WHEN Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle reached its zenith in 1979 and climaxed in a stalemate, the British government convened the Lancaster House Conference between the warring parties, the Rhodesian regime, whose executive had artificially changed after internal settlement elections of 1979 won by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, and the liberation movement comprising the Patriotic Front, Zanu and Zapu.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
The internal settlement was signed on March 3, 1978 between Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and moderate African nationalist leaders including Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and senator Chief Jeremiah Chirau, among others.
After almost 15 years of intense fighting, and with Smith buckling under pressure from sanctions on Rhodesia by the international community, and political pressure from South Africa, Britain and the United States, as well as deepening internal contradictions, the Rhodesian government accommodated moderate nationalist elements. This led to the creation of an interim government whose main agenda was to gain international recognition and stop the war, and lift sanctions imposed following Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 on November 11, 1965.
Following the internal settlement election of March 1979, Muzorewa and his UANC party came to power. A new government of national unity with Muzorewa as premier came to office on June 1, 1979. The country was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia, and a new national flag was later adopted signifying the transition.
However, sanctions were not lifted as Zanu and Zapu led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo respectively, intensified the war. Under mounting international pressure, the Muzorewa regime was forced into talks with the main liberation movement in late 1979.
The subsequent Lancaster House Conference resulted in an agreement — which marked the beginning of the decolonisation process — between the Zimbabwe Rhodesia and British governments, Zapu and Zanu in December 1979. A ceasefire was agreed and that marked the end of the war.
Under the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement and compromise constitution, fresh elections were held in February 1980 under Lord Christopher Soames’ watch as governor in the interregnum. Zanu PF and Mugabe won. A unity government was formed.
However, no sooner had Mugabe settled into office than he started a political campaign to annihilate PF Zapu, its leaders and support base to establish a one-party state.
The crackdown — which had ethnic undertones and crude tribal dimensions — resulted in the Gukurahundi massacres in which an estimated 20 000 mainly minority Ndebele civilians were killed.
Gukurahundi had local, regional and international dimensions, as well as geopolitical imperatives given the Cold War context.
Mugabe wanted to eliminate Zapu and Nkomo and apartheid South Africa wanted to destabilise Matabeleland region to prevent the ANC and its Umkhonto weSizwe military wing from setting up bases closer to its northern border to launch assaults on Pretoria.
Britain wanted Mugabe to succeed and Zimbabwe to be a model post-colonial state under its wings, while it also had to get Soviet-funded Zapu crushed in the name of stopping the spread of communism. After the Matabeleland genocide, which some insist was an ethnic cleansing campaign, Zanu PF and PF Zapu signed the 1987 Unity Accord to end the killings. A third unity government followed. After 1987 — more than two decades later — Zanu PF was forced to enter into another deal with the main opposition MDC. This followed the bloody 2008 presidential election run-off and Mugabe’s smash-and-grab victory after a first round defeat by the late MDC founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai. This was against a background of disputed previous elections. The resultant coalition government lasted until 2013.
In the aftermath of the disputed July 2018 presidential election, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance Nelson Chamisa would do well to read the country’s history and how past internal political conflicts were resolved. They still have an opportunity to talk and resolve the current dispute, and move on. History is their best guide.