Agriculture Minister Jack Dawkins at a farmers' convention in Bulawayo
Rhodesia's Next Prime Minister?: Jack Dawkins and the Future of Africa's Breadbasket
by Al Lovitz
BULAWAYO - A man with greying hair and a reassuring RP accent stands on stage at a meeting of Southern Rhodesian farmers in the growing of city of Bulawayo. For Agriculture Minister Jack Dawkins, this is familiar territory. Despite his accent, Dawkins is well acquainted the world of Rhodesian farming. In fact, he is the owner of Dawkins Farms, one of the largest agribusinesses in the country. Following his speech, he shakes hands and slaps the backs of cattle ranchers and wheat farmers, those whose support he'll need should he seek the premiership. With MacDonald's plummeting popularity, the Federal Party might be looking to this rising star to save its chances in next year's election.
After meeting with potential voters, Dawkins makes his way to the exit where I was standing. He notices me and shakes my hand. "Mr. Lovitz, I presume?" His accent is much more pronounced than it was during his speech, perhaps a reality of Rhodesian politics. The hard-nosed, practical people of Rhodesia have little time for Old World pretensions.
He motions me to join him in his green Land Rover, from my estimation a twenty-year old model. A man of his wealth could probably afford a Mercedes so popular among men of his station. Perhaps he does own a Mercedes, but a man of apparent ambition has little incentive to look distant from the people.
It would be unfair to dismiss Mr. Dawkins as an aristocrat, though he certainly has the pedigree. Born in 1941 in Nairobi, Kenya to an imperial civil servant, Dawkins spent much of his boyhood in Africa prior to his father returning to Britain in the waning years of Empire. "My father's estate in Oxfordshire was in shambles. Churchill's government was making a mess of things, and my father believed that Morrison and Labour were going to make it worse," he tells me as we drive down a country road to his ranch. "He decided to take his chances in Southern Rhodesia." What followed was Dawkins Farms with a wide array of products ranging from beef and dairy products to wheat. "I expanded our operations to chicken. Its our most profitable livestock. I guess it turns out to my fascination with poultry." He goes on talk about his experimentation with raising chicks trying to get the most out of their yield. "You know, I'm something of a scientist myself, or at least I like to think I am."
We pull into the yard outside of the house greeted by four large German shepherds. They great their master as he climbs out of the Rover, and he bends over the play with them. "I call them the 'Four Horsemen,'" he says with a bit of a chuckle. He stands back up and we go into the house. We sit down over a "cuppa" tea, and he goes more into his life story. What strikes me as to how spry he is, given that he's now in his early 80's.
"I can truly say that I'm blessed, given what I've experienced," he says, making a sweeping motion with his hand to emphasize his point.
Then why, I ask, would such a man with such a rich and fulfilling life get into politics at such an age. He puts down his cup of tea and takes on an air of sobriety. "Because I love this country. Because I want to see her grow more and more. We're the second largest economy of the independent African states, but I believe we can do more."
Dawkins wasn't elected to a seat in the House of Assembly until he was in his early seventies. For many, it seemed like it was a hobby for him. For much of his time in Parliament, he kept a low profile until being promoted to Minister of Agriculture by PM MacDonald several years back. In recent years, the bright "Rhodesian Reformer" has lost the sheen of his earlier years as political and personal scandals have rocked the government. Polls have indicated that the opposition Liberals might have a shot at government for the first time in nearly twenty-years, and rumors abound that MacDonald's resignation is imminent. As such, a few names of swirled around for his successor, and Dawkins' name has come up more and more often.
"Are you saying that the current government hasn't done enough?" I ask.
Dawkins leans back in his chair, unfazed. "On the contrary, we have done so much: cutting taxes, increasing money for social services, building the high-speed railway, building bridges with Namibia. That's why I got into politics."
And about increased black representation? Dawkins notably voted against the government's attempt to expand the black or "b" rolls that added the number of available seats for those unable to qualify for the "a" rolls who were mostly white.
He places his tea down on the table before answering. "I opposed the government at that time because I believed it was unnecessary. Rhodesia boasts a growing black middle class who qualify for the 'a' roll. We now have six black MPs in government with two in cabinet. I believe then as I do now that the best way we can help the black population of Rhodesia is to encourage economic growth and acclimate them to a 21st century economy. Evolution over revolution, as it were. Increasing the "b" roll would only elect more dangerous radicals to the House, which I am afraid to say has already happened." He refers to the 2016 election where the left-wing Patriotic Front won fourteen out of the twenty "b" roll seats. While twenty is hardly influential in a house that boasts 115 members, the event seemed to validate the worst fears of MacDonald's critics.
What does the future hold for Rhodesia, I ask him.
"An upward trajectory, I hope," he says before finishing his tea. "I truly believe that Rhodesia has the potential to be a world leader not just in agriculture, but in manufacturing and technology as well."
Would that take a Dawkins ministry to achieve this, I suggest. He leans again leans back in his seat. "That's not for me to say. I couldn't possibly comment," he says with a grin.
Whether or not Dawkins can even save the plummeting fortunes of the Federal Party, led alone lead Africa's Breadbasket into a golden age remains to be seen. However, in a time of shifting political sands in Rhodesia, observers would do well to keep an eye on this octogenarian in the coming weeks and months ahead.