Lancaster bombing

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement between the British Government and the major political forces in Zimbabwe, an agreement which led to Zimbabwe momentarily becoming – for the first time in its history – a British colony.  Before 1979, Rhodesia had initially been governed from the first European settlement in 1890 as a concession of the British South African Company* (advised from 1898 to 1923 by a semi-elected council), and then from 1923 as a self-governing British territory with dominion-like status.  From 1898 onwards the franchise, as in other British-controlled territories in Southern Africa starting in 1836, was a conditional one – in order to vote one had to satisfy certain conditions: age, gender, literacy, education, income, and property-ownership.   These conditions were biased against non-whites, but did not exclude them completely, as I explained here.  Because the franchise was not race-based, white Rhodesians like Ian Smith could delude sympathetic foreigners, and themselves, that they were running a democratic and non-racial government.
That brief colonial interlude  from December 1979 to April 1980 saw the holding of nationwide elections which were won by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU (PF), who won 57 of a possible 80 seats in the Zimbabwe House of Assembly.    The Lancaster House constitution, which came into force at Independence on 18 April 1980, reserved 20 of the 100 House of Assembly seats for MPs elected by voters on a separate, non-black voters’ roll.  In the 1980 elections, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front (RF) party won all 20 of these seats, and 2 whites – one a member of the RF – were appointed by Robert Mugabe to his Cabinet.   The separate non-black voters’ roll was still in force at the next election, in 1985, but by then the white community was no longer as supportive of Smith’s recalcitrant belligerence towards the Government, and the white vote was split.  Candidates opposed to the RF won 5 of the 20 seats, with the anti-RF vote inversely proportional to the distance of the constituency from Mount Pleasant, the Harare suburb containing the University of Zimbabwe.   The 20 reserved seats were abolished in 1987.
Given the economic and social disaster into which Mugabe and his ZANU (PF) cronies have, with malice aforethought, led the country, it would not be surprising if anyone considered the Lancaster House Agreement a great historical error.   In my opinion, such a view would be mistaken.  By creating a mechanism to engage the Patriotic Front (the parties ZANU and ZAPU) and their military wings in the electoral process, Lancaster House did achieve the ending of the Second Chimurenga, the war of liberation, and thereby allowed the country to have Independence with majority rule.   Also, by containing provisions which entrenched non-black privileges for seven years  (eg, the separate voters roll and the reserved seats in the Assembly), Lancaster House provided some assurances to the verkrampte wing of the white community, allowing them time, for example, to leave the country without the economically-disastrous fire-exit rush of skilled whites seen when Portugal granted Angola and Mozambique independence in 1975.   The racism, duplicity and recalcitrance of many members of the Zimbabwean white population in 1980 provide no justification, of course, for the murderous evil, racism, chicanery, peculation and complete corruption-of-intentions of the Mugabe regime.  A Government that uses its armed forces to operate protection rackets in other countries so as to enrich its senior officers, as the ZANU (PF) regime has done in Zaire, has lost any moral superiority it may have had over colonialism.
* In Mauritius in 1981 I met the son of the first European baby born in Fort Salisbury, the white settlement of 1890 that became the capital of Southern Rhodesia, and later Zimbabwe.  ChiShona-speaking Zimbabweans nick-named this settlement the city that does not sleep, or Harare.

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