Zimbabwe’s current problems were authored during Lancaster House negotiations, MK veteran


Christopher Ncube

JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwe’s current problems were authored by the Lancaster House talks of 1979, which resulted in the signing of an agreement on December 21, 1979, said a veteran of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the former military wing of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The Lancaster House Agreement declared a ceasefire which ended the Rhodesian Bush War and directly led to the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe. It required the imposition of direct British rule, nullifying Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence. British governance would be strictly proscribed to the duration of a proposed election period, after which independence would follow.

Crucially, the political wings of the Black Nationalist groups ZANU and ZAPU, who had fought the colonial British forces, would be permitted to stand as candidates in the forthcoming elections. This was however conditional to compliance with the ceasefire and the verified absence of voter intimidation.

Lancaster House covered the Independence Constitution, pre-independence arrangements and the terms of ceasefire. The parties represented during the conference were the British Government, Robert Mugabe’s Zanu, Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Government, represented by Bishop Abel Muzorewa and Minister without Portfolio, Ian Smith.

The subsequent elections, supervised by the British government through Lord Soames, resulted in a victory for ZANU, who had threatened to continue fighting if they lost. Mugabe’s party won 57 of the 100 seats, with Mugabe becoming the country’s first Prime Minister when the country officially became independent from the United Kingdom in April 1980.

Upon assuming power, Zanu PF’s inclination towards a one-party state saw it launch an assault on Zapu supporters, killing an estimated 20,000 predominantly civilians and displacing hundreds of thousands of others in a genocidal Operation Gukurahundi, which spanned the period 1983-87.

Zanu PF has also destroyed the country’s economy during the 39 years it has been in power, turning the erstwhile bread basket of Africa into an empty basket case that cannot feed its own population and does not even have its own currency.

Political intolerance by the ruling party, coupled with an economic crisis, has also hounded millions of Zimbabweans out of their home country in pursuit of political asylum and greener pastures.

Speaking during a memorial service for fallen Zapu President, Dumiso Dabengwa in the Johannesburg city centre recently, Retired General Abe Setshobe bemoaned the distortion of the Zimbabwean history by Zanu PF-aligned writers, who he said had deliberately left out some of the key points of the liberation struggle, especially the decisive role played by Zapu and its military wing, ZIPRA.

“The death of Commander DD is a loss to ANC, especially to us MK cadres.  He is the man who called the shots, with Joe Modise as our commanders on the banks of Zambezi river,” said Setshobe.

“The enemy was already defeated in western Zimbabwe, where ZIPRA operated, when negotiations started in Lancaster House and some of us were wondering why Dabengwa did not just tell Nkomo to abandon the negotiations and lead us in claiming victory. We were ready to march to Salisbury (now Harare) to declare a ZIPRA victory and raise the ZAPU flag, when we got the disappointing news declaring a ceasefire.”

Ret. Gen. Setsobe said MK and ZIPRA had everything to silence the enemy and admired the way Dabengwa commanded the joint forces.

“Our forces liberated Zimbabwe under the leadership of DD. I want to be honest with you guys, those negotiations were not done in utmost good faith. Zimbabwe is in this situation today because of the Lancaster House negotiations. Even when the 1980 elections were held, they were rigged and that is where and how Zimbabwe’s problems were created.”

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