By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
Zimbabwe-Rhodesia forces crossed into neighbouring states with guns blazing, bombing bridges and refugee camps indiscriminately in the last quarter of 1978. This was genocide.
In Mozambique, the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia airborne troops pounced on Nyadzonia, and Chimoio, and in Zambia they wrought havoc at Freedom Camp, at Mkushi as well as at Kafue and JZ camps.
In Angola, they bombed the Boma Camp near Luena, a town formerly called Luso.
In all these wanton attacks, they left a trail of death and destruction.
It was very difficult, if not impossible, to believe that the Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole and James Robert Dambaza Chikerema, two people whose greater part of their lives had been devoted to the liberation of the black majority of Zimbabwe had become turncoats and were actually jointly responsible for that wanton massacre of the masses of Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe-Rhodesia regime commander, General Peter Walls, tried to justify that obviously criminal military campaign by saying his forces were engaged in what he termed ‘hot pursuit’.
That was utterly indefensible because most of the places they attacked were refugee camps, and the vast majority of the victims were either defenseless women or elderly people.
To try and justify such military raids by a colonial regime made no sense at all in that the regime represented colonialism, a crime against humanity.
The Rhodesian regime was acting desperately and was taking desperate measures to protect itself.
For its part, the British Government kept on trying to talk the freedom fighters into accepting constitutional measures that would have made them play second fiddle to the Smith regime.
Britain’s Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs Secretary at that time, David Owen, had tried in January 1978 to hold a conference on Rhodesia in Malta, but it aborted virtually on the first day.
Patriotic Front leaders, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, went to the Maltese capital city, Valetta, met Mr Owen but differed on when and how the transfer of power to the black people should be carried out from the white minority settler regime or even whether it would be from the British Government.
The British Government had repeatedly said that it would not grant independence to Rhodesia before majority African rule (no independence before majority African rule, Nibmar).
The Patriotic Front wished to know whether the country would be under Britain or under the Rhodesian white minority regime when that majority African rule is introduced.
That question had dominated the Geneva Conference, leading to its failure and abandonment a year or so years earlier.
The Malta Conference attempt was abandoned very much sooner than the Geneva affair.
The year 1978 was rather unique in that it was characterised by the formation of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia regime, the bombing of multiple refugee camps and bridges by that regime in neighbouring states, the shooting down of two civilian Air Rhodesia aeroplanes by ZIPRA, a rocket attack of oil tanks in Salisbury by guerrillas, completely destroying them.
By the beginning of 1979, it was quite clear that the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia administration was staring inevitable military defeat in the face.
That was in spite of several commando attempts to attack strategic guerilla camps in neigbouring states.
In one such midnight raids, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia commandoes attacked Joshua Nkomo’s house in Lusaka, Zambia and destroyed it, however, Nkomo was not in it.
The raiders lost an unknown number of personnel.
Two of Nkomo’s guards were killed.
The raiders attacked Cde Lookout Masuku’s motor vehicle without actually being aware whose it was and who the occupants were.
They seriously injured Mrs Masuku and forced the vehicle and those in it into a deep water drainage near the medium density Lusaka suburb of Kamwala.
They mounted similar raids in Mozambique and Botswana and either killed or captured some people they suspected to be associated with the liberation struggle.
The raids made the security in the three neigbouring countries untenable. It was while that was going on in early 1979 that Joshua Nkomo was invited to London by the British Government.
At first, he rejected the invitation, saying that it should include Mugabe, the PF co-leader. The British Government, however, explained that they wanted to consult him in his capacity as the most senior Rhodesian African nationalist leader, and that the matter had nothing to do with Robert Mugabe.
Nkomo eventually relented and went to London, where he met about five senior Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs officials at a brief meeting chaired by Lord Carrington, the Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs Minister.
Lord Carrington told Nkomo that the British would sooner or later give Rhodesia back to its indigenous people, the Africans, but the time when and the place where that would occur would, however, be officially communicated to Nkomo and all other people concerned at an appropriate time later.
What the British Government wanted to find out from Nkomo at that stage, however, was how he would like the country to be given back to the African people: As Britain found it in 1890 or as it created its colonial administration in November 1894?
Lord Carrington explained that when the British arrived in the country in 1890, Mashonaland comprised 32 small kingdoms, each being an independent and sovereign state, Matabeleland was a single kingdom under king Lobengula whom the British Government, as represented by Cecil John Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC), defeated in November 1893.
He said it was in November 1894 that Mashonaland was amalgamated with Matabeleland to form Southern Rhodesia.
Did Nkomo want the country to be surrendered to the Africans as the British found it or as they amalgamated it later?
Nkomo replied very emphatically and emotionally that he wanted the country to be returned to the black people as a unitary state, and that the British Government should not disunite the black people of Zimbabwe by balkanizing their country.
Immediately, after he had finished talking, Lord Carrington said: “That’s all we wished to know. The meeting has ended.”
The British Government asked that question because Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, who was at that time a part of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia administration, was known to be calling for separation of the two regions along the pre-1893 historical lines, a wish that was not supported by other six Zimbabwe-Rhodesia regime’s members.
After that little known private consultative between Nkomo and Lord Carrington and a few of his senior officials, a Commonwealth Heads of State Conference was held in Lusaka, Zambia, in May 1979, and Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda is believed to have briefed in relative detail the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, about the deteriorating security situation in Southern Africa, including in particular, Zambia, due to the Rhodesia problem, and that Britain should settle the issue without any delay.
Five months later, in November to be precise, a Rhodesia constitutional conference opened at Lancaster House, London.
Chief Khayisa Ndiweni attended that conference as a member of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia administration and not as an independent leader of his own political party which wanted a federal constitution for country.
He raised the issue with Nkomo during that conference, but Nkomo turned it down.
In any case, that idea could not have been acceptable to the ZANU part of the Patriotic Front, and, so, it was a non-starter as ZAPU and ZANU attended the Lancaster House Conference as the Patriotic Front, whose agreed agenda items were submitted to Lord Carrington earlier.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. firstname.lastname@example.org