Working Paper 93-31, October 22, 1993(1)

By Donald Bossart

Iliff School of Theology

(1) This paper is an edited transcript of a talk given by Donald Bossart for the Intractable Conflict/Constructive Confrontation Project on April 10, 1993. Funding for this Project was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium, the University, or Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: crc@cubldr.colorado.edu.

Copyright 1993. Conflict Resolution Consortium. Do not reprint without permission.

A synopsis of a case-study of Southern Rhodesia's move to become Zimbabwe can provide a knowledge of certain conflict resolution strategies. The British began settling Southern Rhodesia in 1890. The first movement to rename this area came in 1895 when that land was taken by the British colonists and renamed Rhodesia, after Rhodes, one of the British leaders in the early settlement who had died about that time. Between 1895, when Machonoland became Rhodesia, and 1934, very little conflict surfaced even with the escalating domination and oppression of the blacks by the white empire. In 1934 the first African National Council organized and began holding strikes protesting white power. The strikes were very poorly organized and the white control so massive the strikes quickly subsided, having gained nothing.

The conflict remained repressed--and stable--until 1946. Another power imbalance occurred when a new wave of settlers came from the British empire and Europe, after World War II, thereby increasing the number of white Europeans in Rhodesia. The result, from 1946 to 1955, was intensified white oppression.

In 1955 there was a new attempt to organize the blacks under the African National Youth League. This group, with Josh Nucomo as leader, staged some bus boycotts similar to the strikes held by the ANC in 1934. In 1957 Nucomo tried to merge the National Youth League with the ANC, but as soon as an opposition party was formed, the leadership was imprisoned and the whole movement outlawed. This temporarily halted resistance efforts. No one was able to continue the move against the oppression. This pattern was repeated in 1960 with the formation of the National Democratic Party (NDP). As soon as the NDP was formed, leadership emerged and power looked like it was developing, the NDP was banned and its leader imprisoned. Without leadership, again, the movement ended. This illustrates a typical problem in ethnic conflict--when one person leads a movement without the solid support and training of others, the removal of one person can halt the movement.

Repeatedly black resistance movements were formed and subsequently banned. In 1961, after banning the NDP, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) was formed and banned as was the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) 1963. Finally, the liberation movement decided that they were not going to be able to accomplish their goals through political action, so they turned to military action instead, forming the ZNLA, the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army, which was trained in China for guerilla warfare. In addition to using guerilla tactics, which are difficult, if not impossible to "ban," the ZNLA was also able to attain more unity between black groups than had the previous resistance efforts. During the training process, tribal differences were melded together to make revolution the unifying concept. This gave the ZNLA more strength than the past political efforts, which had been hindered by tribal divisiveness. However, the ZNLA greatly underestimated the difficulty of waging a successful revolution. They believed that after their training in guerilla warfare, they could return to Rhodesia, fire a few shots, scare the whites, and the revolution would be complete. Of course, it was not.

Ian Smith was elected President of Rhodesia in 1964; at which time he declared Rhodesia's independence from the British empire making this a very critical year for Rhodesia. He quickly moved to imprison all black leaders in an effort to control the violence of the ZNLA. But pressure for change began to come from the outside, as well as from the interior of Rhodesia.

In 1971, a coalition of external forces including Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Angola formed a Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). These states felt threatened by the situation in Rhodesia and sought black unity in Rhodesia and in the region as a whole.

The formation of the Front was a very important development. A critical factor in all previous liberation movements had been the problem of competing tribal loyalties. Each group that formed had a different leader, who opposed other prior and contemporary leaders. While the ZNLA had reduced division to some extent, it continued to be problem.

The frontline states acted as mediators to help the blacks in Zimbabwe attain unity. The Lusaka Conference, held in Zambia, brought together many black leaders, particularly Nucomo, Stole, Tgroma, and Musarawa. Greater solidarity was attained at this conference, though it was not sufficient to resolve all the tribal and political conflicts among the blacks.

Beyond attaining black unity, the primary goal of the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe was to change the Rhodesia's constitution, established by Ian Smith in 1969 to control the blacks. The frontline states wanted to install a one person-one vote system, in which both blacks and whites could vote (therefore giving blacks an overwhelming majority).

In 1975, Brolimo won the revolution in Mozambique, which then became a front for the incursion of guerilla warfare into Rhodesia--at that time being called Zimbabwe by the blacks, and Rhodesia by the whites. So political efforts towards unity coincided with continued guerilla tactics against the whites. The question of whether or not the blacks should use guerilla violence proved to be especially divisive. Nucomo and Mugabe paired off against Musarawa to form the unified ZAPU/ZANU patriotic front. The unity, supported by the leaders of Zambia and Tanzania, brought together both the guerilla movement and the political movement. Musarawa was excluded from this coalition because he was against the use of violence and guerilla warfare and hence did not have the support of the military unit. The other leaders were in favor of violence however, because, they reasoned there would be no political settlement unless there was a military involvement. They felt that military action would be the pressure point that would bring about negotiations.

Threatened by the formation of the new patriotic front supported by the frontline states, Ian smith attempted to avoid military confrontation by initiating mediated talks with the more peacefully-inclined Musarawa. Richards Owens from England, and Andrew Young from the United States attempted negotiations, but did not get a settlement because of the political disunity within Zimbabwe.

In addition to the pressure coming from the frontline states, other international pressure was brought to bear as well. There was a great deal of economic pressure in the form of economic sanctions from around the world--that was the main UN approach. Though less important than the pressure coming from the frontline states, the sanctions did establish the conditions under which negotiation could occur.

Conda, the president of Zambia, was one of the major external mediators. For instance, he worked with Ian Smith to get the black leadership out of prison so they could negotiate with them. Another important mediator was Niyera of Tanzania who, along with Conda, enabled the black leadership in Zimbabwe to come together to negotiate as a unified team with the whites. Obtaining such a unified front was essential to successful negotiations as it allowed both sides equal power at the table, a critical element in all successful negotiations. Conda and Niyera had an agenda in the facilitation of the negotiations--self-interest plays a predominant role in every negotiation. They saw the need for Rhodesia to become Zimbabwe for their own futures. Not only did they identify with the black movement against colonialism, but they also realized the consequences of the economic forces involved in this situation.

The movement to develop an alliance between the soft black front of Musarawa and the harder one of Mugabe and Nucomo, attempted by Ian Smith, eventually brought about an internal kind of settlement to the issue. temporarily aborting the larger, more powerful negotiations. Smith made arrangements with Musarawa to have an integrated government. This government acknowledged Musarawa as Prime Minister but Smith remained President. But this move did not address the black call for a constitutional change implementing majority rule. International governments, somewhat shrewdly, did not recognize Musarawa's leadership, therefore created a need for continued negotiation.

The churches had a very interesting political influence during these negotiations. The Catholic Community for Justice and Peace distributed publications around the world telling about Smith's armies and their terrible attacks on innocent blacks. This singe event brought the international community strongly out against Smith.

Out of a summit called by Prime Minister Thatcher came the Lancaster House Agreement, which played the leadership of the hard front against the soft front. This created the need for Smith to find some kind of settlement because of the international forces putting pressure on him to resolve the conflict. The South African government was pushing for detente because they were so economically stressed that they could not continue to support Smith in this kind of long, extended conflict. Thus, all these pressures along with the frontline states helped to unify black pressure for majority rule. Finally, with Lord Carrington's shrewd negotiation, there was an agreement. An interim government was formed, new elections were set, and Mugabe was elected President, which united the military and political dimensions in one-to-one rule.

This case study is important because of the different perspectives involved and in perceiving how perspectives influence conflict--internationally as well as locally. In this particular case study, the perspective on one side was fraught with the paternalism of Christian colonialism. This perspective was articulated by Smith when he addressed a group in Salisbury: "I have been taken to task in certain quarters for describing our Africans as the happiest Africans in the world. But nobody has as yet been able to tell me where there are Africans who are happier or better off than Rhodesia." That perspective vitally represented the colonial attitude of Christian superiority and the benevolence of power.

The white army of Rhodesia represented another perspective. They perceived that their encounter with the guerrillas would merely be a pigeon shoot. They didn't consider the guerrillas presenting a serious military problem. Another perspective, equally as unrealistic, came from the black army. They thought that all they had to do was shoot a few guns to scare and subdue the whites.

Smith's perspective was also result of being isolated from the rest of the international community. The international community could have told him how out of sync he was, but colonialism prevented him from hearing, or understanding the message.

An additional interesting aspect of this case is the fact that mediation was done by non-neutral mediators. Usually mediation is perceived as a process in which a neutral party mediates the conflict, which in turn will bring trust to both sides. This particular case study shows that mediation can succeed, even if it is far from neutral. Ultimately, mediation was accomplished only after the black states surrounding Rhodesia helped bring national unity to the blacks. This unity enabled a white mediator to successfully negotiate between the whites and the then unified and powerful blacks. Black unity was a prerequisite for equality, which was a prerequisite for successful mediation of the political conflict.

The whites participated in the mediation mainly out of economic concern. They saw that they couldn't continue in their oppressive, hostile manner forever, and that they needed to preserve their capital concerns. So, in order to preserve economic stability, they consented to majority rule, therefore allowing blacks to rule governmentally, while keeping economic control. This agreement was accomplished, to the satisfaction of both sides, using a combination of black and white mediators working from different non-neutral positions with different non-neutral vested interests. Though this differs considerably from the standard approach to mediation, it did successfully bring about the transition from a white-ruled Rhodesia to a black-ruled Zimbabwe.