No election held in any country at any time within memory has been more widely or vociferously scorned by international opinion than the election conducted last April in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe Rhodesia. In scores of other countries, non-democratic governments periodically stage elections whose predetermined results are never challenged or questioned, even by the world’s democracies. Indeed, just two weeks before the Rhodesian election, the Iranian government held a referendum in which the people were asked to approve the establishment of an “Islamic republic.” Though a constitution had not yet been drafted, and though the vote took place during a period of growing repression of civil liberties, widespread separatist rebellions, and a reign of terror by semi-secret courts dispensing “revolutionary justice,” no government raised objections to the whole procedure or questioned the validity of its predictable outcome.
In contrast to the silent acquiescence in what passes for elections in the world’s tyrannies, the outcry against the Rhodesian election has been deafening. The United Nations Security Council immediately passed a resolution condemning it and calling upon all countries not to lift economic sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia. And the New York Times, urging no change in the Carter administration’s Rhodesian policy, announced that it would be “a moral and diplomatic disaster” for the United States to recognize the legitimacy of the election or of the government resulting from it. The Times’s wish has since been granted.
Few critics of the election have even pretended to have an open mind on the subject. United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, who had earlier described as “neofascist” both the interracial transitional government in Rhodesia and anyone who supported it, announced that the election was “rigged” and called for “new elections without pressures.” Congressman Stephen Solarz, the chairman of the House African Affairs Subcommittee, said the election no more expressed the will of the people than did elections in the Soviet Union. (He had earlier helped defeat a move to send a congressional observer team to Rhodesia to determine if, in fact, such a harsh judgment of the election were warranted.) Columnist Tom Wicker, who had predicted that the civil war would prevent the Rhodesian government from conducting any election, let alone a fair one, dismissed the absence of major disruption during the voting as immaterial, and observed that the newly elected government of Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa simply could not be accepted as “a legitimate member of the family of nations.” And a group of 99 Americans, ranging from intellectuals and others on the far Left to liberal civil-rights and labor leaders, issued a statement a month before the election calling it a “fraud” since “the people of Zimbabwe cannot vote freely with a gun at their heads.”
Contrary to these predictions and opinions, however, the people of Zimbabwe did vote in an election that was freer than most held in the developing world—freer, certainly, than elections held anywhere in Africa with the exception of Gambia, Botswana, and possibly several other small countries. Moreover, not only did they not vote with “a gun at their heads,” many voted with genuine, unmistakable enthusiasm. The contrast between how the election was viewed by most Zimbabweans (the name preferred by the blacks) and how it was described by critics outside the country is nothing less than extraordinary.
As one of the nine members of the Freedom House delegation which observed the election (others included the journalist Roscoe Drummond, former Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein, and Professor Maurice C. Woodard of Howard University), I had the opportunity to speak on the spot with hundreds of voters in different election districts, as well as with leaders of the participating parties, knowledgeable correspondents, and other international observers. I also met with opponents of the election who were part of the so-called external forces or the Patriotic Front and with professors and students at the university of Salisbury, most of whom boycotted the election. Our delegation stayed throughout the five-day election, visiting more than 100 polling stations throughout the country. Three members remained in Zimbabwe Rhodesia until all the votes were counted and any complaints of irregularities could be received.
The delegation, whose members had professionally monitored previous elections in 26 countries, was excellently qualified to make an informed and objective judgment about the fairness of the election and the attitude of the people toward it. Our conclusion, reached unanimously, was that “the election represented a significant advance toward multiracial majority rule” and was “a useful and creditable step toward the establishment of a free society in Zimbabwe Rhodesia.”
To be sure, the election was held under extraordinary circumstances. The Patriotic Front had vowed to use violence to disrupt the voting-Joshua Nkomo, the leader of one wing of the Front, had predicted a “bloodbath” at the polls, a warning repeated by many of the guerrillas—and so martial law was in force throughout most of the country. The security forces at the polls protected voters and gave them a feeling of reassurance. Their presence may also have had a coercive effect, but we saw no evidence that they compelled people either to vote or to vote for a particular candidate. (The voting was by secret ballot.) In many localities where people did not vote in large numbers, the government did not try to increase the turnout. Moreover, it was in the large urban centers, where the voters were the most sophisticated and the least subject to exhortation and coercion, that the highest levels of participation occurred.
This is not to say that the government took a passive role in the election. Everyone eighteen years of age and older was allowed to vote, and the government encouraged participation through publicity about the election and voting procedures. But these actions were not inappropriate in a situation where most people were voting for the first time in their lives; and their overall effect was to increase majority control over the results. At the same time, the government sharply curtailed the nonviolent expression of opposition to the election. Such expression was allowed in some places, such as at the university in Salisbury where we witnessed a demonstration urging a boycott of the voting. But on the whole, the opponents of the election were not allowed freely to communicate their point of view.
What effect this restriction had on the election is hard to say, since voters were subject to many conflicting pressures. White farmers and employers encouraged people to vote, as did the local militias (the security forces organized by the black political parties). But voting was also discouraged by the fear of disruption at the polls and by the Patriotic Front’s warnings that it would punish anyone who participated. While the disruptions did not occur on a large scale, some voters were killed in transit to the polls by land mines which the guerrillas had laid.
No one can say with certainty what influence these different pressures had on the voters. But clearly a very large proportion of the population felt free to participate or not to participate in the election. Taking into consideration disputes over the size of the voting populations in some districts and voting by some teenagers under the qualifying age of eighteen, the turnout was still well over 50 per cent and was most likely nearer the official figure of 64.5 per cent. The turnout was unexpectedly high, well above the minimum figure the government felt was necessary to demonstrate majority support for the election. Since opponents of the election would undoubtedly have used a low turnout as evidence of majority opposition to the election, they are hardly in a position to deny the significance of the turnout that did take place.
Moreover, the voters had, in the view of the Freedom House delegation, “a sense of meaningful choice.” The nearly 1,900,000 black votes were divided among four competing parties, with Bishop Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC) receiving an overwhelming 65 per cent majority. The post-election charge by the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole that there were “gross irregularities” during the election only underscores the fact that the competition was keen, since he was deeply disappointed by his party’s distant (14 per cent) second-place finish. (Significantly, his allegations did not focus on the mechanics of the election, which no one has challenged, but on the methods used by Muzorewa’s party to increase its vote; and the allegations have not been supported by the evidence or testimony of the overwhelming majority of international observers.)
It is true, of course, that the two external parties—Nkomo’s Zambia-based Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and Robert Mugabe’s Mozambique-based Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)—did not appear on the ballot. But the common belief that they were excluded from the election is simply inaccurate. Not only were Nkomo and Mugabe invited to participate, they were both offered seats on the transitional government’s Executive Council, along with Prime Minister Ian Smith, Bishop Muzorewa, Reverend Sithole, and Chief Jeremiah Chirau. But Nkomo and Mugabe refused to have anything to do with the election. Still, voters were allowed to cast protest votes by spoiling their ballots or leaving them blank. Some did, since the number of spoiled or blank ballots was highest in districts where the external parties have the most support. Yet the percentage of such ballots never reached 10 per cent in any single district, and nationally only 3.35 per cent of the voters chose to protest in this way.
While the election thus did not meet the rigorous standards that one would apply to elections in Western democracies, it was remarkably free and fair, especially considering that a civil war was in progress and that most of the population had never before participated in an election. But the opponents of the election—not just the Patriotic Front, the frontline states (Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Tanzania, and Angola), the Communist world, and the United Nations, but also political leaders and publicists in Western democracies, including the United States—have not shown the least interest in the question of how democratic the voting process was. As the New York Times put it, “The real issue is not how the election was conducted, but what it was about.”
In this connection, two major objections have been raised, the first having to do with the new constitution. It is charged that this constitution was never submitted to the black voters for approval; that it reserves, for a period of ten years, 28 of the 100 parliamentary seats for the 4 per cent white minority; and that it preserves white domination over the army, police, judiciary, and civil service. The second objection is that the internal settlement, under which the constitution was adopted and the election was held, did not include the Patriotic Front, and so would not end the civil war but lead to its escalation, with the likely involvement of Cuban troops. Summing up these objections, the Times has charged that the internal settlement “is little more than a device for keeping real power in the hands of Rhodesia’s small white minority” and is, therefore, “rightly suspect in black African eyes” and “a recipe for civil war.”
Here again, the views of the opponents of the election outside Zimbabwe Rhodesia and the views of the people inside the country diverge in a most extraordinary way. The Zimbabweans participated in the election with enthusiasm precisely because they felt it marked the beginning of real majority rule and would also bring an end to the war. Virtually all the people I spoke with gave these reasons to explain why they were voting.
The “internal leaders” who negotiated the settlement with Ian Smith felt that the agreement reached on March 3, 1978 established, in the words of Bishop Muzorewa, “the machinery for dismantling the structures and practices of colonialism and racism and of minority rule.” They went into the negotiations with the objectives of destroying the legal foundation for institutionalized racial discrimination and winning the transfer of power from the minority to the majority in an election based on the principle of one person/one vote. The first objective was achieved on October 10, 1978 with the abolition of all statutory discrimination, including the Land Tenure Act which reserved lands for white ownership. The second objective was achieved with the election in April.
The argument that the constitution was never submitted to the black voters for their approval is weak. Throughout the talks, black negotiators reported back to the executive bodies of their respective parties to get their approval for any agreements that were made. At one point in the negotiations, when Bishop Muzorewa walked out in a dispute over the number of white seats in the new parliament, a special meeting of the UANC’s Provincial Council was called which was attended by 800 delegates from all over the country. These delegates represented local constituents who were kept informed about the progress of the talks. In the view of the black parties, a referendum on the constitution would simply have delayed independence and exposed their party workers to increased guerrilla violence. And it would have been redundant, they felt, since participation in the election was itself a vote in favor of the constitution and the internal settlement—a point implicitly recognized by those who opposed the election because of “what it was about.”1
The black negotiators compromised on the issue of the 28 white seats; they were, after all, negotiating, and they did not feel that they had sacrificed their fundamental position. In the first place, such an arrangement was in the tradition of Britain’s African decolonization policy of “multiracialism.” (In Zambia, for example, the special allotment of parliamentary seats to the non-African minority was not discontinued until 1968, four years after independence.) Then, too, all the plans that have been introduced for a negotiated transition to majority rule have made a special provision for white representation in parliament. Even the now obsolete Anglo-American plan, which is vigorously defended by Ambassador Young, reserves 20 of the 100 seats for the white minority. During Nkomo’s bilateral talks with Smith in 1976, he proposed an election with three different voting rolls which would have assured the whites a substantial minority of legislative seats. He did so, as he said, “to meet fears expressed by the Rhodesian Front” (Smith’s party) and “in a spirit of compromise.” In the talks leading to the internal settlement, Smith demanded 34 seats for the whites. Muzorewa wanted the number limited to 20 but reluctantly compromised at 28 after his black negotiating partners, Sithole and Chirau, accepted that figure.
The blacks agreed to this arrangement for a ten-year period; they also agreed to clauses in the constitution which protect the institutional interests of the whites for an equal period, in order to reassure the white minority that its political and economic position would be stabilized under an African-dominated government. The alternative to this kind of settlement would have meant the inevitable flight of whites from the country and the collapse of the economy, as happened recently in Angola and Mozambique. Muzorewa has made the point that if independence is not to be a “hollow shell,” Zimbabwe must not repeat the mistakes of other African countries which drove out indigenous skilled whites, and then in desperation rehired at three times the cost “economic mercenaries who were inevitably failures in their own countries and who came to Africa for what they could milk out of their hosts.”
The internal settlement, then, was designed to provide a period of stable transition during which blacks could acquire the experience and skills they were denied under white rule. Muzorewa has promised training programs for Africans to achieve “both . . . the necessary efficiency and the necessary orientation to black majority rule” (emphasis added). He is not impatient, since black control over the institutions now dominated by whites is inevitable in a country 96 per cent black. Already the army is 85 per cent black and the police force is 75 per cent black, and the cabinet minister responsible for each force is also black. Moreover, all white officials are now answerable to a black head of state and to a parliament and cabinet which have over a two-thirds black majority.
While Muzorewa and the other internal black leaders have expressed a practical interest in retaining the skills and energies of the whites for Zimbabwe, expediency has not been their only consideration. Whites who have been four generations in Zimbabwe, Muzorewa has said, and who have no other home, must not be “driven out to nowhere.” In an open letter to American blacks, Muzorewa has emphasized that Zimbabweans had never “fought the white man’s skin. We fought his evil system. We fought his racism.” Some people, he said, feel that we should “be ruthless with the white race. But I wish to warn against the reversal of discrimination . . . it makes us hypocrites to turn into black racists ourselves. It makes us oppressors and not liberators.”
Ordinarily one might expect such sentiments to be applauded by Western liberals. But in fact, as Bishop Muzorewa said recently, while Zimbabweans “are prepared to forget the past and work together with our white brethren . . . some people in Britain, America, Africa, and other parts of the world appear unwilling to allow us to do so.” Little attempt has been made even to understand the practical and moral aspects of the Bishop’s position, which is viewed as a rationalization for continued white control of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. As a result, we have the paradoxical situation that a settlement which has been accepted by most people inside Zimbabwe Rhodesia as the best and only realistic course for their country to take is opposed by foreign advocates of “majority rule”!
The negotiations leading to the internal settlement succeeded, where all previous attempts to negotiate a solution to the Rhodesian crisis failed, because three conditions prevailed. First, by the fall of 1976, the Smith regime had been forced by events to concede the principle of black majority rule. No single event broke the back of white resistance. Rather, it was a series of developments: the energy crisis and the Western economic recession which magnified the impact of sanctions on the Rhodesian economy; the collapse of Portuguese colonialism and the emergence of pro-Communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique; a sharp change in policy toward Rhodesia by both the United States and South Africa; and not least, the steady escalation of the guerrilla insurgency and the increased rate of white flight from the country. All these together compelled Smith to abandon his position of intransigence.
The second factor was the involvement in the talks of black leaders with a broad following in the country, in particular Bishop Muzorewa. The earliest talks (aboard the HMS Tiger in 1966 and the HMS Fearless in 1968, and the negotiations in 1971 between Smith and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, then British Foreign Minister) had been between Britain and Rhodesia and had bypassed the black majority entirely. Subsequent talks between Smith and Nkomo in 1975 and 1976 similarly lacked the involvement of broadly representative nationalist leaders. Nkomo certainly had long experience in the nationalist movement. But he had only limited support in the country, partly because of his narrow tribal base among the Ndebeles who make up only about 15 per cent of the black population. In addition, the talks were viewed by other nationalists as an attempt by Zambia’s President Kaunda to impose his own candidate, Nkomo, as the leader of the internally divided nationalist movement. In fact, resentment against Zambian interference in Zimbabwean affairs has been one of the elements in the Rhodesian talks least understood by outsiders.
Muzorewa, unlike Nkomo, had for some time been thought to have the broadest popular support among Zimbabweans. Elected Rhodesia’s first black bishop in 1968, he quickly earned the reputation of being a resolute defender of black interests and was barred by the government from visiting tribal trust lands. When the British appointed the Pearce Commission in 1971 to test the acceptability to blacks of the Smith-Home constitutional proposals, he was the only figure the different nationalist factions could agree upon to head the new African National Council (ANC), which was organized to mobilize the campaign for rejection. The campaign was successful, and during the course of it Muzorewa emerged as the preeminent black leader in the country.
Combining strong criticism of the Smith regime with appeals for racial reconciliation, Muzorewa has frequently drawn huge crowds at rallies, at times as many as 200,000 people, and his popularity was confirmed by his overwhelming victory in the election. He also has support among the guerrillas, most of whom left Rhodesia in the period following 1972 when his popularity was at its height. This helps explain why he is seen as the only nationalist leader capable of unifying the country.
After the collapse of the all-party Geneva talks in January 1977, Smith announced that he would seek talks with “moderate blacks,” chiefly Muzorewa’s ANC. Muzorewa refused to take part in any talks unless Smith was prepared to surrender power “immediately and unconditionally” to the black majority. But the decision of the five frontline presidents to give exclusive backing to the Patriotic Front produced great resentment in Muzorewa’s party, which accused them of “launching a civil war” that would cause the slaughter of Zimbabweans. When the Organization of African Unity, at its Libreville meeting in July 1977, also decided to back the Patriotic Front, an internal settlement became the only course open to those who still wanted a negotiated solution. Sithole, a dedicated nationalist who had spent ten years in prison for his political activities and was, in fact, the founder of ZANU, had already agreed to negotiate with Smith. So when Smith, on November 24, 1977, conceded the principle of one-person/ one-vote elections as the starting point for negotiations, Muzorewa announced that he was ready “to test him out.”
Muzorewa’s desire for free, universal-suffrage elections was naturally strengthened by his confidence that he would win them convincingly. Similarly, not least among the reasons Nkomo and Mugabe have opposed such elections as the basis for a transfer of power from the white minority is their fear that they could not win on those terms. Both, in fact, have said that they would only consider holding elections after power had been transferred to the Patriotic Front. This, if anything, is a sure “recipe for civil war,” since an election policed by the two guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front would quickly degenerate into a war between them, a prospect that even Zambia’s Kaunda is thought to fear.
Moreover, it is hardly likely that either Nkomo or Mugabe would govern democratically. Nkomo, given his narrow base, could only rule through force. And his close ties to Russia and Cuba, which have equipped and trained his army, make it inevitable that both countries would have a decisive influence in any government he headed. Mugabe, even more than Nkomo, favors totalitarianism out of ideological conviction. He has made no secret of his belief that “the multiparty system is a luxury,” and he has announced that if the blacks of Zimbabwe do not like his ideology, “then we will have to reeducate them.”
The absence, then, of Nkomo and Mugabe from the talks with Smith was the third factor which made it possible for the negotiations to succeed. There simply was no basis for a political compromise which included the Patriotic Front, a reality which the frontline states and the OAU recognized (and helped bring about) when they endorsed the Front and announced that an independent Zimbabwe could only be created through armed struggle.
For this reason, the insistence by both the British and American governments that any political solution which did not include the Patriotic Front was unacceptable can most generously be described as naive. If Nkomo and Mugabe had any interest at all in a political settlement, they would not have rejected out of hand the Anglo-American plan which called, among other things, for Smith’s resignation in favor of a British resident commissioner who would head a transitional government; for a UN peace-keeping force which would supervise elections; and for the replacement of the Rhodesian army by a new Zimbabwe army which would, according to the then British Foreign Secretary David Owen, “be based on the liberation forces.” Smith called the plan “a very cunning scheme” to hand power over to the Patriotic Front. But Nkomo and Mugabe did not think so, partly because they did not believe, as Andrew Young said they did, that they would win free elections. (Only Muzorewa and Sithole welcomed the plan, though they expressed concern that African elements in the UN peace-keeping force might aid the Patriotic Front, even to the extent of assisting in a coup.)
Similarly, Nkomo and Mugabe both reacted with manifest contempt to the subsequent British-American call for an all-party conference. Nkomo said he would have nothing to do with “all-party nonsense” and declared on September 11, 1978 that “We mean to get that country by force and we shall get it.” Mugabe said he would attend such a conference, but only on the condition that “the entirety of the Salisbury regime must go and the enemy forces must be completely dismantled.” Then, shortly after the announcement in Washington by the four members of the Rhodesian Executive Council that they would attend an all-party conference without preconditions, Mugabe’s organization (ZANU) made public a death list which included 50 Zimbabweans associated with the internal settlement, including the three black members of the Executive Council. The document described these people as “Zimbabwean black bourgeoisie, traitors, fellow-travelers, and puppets of the Ian Smith regime, opportunistic running-dogs and other capitalist vultures.”
Nkomo and Mugabe have adopted an equally uncompromising attitude toward each other, thus making a political compromise within the Patriotic Front no more likely than one between it and the parties to the internal settlement. The presidents of the frontline states have made repeated attempts to impose “unity” on ZANU (Mugabe) and ZAPU (Nkomo), but with little success. The formation in 1975 of a united army, the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA), resulted in violent clashes between the ZANU and ZAPU forces and eventually in their complete separation. The Patriotic Front, established the following year, is a paper political alliance that has done nothing to increase military cooperation between the two guerrilla forces. On the contrary, Mugabe and his aides have long resented Nkomo’s failure to commit his heavily armed forces to the war effort, alleging that he is conserving his army’s strength for what he expects will be the final showdown with ZANU. In a statement directed at Nkomo, Mugabe recently warned that “Those who have not fought cannot reap the rewards of a victory to which they have contributed nothing.”
The current division within the guerrilla ranks—which persists despite a new effort to coordinate their military effort—must be seen against a background of fifteen years of splits, splits within splits, tribal/regional conflicts, fierce internal violence, and meddling by neighboring African states.2 Indeed, in a curious, sordid, and illuminating way, the creation of the Patriotic Front can be traced to the most notorious act of internal violence, the murder of ZANU chairman Herbert Chitepo in Zambia on March 18, 1975. The killing, which was preceded by a mini-civil war within ZANU’s ranks and by mass executions of a rebel group, prompted President Kaunda of Zambia to establish an international commission of inquiry consisting of representatives of 13 African states. After nine months of investigation, the commission found members of ZANU’s high command guilty of the murder.3 Mugabe, furious at the verdict and at the jailing of his ZANU comrades, denounced Kaunda and withdrew from Zambia to Mozambique where he consolidated ZANU’s guerrilla forces. Shortly thereafter, Kaunda, hoping to resurrect Nkomo (whose reputation had been badly damaged by the failure of his talks with Smith), offered to release Chitepo’s murderers if Mugabe would agree to a joint ZANU-ZAPU delegation at the Geneva talks. The deal was consummated and the Zambian high court acquitted the assassins who promptly joined Mugabe in Geneva, and the Patriotic Front came into being.
This incident may help explain why many Zimbabweans resent Zambian interference in their affairs, and do not regard the Patriotic Front as their chosen instrument for bringing peace and majority rule to their country. It may also explain why there is distrust of international institutions which have endorsed the Patriotic Front as the sole legitimate representative of the people of Zimbabwe; and of Western “progressives” who, as Muzorewa has said, “extol the armed struggle, especially from some safe distance from the death and the bloodshed and the tears and the misery.”
In the wake of the election, the continued support of the Patriotic Front must be viewed as morally unconscionable. At the time the internal settlement was announced, Conor Cruise O’Brien commented (New York Review of Books, March 8, 1978) that if the Patriotic Front continued to kill people after free elections were held and a black majority government sat in Salisbury, then its behavior would be “morally equivalent” to that of such anti-democratic European terrorist groups as Baader-Meinhof and the IRA. All this has now come to pass, yet the Patriotic Front retains the support of the UN and other international bodies, while the elected government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia is viewed as an “illegal” pariah state.4
It is especially interesting that the excommunication of Zimbabwe has been decreed in the name of racial self-determination, but in total disregard of the views of that country’s black majority; and that the Patriotic Front is favored in the name of majority rule, but in total disregard of that group’s anti-democratic outlook. Thus, we have the spectacle of the United Nations denying a platform to an “illegitimate” black African leader (as it did to Muzorewa), who is then greeted upon his return home by a cheering throng of over 150,000 blacks; and of the New York Times, ordinarily a proponent of political democracy, asserting that for the U.S. to “pressure” the Patriotic Front to come to terms with the newly elected black government in Zimbabwe Rhodesia “would be a betrayal of American support for majority rule.”
One can account for such anomalies only if it is understood that the issue is not whether or not there shall be rule by the black majority, but what form such rule shall take. And here the alternatives are as clear as they were at an earlier time between white minority and black majority rule. For if the presidents of Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Angola have their way, majority rule will take a form more or less similar to what exists in their own countries; which is to say that it will be a dictatorship by a small black elite over a destitute black population. It is, of course, precisely this kind of “majority rule” that Muzorewa has said would be a betrayal, for it would have “the mere trappings of independence—a brand new flag, sleek and shiny limousines, black faces in parliament, the OAU, and the United Nations-while those in power are not accountable to the governed for their actions.” In fact, it has been Muzorewa’s rejection of “worn-out ideologies,” of “political philosophies which could make people secondary to the state—which would regard people as expendable,” which constitutes his indictment of the post-colonial experience in much of Africa, and which accounts for the antagonism to him and to Zimbabwe Rhodesia among those who cling to such ideologies and who rule uneasily over the increasingly disillusioned and discontented black masses. And it is, not least, the need to conceal the betrayal of independence and the self-infliction of poverty and political oppression which explains why the struggle for “majority rule” is proclaimed with such strenuous devotion.
Into this essentially internal African debate have stepped the Soviet Union and its Cuban and East German proxies, seeking to exploit African conflicts and frustrations to advance Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions. And into it also has wandered the United States, newly sensitive, as it would like to think, to the aspirations of black Africa and determined, as Secretary of State Vance has put it, not to “mirror Soviet and Cuban activities.” The foremost U.S. objective has been to preserve American “credibility” in black Africa, the assumption being that this is the measure of our influence on the continent and is also the best and the only way (all military options having been ruled out) to deter the Russians. Anything we might do to undermine that credibility, it is thought, would only invite further Soviet intervention which we would not (and should not, given our Vietnam experience) be prepared to counter.
With respect to Zimbabwe Rhodesia, the price for maintaining American credibility among the frontline presidents and with Nigeria has been that we support—or at the very least, do nothing to oppose—the Patriotic Front. As a result, we have found ourselves, until now, tacitly aligned with groups armed by Moscow, hostile to America, antagonistic to democracy, and unpopular within Zimbabwe Rhodesia itself. And we have opposed the internal parties which look to us for support, share our professed belief in an open multiracial society, and have genuine popularity within the country. We have defended this policy in terms of our historic commitment as a nation to human rights and, more practically, in terms of protecting our country’s vital interest in Africa and of preventing the escalation of civil war. Yet it has been hard for most Americans, or for the United States Congress, to understand how any of these objectives is served by promoting the Patriotic Front.
The fact is that this has not been the only practical course open to us. The psychology of appeasement is now so deeply rooted among most American officials and political commentators that they have, almost as a matter of course, underestimated our own strengths and the strengths of our friends, as well as the weaknesses of the Soviet position. U.S. officials tremble at the thought of a Nigerian oil embargo, forgetting the fact that Nigeria needs American capital and technology at least as much as America needs Nigerian oil. Most importantly, within Zimbabwe Rhodesia itself, there is now less sympathy for the guerrillas than ever before. The people are simply tired of violence, especially violence which has no purpose, since there is now a black majority government. If this government takes steps, as it has promised, to improve the social and economic position of the black population, the rate at which guerrillas will defect to become part of the new order could increase dramatically. It is also possible that the Patriotic Front leaders will now negotiate with the Bishop if, as the London Economist has observed, they “are not to risk becoming the 30-year Arafats of southern Africa.” Moreover, Zambia and Mozambique, which have suffered badly from the fighting and are heavily dependent on the much stronger economies of Zimbabwe Rhodesia and South Africa, are already under pressure internally to end their support of the Patriotic Front and to accommodate to the new reality. Zambia is particularly vulnerable, since more than half its trade and most of its food imports are now carried by rail through Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
Whether Moscow would be prepared, under these circumstances, to escalate the war is doubtful. At present, the army of Zimbabwe Rhodesia is, in African terms, a strong fighting force and more than a match for the divided Patriotic Front. To defeat it would require a major commitment by Soviet proxy forces at a time when the Cubans are overextended in Angola (where they now maintain a force of 45,000 military and civilian personnel). An intervention of this kind would be deeply resented in most of Africa, and it would strengthen opposition to détente in this country and weaken whatever chance there is for Senate ratification of SALT.
The Russians will, more likely than not, remain cautious and wait for an opportune moment to strike. The point is that it should not be our policy to create opportunities for them and to encourage the guerrillas to continue fighting, which is what the President’s repudiation of the Muzorewa government in his June 7 statement has already done. Beyond the narrow issue of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia, there is the larger question of whether we will do anything to help the new black government to survive and continue to evolve in a democratic direction; or whether, by our inaction and failure of nerve, we will embolden its enemies and thus destroy any hope for democracy in the country. If we take the latter course, we will have done nothing to increase the credibility of the United States either in Africa or elsewhere. On the contrary, we will have raised a signal to all the world that this country no longer has the capacity to defend or even understand its interests, or to help those who, unlike ourselves, continue to believe in freedom.
1 It is true that a referendum on the internal settlement was held for whites. This was done to fulfill Smith's 1977 electoral pledge that whites would be consulted on any agreement negotiated with internal black leaders—a pledge made to shore up the confidence of the whites, whom Smith had promised only a few years before that there would not be black majority rule “for a thousand years.” In this connection, Andrew Young's repeated claim that 40 per cent of the whites preferred the Anglo-American plan to the internal settlement is without foundation. In the 1977 election in which Smith had sought a mandate to negotiate an internal settlement, his Rhodesian Front party won 85.4 per cent of the votes. The Rhodesian Action party, which opposed any move toward majority rule, won 9 per cent of the votes, while the National Unifying Force, which backed the Anglo-American plan, received only 4 per cent. In the subsequent referendum, held in January 1979, over 84 per cent of the whites voted in favor of the internal settlement, and once again the opposition consisted overwhelmingly of those who opposed majority rule altogether.
It is possible that Young's figure of 40 per cent was leached by adding the total number of no votes on the referendum to the number of whites who didn't vote. This may also be how President Carter arrived at the figure of only 60 per cent white support for the constitution, which was one of the reasons he gave at his June 7 press conference for not lifting sanctions. This is of course an exceedingly duplicitous use of statistics. If the same method were applied to the 1976 U.S. election, one would conclude that only 27 per cent of the American electorate supported President Carter while 73 per cent opposed him.
2 Dr. Masipula Sithole, the brother of Ndabaningi Sithole and a ZANU activist for eight years, has just published an honest and courageous book, Zimbabwe Struggles within the Struggle (Rujeko Publishers, Salisbury, 1979), which tells the history of the conflicts within the Zimbabwe nationalist movement.
3 The commission described one of the assassins, Josiah Tongogara, as a “man possessed of inordinate ambitions” who had engaged in “the systematic process of eliminating possible rivals by death. . . .” According to the commission's report, Tongogara had openly remarked that “he saw no reason why he should not be the first President in an independent Zimbabwe through the barrel of the gun.” Remarkably, when Andrew Young was asked by interviewer Jonathan Power (London Times, May 22, 1978) if he saw any parallels between the American civil-rights movement and the Patriotic Front, he replied: “Nonviolence is in many ways being practiced by the Patriotic Front. . . . I asked one of their commanders, Tongogara, what they actually do in Rhodesia, and he said they're not doing much fighting, except when they are fired upon, or when the Rhodesian defense forces find them and try to run them out. Basically, what they're doing is moving around the villages and conducting political seminars and singing songs—which is exactly what we did.”
4 The charge of illegality, which is contained in the two UN Security Council resolutions on the internal settlement and the election, is more than a little ironic, since it implicitly accepts the legality of British colonial rule in Rhodesia. “To the black majority,” Muzorewa has said, “illegality was imposed on the country at the onset of British colonialism in 1890 and not in 1965 [when the Smith government issued its Universal Declaration of Independence from Britain]. We do not accept that there is any other authority than the black majority which can bestow legality to Zimbabwe.”