The Sunday News
continued from last week
The Lancaster Conference and the Build-up to Nkomo’s temporary setback
In 1979, Cde Nkomo’s Zapu and Cde Mugabe’s Zanu delegations under the PF banner took part in the final push for diplomatic transition at the Lancaster Conference held in London.
This roadmap towards the election which brought Zimbabwe’s majority rule followed a ceasefire proposal by Ian Smith’s government between 10 September and 21 December 1979. Britain, the USA, and the Frontline States took part in this conference.
The conference’s proceedings were chaired by Lord Carrington who at the time was a trusted British foreign policy strategist.
While Cde Nkomo was the centre of attraction in the Geneva negotiation, Cde Mugabe seemed to have attracted inconceivable popularity during the Lancaster Conference.
His fame at the Lancaster Conference was a culmination of the divisive tactics deployed by the imperialist forces since the Geneva negotiations.
However, the proposal for equal and universal suffrage was at the centre of the conference’s deliberations.
Britain’s preference for Cde Mugabe was mainly caused by Cde Nkomo’s proximity to Russia which had aided ZPRA’s military triumph.
Consequently, on the part of the British and the US, it was strategic should Cde Mugabe take charge of the post-independent state.
This would be good in ensuring the obliteration of Russia’s political influence in Southern-Africa.
Zapu’s post-Lancaster triumph entailed victory of Soviet hegemony in independence Zimbabwe and the region at large.
The peripheral placing of Cde Nkomo during the Lancaster negotiation became the major starting point of his political demise.
Cde Nkomo’s diplomatic purging was working in the interest of the Cold-War situation at the time in favour of British interests.
The diplomatic decapitation of Cde Nkomo was engineered by the British in a bid to have absolute control of the post-independence transitional process without Russia’s antagonising interferences.
The British had direct economic interests to secure in post-independence Zimbabwe. Therefore, a sustainable political environment needed to be created to preserve the West’s economic interests in independent Zimbabwe.
Resultantly, the Patrioc Front ( a united force between Zanla and Zira) had to be tactically split.
During the preparations for the Lancaster negotiations, it is said that Cde Nkomo ignored the guidance from ZPRA’s command structure to take part in the Lancaster Conference.
It was our view in the military that ZPRA had outdone Smith’s forces and it was only logical for war to be continued with no retreat as this was the only justified means to seize power.
It is also believed that Cde Nkomo’s decision to take part in the Lancaster Conference was largely driven by the advice he was receiving from some Whites who were perceived to be misleading him to political oblivion.
Therefore, Zapu’s participation in the Lancaster Conference seemed more politically correct in the eyes of those in the political strata, but the military front had wide resentments about participation in the Lancaster.
Moreover, the exclusion of Russia as an interested stakeholder in the transitional roadmap set at the Lancaster Conference was indicative of Britain and America’s monopolistic determination to shape Zimbabwe’s independence politics.
Key African countries which had assisted both Zanla and ZPRA in the execution of the armed struggle were excluded in the Lancaster arrangement.
This exposed Cde Nkomo to more isolation considering his feared links to Russia.
Automatically, this placed Zanu at an advantageous position, though Cde Josiah Tongogara was on record for recommending a united approach to engaging the colonial powers whose strategy to divide the PF seemed well-calculated.
Cde Nkomo decided to participate in the Lancaster Conference against the advice which he had received from Zapu’s lifelong Russian allies.
Cde Nkomo’s decision also served as a swipe to Zipra commanders’ instruction to him not to participate in the Lancaster talks.
The friction between the military and Cde Nkomo’s political decision precipitated more internal contradictions between the combatant forces and those at the height of political decision-making.
In a way, the military remained radically defiant to negotiation while Cde Nkomo became a victim of the political limelight which was constructed for him since the Geneva Conference days.
This explains why in the fast-tracked flow of events towards the 1980 election Cde Nkomo was isolated.
Some in the military ranks especially the Late Lookout Masuku felt betrayed when Cde Nkomo decided to take part in the Lancaster Conference which was perceived as a self-created onslaught for Zapu.
It is also alleged that Cde Tongogara’s insistence on the need to maintain the PF compelled Cde Nkomo’s dependence on collective negotiation.
As such, his close allies in ZPRA viewed Cde Nkomo as more dependent on the advice of outsiders than his close military staff and Russian counterparts.
As warned by the Russians and his top military men, it turned out that Cde Nkomo’s Lancaster participation lacked strategic calculation.
All forces at play during this conference were working to his disadvantage.
After excesses of infiltration and divisions, Zanu reconvened after the Lancaster and broke away from the PF arrangement ahead of the 1980 election. The Lancaster Conference only managed to produce a Constitution which determined the path for universal suffrage and the subsequent independence of Zimbabwe.
One of the results of the Lancaster Conference on the political front was the outwitting of Cde Nkomo by the British and her allies.
The second goal of this conference was to reproduce the West’s hegemony through the divide and rule strategy which left the Patriotic Front fragmented and fragile.
In the 1980 election, Zanu, however, proved popular and had a majority of 57 seats of the 80 Common roll seats.
Zapu only had 20 seats mainly in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
However, Zapu was invited into a coalition Government.
At that particular point, it was clear that Zapu had lost absolute national traction as its political presence was only felt more in Matabeleland and Midlands.
The regional redefinition of the nationalist movements outside their erstwhile Patriotic Front arrangement of 1976 facilitated the possibilities for future conflict.
In no time the post-independence elation was terminated through Gukurahundi.
As a result, this marked neo-colonial triumph. The Cde Mugabe-led Zanu had acquired diplomatic legitimacy, and moreover, it had also proved to be a popular political party.
The author, Dr Obert Moses Mpofu is Zanu-PF’s Secretary for Administration and a Member of the Politburo.