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Zanzibar (Riots)

Volume 641: debated on Friday 5 May 1961

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the riots which have recently taken place in Zanzibar.

I regret that, as hon. Members will know, there has been serious rioting and loss of life in Zanzibar. The disturbances, which began on 1st June during the election poll, are the result of tension between the African and Arab communities, and started with a number of sudden isolated incidents which took place at polling stations in Zanzibar town. The situation quickly deteriorated. Large crowds gathered in open spaces and small gangs in the maze of small streets in Zanzibar town attacked individuals. There has been a number of incidents on each following day.

The British Resident declared a state of emergency on 1st June and has imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. The police have been reinforced by two General Service units of the Kenya Police, and by the 5th Battalion King's African Rifles, and two companies of the 6th Battalion. I regret to say that, so far, 47 persons have been reported dead, and that, among some 300 injured, 78 have been admitted to hospital. The total number of arrests to date is 575, including gangs attempting to loot.

The security forces have now been deployed throughout the two islands of Pemba and Zanzibar, and the latest report is of quieter conditions. I am in close touch with the British Resident.

Will the Under-Secretary accept that we on this side would like to express our condolences to the relatives of those who have lost their lives? I have two specific questions to ask him. First, is it not a fact that the security forces were under-manned, since it appears that it was only after the riots broke out that the Resident sent for 200 police from Kenya, thus increasing the security forces that he had with him by no less than 50 per cent.? Does not this show some lack in the intelligence services, since the Resident was not aware of the need for security forces?

Secondly, have the riots had any effect on Tanganyika? I sincerely hope that they have not.

As to the first part of the supplementary question, the elections in January took place without any untoward event. The rioting which broke out last week was very sudden and of an unexpected nature. The police did their duty. I think that the situation is now improving. I cannot be much more hopeful than that. I ask the House at this stage to back and support the security forces in the restoration of law and order, which must be our first objective.

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the past few months the Zanzibar National Party has been pouring out anti-British propaganda from its Cairo office and that one of the stated objects of the party is to obtain the independence of Zanzibar under the protection of the U.A.R., which would be intolerable for the majority race on the island?

Can the hon. Gentleman say at what stage the 47 deaths occurred? Was it a continuing sequence over a number of days, or did they all take place on the first day? What some of us would like to be reassured about is that the security forces were got there as quickly as possible.

As far as I know, the great bulk of the deaths occurred within the first twenty-four hours. My latest situation report, dated nine o'clock this morning, is that the rural areas are now being patrolled and we have spotter aircraft looking into any possible source of rural difficulties.

On the question of the forces being moved as quickly as possible, if the hon. Gentleman will look at the schedule of arrival he will find that the first two units of police from Kenya and the advance guard of the battalions arrived at the shortest possible notice.

The Under-Secretary asked the House to give support to the security forces. I am sure that the whole House will do this. Will he also ask the House to give support to the elected Government in Zanzibar, whose Prime Minister has shown great generosity and imagination in asking the leader of another party to become Chief Minister in order to ease the racial situation in Zanzibar?

Yes, Sir. The political leaders of all the parties in Zanzibar are at this moment touring the area asking for support in the preservation of calm and the restoration of order.

As my hon. Friend said that he was aware of the anti-British propaganda being poured out to Zanzibar, may I ask him what steps were taken to counteract this? Is he aware that far too much anti-British propaganda seems to go unanswered?

My right hon. Friend has been informed that anti-British propaganda has been flowing largely from Cairo Radio and other areas over which we have no control.

Do we not find ourselves in a slightly paradoxical position, because we are vigorously and by arms supporting a highly unpopular and anti-British Government against a pro-British and popular alternative?

At this stage, the main concern is the restoration of law and order on the island of Zanzibar. This is my main intention.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House, first, how long it took the reinforcements to reach the island from the time they were first demanded and, secondly, whether the Kenya police are likely to be replaced by further forces from somewhere else in the near future?

No, Sir. I believe that the situation is now being got under control. I will keep the House informed of any further developments.

On a point of order. Will the Under-Secretary answer the second part of my supplementary question? There have been some disturbing reports about Tanganyika. Is it perfectly certain that there has been no effect on Tanganyika as a result of these riots?

So far, one right hon. Gentleman and one hon. Gentleman are both rising simultaneously on what is said to be a point of order. The first one was not. Let us now try to deal with the second.

On a point of order. I do not think that the Under-Secrecary can have heard my question, because he did not answer it.

Order. There is some confusion. The right hon. Gentleman was asking for an answer to something. I do not know whether some answer was given or intended to be given to him.

I will answer the right hon. Gentleman, who asked about Tanganyika. It is obviously a matter of grave disquiet to everyone in East Africa that these riots should have broken out, but it would be unrealistic and not true to go beyond that.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), does the Under-Secretary know how long elapsed between reinforcements being requested and the time of their arrival? If he does know, how long was it?

I think that I am right in saying that the first police contingents were there within a matter of hours of being requested, as I said in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry. I will certainly give a schedule to my hon. Friend stating precisely how long it took for the various units—the 5th Battalion K.A.R.s, the two companies from the 6th Battalion K.A.R.s, and the Kenya police—to arrive in Zanzibar.