THE Lancaster House Conference of 1979 in Britain was a ninth attempt at finding a solution to the Rhodesian problem.
The war had been raging on from 1972 and guerillas were winning.
The casualty rate for Rhodesians was increasing each day.
The guerillas had already liberated over 60 percent of the country and were making significant inroads to liberate the remaining zones.
The Rhodesians had to save face and the Lancaster House Conference was their last ditch attempt to do so.
The parties involved were the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) PF and PF Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF-ZAPU) who went under the banner of the Patriotic Front (PF), the Rhodesian Government represented by Ian Smith, Abel Muzorewa, Chief Jeremiah Chirau and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, the British Government and the Frontline Heads of State.
And they were in the talks for different reasons.
The negotiations which ran from September 10 to December 21 1979 were shrouded in mistrust, cunning characters and bad faith on the part of whites.
It was all about outsmarting each other.
For Smith, talks were means to try and preserve the status quo.
Smith and his colleagues refused to consider the means of genuine transfer of power and dismantling of the mechanisms by which some 250 000 whites exploited seven million blacks.
Rather they tried to use the talks as a strategy to split the Patriotic Front and impede any growing momentum, diplomatic or military which the PF could have been enjoying at any particular time.
The war was destroying Rhodesia’s economic viability, hence the situation had to be contained.
Smith’s strategy revolved around avoiding any changes to the new Constitution, in the hope that he would persuade Margret Thatcher and the Conservatives to recognise Muzorewa as the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
He was against the idea of the PF getting the opportunity to govern the country thus he did not prefer any settlement that would alter the Constitution.
Smith had no intention of handing over power to the PF.
For the West, particularly the US, the talks up to Lancaster House were a process of management.
The appointment of Lord Carrington, the British Foreign Secretary as Lancaster House Chairman was well calculated.
It ensured corporate interests would be protected.
Carrington was the director of the following multinationals, Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation, Australia and New Zealand Bank, Hambus Bank, Barclay’s Bank, Amalgamated Metal Company and the Cadbury Schweppes Company.
Carrington was also seen as the guiding light of reason in Thatcher’s Conservative Government in as far as international politics were concerned.
His appointment as Foreign Secretary was a sign there would be little, if any, break with the policies of David Owen, his predecessor in James Callaghan’s Labour Government which the Carter Administration enjoyed good rapport.
And for the PF, the talks were a platform to transfer power from the Rhodesians to the black majority.
It was a means to decolonisation.
They were not negotiating with Smith, but with the British.
In his book Negotiating Across Cultures, Raymond Cohen notes the PF were aware of the military situation and were certain of victory.
President Robert Mugabe was deeply suspicious of any settlement and feared the conference was an attempt to strip ZANU of what it had gained on the battlefield.
Muzorewa had his mission to achieve at Lancaster.
Lancaster provided a platform for him to receive diplomatic recognition since he had not received any from a single state.
He was also aware of the fact that he was becoming unpopular in his government and had disappointed the white Rhodesians by failing to lure guerillas to the so-called amnesty programme.
It became clear therefore that his participation at Lancaster House was a selfish way of boosting his image domestically and internationally.
According to a paper by Robert Jaster titled, A Regional Security Role for Africa’s Front Line States: Experiences and Prospects, Samora Machel (Mozambique) and Kennth Kaunda (Zambia) had to give an ultimatum to Cdes Mugabe and Nkomo.
“If the PF refused to take part in the Lancaster House negotiations, the Front-Line States would withdraw their support of the PF and close down the war,” writes Jaster.
At the same time the PF was reassured that, if the conference failed because of Britain or Muzorewa, the Front-Line States would support fully a renewal of the armed conflict.”
A series of issues were proposed and various contentious issues that included the control of the armed forces, ceasefire and the land issue were resolved.
The most contentious clause in Carrington’s Conference Paper Number 19 was the Right to Land.
The PF proposals that there should be land restitution in Zimbabwe, for the African people and that compensation be allowed for any improvements on land were dismissed by Lord Carrington and the Rhodesian delegation.
Carrington demanded that all land to be acquired by the PF Government from white settler-farmers had to be acquired on a willing-buyer willing-seller basis and had to be fully compensated for in foreign currency.
The PF found the land proposals extremely outrageous.
They saw this as Britain’s attempt to maintain white settler-holdings in Zimbabwe than to transfer land to the landless African majority.
There were also fears that any land likely to be made available for resettlement on the ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ basis would be outside the Zimbabwean Highveld and generally be of the type the white farmers did not want anyway.
Throughout the negotiations, the brazen manner in which Carrington conducted himself led many to suspect the British strategy was to provoke the PF into walking out of the negotiations so that a solution could be conducted with Muzorewa.
However, Muzorewa was totally unacceptable to the Frontline States and the Organisation of the African Unity (OAU), now the AU, which in 1979 had reaffirmed its support for the PF as the sole legitimate representative of the people of Zimbabwe.
In deciding its next move, the British Government was wrestling with conflicting pressures from African states on one hand and right wingers in the Conservative Party on the other.
Serious tensions arose during the debates on land and the conference nearly came to a grinding halt.
At one stage, Cde Mugabe came out in frustration and said:
“If the London conference reaches no decision, we will dispatch our military men back to Africa.
This means the intensification of the struggle.
We can (do) without Lancaster House.
That is a certainty.
Of course we would welcome a settlement.
But we can achieve peace and justice for our people through the barrel of the gun.”
For three days, October 8 – 11 1979, the conference deliberated on the land issue before adjourning.
During the break, two days before the talks resumed, Carrington made his move.
He informed the PF that the conference would proceed to discuss the transitional period without their participation, if they refused to accept the British Constitutional proposals.
Unbeknown to the PF, the Frontline Heads of State had, behind the scenes, tentatively accepted the British Constitutional proposals including the controversial land clauses under Section V.
According to Cde Josiah Magama Tongogara’s briefings, while President Samora Machel never believed the PF would succeed in negotiating for the surrender of land from the European settler-formers, he was confident that the PF would win the elections in Zimbabwe.
Taking into consideration that the PF had already been granted the most important part of the negotiations, which was control of the defence and security forces, Machel believed the future PF Government could use the acquired military powers to defend the gains of the struggle as well as take over the land by compulsory acquisition.
However, the PF, given its major success in battles at Mapai, Mavhonde and inside Rhodesia, was bitter with the hurried acceptance taken by the Frontline States on the resolution to the land issue in Zimbabwe.
Given the pressure from the Frontline States, the PF signed the final Lancaster House Agreement on December 21 1979, paving way to start preparations for the implementation of the Agreement.
Cde Mugabe later confessed that even as he signed the document, he had not been with the talks.
He felt they had been cheated because the deal they had agreed to had robbed them of the victory they had achieved on the battlefield.