The British Governor. Will he have plumes and a horse?
Posted: Wednesday, December 23, 2009
By Lord Peter Carrington - The British Governor
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December 23, 2009 - The Herald
This is the third in a series of eight articles on the events of late 1979 and early 1980, the last stages leading to independence of Zimbabwe. Lord Carrington was the British Foreign Secretary.
IN April 1979 an election had been held under the auspices of the Salisbury government in an effort to break the deadlock and win general international respectability.
Nkomo and Mugabe (who had each spent 10 years in prison under the Smith regime) had, although released, been allowed no part in the election and had denounced it as a sham.
The only black contender, who thereafter nominally led a Rhodesian government, was Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
This was described as the "internal settlement" (Muzorewa was governing, with Ian Smith firmly behind his right shoulder) and we were urged, particularly by the right wing of the Conservative Party, to acknowledge its validity and to recognise an independent Rhodesia.
It would have been highly convenient if we had been able to do so...
I was certainly keen to emphasise how far the Smith government had come towards us and towards settlement.
"There had been a fundamental change inside Rhodesia," I said to the Lords in my first speech as Foreign Secretary.
"There has been an election in which every adult man and woman has been enabled to cast a vote... there is now an African majority in Parliament."
And I took every opportunity to speak encouraging words about Muzorewa and to remind that these developments under Smith, who had not long before spoken of white rule lasting a thousand years, could hardly be shrugged off as insignificant or not marking progress.
The trouble was that, although the election had been as full and fair as conditions permitted, Nkomo and Mugabe had not taken part; so that conditions had only permitted a vote for Muzorewa, as a black — and he collected what I am afraid was a great many more votes than he could have possibly scored in an open contest (ultimately he received a derisory share of the vote when weighed against Nkomo and Mugabe).
I was already, sadly, convinced that the "internal settlement" was probably a fudge, in terms of the domestic support it really commanded.
It was widely seen as a device to perpetuate the white man's rule behind an amenable and unrepresentative black front, and although this was by no means completely fair there was something in it.
Above all — which for me was decisive — it could not possibly be sold to the international community.
It has to be recalled that Smith's declaration of independence had been an unconstitutional act and his regime in consequence illegal — and thus difficult for the British Crown to recognise, even if sanitised, so to speak, by an appearance of democracy. The international community perceived the difficulty very clearly. I asked Lord Harlech to pay a series of visits, to form a view on who would be prepared to recognise the Rhodesian "internal settlement", if we ourselves did.
He reported that it would not be recognised by any black African states — Nigeria, very hostile to Rhodesia and carrying a lot of weight, was orchestrating this opposition.
It would not be recognised by a single member of the European Community. There would almost certainly be an adverse vote in the United Nations. There would also be a likely break-up of the Commonwealth.
The "internal settlement" did not look as if it had a chance of achieving my main object — international acceptance of Rhodesia, as well as a cessation of fighting; and I reiterate what this main object was because nothing less could possibly be in the long-term interest of Rhodesians themselves. Black and white...
I was not optimistic about the Lancaster House out-turn.
I was confident we had been right not to recognise the "internal settlement", to go for another conference, to get preliminary Commonwealth — and, on the whole, international — endorsement of the idea. But I thought it likely that the invited parties would come, and then create trouble at the moment they decided most favourable, break off proceedings, walk out, go away ...
I decided to give separate dinner parties at the start, one for the supporters of the "internal settlement", for Smith, Muzorewa and their followers; and another for the Patriotic Front ...
I think, in retrospect, that I at the time underestimated the difficulties of each of these sections and individuals had with the principle as well as the practice of sitting down with the others in conference.
There had been bad things done in Rhodesia and much bitterness both among whites and those blacks loyal to the Salisbury government; while, on the other side and at the second of my dinner parties, I was struck by the normality and poise of both Nkomo and Mugabe after their very long periods in gaol ...
I remember, too, Ian Smith at one of the private rather than plenary meetings. He said to me: "I think its disgraceful the way you're handling this conference ... [while] hundreds of people in Rhodesia are being killed."
I think I kept my temper during some pretty provoking moments at that conference, but on this particular occasion it was touch and go. I said to Smith: "Perhaps you might recollect that but for you nobody in Rhodesia would be being killed."
I think it was a fair reply. Ian Smith went home shortly afterwards. It was not he but David Smith and Peter Walls who had been convinced that the white Rhodesians should keep at the conference, keep going ...
The conference dragged on, looking like ending in failure more often than success ...
The eventual agreement set out a simple sequence — simple in concept, likely to be troubled in execution. There was to be a ceasefire: the guerrilla forces were to stand down, move to assembly points, accept disarmament.
There was to be a reversion to the constitutional situation before the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Smith; and then there was to be elections in Rhodesia, based on universal suffrage, with all parties permitted to take part and with independence and recognition of a balanced constitution granted by the British Crown thereafter.
I was dreading the moment when I would have to announce that the first step would be the return of a British Governor, for although it was an inevitable consequence of our proposals for return to legality, I knew nobody expected it and nobody would like it ... I made the announcement at a plenary session.
There was dead silence. It lasted a long time. It was broken by Joshua Nkomo. He looked at me enquiringly. "Really? Will he have plumes and a horse?" The whole conference dissolved in laughter. The day was saved.
*Reflections on Things Past: The Memoirs of Lord Carrington, Collins, 1988
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