Sir Roy Welensky

Sir Roy Welensky (1907-1991) was prime minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1956 to 1963. He was a chief architect and defender of the ill-fated, white-dominated federation in British south-central Africa.

Roy Welensky was born on Jan. 20, 1907, in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the 13th child of a Polish father and an African mother. Born Christened Roland, he was always called Roy. He left school at age 14, held several jobs, and in 1924 began work for Rhodesia Railways, first as a fireman and then as an engine driver. He was heavy-weight boxing champion of the Rhodesias (1926-1928). In 1933 he was transferred to Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia, and rose rapidly as a railway trade union leader. Elected from Broken Hill to the Northern Rhodesia Legislative Council (1938-1953), he served on its executive council (1940-1953). For his work as director of manpower during the war (1941-1946) he received the C.M.G., or Companion (of the Order) of St. Michael and St. George.

In 1941 Welensky formed the Labour party, pledging to protect white workers from African competition. In 1946 he became chairman of the unofficial (that is, the elected) members of the Legislative Council. He long urged a single, independent, white-dominated government for both Rhodesias. In 1950 when ruling British Conservatives showed favor for a multiracial federation including Nyasaland, Welensky urged this course on Southern Rhodesia's prime minister, Sir Godfrey Huggins (later Lord Malvern). Under Huggins as federal prime minister, Welensky served as deputy prime minister and minister of transport (1953-1956).

Welensky succeeded Lord Malvern as federal prime minister, was president of the United Federal party (both 1956-1963), and served as minister of defense (1956-1959). His honors included knighthood in June 1953 and the K.C.M.G. (Knight Commander) in 1959. The federation's demise in 1963, deplored by Welensky, resulted from bitter agitation by black Africans. In October 1964 as leader of the new Rhodesia party, he lost a by-election in Southern Rhodesia and wrote Welensky's 4, 000 Days: The Life and Death of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. In December he retired from politics to his farm near Salisbury.

A powerfully built and hard-fighting politician, Welensky was, during the federation period, a dominant white supremacist in central Africa. He stood for Cecil Rhodes's concept of civilized standards and opposed the oneman, one-vote principle. Yet he saw Nyasaland (now Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) become independent African-ruled states in 1964. In Southern Rhodesia, strangely, he saw a more intransigent white government than he had represented illegally break with Great Britain (1965) and become a republic (1970)—a course which he deplored. Welensky died on December 5, 1991.

Further Reading on Sir Roy Welensky

The most intimate account of Welensky is his own Welensky, 4000 Days: The Life and Death of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1964). Biographies are Don Taylor, The Rhodesian: The Life of Sir Roy Welensky (1955), and the authorized biography, which includes the federation period, Garry Allighan, The Welensky Story (1962). Useful for historical background are A. J. Hanna, The Story of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland (1960), and Kenneth Young, Rhodesia and Independence (1967).