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The Story of Zimbabwe Since Black Majority Rule began on 1978

  • Category(s): Politics Essays
  • Created on : 06 October 2013
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


The exchange between Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe from Lancaster House conference and black majority rule of Zimbabwe onwards.

1. Background

Prior to 1978 Ian Smith formed a white supremacist minority regime de facto by virtue of an unlawful unilateral declaration of independence in 1964/1965. Harold Wilson’s Labour government was placed in a very difficult position as the colonial power and imposed economic sanctions with multi-lateral international support. Smith could evade these sanctions through the Benguela Railway to Mozambique and by South Africa’s support – an adjacent minority white supremacist government de Jure.

Wilson and Smith met on HMS Tiger of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean in the mid 1960’s but no agreement was reached. Smith was playing the long game and wanted as much time as possible. His regime repressed the blacks but his armed forces were increasingly harassed by black African guerrillas in the Bush. Many black activists were detained without trial and the Salisbury Administration in Rhodesia became renowned for its denial of liberty by direction of Lardner – Burke the Justice and Law and Order minister.

The Courts in the capital Salisbury simply rubber stamped his decisions and directives. The Rhodesian Police forces were bad news for any black African and acquired a very poor reputation worldwide.

2. How was this turned around?

By the Lancaster House Peace Conference in London when the Labour Foreign Secretary David Owen and Ian Smith the Rhodesian Prime Minister and Rhodesia’s Bishop Muzorewa, Robert Mugabe and Nkomo came together to agree black majority rule. The guerrillas surrendered their weapons in a remarkable feat of diplomacy by a small number of British Army Officers and their rank and file in Rhodesia proper. The Rhodesian Army under white supremacist command carried out the same disarmament. The result left the British Army to keep the peace until the new government was elected and its armed forces were properly enlisted and formed and trained. Robert Mugabe won the subsequent elections monitored by the British with a virtual landslide – the election being decided on tribal lines. The white element in the new parliament was minimal. The Constitution had been drafted by constitutional lawyers in England to preserve the precarious minority white rights. The Common Law would rule subject to this written Constitution. In what was now Harare capital of Zimbabwe a black majority government was in charge. This was a Country where the Staple Crops were maize and tobacco and it was called the breadbasket of Africa. The economy relied heavily upon a small number of white émigré farmers who farmed the vast majority of the land through a very few but extremely large surface area farms (over 100,000 hectares each unit quite often). There were minerals principally bauxite and aluminium I believe near Wankie and Bulowayo. The white farmers lead by Ian Smith obtained security for their land tenure post-independence plans and those promises enshrined in the constitution were the quid pro quo for black majority rule as agreed in 1978 at Lancaster House.

3. How did matters go wrong?

Ian Smith was hard bitten to declare UDI in 1964 – 1965 and hung onto 1978 as you may imagine. Apartheid was not dismantled in South Africa until 1995 some time later. Smith was of Scottish Presbyterian Stock and had been an RAF pilot in the Battle of Britain in 1940. A number of his supporters inside and outside Rhodesia had similarly exemplary war service. In the UK a lot of public support was generated for UDI though the argument those who supported UDI in Rhodesia were our kith and kin – namely our very own people. This all accounts for Smith’s self belief and his determination to obtain the land tenure concessions which proved unworkable. You simply cannot hold down a black majority government for long following the repression of Smith’s regime and all the deep seated rancour created by that regime amongst Mugabe’s party. There are plenty of moderate black Zimbabweans but they are not representative of the majority opinion and Mugabe was and is Prime Minister of a majority government. Thus there was a Mugabe lead charge to reclaim all white farms post 2000 which has eliminated all white owned farms farmed by white farmers of British origin presently. Yes Mugabe did renege on his Lancaster House promises regarding land tenure but he had majority support for that policy and was unstoppable by any Court in Africa. Eventually he would not recognise any judicial decisions that contradicted his land tenure policy. Mugabe was brutal to the white farmers admittedly as Smith had been to the detainees 1965 – 1978 and in the Bush to the guerrillas. I believe Mugabe’s son died whilst he Mugabe was detained by the white regime of Smith and Mugabe was not released to go to the funeral of his son. Like with like you may say – I will not disagree.

4. How could the outcome have been changed?

I think the initiative of conciliation should have come from Ian Smith at Lancaster House on land tenure in 1978 long before the white farmers “lost” their lands. If he had offered the black leaders a black/white land partition or sharing arrangement he may have headed off the onslaught on white farms post 2000. Joint farming, profit sharing and shared ownership were not on Smith’s agenda. Mugabe was a certain election winner then and for years to come like the ANC in South Africa. At Lancaster House he may well have agreed to a version of what I have proposed. That agreement may have stuck as his black supporters in the countryside would have had a stake of real value in what had been exclusively white run farms under my suggestion. The incentive to strip the white farmers of their lands would have disappeared as the farms would be joint white and black. Smith appears to have turned up his nose at Mugabe and returned to the foolish obstinacy of his UDI in 1964 – 1965. The curtain is drawn but Owen appears to have ventured little. Callaghan’s Administration was tottering forward.

5. Conclusion

Mugabe was brought up by the Jesuits and like Smith did not compromise or waver unless obliged. Mugabe now in his 90’s remains alert and attends Church weekly. He has the confidence to take on the world as the enfant terrible of Africa north and south. Mugabe’s power has been truncated. He has no farmers of might anymore. Smith gave too little and asked too much. He seemed to misread Mugabe who was never going to swallow the land tenure provisions of the Lancaster House agreement in years to come whatever the financial consequences of de facto sequestration of farms. As for Mugabe he had the artistry to know time was on his side with his built in majority. Mugabe knew he was to be Chief and he commanded the high ground. Smith did not challenge Mugabe to look at land tenure afresh at another conference this time in Africa. He therefore gave up a golden opportunity to secure a multiracial future for Zimbabwean farming post 1978. That opportunity did not present itself at all again to anyone in Zimbabwe. White farmers have been forced off what was “their” beloved land never to be permitted to return. Quelle tragedie!