Created: Tuesday, 15 November 2016 14:48
Written by Patrick Newman
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 1 – November/December 1979
‘David Owen in drag' was how one Rhodesian newspaper described Margaret Thatcher after her apparently surprising change of position at the Lusaka conference in early August. In April the Tory election manifesto had promised to gain international recognition for a Muzorewa type regime, and the Conservative delegation which reported on the elections in May argued that sanctions should be lifted. The Tory government was forced to come to the conference table in September because of the decisive successes of the Patriotic Front, and because they thought this might be the only way to salvage something from Rhodesia.
The struggle in Zimbabwe is now at a decisive stage and offers the anti-imperialist forces an opportunity which will not recur for many years. The armed forces of the Patriotic Front have driven the Rhodesian army and British imperialism into a corner. For many years they have fought heroically against a vicious and racist regime. British imperialism is failing to meet its NATO commitment, unable to defeat the national liberation movement of the Irish people, and it cannot at the moment conveniently send a military force of any consequence to Zimbabwe. It can only hope to buy time by attempting to split the Patriotic Front or to coerce the Front Line states into withdrawing their support for the liberation movement. The British ruling class is aware of the gigantic issues at stake. A victory for the Zimbabwean people would mean an enormous threat to the beleaguered apartheid regime of South Africa, and a smashing blow to the arrogant confidence of the British ruling class. Such a victory would be a victory for the working class and the oppressed peoples of the world of even greater importance than the defeat of American imperialism in Vietnam.
The key factor in the present situation is that the Patriotic Front forces are winning the war against the white racist regime, and are thus well on the way to such a historic victory. They control 4/5 of the area of Zimbabwe and 1/5 of the population lives in the liberated zone. In their raids on Salisbury and Bulawayo earlier this year, they showed their ability to strike right at the heart of the racist regime. Lieutenant-General Peter Walls, the chief commander of the Rhodesian armed forces, has publicly admitted that there is no possibility of his army winning the war, and that the response to 1.5 million leaflets dropped in the liberated zone offering amnesty to 'guerillas' who surrendered was a 'mere trickle' (in fact it was about 100, compared to an estimated total of 15,000 freedom fighters). As a last measure of desperation, the call up now extends to all white men up to 60 years old. Even this is ineffective, given that so many white Rhodesians are voting with their feet, so that an increasingly large proportion of the Rhodesian army consists of foreign mercenaries — ZAPU estimates put this as high as 43%.
It is only the success of the Patriotic Front forces which has forced British imperialism and Smith to the conference tables, and made them apply the thin and patchy cosmetic of the Muzorewa regime. The 1976 Geneva conferences, the 77-78 Anglo-American plan, championed by David Owen with the full support of the Labour Party, and now the Muzorewa constitution, all foundered on the rock of the armed resistance of the Zimbabwean people.
Faced with this reality, Thatcher adopted a different line at Lusaka, agreeing to the talks which began in September. This was not because of a change of heart by the Tories. It was not because they recognised that elections held without a registered list of voters, with thousands of Patriotic Front supporters detained and the Patriotic Front itself detained, with large numbers of voters brought under armed guard to the polls, could hardly be regarded as democratic; but because they realised that in the present situation, the David-Owen-Labour Party approach is the best tactic for imperialism. That is, to play on the divisions between the Front Line states, in particular Zambia and Tanzania, and by political, economic and military blackmail to sow discord between them and the military forces of the Patriotic Front.
‘Constitutional' conferences may come and go, but the brutal repression of the Zimbabwean people continues in all its barbaric ferocity. Just one week after the installation of Muzorewa and his fellow puppets, the Rhodesian Air Forces attacked Patriotic Front bases in Mozambique, only the first of several 'hot pursuit' raids into the territory of the Front Line states. Whole populations are moved at will by the 'security' forces. As a result, in 1977, during the very period of the Labour Party's 'democratic initiative', 600,000 Zimbabwean peasants were living in `protected villages' — in fact these are concentration camps in all but name, surrounded by barbed wire, subject to the daily harassment, torture and rape by auxiliary' forces. One in twelve of the entire black population lives in these camps the equivalent total for Britain would be about 5 million people: the proportion is far higher than that of the European population imprisoned in Hitler's concentration camps. In the refugee camps in Mozambique and Zambia, 200,000 people fleeing from the Rhodesian armies cling precariously to bare existence, just surviving from day to day with the ever present threat of murderous raids by the Rhodesian army. There are as many black refugees in the camps as there are whites in Zimbabwe as a whole.
In this situation, the key questions are not so much the constitutional niceties, or the details of electoral procedure, but: who will rule Zimbabwe in the interim period up to the next elections? Whose armed forces will have effective control? Anti-imperialists in Britain must resolutely oppose any suggestion that British troops could be sent into Zimbabwe to play a 'peace-keeping role' during any forthcoming elections—even if initially it is proposed that they will only be playing an equal or even a subordinate role to the forces of the Patriotic Front. For where would these troops be drawn from? From Northern Ireland — where they were sent ten years ago under the pretext of `keeping the peace'? For the last ten years of British imperialism's rule, the Unionist statelet has been maintained by the open slaughter of Irish nationalists, by the undercover murders of unarmed Irish working class men and women, by the torture centres at Castlereagh and the prisons of Long Kesh and Armagh. Are the vicious butchers of the Irish people to be transformed over night into messengers of peace, into guardians of a truly democratic constitution—one which would sweep away minority racist rule for ever? We must oppose all British plans for Zimbabwe —constitutional or military. Recognising that victory for the Patriotic Front is a victory for the British working class and a blow against the racism of the British state, we must give complete support to the Patriotic Front. This is what the Zimbabwean people have every right to demand of British anti-imperialists!