What the Lancaster House Conference achieved


IN the previous edition of the Struggle for Zimbabwe we looked at why the 1978 Internal Settlement failed.
We established that in the agreement property rights of the whites were to remain sacred, while control of the judiciary, the public service, the army and the police were to remain in white hands.
As the war raged on, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ended up declaring the settlement ‘defective’ at the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka in 1979.
We highlighted that the Lancaster House Conference in December 1979 meant the end of the so-called Internal Settlement.
This week, we take a closer look at the Lancaster House Conference that opened in Britain on September 10 1979 with representatives of the British government, leaders of the Patriotic Front and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government present.
The conference, chaired by the then British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Lord Carrington was to enable Rhodesia to proceed to lawful and internationally recognised independence, with the parties settling their differences by political means.
The Patriotic Front was led by President Robert Mugabe (ZANU) and the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU) while Ian Smith and Bishop Abel Muzorewa represented the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government.
The purpose of the Conference was to discuss and reach agreement on the terms of an Independence Constitution and agree on the holding of elections under British authority.
In his opening speech, Lord Carrington highlighted that for independence to be granted the political status of the African population had to be improved.
He warned against retrogressive amendments to the Constitution and said independence would be granted only if the principle of majority rule was guaranteed.
Coming to the conference, the Patriotic Front was determined to ensure that post independence Zimbabwe would indeed be a sovereign state with its people being able to exercise sovereign authority.
It also wanted to ensure that the post-independence government actually controlled the army, police, judiciary and civil service not as it was under the Muzorewa regime.
The Patriotic Front was concerned over who would govern the elections as it felt if it was left in the hands of the Smith regime they would rig the elections and let Bishop Muzorewa win.
The Patriotic Front was confident justice would prevail that the country would emerge from the treachery of colonialism and that Zimbabweans would win their hard-fought freedom by exchanging the bullet for the ballot.
On the other hand, Bishop Muzorewa used the Conference as a platform to legitimise his government arguing he had been democratically elected.
He hoped that by accepting his government, Britain and the world would lift sanctions that had been imposed on the country following Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965.
He described the Patriotic Front as retrogressive and representing disunity as they were disrupting the progression of the country by wanting a new government yet one was already in place.
Bishop Muzorewa claimed he stood for unity and represented the wishes of the blacks.
He accussed the Frontline states for meddling in the affairs of the country by supporting the liberation movements.
For Smith, the Conference was an opportunity to try and convince the world that he had bridged the gap between whites and blacks and that the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government had proffered solutions to their differences.
He wanted the world to support the Zimbabwe Rhodesia government as it had equal number of black and white Cabinet ministers and the majority of parliamentarians were black.
It was this status quo the Patriotic Front was against as while real power was maintained by the whites with the small group of whites in parliament having the power to negate any decisions made by the rest of parliament.
However, one of the requirements was for Smith to drop his insistence on the white minority’s veto power in parliament over any changes to the constitution.
The parties later agreed that 20 percent of the seats in Parliament would be reserved for whites for at least seven years.
Disagreement arose between parties on the issue of land as the suggested proposal left land ownership in the hands of the whites.
Land was to be bought on a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ basis with the British government promising to provide money for the purchase of the farms.
The Patriotic Front was against the arrangement, but was, however, forced to accept this part of the independence agreement.
The Patriotic Front got what it had intended to in regards to who would control the army and police as it was agreed that the army, police and judiciary would be appointed by the President.
Zimbabwe was to be a sovereign republic with the constitution being the supreme law of the republic and would prevail over any other law.
The liberation forces were to be integrated into the regular army.
The Public Service Commission was to include at least two former civil servants.
The new state was to inherit a debt of $200 million, and agreed to pay pensions to all Rhodesian civil servants, even those who had emigrated.
Citizenship was granted to all those who had lived in the country for more than five years, dual citizenship was not accepted.
The conference was concluded after 47 plenary sessions with agreement on a new constitution, arrangements for the transitional period, preceding independence and a ceasefire agreement on December 15 1979, with the formal agreements being signed by the leaders of the delegations on December 21 1979.


  1. …And yet two years later, ZANU set the Rhodesian RLI (now masquerading as ZNA troops) onto ZAPU cadres camped outside Bulawayo in an unprovoked murderous assault – how hypocritical!!!!


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