Revisiting the Lancaster House Agreement


LAST month, one of our radio stations hosted a programme during which one of its presenters asked a variety of general questions to some of our youths.
One of the questions the presenter asked related to the significance of the Lancaster House Conference held in Britain from September 10 1979 to December 21 1979.
After several unhelpful guesses by some of the studio-based youths, a more promising answer stumbled out of the prevailing confusion.
One youth stated at last: “The conference is important because Britain called the conference to give us independence and we are now independent.”
What I found disconcerting though is that during the discussion generated by this promising utterance, there was no mention at all by the youths as well as by the studio host of the central role played by our freedom fighters to bring about that independence. Instead, the overwhelming impression created by the discussion is that Britain had, out of its goodwill and benevolence, granted us independence, just like that!
While it is highly commendable that some of our radio stations are now hosting programmes which are of relevance to our youths, programmes which seek to link our youths to our history, to how we came into existence as a country called Zimbabwe, it is obvious that we need to do much more than that.
A whole host of questions need to be asked here:
How well is our history being taught in schools?
Do we, as parents, narrate this history to our children as well?
If we do, from whose point of view do we do so?
Is it from the British point of view as the studio discussion seemed to suggest?
And about our radio presenters: Are they well-groomed and well-prepared to lead such discussions?
Surely much as such discussions with youths could be meant to be light-hearted and entertainingly handled, at the end of it all, such discussions have a purpose or an objective. And surely, one of the objectives is not for us to ‘edit’ ourselves out of our history, the history which we created in order to establish a home called Zimbabwe.
In light of the challenges stated above, it is important we periodically re-visit those phases in our history which are critical and re-state what may appear obvious to many adults, but not so to the young generations.
The process of re-visiting critical phases of our history can also be moments to draw out lessons for ourselves.
For instance, since listening to the radio discussion and reflecting on the unintended sub-texts which it generated, it has become obvious that when Britain decided to host the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, it deliberately decided to invest in the venue itself, the fact that the grandiose looking and rather imposing Lancaster House with its ornately decorated interiors would impress delegations of the Patriotic Front and the Rhodesian Government and ultimately brow beat them into submission.
It is now obvious Britain went out of its way to make it almost impossible to discuss the story of how we got our independence without mentioning Lancaster House as we are doing today.
It is a shrewd strategy which seeks to indirectly shape the psyche of the subaltern and which is now paying off in so far as our youths are now coming to the conclusion that we were given independence by Britain on a silver platter.
This tendency in us today to ascribe the best of intentions to our enemies, to assume they mean well with us, when they do not, is not the result of an accidentally constructed mindset, but one shaped by the empire.
The second lesson is, it is up to us to assume responsibility as to how to write and explain our history to our children.
None but ourselves will ever do so for us.
So far we have been caught up in narrating how the Lancaster House agreement produced the first independence constitution for us, how it produced a ceasefire document which made it possible for us to end the liberation war and to carry out the elections which gave us our first independence Government.
A lot has been said about the one-person one-vote, the 20 seats initially reserved for whites and the willing-seller and willing-buyer provisions on the land issue etc as enshrined in the Lancaster House Constitution, but all this leaves out a key aspect — the military defeat of the settlers!
What we have not done well so far is to link the Lancaster House Conference of 1979 to the actual battles which took place during the liberation war.
Before that conference, many other conferences took place on British battleships such as Tiger and Fearless, with some being held in Malta and Geneva, but no one took blacks seriously in all those conferences.
It is only when the liberation war escalates and the white settlers are being defeated by both ZANLA and ZIPRA forces that Britain decides to host the Lancaster House Conference in order save its kith and kin from a humiliating defeat!
This is the heroic part which we need to focus on, but which is not projected in a sustained and memorable way by our narratives.
There are several cases when even the Lancaster House Conference itself is directly linked to the battlefield.
For instance, the Rhodesian Government launched the battle of Mapai in Mozambique on September 8 1979.
The objective was to inflict a big defeat on ZANLA just before the Lancaster Conference started on September 10 1979.
It is obvious the fierce battle of Mapai was designed to weaken the hand of the Patriotic Front at Lancaster and to strengthen that of our enemies.
The Rhodesians lost that battle and withdrew from Mozambique, humiliated in a manner they had not experienced before.
Here is how a Rhodesian participant in the war, B. Cole, describes the outcome: “For the first time in the history of the war, the Rhodesians had been stopped dead in their tracks.
It was a first time defeat on the battlefield and humiliating, since the Rhodesians and the South Africans were forced to make an uncharacteristic hasty retreat.”
Similarly, during the conference, when negotiations on the land issue had reached an impasse, the Rhodesians embarked on the Battle of Mavonde which commenced on October 2 1979 and lasted four days.
Again the Rhodesians lost that fierce battle and decided soon after to reach an agreement with the African nationalists at Lancaster.
Therefore, the challenge before us today is how to link the negotiations at Lancaster House and their outcomes to the actual physical confrontations on the numerous battlefields which constitute our liberation war.
It is during these numerous battles, often asymmetrical and daunting, that we redefined ourselves as makers of our own history, not the British!


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