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Land - A cornerstone of Lancaster House settlement
Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009

By David Martin
December 28, 2009 - The Herald

This is the fifth in a series of eight articles on the events of late 1979 and early 1980, the last stages leading to independence of Zimbabwe.

"You do not understand history. The right in power, not the left, solve major world problems: De Gaulle and Algiers, Macmillan and the 'wind of change', Nixon and China . . . I think we will have a settlement in Southern Rhodesia under this woman [Mrs Thatcher] within 12 months."

On May 4 1979, President Samora Moises Machel had arrived eight minutes late for a cabinet meeting that had been scheduled to begin at 9am in Maputo, the Indian Ocean capital of Mozambique.

He apologised to his assembled ministers and told them to be seated. Then he asked why they were so gloomy; had he not heard that Margaret Thatcher had won the British election the previous day, they asked?

Yes, he replied. That was why he was late for the meeting; he and his wife had stayed up the previous evening drinking champagne to celebrate Mrs Thatcher's victory. The assembled ministers looked at Machel as if he had taken leave of his senses.

Their reaction was predictable. The British shadow foreign secretary, Francis Pym, had said that if the Conservatives were elected they would recognise the "internal settlement" signed by Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema.

Such a move threatened to place British forces on the side of the white settlers against the liberation movements.

As the leader of a neighbouring country which had become the main rear base for Zanu-PF during the war of liberation, Machel had shared a keen interest in the Southern Rhodesian outcome, and particularly in the land issue.

He pre-empted the first interview he gave after Mozambique's independence in June 1975 by demanding of this writer: "Tell me about white Rhodesians."

We talked for two-and-a-half hours about the farmers and the land and Ian Smith (whom he called a "tobacco seller"), resulting in the formal interview for The Observer being postponed until the following day.

In August 1979, Commonwealth leaders assembled in Lusaka across the River Zambezi for their biannual summit. It was the first Commonwealth meeting attended by representatives of Mozambique, now a Commonwealth member.

The Lancaster House talks in London followed and by Christmas 1979 the ongoing Southern Rhodesian crisis had been resolved, at least on paper — three months ahead of Machel's predicted deadline.

But it was not an easy meeting. The former US Secretary of State, Dr Henry Kissinger, had laid out the principles for a settlement during his shuttle diplomacy in 1976. Kissinger, despite the pessimism at the time, had set in motion the diplomatic process that would lead eventually to the settlement of the Rhodesian impasse.

In the third volume of his memoirs of those years, Kissinger writes: "Our allies expressed their goodwill and avowed their readiness to make a financial contribution to reconstruction and transition costs for the European minorities should a breakthrough to majority rule actually be achieved."

It was upon this promised financial support (which by then had been increased) that a settlement became possible at Lancaster House. But, as is often the case when establishing principles, the details were glossed over by those who were not directly affected by the land and other issues.

Land became the sticking points at Lancaster House and the then Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sonny Ramphal, spoke privately to the US ambassador in London, Kingman Brewster, about the issue.

Brewster was a former president of Yale University and a close friend of the then US president, Jimmy Carter, and his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance. Both men were extensively consulted by Brewster on the basis of the breakthrough Kissinger had achieved in getting Smith to accept majority rule.

There followed a secret meeting at in November 1979 at the Ramphal's official residence at Garden House, 40B Hill Street, London W1.

Initially, only three people were present: Ramphal, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, as the political leaders of the Patriotic Front. Brewster was later invited to join the meeting.

They discussed "the fundamental rights guarantee proposed by the British for prompt and adequate compensation to the white farmers", Ramphal recalled.

"This took no account of the reality of land distribution in Zimbabwe and how future leaders would redress that reality without having to pay vast sums of money promptly and adequately.

"The meeting concluded that the constitutional provisions proposed by the British would have to be accepted, but these would only be accepted alongside the resources necessary to pay for the land.

"It was decided that the US would make a gesture by starting such a fund and Brewster immediately received approval from Carter and Vance. One American stipulation was that it be referred to as an 'Agricultural Development Fund' and not as money to buy out the white farmers. We thought this would encourage the British. But this never happened."

Ramphal blames Thatcher for not instituting the fund.

"In those first 10 years, all of this should have been worked out in London. But it was not," he said, adding that" "Robert was interested in the details as well as the principle regarding land at Lancaster House."

In Harare, the interpretation is different. Thatcher, they believe, partially accepted the agreement that had been worked out during the first 10 years of Zimbabwe's independence when an entrenched clause prevented land acquisition except on a "willing seller, willing buyer" basis.

Depending upon whether you choose to believe the British or Zimbabwean sums, the British government gave Zimbabwe GBP 44 million or GBP 30 million during those first 10 years.

This sum, however, pales into insignificance when measured against the amount that was actually promised. The British Foreign Secretary of the time, David Owen, wrote subsequently: "The last labour government in 1977 under Jim Callaghan promised substantial sums: GBP 75 million from Britain and US$520 million from the States."

That they did not deliver these sums is perhaps less important than the fact that they accepted the principle, which was the basis of the Lancaster Agreement.

Thatcher refused to renew the British support to buy out the white farmers once the 10-year clause had expired in 1990. Her successor, John Major, held discussions with the Zimbabwean Government and in 1996 sent an Overseas Development Assistance mission to Zimbabwe to evaluate the first phase.

This mission found that the first 10 years had been largely positive and recommended ways forward. However, before the recommendations could be implemented, John Major lost the 1997 elections to the Labour party and Tony Blair.

Blair flatly refused to accept Britain's colonial responsibility and the undertaking made by his predecessors in the Conservative government and on November 5 1997, the British Minister of Overseas Development, Clare Short, wrote the now infamous letter the then Zimbabwean Minister of Agriculture, Kumbirai Kangai, as follows:

"I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers."

With the stroke of a pen, Short sided with the racial land division which dated back to the days of white supremacy and terminated the agreement that Kissinger, the Lancaster talks, Thatcher and Major had so carefully nurtured.

It is scarcely surprising that the Zimbabwean government regarded the new British position as a "repudiation of a cornerstone of the Lancaster House Agreement".

David Martin was former Africa correspondent of The Observer, London, and a chronicler of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, who passed away in August 2007.

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