As I was writing the story of Mugabe’s struggle for the creation and survival of Zimbabwe I realised that this dry history of who did what and to whom gave the impression that these relationships were being conducted by totemic figures working towards an agreed plan. The truth is that, in this and in almost every other negotiation in which I have been involved, the conduct of the key characters was not always as planned and controlled; human foibles and challenges often were often a determinant of the outcomes.
The sidebars to the progress of Zimbabwe’s independence were important. African freedom fighters spent years in the bush fighting skirmishes and battles with their enemies, internal and external. They had few possessions and limited resources. Their family lives were broken or interrupted and the struggles took up most of their consciousness and attention. When, at the closure or apparent closure of their struggle they entered into peace talks. They did so without the support of an indigenous civil service which could back them up in their negotiations with facts and figures about the economy or a clear notion of what contingencies would arise by accepting one plan or another. They lacked the trappings of international diplomacy. They knew what they wanted and fought for, but some of the details of the transition to democratic rule were deliberately masked by their opponents. The Rhodesian Front had a large government and civil service backup and the British civil service was famous for its promotion of policies which benefitted Britain. ZANU and ZAPU had much less support and backup by trained civilian staff. Their military prowess and bravery got them to the table but proved less of an asset in the process of assuming national power and control of the new government.
Some of these problems were noted at the Geneva talks. As the Rhodesian war progressed it soon became clear that there had to be a negotiated settlement. Henry Kissinger came up with a plan to resolve these issues and received the backing of South Africa who was finding it hard and expensive to fight wars in Angola, Namibia, Rhodesia and at home all at once. When the liberation movements rejected the Kissinger plan the British tried to salvage the momentum by calling a conference in Geneva (28 October – 14 December 1976) They invited the participants to meet to discuss a new constitution for Rhodesia. Attending the meeting were the Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith; the African National Council, led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa; the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, led by James Chikerema; and the Patriotic Front (a joint ZAPU-ZANU delegation) led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo. The conference was under the control of the British.
Kissinger was anxious to get some peace process moving as in April 1974, the Portuguese government was overthrown by a military coup and replaced with a leftist administration in favour of ending the unpopular Portuguese Colonial Wars in Angola, Mozambique and Portugal's other African territories.
The administration of the conference left something to be desired. Many of the Patriotic Front delegates were unprepared for the cold weather in Geneva. They walked around shivering. Rex Nhongo (later to be called Solomon Majuro) turned up the heating so high that his room caught fire. The only one who was warm was Nkomo who wore his grey woollen Soviet colonel’s uniform to go shopping for watches. The African negotiators were receiving a daily allowance from the British government to cover their expenses in Geneva but the British had booked them rooms in the expensive Hotel President whose room cost was more than their daily allowance. The Africans moved over to the less expensive Hotel Cornavin, near the station (where I was staying). The hotel served a nice breakfast as part of the room deal which allowed free bread rolls and small cheese triangles. All the delegates loaded up on free rolls and cheeses as this would be their lunch as well. The Patriotic Front had managed to get a small grant from the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA) to cover some of their costs while in Geneva. After the Africans departed, the hotel management handed SIDA an extra bill for the bread and cheeses for 400 Swiss Francs. I had given away two of my sweaters to the delegation as my contribution to the revolution. Despite not coming to any real solution to independence at Geneva, everyone was happy to go home to Mozambique and Zambia where Summer would soon replace Spring.
Earlier than the talks I had been working on a plan to move the rail links in Rhodesia much further North; away from the South Africans. The Canadians had almost finished its development of a rail link from Malawi (near the Zambian border) to the deep water port at Nacala in Mozambique. By building a rail link between Zimbabwe to join the Nacala Railroad through Tete Prince in Mozambique it would move the Zimbabwe rail system to the deepest port in Africa, uncongested, and far from South Africa. Later, when the 40 km link would be completed from Northern Malawi to the Zambian Copper Belt and the DRC.
My suggested plan has only now been activated with the creation of the Nacala Corridor, thirty years after I produced the original plan. I brought my plan to Geneva to discuss with the delegation. It was most amusing. In addition to the text of my plan I had included two detailed maps of the suggested route. The first was the Tactical Pilot Chart of the area which showed a detailed plan of the area, terrain and radar installations and roads. The second was an Operational Navigation Chart which gave a detailed overview of the area. Both were produced by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace Center. As soon as I unwrapped the maps, Josiah Tongogara, the commander of the ZANLA forces stood up and asked “Where the Hell did you get those maps? We have been trying to get them for years. The Rhodies shipped them to South Africa and we have been trying to steal them back and have searched everywhere else but we couldn’t find them. Where did you get them?” I said “I bought them at Stanford’s Map Store in London”. He said “Bought them? Bought them? That’s the only thing we didn’t think of doing.” He had a tragic accident before he could use them.
The Lancaster House talks were also amusing. It soon became clear after the first four days of the meetings that an agreement was ready to be signed. The Rhodes and the Patriotic Front were in basic agreement but there was a fight between Lord Carrington (Foreign Secretary) and the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office was committed to seeing Bishop Abel Muzurewa (whom they had backed) installed as the first President. Peter Carrington, and everyone else in the room, knew that that power in the new Zimbabwe wouldn’t be Muzorewa but the Patriotic Front’s candidate for Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe. The new Zimbabwe President was the Methodist minister, Canaan Sodindo Banana. He served as the first President of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987. In 1987, he stepped down as President and was succeeded by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who became the country's executive president.
Carrington and the Foreign Office tangled for almost a week until it was finally settled. It was difficult for the African delegations to respond quickly or release public statements as the British gave them no typewriters or copy machines. We had to search around for a proper typewriter for Willy Musarurwa, the journalist who was part of Nkomo’s ZAPU delegation. Although he wasn’t part of Mugabe’s group he was trusted by the Patriotic Front as he had spent seven years in Gwelo Prison with the others. He wrote the replies for the joint delegation.
This presaged the problem which followed Lancaster House. The delegations return to Salisbury to campaign. However, no one had typewriters or mimeograph machines. In 1968 I had co-ordinated on behalf of the UAW a Varitype machine and some other printing equipment to Dumiso Dabengwa In Lusaka, for ZAPU; but these were too big to be brought down to Salisbury. It would have to be typewriters. As the Rhodies and the British had made acquiring typewriters so difficult some of us were asked to buy typewriters in London which we would give to tourists visiting Rhodesia. If they took the typewriters with them they could get a couple free nights at a local hotel. We managed around twenty typewriters.
After the Lancaster House talks I got a strange call from a friend of mine in the US State Department. I had attended the Lancaster House talks as the publisher of the Journal of Southern African Affairs, edited by my friend and colleague Dr. Mariyowanda Nzuwah. Apparently, the State Department man assigned to the Lancaster House talks missed the last week of the deliberations there. He had been rotated to the US Embassy in Egypt and his papers were lost in transit. The State Department wanted to borrow all my papers and notes to fill in the gaps
Dr. Nzuwah had a different problem at Independence. Nzuwah was put in charge of protocol. That was not something he had been entirely prepared for in his life that far. His job was to arrange the greeting of all the foreign dignitaries scheduled to come to Zimbabwe’s Independence Day. He pointed out that each Head of State was entitled to a 21-gun salute and each Head of Government a 19-gun salute. There were so many leaders scheduled to arrive the Zimbabweans didn’t have enough ceremonial shells to cope with the demand and such a barrage of such an intensity would probably scare the Rhodies into thinking the war had started again. Mariyo had to calculate the arrival times and do a mass salute for six or seven heads of state or government at a time, He worked it out.
The most bizarre aspect of the independence of Zimbabwe was the involvement of the most “verkrampte” Afrikaaners in the purchase of housing in Salisbury/Harare for the many overseas Zimbabweans returning home form jobs, teaching positions, hospitals across the globe to be part of the new Zimbabwe. The fighters had very little money or other resources as a result of giving them up to fight in the bush. However, these returning professional had resource accumulated from their professions overseas and needed to buy proper housing in Harare. The problem was that the Rhodesian dollar was of no value outside Rhodesia; for the most part they used the South African Rand, which was the only foreign currency freely transferable into Rhodesian dollars. At the same time there were strict sanctions against South Africa which meant that they couldn’t easily obtain hard currency for their international work. The office of Jimmy Kruger (South African Finance Minister) and ‘Lang’ Hendrick van den Bergh (BOSS) came up with a plan. The overseas Zimbabwean professionals heading home would pay into escrow a sum in dollars, pounds, francs, etc. A rate would be worked out for the exchange into Rand. They would fly through Smuts Airport in Johannesburg and, in exchange for the escrow paper, would get Rand in cash which they would take to Harare to buy houses in Rhodesian dollars. They benefitted from the premium of Rand over Rhodesian dollars and the South Africans would get hard currency available outside South Africa. This was all done on the quiet because of the latent hypocrisy on all sides. This plan was referred to in South Africa as the MTBS scheme; a term coined for it by Jaapie Marais. He called it the “Munts and Terrs Benevolent Scheme”.
There are many stories of the human factor in international relations. These few offer, I hope, a guide to viewing that these negotiations are conducted by people, not ideas or theories. Unless you understand both factors negotiations will always be lacking in depth and clarity.