"It’s the best club in the world—the French would love to have something like this,” said a Canadian diplomat last week as 39 delegates, representing that quarter of the world’s population who were once part of the mighty British Empire, sat down in the middle of Africa to discuss their modern-day problems. And as the prime ministers, presidents and other highranking spokesmen retired to the playing fields of Lusaka during the weekend—much business traditionally is done during these private junkets— hopes had been raised that this 22nd Commonwealth conference might make some kind of beginning toward settling the bloody, seven-year-old civil war in Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
Not everyone was optimistic—one close follower of the war said simply: “They’re looking for a moderate solution and there isn’t one.” But for the first time leaders of the “frontline” African states—such as Tanzania, Zam-
bia (the conference host) and Botswana—all of which border on the conflict and have helped sustain the guerrilla armies battling Rhodesia’s illegal regime-sounded willing to negotiate something short of the complete capitulation of Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s white-backed government.
Several hurdles stand in the way of a formula to end a war that has slaughtered an estimated 15,000 people and left millions of helpless peasants suspended in terror between the two sides. Not the least of them is the continued intransigence of the antagonists. On the eve of the conference, spokesmen for both wings of the insurgent Patriotic Front ridiculed delegates’ proposals for a compromise solution. Ian Smith, prime minister of white-ruled Rhodesia until he turned over leadership to Muzorewa’s predominantly black government in last April’s elections, said his white community would not stand for amendments to the constitution he had devised to protect its power for at least another decade.
Yet a third irritant, in a situation where only soothing counted, was the attitude of Nigeria. Black Africa’s richest and most powerful country chose to express its belligerent hostility toward British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s yearning to legalize Zimbabwe Rhodesia, not only with abrasive exchanges on the conference floor but by nationalizing British Petroleum’s sizable Nigerian holdings.
Nevertheless it was Thatcher and frontline leaders Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia that everyone was watching as the Mercedes limousines pulled up to the Mulungushi conference centre. Could they find enough common ground among themselves to pressure the warring factions to a compromise?
Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark— attempting despite his new-boy status to fill Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s role as mediator to the belligerent old boys— quickly stole the “honest broker” spotlight from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser by telling newsmen his communications with the principal actors pointed to “significant progress” toward agreement. It sounded optimistic at the time but it helped cool the atmosphere, and when Nyerere and Thatcher led off the discussions both had obviously moved toward accommodation.
Thatcher, obviously miffed by the truculent Nigerians, made no effort to disguise Britain’s intentions of going ahead with an attempt to impose a solution of its own liking on the country that is still legally its colonial responsi-
bility. But she did concede that the constitution which had brought Muzorewa to power was defective in that it permitted the white minority to block any constitutional change it disliked, and that the whites had retained control over appointments of civil service, military, judiciary and police personnel that ought to be in the black government’s hands. For his part, Nyerere agreed with Thatcher that it would be a good idea to make provisions to reserve a number of parliamentary seats for the 225,000 white Rhodesians—less than four per cent of the population.
While members of the Patriotic Front have been saying they would have nothing to do with amending the present Zimbabwe Rhodesia constitution— that they insist on a fresh start that ignores the Muzorewa government— Nyerere spoke only of changing the constitution so it reflects true majority rule and legitimizing it with new elections, internationally supervised under an agreed ceasefire.
What neither Thatcher nor Nyerere had the temerity to offer, however, was a suggestion as to who would take over military control of Zimbabwe Rhodesia even if other issues were settled. And that, said honest broker Clark, “is the key question.”
Edgar Tekere, secretary-general of
the Zimbabwe African National Union—the Mozambique-based guerrilla group involved in the war—is on record as saying that any settlement would have to be based on “the settler army being completely dismantled and replaced by a new national army comprising the patriotic forces now fighting for the liberation of Zimbabwe.” Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union—the Zambia-based guerrilla force with 15,000 troops on Zambian soil—told reporters “before we can have elections we have got to
defeat the people who don’t want elections.”
This then was the situation as Maureen McTeer took on Australian Prime Minister Fraser’s wife at tennis—there were plans for a horseback outing with Joe later—and various leaders made their choice of golf, swimming, volleyball, the movies or quiet chats in their chilly suites (Clark called for a heater for his). External Affairs Minister Flora MacDonald, who earlier wowed the locals with a whirling display of rock ’n’ roll dancing at the Ridgeway Hotel, gave it as her opinion that the British, while feeling some loyalty to Muzorewa, had no intention of letting him get in the way of a settlement. She also said that both Nyerere and Kaunda were privately concerned about their ability to bring the Patriotic Front guerrillas into line with the conference, though they thought they could do so.
What the frontline leaders may be depending on is the chronic split between Nkomo and ZANU leader Robert Mugabe. The two have committed themselves to amalgamating their armies but there have been no signs of success. Furthermore ZANU sources reported last week that Nkomo had been offered a deal whereby he would be the president of a new Zimbabwe and Mugabe would retain command of the new country’s army if the guerrillas were able to achieve a military victory. Nkomo, they say, turned the offer down.
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