to do was keep the crises coming,” said Judith, chuckling.
There were a couple of assassination attempts on Sir Todd, one of them documented in a book, See You In November.
“My father had gone to see Joshua Nkomo in Lusaka when an agent of Smith saw him on an aeroplane and although he didn’t have the instruction to do this, he thought maybe this was the time to get rid of him. So, he followed him to his hotel, and maybe they knew my father was going to see Nkomo, I don’t know.
“But in the book, this guy said it was very irritating because my father just went to his room and sat there. This guy was getting very bored and so he decided to go and knock on the door and pretend to be a waiter. And when the door was opened, he planned to push my father out the window. But something disturbed his plan,” said Judith.
Dr Nkomo and Sir Todd were very close, she said.
“We had a railway line which ran through our ranch and close to Gonakudzingwa so my father used to send supplies to the people there. There was a bond of friendship stretching many years between many people. Not just him and (Dr) Nkomo but all of the people who went through Dadaya.”
Besides the Todd family, many other whites fought white minority rule.
“You could go from the man who became Chief Justice, Robert Tredgold to people like Jeremy Brickhill who became intelligence for Zapu. In those days as I said, we were not aware of colour. We were in the sense that we could see the whites were oppressing the majority of the people. We thought about people like Willy Musarurwa and Josiah Chinamano. It was painful that these people were in detention. Whether they were white or black, I didn’t care. (Dr) Nkomo’s lawyer was Leo Baron and he was detained. A lot of whites had their lives destroyed under Smith’s regime,” Judith recalled.
Following Independence in 1980, Judith pioneered Vukuzenzele Cooperative in Zvishavane as part of efforts to rehabilitate former guerillas, most who had been disabled during the liberation war.
“There was a group of freedom fighters at Independence which had been abandoned at some drive-in hotel. It was about 200 of them. The hotel was overcrowded so the local authority said these people should be removed from there but where would they go? Eventually, in consultation with my parents, they gave part of the ranch to that group of men to enable them to do self-help projects.”
The cooperative still exists to date.
Judith has written books telling the story of Rhodesia and the injustices blacks experienced at the hands of white minority rule.
“My first book was on Rhodesia; it was trying to explain to the British what life was like during the UDI. The second book was called The Right To Say No, it was about the Pearce Commission. The books were banned here of course but re-published by Longman after Independence. The next one was Through The Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Judith was married to Richard Acton in 1974 but divorced 10 years into the marriage. They never had children. — @Yolisswa