New Zealand’s unknown heroes #1: Garfield Todd

This week’s unknown New Zealand hero is Invercargill-born Garfield Todd. Todd served as the Prime Minister for Southern Rhodesia between 7 September 1953 – 17 February 1958, and was widely seen as a Left-wing multiracial radical in what was a heavily conservative Rhodesia.

Todd began his early life in the southern city of Invercargill, going on to be educated at the University of Otago and the Glen Leith Theological College, before heading to South Africa where he studied at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1932 he married his wife, Jean.

The couple had three children, among them Judith Todd. Judith has been a political activist, parliament candidate, and journalist. She married Richard Lyon-Dalberg-Acton in 1974, and was married for ten years. Richard, who died in 2010, was a Labour Party member of the House of Lords in the UK.

Todd joined the Centre-right, white interest political party United Rhodesia. Before him, most Prime Ministers had been white supremacist. Todd sparked a new direction of generational thinking. His reforms drastically increased the educational performance of the oppressed black majority. Under his leadership, for the first time, Black males could be referred to as ‘Mr’.


Under influence from large alcohol distributors, his government ended prohibition under which black population were unable to buy and sell alcohol on their territories. In a major breakthrough, Todd pushed a bill allowing for multiracial trade unions, thereby undercutting the growing white nationalist influence in the unions. Lastly, in a bid to increase the number of Blacks eligible to vote from 2% to 16% of the electorate, he lowered property and education qualifications, but this was soundly rejected. These reforms were seen as dangerously radical by most whites, and he was forced to resign.


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