The Lancaster House Conference, 1979: A review and analysis, 40 years on (Part 2)


We continue the story of the lead up to the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement. Here I examine the furore surrounding the establishment and maintenance of the ceasefire, the Commonwealth Monitoring Force and the role of the British in creating conducive conditions for Zimbabwe’s first-ever free and fair elections.

The Next Stage: The Transition

Having previously bilaterally agreed on the constitution, Carrington and Muzorewa’s delegation had continued to meet during the PF’s elaborate manoeuvring on the land issue. The Chairman runs some unpalatable ideas past Muzorewa, including the fact that his government could not be allowed to run the country in the lead up to elections for fear of prejudicing the result. Not liking this it was Muzorewa’s turn to stall, hoping the PF would leave the Conference and making the second-class solution the only option. It was probably with feelings of disappointment and regret that Muzorewa rejoined the plenary sessions on October 18, still maintaining his government’s sole right and ability to run any forthcoming elections.

The PF were adamant in their demands for the creation of an 8-man council (4 PF, 4 UK/Z-R) to run the country along with a UN peacekeeping force to oversee elections. Their plan was to neutralise Rhodesian authority and increase their own power and control over the country. As Nkomo put it, this was the solution otherwise his men in ZIPRA were being asked to “jump into the fire to put it out”. The UK, on the other hand, knew that they would have to exercise direct control to avoid the unwelcome ‘challenges’ of power-sharing arrangements. Carrington, therefore, presented his transition plan on October 22.

It envisaged a Governor, assisted by an election council and the military commanders from either side; the whole process would be monitored by Commonwealth observers. The police, not any army, would be responsible for maintaining law and order. Much to the PF’s chagrin there was an explicit recognition that there would be no changes to the administrative structures in the country.

The PF responded on October 24, with a plan of their own that sought to neutralise their greatest fear, the Rhodesian security forces. The fact that Carrington’s plan left the Rhodesian Army intact was, in Eddison Zvobgo’s words, “a recipe for a coup”. The PF proposed a governing council be created that would oversee the integration of the armies over a six-month period before elections would be held. Carrington flatly rejected both ideas, insisting on full British authority for a minimum time. Additionally, the PF repeated their demand for UN supervision of elections while the UK maintained a Commonwealth force would be acceptable, both to keep the peace and monitor elections.

Muzorewa accepted the broad outlines on October 27, after extensive consultations and negotiations with his team and his conscience. As Davidow said, “obtaining from Muzorewa his agreement to step aside and transfer power to a British Governor proved to be the single most difficult task confronting Carrington”. If Muzorewa refused, the war would continue and if he resigned, his political power base would likely erode beyond repair. It was not an easy decision. It took the combined persuasive powers of General Peter Walls, CIO head Ken Flower and Pretoria-based Rhodesian diplomat H. Hawkins to convince Muzorewa that this was the best course of action. As Ken Flower (1987) recounts in his book Serving Secretly, discussing the aftermath of a drawn-out discussion with the Bishop on the eve of his acceptance, “I was not surprised to learn later that he had spent the rest of the night in prayer”.

When he stepped down in favour of the Governor in mid-December, Muzorewa became the first-ever nationalist African statesman to voluntarily surrender his power and to a colonial, white Governor at that! Josiah Zion Gumede, the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian President, did the same. As Flower points out, Muzorewa had been elected to power, even if the election had been disregarded by the outside world, and as such had a right to remain in power until the conclusion of fresh elections.

The ever-irrepressible PK van der Byl had to have the last word on this matter. He pointed out that the Governor was fulfilling the same role as General Douglas MacArthur in defeated Japan after WWII, the only difference was that the Rhodesians were doing it voluntarily. Muzorewa’s move was described in a newspaper headline as “Pawn to Bishop”.

Muzorewa’s resignation was in the future though and negotiations limped along. The Commonwealth and Frontline States supported the PF’s position and managed to induce some flexibility into the British position, forcing the UK to extend its commitment to include time for the ceasefire to take hold. On November 2, Carrington presented a 41-point transition plan that contained several bows in the PF’s direction.

He agreed to have British police officers supervise their Rhodesian equivalents; all political prisoners were to have the cases reviewed immediately; refugees were to be repatriated; all political parties unbanned; and Commonwealth observers to be granted full access. The Zimbabwe-Rhodesia delegation signalled their acceptance on November 5, tempered only by a desire to give the UK and the rest of the world a reason not to renew sanctions.

The British refused to extend their period of commitment to peace-keeping. They were worried about creating another “Northern Ireland” where the British accepted responsibility for an area and its population without having the necessary backup to deal with any problems, especially armed conflict. They did allow the PF ample time to discuss the proposals although they kept up the pressure and momentum in other arenas. On November 12, the Southern Rhodesia Bill was passed by the Commons 296 to 229 votes and a day later it was passed by the House of Lords.

Carrington also made ambiguous statements about the future of the talks, saying on November 13: “There will be no resolution of the problem if we accept that any party which refuses to put its electoral support to the test in elections held under our authority can decide unilaterally that Rhodesia should remain in a state of illegality”. He was again hinting at the chance Britain would recognise any government returned after an election supervised by the British, even if the PF did not participate.

The British kept up the pressure on the PF by continuing with their arrangements to assume direct control in Rhodesia. On November 14, the Southern Rhodesia Bill received Royal Assent while November 16, saw the British allow certain aspects of their Rhodesian sanctions, like the travel ban on Ian Smith, to expire. The previous day an important breakthrough was made when Carrington agreed that PF forces would be granted equal status with the Rhodesians, thus paving the way for a conditional acceptance by all sides on the transition arrangements.

Cleverly Carrington had a private meeting with the PF leaders and told them he had a Cabinet meeting to attend immediately afterwards and needed an answer for his Prime Minister, otherwise he would be pressured to move ahead with Muzorewa only. The PF acquiesced after the addition of a single sentence stating that their forces would also be required to comply with the directions, thus giving them equal status with the Rhodesians. Muzorewa left for Salisbury on November 16, confidently saying a peaceful solution was in sight and his continued presence was unnecessary. The PF complained about being forced to “stampede” into undesirable positions to which Ian Gilmour, chief Government spokesman in the House of Commons for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs retorted, “This must be the slowest stampede in history”.

The Last Hurdle: The Ceasefire

As usual Carrington had a ceasefire plan already prepared for discussion which he duly tabled on November 16. Among other things, it demanded the ceasefire be implemented as soon as possible because both sides were known to have good communication abilities with their troops. Movement of all troops was to cease while military operations were to be limited to self-defence only. The commanders of the armies would be directly responsible to the Governor, who in turn would be advised by a Ceasefire Commission and assisted by a Commonwealth ceasefire monitoring force.

The PF, as usual, had their own demands not least the request for a thousand-strong Commonwealth peace-keeping force and the right to keep control of the areas they had already liberated. The PF also demanded that all white civilians be disarmed, claiming that some 155,000 weapons, mostly automatics, were in private hands. If accurate, this made white Rhodesians the most heavily armed civilians anywhere in the world! Specialist military units, namely the feared Selous Scouts, were also to be disbanded before elections and foreign troops, i.e. South Africans, were to be immediately withdrawn. Unsurprisingly Carrington rejected these demands saying only the British proposals would be discussed and amended if necessary.

The Chairman tabled amplified ceasefire proposals on November 22, and asked for a reply by November 26. The British envisaged the creation of a ceasefire commission to comprise an equal number of military representatives to be chaired by the governor’s military advisor. The ceasefire monitoring force would be dominated by British soldiers, augmented by forces from Australia, New Zealand Kenya and Fiji. This was a canny tactical move as it undercut PF demands for a UN force while at the same time involving the Commonwealth in a manner likely to increase its commitment to a peaceful transition and force the PF to a moderate position.

The British proposals saw the Rhodesian security forces confined to their bases before elections, while PF forces would be required to congregate at 15 designated Assembly Points located well away from the Rhodesians. Muzorewa’s delegation announced their acceptance of the ceasefire proposals at a plenary session not attended by the PF. Mugabe signalled his team’s attitude at a press conference before leaving for a meeting of the Frontline States in Dar es Salaam. In an interview published in the Financial Times, he accused Carrington of an “arrogance tainted with racism” and declared that the foreign secretary “can go to hell”.

The PF were concerned about the security of their forces once they entered into the Assembly Points. Many of the details they raised clearly showed that they did not accept British assurances about the level of control over the Rhodesian forces after the ceasefire. Among other demands, they requested that the air force be grounded, a new and independent police force be created under the supervision of the Commonwealth, and the strict demarcation of areas controlled by both sides.

The British rejected all the PF demands, although a day later, on November 28, Carrington released a flexible and detailed plan for the implementation of the ceasefire in an attempt to convince the PF delegation that it could work. Carrington also met privately with Nkomo and Mugabe to give them his assurances, but no progress was made. Again requesting that the Commonwealth monitoring force be expanded, a PF spokesman said, to “make unnecessary the dangerous implication contained in the British proposals that the Governor will use one of the (combatant) forces against the other to enforce the ceasefire”. This would indeed happen in early January, 1980. Carrington was now at low ebb, saying in a rare appearance at a Press Conference, “I do not despair of reaching agreement but I am close to despairing as I have been in the whole three months”.

Such was the aura of mutual distrust and disrespect that the principles that no decision would be reached until after a lot of wrangling. The country heaved a sigh of relief on December 5, when it was announced that an agreement on the ceasefire had been reached “in principle”. Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Silas Mundawarara, called the PF “our brothers” and said, “this ceasefire agreement is perhaps the most important part of the agreement”. Such optimism did not however, signal that an agreement had been concluded.

The next day saw a crucial meeting to decide the ceasefire arrangements including the date it would start, the deployment of the monitoring force, and preparations for the assembly of PF forces. Proceedings ground to a halt when the Chairman asked for details of force levels operating in the country. The PF rightly refused to release such sensitive information, although Rhodesian Intelligence estimated ZANLA had no more than 15,000 soldiers and ZIPRA a little over 6,000. The PF continued to demand full equality for their forces with the Rhodesians, perhaps little realising it was a non-issue.

As Davidow (1984) points out, the PF were perhaps right to insist on equality because if law and order broke down, and with only Rhodesian troops to call on, the freedom fighters would be at a disadvantage in terms of operational freedom. Alternatively, and perhaps believing their own propaganda, the Salisbury government was worried that the recognition of equal status could be used as an excuse for depredations on the local communities. Additionally, it signalled their acceptance for an entity not proven in their eyes to have electoral support.

On December 3, Carrington had obtained an Order in Council from the British Cabinet allowing Thatcher to choose a Governor for the country. At the same time he introduced another giving the UK Government the authority to promulgate the new constitution for Zimbabwe. On December 6, the Zimbabwe Bill was introduced into the British Parliament which would enable Rhodesia to be brought to independence on a date to be decided, and to make the necessary consequential provisions in the law of the UK. Such developments were important for maintaining the momentum of the Conference and providing evidence of continued progress to all the participants.

On December 7, Lord Soames was appointed Governor for the interim period. Though a seasoned diplomat, he had no African experience which assured that he was not identified with any of the factions in the Rhodesian conflict. He did appreciate that (Soames 1980):

from the beginning, Britain’s commitment in Rhodesia was hesitant and reluctant-the reverse of full-hearted… [but that] the drama. of colonial history was played in reverse — metropolitan power having been very limited at the beginning, but with total responsibility being assumed at the end.

The disadvantage was that he did not understand the complicated nature of the country’s politics. Unfortunately, neither he nor his team were given any time to get to grips with the situation as Carrington sent them to Salisbury on December 11, before any conclusive agreement had been reached. Before leaving Soames had received a reassuring pat on the shoulder from Carrington and the words, “Good on you”. This was a gamble because, until the agreement was signed, Soames had no real authority in the country as the soldiers and police could simply ignore any orders he might have been foolish enough to issue. He was to later write (Soames 1980):

In taking this course, the government was undoubtedly taking a risk. The war in Rhodesia was still continuing. As Governor I found myself in the position of being Commander-in-Chief of the forces of one side while it was still at war with the guerrilla forces which it was also envisaged should come under my authority. No one could guarantee that either Bishop Muzorewa’s delegation or the Patriotic Front delegation would finally sign the proposed cease-fire agreement

The danger was that Soames, and thus Britain, was nominally responsible for everything that happened after he arrived. As the London Observer noted: “A bomb disposal expert would be the expert would be the best British Governor to send to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. The country lies ticking, a black and white booby trap with many detonators”.

Despite the dangers, Carrington was hoping to give Muzorewa’s delegation a morale boost because, with Soames’ arrival on December 12, Rhodesia reassumed full international legality and British sanctions were automatically lifted. The US and UN followed suit a few days later. Muzorewa’s Government and Parliament had already stoically voted the night before to dissolve their existence so the handover was a mere formality. Soames, commenting on his actual power and authority upon his arrival noted that:

The only means available to me for influencing the development of the situation were political and psychological- matching the progress I made with the progress which others were prepared to make towards fulfilling their obligations. As the referee, I wanted to see the game played to a finish

Carrington also aimed to show the seriousness of British commitment to the peace deal and convince the recalcitrant PF that a settlement, if necessary without their participation, was imminent and inevitable. The PF were unconcerned about any potential failure to reach an agreement as expressed by Zvobgo in the Financial Times who said it would simply mean ‘an all-out war with a British Governor in charge of Rhodesia’. Yet it had the anticipated effect on Muzorewa who signalled his full acceptance of the ceasefire proposals on December 13. Two days later Carrington and Zimbabwe-Rhodesia’s Deputy PM, Mundawarara, initialled the conference proceedings; an act that in their view signalled that the meeting was concluded and an agreement reached.

The PF still refused to sign because they were concerned about the number and location of their Assembly Points (APs). They were initially granted 15, mostly located near the border. By contrast, the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia army had 90 visible bases throughout the country. This had the effect of skewing public perception of the dominant military control and authority within the country. Significantly Josiah Tongogara publicly said he was unconcerned about the location of the APs since their nearness to the border would be an advantage if a retreat was in order. The PF political leadership, however, insisted on getting more, and Carrington finally offered a 16th AP while at the same providing a mechanism for the Governor to create more if the situation so warranted. The bickering continued though.

Famously, it took an uncharacteristically blunt message from Mozambican President, Samora Machel, to overcome the last hurdle. On December 16, he wired Mugabe saying if he did not sign he would be welcomed back in Mozambique where he would be given a beach-side villa and he could write his memoirs. In other words, as far as Mozambique was concerned, the war was over and failing an agreement they would withdraw all support for ZANLA forces. Mugabe never forgave Machel for his “betrayal” and indeed is even said to have privately celebrated when Samora Machel was killed in a plane crash in October 1986 (Doran 2017).

December 17, saw Mugabe, Nkomo and the Lord Privy Seal, Ian Gilmour, initial the conference report and ceasefire agreement. The next day, the Zimbabwe Bill received Royal Assent. Finally, after three months of wrangling the conference report and ceasefire agreement were signed by Carrington, Gilmour, Muzorewa, Mundawarara, Nkomo and Mugabe in a ceremony conducted at Lancaster House and attended by a beaming Margaret Thatcher. The agreement was bound in aquamarine-coloured leather folders with the Royal Crest on the front. The signatories were given custom-made, fibre-tipped pens to keep as a souvenir. In one of those historical coincidences littering Zimbabwe’s history, December 21, is also the day that many consider the Liberation War to have started in earnest when Altena Farm in Centenary was attacked in 1972.

What was agreed

As Mlambo (2014), summarises (himself apparently directly quoting an article from Wikipedia on the topic), upon signing the Lancaster House Agreement, among other terms and conditions, the participants committed themselves to:

  • accept the authority of the British governor who was to supervise the transition
  • abide by the Independence Constitution
  • comply with the pre-Independence arrangements
  • follow the ceasefire agreement
  • campaign without violence and intimidation
  • renounce the use of force for political ends
  • accept the outcome of the elections and make sure any forces under their control did the same

The Implementation of the Ceasefire

The ceasefire had seven days from the signing to take effect while all cross-border traffic was immediately prohibited and UN sanctions lifted. The British began a week-long airlift to move staff and equipment to critical areas around the country. Fifty aircraft were used, ferrying over 5300 tons of equipment and supplies including mine-proofed Land Rovers and 11 military helicopters. An aircraft landed at Salisbury airport every 40 minutes. At the time it was the largest airlift in the history of Africa. Enough tents and rations for 500 people (all donated by the USA) were initially dropped at each APs followed by the same again the next day.

Recreational equipment, mainly sports gear, was also included to combat boredom in light of the anticipated 3-month enforced immobility before elections. Over 1000 hours of flying time were logged by pilots and crews in that week. January 4, 1980, was the deadline for all freedom fighters to enter the APs. Mutual suspicion and disbelief of the ceasefire led Soames to declare that there was no question of surrender by either side but rather a “reciprocal disengagement to ensure equitable implementation of the ceasefire”.

That the ceasefire could work was unbelievable to many because of a bloody precedent. On December 11, 1974, Rhodesia had released both Nkomo and Mugabe from prison as part of South Africa’s détente efforts which resulted, in part, with the formation of the PF. After the Lusaka Agreement, a ceasefire was declared which did not last until Christmas. It was broken by ZIPRA soldiers who misled and then murdered a 5-man South African police patrol on December 23, after stating they wanted to surrender. The difference in 1979 was that the ceasefire had been agreed to by all parties and was guaranteed by an international force, but the security forces and general public had long memories.

The Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF) took over the administration of the APs; a brave thing to do under the circumstances given the unsettled situation and aura of disbelief that this time “it was for real”. Their terms of reference were contained in the ceasefire agreement which said, their role was to “assess and monitor impartially all stages of the inception and maintenance of the ceasefire by the forces and assist the Ceasefire Commission in its tasks”. They would also escort PF forces to the APs and conduct investigations into any breaches. The CMF was under the control of the Governor’s military advisor Major-General John Acland, who had experience in peacekeeping operations around the world.

The CMF was not a “peacekeeping force”. Throughout the negotiations the British were insistent that such a force was unnecessary and impractical. This was done in order to reduce their potential military commitment and ensure they could withdraw from Rhodesia if the war resumed without becoming entangled in the fighting. In other words, they wanted to avoid a Northern Ireland situation. As the Deputy Commander of the CMF said on his arrival in Salisbury, “it is unlike normal UN operations because we are not here in a peacekeeping role and we cannot concentrate our forces into an effective fire force should the need arise”. Thus they defined their role in a generic sense to mean a non-enforcement military presence to monitor the ceasefire between belligerents.

The CMF numbered 1250 Britons, 150 Australians, 74 New Zealanders, 50 Kenyans and 24 Fijians, most of whom were there in an administrative function rather than fighting soldiers. As the numbers show it was a Commonwealth force rather than a genuine multinational organisation. The recruits were carefully chosen for their experience in similar situations in order to minimise potential conflict. They were spread thinly on the ground: each AP had at least a Lieutenant-Colonel in charge with either a major or a captain and nine NCOs and soldiers beneath him to keep the peace.

A total of 470 CMF personnel were directly posted to the APs. The PF also deployed at least two representatives to each AP to liaise between the freedom fighters and Commonwealth soldiers. By contrast, each Rhodesian base had a mere 2-man CMF team supervising their activities. The Rhodesian police were tasked with keeping the peace in the country in the run up to elections.

Wiseman and Taylor (1981) rightly claimed “it was a venture into uncertainty” for all sides. The PF were leaving their secure bases for the dubious safety of an exposed position, guaranteed by the forces of a government they had little reason to trust. For their part the CMF faced a real threat of being killed by nervous freedom fighters or caught in the cross-fire if the war started again.

Upon arrival at their AP, the CMF troops generally hoisted their distinctive flag and stood nearby with their white armbands prominently displayed waiting for arrivals. At night they had generators and floodlights making the AP easier to find. The APs were huge. They were spread over several square kilometres hacked from the bush, dotted with tents, latrines and mess halls waiting their inhabitants.

Six APs were dedicated to ZIPRA while 10 were for ZANLA. The normal procedure was for the freedom fighters to send in mujibas (civilian collaborators) to reconnoitre before committing themselves. Once they arrived, the soldiers were inevitably heavily armed and would not relinquish their weapons. Some even arrived with anti-aircraft guns and heavy artillery and would conduct their own scouting patrols. It took time but gradually an aura of trust, confidence and hope began to pervade each AP.

In the first five days after the ceasefire, only 4100 people entered into the camps, but by January 7 this had more than quadrupled to 18,500, although 5000 of these were surrogates; old women and young children who took the place of soldiers. By January 9, when the last rendezvous point was closed, over 17,000 people were recorded in a census of the APs.

It must be remembered, however, that there were 50,000 war veterans officially recorded in 1997 when matters of compensation were raised, indicating the bulk of PF forces in the APs was much less than half of this now-official figure. As is now clear, many freedom fighters were deployed into the rural areas by ZANU to begin the process of indoctrination and intimidation of the masses in the lead up to elections, scheduled for February 1980.

The Reasons for Success

The varying perspectives of the participants and observers means we have multiple interpretations of the question on why LHC was a success. Carrington certainly deserves his share of the credit; proving himself a good negotiator by maintaining control of the proceedings and never losing sight of the goals that he and his team had set themselves. Carrington also enjoyed the full confidence of his Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Zvobgo was heard to remark that “the voice was his voice, the thought was hers.”

Additionally, he was seen to favour one side (correctly or not) which meant he was always in a strong position to win concessions from both sides as one would be trying to win favours and the other trying to keep on his good side. Much of what was said in public was very obviously a continuation of what had been said in private between Carrington’s team and the opposing sides. Additionally, Carrington was not averse to using the extra information gained by the British via wiretapping, bugging the rooms of participants and leaking information to the press to provoke a reaction from the warring sides.

Carrington’s step-by-step approach was also a significant factor, described by Davidow (1984) as the “gag and swallow method: take this piece, choke if you must, but accept it so we can move ahead”. This also helped to maintain momentum and contributed to the overall sense of progress. His approach created watersheds in the negotiations which made it harder for each side to withdraw without losing major concessions so painfully won.

Carrington also managed to bring in the supporting players, the USA, African States, and the UN at crucial times, using their influence over the participants to break deadlocks or seal deals. This helped create the illusion of UK impartiality in the proceedings. Finally, he always had an ace in the hole; a BANTA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. By being able to threaten to come to an agreement with only one side (Muzorewa’s), Carrington coerced the PF into agreeing on several issues that might have threatened the success of the whole conference.

Neuhaus (2015) has convincingly argued that Sonny Ramaphal, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and with his leadership, the various Commonwealth ambassadors, acted behind the scenes as a neutral broker between the fractious parties and thus, deserves much more credit for their role in securing a peace. The Commonwealth played a central mediating role at crucial stages, not least in the discussions over land and the ceasefire and monitoring arrangements. The organisation kept the British honest and credible throughout the entire process.

The military stalemate, the Rhodesians’ growing economic collapse, the desire of the Frontline States and South Africa to see an end to the war, the advent of an activist British government, and the sincere belief by both Muzorewa and the PF that they could win free and fair elections were all conducive to promoting a settlement. The absence of direct involvement by the main super-powers at the Conference meant there were few hidden negotiations for advantage. It also cast the problem as “African” rather than global one.

As Lewis writes in his article in Round Table in 1980, Carrington “used concessions made by one side to force concessions from the other, competing for approval by world or other opinion and for African support in Zimbabwe”. Rather than being cast as a fight for or against communism, this process became about ending an unjust war and ushering in a democratic and peaceful government.

An unwelcome consequence of the Conference, however, was that Zimbabwe was born as a successor to the Rhodesia colonial state rather than as a new alternative to it, which has resulted in many problems in the 21st Century, not least in matters relating to impartial justice in the maintenance of law and order. Perhaps Joshua Nkomo saw it most clearly at the time, saying, “Of course the new constitution was not satisfactory. It was the result of muddle and compromise, reached in haste to stop the bloodshed”.

Lord Soames deserves credit for keeping the situation in the country under wraps, although he came in for his fair share of criticism, not least owning to his reliance on Rhodesian security forces to enforce the ceasefire. He later explained (Soames 1980):

When the time allotted for the assembly phase of the cease-fire had elapsed, I took the view that, good as the response of much of the Patriotic Front forces had been to the obligations placed on them by the cease-fire agreement, those remaining in breach of the agreement posed a serious threat to law and order, and that this situation was beyond the capacity of the police to contain. I therefore authorised, as the Lancaster House Agreement permitted me to do, the deployment of the Rhodesian armed forces in support of the police in their task of maintaining law and order. I regretted having to take this decision. But I saw no alternative. I believe it was right.

He managed an extremely difficult, emotional and complex situation quite masterfully.

Into an Uncertain, Hopeful Future

Many in Southern Rhodesia in January 1980 hoped for economic and social reforms that would bring peace and prosperity to the newest member of the world community. This was by no means secure. The conflict was soon apparently resuming and Soames released the Rhodesian security forces to try and keep the peace in the eastern districts. ZANU announced it would contest the elections alone and separate from ZAPU. Violence and intimidation were rife in the rural areas. There was always hope though. A white citizen commented, “There’s not going to be a great, big glorious finale. We’ll just muddle through. And I want to be around for the muddle”. Tellingly, Josiah Tongogara revealed his dream for Zimbabwe in an interview given just before he died in 1979:

What some of us are fighting for is to see that this oppressive system is crushed. I do not even care whether I will part of the top echelon, I am not worried. But I am dying to see a change in the system that is all. I would like to see the young people enjoying together. Black and white enjoying together in a new Zimbabwe.

Lancaster House Conference: a timeline: November-December, 1979
Oct 22 Chairman tabled British proposals for transition arrangements
Oct 25 Muzorewa’s delegation asked for clarification on aspects of British proposals, while also asking for sanctions to be lifted
Oct 26 PF tabled two papers analysing the pre-independence arrangements and proposing alternative ones
Oct 27 Muzorewa’s delegation accepted broad transition proposals
Oct 29 LHC began discussion on election arrangements
Oct 31 PF continued to raise objections to transition arrangements, stressing concerns over safety of its forces
Nov 2 Amplified British proposals for transition tabled detailing responsibilities of all parties in Rhodesia
Nov 5 Muzorewa’s delegation accepted the transition arrangements
Nov 7 Southern Rhodesia Bill introduced in UK Parliament allowing British Govt to assume direct rule in their colony
Nov 12 British House of Commons passes Southern Rhodesia Bill
Nov 13 Southern Rhodesia Bill completed all its stages in House of Lords
Nov 14 Southern Rhodesia Bill received Royal Assent
Nov 15 Agreement reached on transitional arrangements
Nov 16 Chairman tabled ceasefire proposals
Nov 19 PF tabled alternative proposals for ceasefire
Nov 22 Britain tabled amplified ceasefire arrangements and asked for reply by November 26; Britain asked for immediate cessation of cross-border military traffic by both sides
Nov 26 Muzorewa’s delegation announced acceptance of ceasefire proposals
Nov 27-Dec 4 Negotiations between PF and British Govt over ceasefire proposals, aimed at establishing de-facto equality between opposing forces
Dec 3 Order in Council made, providing for creation of Governor for Rhodesia
Dec 4 Salisbury Parliament accepted new proposed constitution
Dec 5 PF accepted British proposals on principles of ceasefire; Chairman tabled ceasefire agreement
Dec 7 Lord Soames appointed Governor of Southern Rhodesia
Dec 11 Chairman tabled detailed proposals for implementation of ceasefire; Soames departs for Salisbury
Dec 12 Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Constitution act promulgated in Salisbury; Soames arrives in Salisbury, legality restored, sanctions lifted
Dec 13 Muzorewa’s delegation accepts ceasefire implementation arrangements
Dec 15 Conference report initialled by Chairman and Dr. Mundawarara (DPM of Z-R)
Dec 17 PF accepts British proposals for implementation of ceasefire; Mugabe, Nkomo and Lord Privy Seal initial Conference report
Dec 18 Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Bill received Royal Assent
Dec 21 Conference report and ceasefire arrangement signed by LHC Chairman, Lord Privy Seal, Muzorewa, Mugabe and Nkomo


ANC – African National Congress

AP – Assembly Point

BANTA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

CHOGM – Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

CMF – Commonwealth Monitoring Force

LHC – Lancaster House Conference

NAM – Non-Aligned Movement

NDP – National Democratic Party

OAU – Organisation of African Unity

PF – Patriotic Front

RF – Rhodesian Front

UANC – United African National Council

UDI – Unilateral Declaration of Independence

USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

ZANLA – Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army

ZANU – Zimbabwe African National Union

ZAPU – Zimbabwe African People’s Union

ZIPRA – Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army

A note on sources:

The bulk of the British and Zimbabwean archives covering the Lusaka Conference and subsequent Lancaster House Conference stored in the British National Archives remain access-restricted, or “embargoed” to use the archival term, until at least 2029. From 2009, parts of the relevant archives stored in South Africa and elsewhere in the UK have been declassified and made available to the public. Importantly, these include Margaret Thatcher’s papers and those of Peter Carrington for the late 1970s. As researchers delve into these documents, I fully expect that the story of the conference is likely to be changed and expanded beyond the traditional, triumphalist mythos which has been created to explain the negotiation for Zimbabwe’s Independence.

Despite my repeated enquiries, it remains unclear if any of the primary documents relating to the Lancaster House Conference are currently stored in the National Archives of Zimbabwe. Perhaps some are within the Ian Smith Cabinet Papers, returned there from Rhodes University, South Africa in 2018, although still unavailable to researchers for obtuse reasons. The Herald (Harare), the Observer (UK), and The Chronicle (Bulawayo) for the months September to December provide the bulk of the chronological information presented in this paper. All direct quotes from the protagonists are drawn from The Herald, unless otherwise attributed.


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*Paul Hubbard is an independent researcher based in Bulawayo

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