HC Deb 21 October 1953 vol 518 cc1965-8
24. Mr. J. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will send a commission of inquiry to investigate the disturbances in Nyasaland.

An Hon. Member

Send a warship.

Mr. Lyttelton

We are talking now about disturbances in Nyasaland, and I am sorry the hon. Member's knowledge of geography should be so tenuous that he imagines a warship could be sent there.

The disturbances have already been investigated by a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Governor with the Chief Justice as Chairman and Mr. C. E. Snell and Mr. K. E. Mposa, an African member of Legislative Council, as members. The Commission have already submitted their report to the Governor, and I expect to receive a copy shortly.

Mr. Johnson

I thank the Minister for that information. May I ask whether he agrees that the large number of disturbances have caused anxiety well beyond the confines of the territory itself? In fact, there is enormous anxiety in this country. Since he has finally agreed to consider the case for an all-party commission to go out to Kenya to investigate the situation there, why cannot he do similarly in this smaller territory of Nyasaland?

Mr. Lyttelton

I am going to study the Report of this Commission of Inquiry before making up my mind one way or another.

Mrs. White

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the terms of reference of this Commission were wide enough? The area in which the disturbances took place has been for quite a long period a trouble spot in Nyasaland. It was called a "storm centre" by Sir Sidney Abrahams who undertook an inquiry six or seven years ago. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that these very narrow terms of reference of a local commission of inquiry are really adequate to meet the troubles of Nyasaland at the present time?

Mr. Lyttelton

The hon. Lady must judge for herself whether the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry are unnecessarily restricted. They are as follows: To inquire into the disturbances of the 18th and 19th November and connected disturbances; to inquire into the cause of such disturbances, and to make any recommendations which they may think fit.

43. Sir R. Acland

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement about recent disturbances in Nyasaland.

Mr. Lyttelton

Yes, Sir. As the statement is necessarily long, and contains figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If, after reading the statement, Members find they want any further information, I shall be glad to try to supply it.

Sir R. Acland

In considering the disturbances in Nyasaland, will the Secretary of State make sure that there has been proper inquiry into the ownership of unoccupied land by European firms and companies on condition that native people can go to cultivate the land if they work free of charge on the estates of big companies?

Mr. Lyttelton

The hon. Gentleman must put that Question on the Paper.

Following is the statement:

The recent disorders in Nyasaland began on the night of 18th August. A European, from whose orchards there had been several thefts, set a watch of four Europeans and three Africans. The watch caught two Africans out of a party of six who were stealing fruit, but were forced to release them when a crowd collected. Next morning a large crowd, at the estate office, demanded the release of the two Africans who, although they had been rescued by their fellows, were rumoured to have been murdered by the Europeans. The Police were obliged to use force to disperse the crowd and one African was killed.

Subsequently a succession of disturbances and acts of hooliganism, some small and some more serious, occurred over areas of five out of the eight districts of Southern Province. The direct cause in each case was traceable to a few persons who incited the villagers by exhortation and intimidation to break the law. Particular efforts were directed to undermining and attacking loyal Native Authorities, destroying their courts, and burning or looting their property.

In a typical incident itinerant agitators would arrive in a village and call a meeting to condemn Government laws as typified by local Native Authorities. Police sent to disperse a meeting would find their passage obstructed by road blocks and, on arrival at the village, would find that, although the agitators had passed on, the crowd remained very much worked up and aggressive with the result that tear smoke, batons, and in some cases fire arms, would have to be used to disperse the meeting. Noticeable throughout the disorders were the widespread use of intimidation and threats of violence should the agitators' policy not be implemented by the villagers, and considerable unrest and apprehension resulting from the movement of bands of hooligans armed with axes, spears, bows and arrows and knob-kerries.

During the disorders, from 18th August to 18th September, the following casualties were reported: —


Killed, Africans 11
Seriously injurely, Africans 9
Slightly injured, Africans 63

Security Forces

Slightly injured, Europeans 8
Slightly injured, Africans 3

Two hundred and thirteen persons have been convicted for offences connected with the disturbances.

The disorders appear to have arisen from a complex of circumstances, no one of which can be singled as the main cause. There was undoubtedly a background of natural, though diminishing, opposition to certain progressive legislation which had been introduced since the war and which dealt chiefly with soil conservation, cattle dipping, school age limits and village sanitation. The administration of these measures has tended to make the Native Authorities unpopular with their people, especially in those few areas such as the Cholo District, where they do not hold a position sanctioned by the tribal tradition. In the Cholo District, where the disorders broke out, there had for some time been a campaign of agitation directly designed to foster land grievances. This area, which was virtually uninhabitated when the first large freehold alienations were made to Europeans in the 1890's, is now densely populated, and Africans, whose numbers have been augmented by the ingress of those seeking work as well as by natural increase, now have insufficient land for their needs. Many Africans have never become reconciled to the tenant system or to the fact that considerable areas held by Europeans under freehold are still undeveloped. These grievances have, during the past 18 months, been skilfully fomented and intensified by agitators, many of whom are known to be members or followers of the Nyasaland African Congress.

Superimposed on this background has been the campaign launched by Congress in protest against Federation. A Congress proclamation of 6th April, advocating non-payment of taxes and disobedience to laws, was followed by widespread intimidation and mis-representation calculated to fan the grievances of the rural African and to shake his confidence in his Chief, the Government and the European population. The cumulative effect of all this was to produce among the population a state of alarm and uncertainty which the activities of agitators brought to a head in the recent disturbances.

I am glad to say that the Protectorate has been quiet since 18th September. I understand that the Nyasaland African Congress has wisely decided to call off its campaign of non-co-operation with the Government and it seems likely that further troubles may now be avoided

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