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Judith Garfield Todd Biography

Entry for Encyclopedia on Censorship November 30th, 1997

Judith Todd – Zimbabwean nationalist and writer, born 1943

by Richard Saunders

Judith Todd rose to prominence in the 1960s in the international campaign against the illegal white minority regime of Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front, working first as a student activist and later as a writer, organiser, public speaker and journalist in the cause of Zimbabwe’s liberation. As the daughter of former Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister Garfield Todd, Judith stood as an unusual and immediately recognisable critic of ruling white society and privilege. The effectiveness of her critique, which included the publication of two books banned in Rhodesia but widely-read internationally, was reflected in increasing attacks by the Smith regime. These attacks culminated in her detention, house arrest and exile, and Garfield’s extended house arrest inside Rhodesia as Zimbabwe ‘s war of liberation intensified in the 1970s prior to the winning of independence in 1980.

Judith Todd had become active in liberal politics at University. She joined the Zimbabwean nationalist movement in the early 1960s as a member of the National Democratic Party and its successor, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the people’s Caretaker Council all of which were banned in succession by the minority Rhodesian government. At the time, the recently elected Rhodesian Front (RF) white nationalist government was manoeuvring to avoid the granting of majority-rule with independence by the British colonial authority. The RF’s attack on nationalists and other critics would culminate the following year, on 11 November 1965, with a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) that enshrined white power in Rhodesia for the next 15 years, until it was toppled by a bloody liberation war and international pressure.

The banning of the nationalist parties and the African Daily News newspaper in 1964 led Todd into direct conflict with the colonial state. In October 1964 she was tried, convicted and fined under the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act for leading a demonstration by University College of Rhodesia students outside parliament in response to the banning of the Daily News. From the dock Todd committed herself openly to the goal of a future majority-ruled Zimbabwe in an eloquent attack on white rule.

After graduating from University College in 1964, Todd pursued a Masters in Journalism at Columbia University in New York. But her academic career was soon overtaken by the fast moving political events back in Rhodesia. In late 1965 Garfield Todd was detained on his way to an Edinburg University teach-in on the Rhodesian crisis, and put under house arrest for one year.

Judith Todd flew to the teach-in to replace him, in what marked the end of her studies and the beginning of her leading role in the international campaign against minority-ruled Rhodesia. With UDI she returned to Rhodesia to take up an offer to write a book on the unfolding situation. “An Act of Treason: Rhodesia 1965″. Published in the U.K. in 1966, the book was quickly banned in Rhodesia and South Africa.

Todd left Rhodesia for the UK in early 1966 to complete “Act of Treason” and did not return for four years. During that time she travelled extensively, campaigning against the Rhodesia regime and working as a journalist. In 1970 she returned to Rhodesia, and became enmeshed in organising against minority rule. A focus of this work became the campaign against proposals for an independence settlement broke red by the British and the RF, the Smith-home agreement. These proposals fell far short of African nationalist political demands for majority rule, a fact which would soon be officially recognised by the British government. As part of the Anglo- Rhodesian settlement terms it was agreed that an official British investigative commission what became known as the Pearce Commission would visit Rhodesia to determine if the Smith-Home proposals were acceptable to the country 1 s black majority. The Commission visited the country in 1972.

In advance of and during the Commission’s fact-finding mission, the RF intensified its crackdown on opponents and critics in a vain effort to ensure a favourable outcome. Garfield and Judith Todd were among the targets. On 18 January 1972 they were detained and placed in solitary confinement under the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act on suspicion of being in a position to cause “fear and despondency”. Neither was charged with any crime or offence. The Todd’s remained in solitary detention for five weeks in separate prisons.

In defiance, and in support of demands that she be charged immediately or released, Judith Todd launched a nine-day hunger strike. It ended when she was force-fed by prison and Government medical officials. In retribution, prison officers seized Todd’s typewriter and a 40, 000 word manuscript she was preparing in detention on the settlement proposals. It was the second time an unfinished draft had been seized; when first detained by Rhodesian security police in January a 30 000 word typescript had been confiscated.

Under growing international pressure and in light of the RF’S aim of quickly reaching a negotiated settlement, the Todd’s were released from prison and placed under house arrest at the family’s isolated Hokonui ranch. The revised detention orders allowed the Todd’s to move no more than 800 metres from the family home and barred them from communicating directly with others beyond the immediate family ( these conditions were loosened only slightly in coming months). Meanwhile a Special Branch police detail kept constant watch on the ranch. Judith Todd used the imposed isolation to rededicate herself to completing her manuscript, which was eventually published in October 1972 as “The Right to Say No” only to be immediately banned in Rhodesia and South Africa.

In June 1972 with no sign that Government was considering lifting her detention order, Judith Todd applied for the right to leave the country. In July she left on a one-way ticket to London on the understanding that if she returned to Rhodesia her detention order would remain in force. The publication of the combative “Right to say No” some months later effectively prevented her return for the next eight years. For the rest of the 1970’s Todd worked in London serving first as one of four external representatives of the African National Council in the early 1970′ s. She later worked with various Zimbabwean refugee and liberation support organisation~.

Todd returned to Zimbabwe at independence in 1980 and was appointed director of the Zimbabwe Project, an organisation dedicated to assisting the resettlement and training of liberation war ex-combatants. She retired from this position in 1987 and stood as a ZAPU candidate for Parliament at a time when 20 white 11 reserved” seats provided for by the Lancaster House Constitution were abolished. But once again, Todd’s political affiliations worked against her thoroughgoing acceptance by the political forces in power. ZAPU was then the minority party in Parliament and, her bid to become an MP was unsuccessful. Sir Garfield (the senior Todd received a Knighthood in 1986) served for a time as a Senator in Zimbabwe’s first Parliament.

In the early 1990’s Todd served in a private capacity on the Board of Zimbabwe Newspapers (1981) Limited, the Government­ controlled national newspaper chain and along with her father (a leading private shareholder in the company) was instrumental in exposing high-level corruption within the company. However according to most observers, her challenge to politically related interference led to Todd being forced off the Board by the dominant Government shareholder in 1991. In the mid-1990s Judith Todd emerged as a key figure in the creation of the Zimbabwe Media Council, a body designed to lobby government for reform of laws and regulations restricting freedom of expression. – RICHARD SAUNDERS


In 1998 Todd was founding shareholder in the popular Daily New, banned in 2003. The same year she was stripped of her citizenship in a vast exercise under which hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans were disenfranchised by their government

In 2007 her Through the Darkness: A Life In Zimbabwe was published in South Africa.

Review of Through the Darkness from the Economist’s Books of the Year for 2007

Review of Through the Darkness from www.changezimbabwe.com, 2009

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