221. Telegram From the Mission in Geneva to the Department of State 1

9051.Dept pass London. For Schaufele from Wisner. Subject Rhodesia Conference: Looking Ahead to the Interim Government Negotiations.

If, as British hope, the date of independence issue can be resolved or finessed, and this is not certain, the conference will then move on to discussing the structure and functions of the interim government. Some African delegates continue to believe that once the independence hurdle is overcome the remaining path toward an interim government will be relatively smooth. This is wishful thinking. Future substantive and symbolic issues will provide a continuing source of pitfalls which [Page 618] can be skirted only by skillful negotiating, firm British chairmanship, greater flexibility than the participants have evidenced to date, a more constructive front line role, and almost certainly increased American involvement.
To the present, the conference principals and their immediate advisors have focussed their attention almost exclusively on the date of independence issue. Though no formal positions have emerged on other, even more thorny topics, there has been considerable corridor talk and speculation, some of which has come to our attention. No positions have changed radically. Nevertheless, interesting nuances are appearing as simplistic rhetoric is confronted by an exceedingly complex reality.
The Africans’ original intent to engage in serious negotiations, as expressed in the opening speeches of the four delegation leaders, remains firm, though Mugabe may be having difficulty holding this line within his own delegation. Their insistence on a true transfer of power to the African majority during the interim period and, consequently, their opposition to continued Rhodesian control of the sensitive ministries (including Defense, Law and Order, Finance and Information) also remain fixed.
The British and Rhodesians appear to be hewing closely to their original game plans. The British are still intent on reaching an agreement as close to Annex C as possible, though their original insistence on avoiding a substantive role during the interim period is wavering. The Rhodesians are sticking like adhesive tape to the five points and have not developed any well-thought-out fallback positions. They prefer to let the British force the nationalists to show their cards before revealing their own position further. There is also the lingering hope among the Rhodesians that the nationalists may fail in their attempts to forge a unified position and begin a dissolution process which might prove favorable to further independent initiatives by the Smith regime.
The obervers have not tried or been able to exercise much control over the nationalist delegations. As a group they seem to often be operating without instructions, perhaps at cross purposes, and with little coordination. Some, certainly Mogwe and Chona, stand by their original intention to guide the conference into discussions of matters of principles and institutions, but in confidence, have dejectedly admitted that it will be impossible to avoid issues of personality and more troubling specifics.
Among the issues which are bubbling to the surface and offer significant potential for further fouling the conference’s progress are the following:
Structure of the interim government—the Rhodesians’ insistence on a two tier interim government in strict accordance with point [Page 619] three continues to elicit a negative response from the African delegations. However, no consensus of an alternative structure has emerged from the African side. As Salim, the Tanzanian representative told Ivor Richard on November 11, the nationalists and observers want a one tier government. The Africans want a black majority Council of Ministers to have all real authority and they see no role for the Rhodesia Front. There are indications that while the Africans continue to oppose the Council of State concept as enunciated by Smith, with its implicit white veto, the idea of a body above the Cabinet to referee what will almost surely be fierce black-white and black-black rivalries may prove more acceptable as negotiations wear on. Chona has privately floated the idea that the Council of State could serve as an advisory body to a British Governor General. The idea has not taken hold but may be resuscitated in another form. As the British delegation’s legal advisor2 points out, there is precedent for a “privy council” in colonial governments of transition.
British responsibility—intertwined with the issue of the structure of the government is the role the British will play in the interim government. Though the nationalist delegations made clear even before the start of the conference their insistence upon Britain resuming its colonial responsibilities in Rhodesia, it is probable that they had little more in mind for the British Governor General than acting as a legitimizing and protective authority. It is possible that the nationalists might be shifting slightly on this issue as their own internal differences become manifest. Their position is still undefined but a growing desire to use the British as a guarantor against Smith’s usurpation of power mandates, at least theoretically, a more substantive role in the political and security process. Nyerere and Kaunda have been in continual contact with Callaghan over the past ten days and have urged a larger and more specific role for the British during the transitional period including, according to Nyerere’s Nov 10 Martha Honey interview, the holding of specific portfolios—Defense and External Affairs. The utility of a meaningful British presence to the nationalists for protection from one another is also obviously an important factor, more so, of course, to Sithole and Muzorewa than to Nkomo and Mugabe. These sentiments are counterbalanced by an unspecified uneasiness about possible “British recolonization” of Rhodesia. For their part, the Rhodesian delegation has made it clear that they see no substantive role for Britain during the interim government; they claim to seek a solution which permits Rhodesians—black and white—to work out their future in Rhodesia, free from foreign influence. Gaylard said the other day that Rhodesian officers would simply not take orders from a British ap[Page 620]pointee whether he is a Governor General or an armed forces commander. He argued that Rhodesian Front members will continue to exercise this power during the interim government including the retention of the sensitive security protfolios. Even making allowance for rhetoric, Gaylard’s analysis reflects the current state of Rhodesian thinking.
Military: Beyond their insistence that the crucial security portfolios be in black hands and that ZIPA take control of the security apparatus during the transitional period, there has been no further suggestions from the African side as to how this might be accomplished. The Rhodesians are not even discussing the matter. Gaylard darkly assumes “terrorists will be disarmed” as they re-enter Rhodesia. Whether the issue of how the respective armed forces will be dealt with formally surfaces at the conference or not—and in the interest of the conference’s success, it should not—the possibility of internecine fighting between the liberation armies obviously weighs heavily upon some of the nationalists and observers who are haunted by visions of another Angola. Despite his political motives, Nkomo should be taken seriously when he says he is trying to reconstitute ZIPA in order to avoid civil war. Implausible as it might appear at first glance, there is a possibility that for reasons of their own, each of the nationalist leaders might, in addition to looking toward Britain for assistance in this field, also modify their attitude toward the Rhodesian army to the point where they might welcome it playing a role in keeping the peace. One perceptive onlooker here asserts that the initial rhetorical vituperation against the Rhodesian military is softening. Even elements in Mugabe’s delegation have admitted privately to others that order must be maintained by a disciplined security force as the period of transition begins. At least one ZANU (Mugabe faction) delegation member reports he has less of a problem with white security forces than he would have with Smith’s black units. African thoughts on this topic are of course sitll highly ill-defined and speculative, but as the conference progresses, more attention will be given to how to keep the two black armies and the one white army from each others’ throats during the interim period. A precarious balancing act of the three with some judicious juggling by the British—perhaps backed by the Commonwealth—may eventually prove to be a solution. No specific African proposal on how to integrate liberation forces and divide security responsibility with the Europeans has surfaced since Nkomo mentioned the possibility of creating a third security ministry.
The franchise—despite Muzorewa’s early attempt to inject the issue of elections into the conference, no open discussion of the franchise problem has taken place here. It appears that even Muzorewa has backed off his original plan, at least for the present, and the other na[Page 621]tionalist leaders are more than content to continue ducking the issue. The Rhodesians have been warned to avoid bringing up the topic in Geneva and may indeed not do so. There seems to have developed a fairly clear consensus that the composition of the electorate is more appropriate topic for a constitutional conference organized by the interim government. This consensus could however crumble if one or more of the delegations sense a draft in the structuring of the interim government which they view as inimical to their overall strategy and interests.
Cutting the pie—there are, of course, two conferences going on in Geneva. The more visible one involves the Africans, British and Rhodesians in an attempt to bring majority rule to Rhodesia. The less visible, but perhaps equally important conference involves the black battle for leadership of an independent Zimbabwe. The conflicting ambitions of the four African leaders is reflected in every tactical decision they make. Though it would undoubtedly be to the conference’s benefit to avoid discussion in Geneva of questions of who will assume specific powers in the interim government and, particularly, who will be Prime Minister, it is clear that the African leaders are not so inclined. Each of them continues to view himself as Zimbabwe’s logical first Prime Minister and their delegations agree. Proposals such as the one which would have an apolitical black Rhodesian serve as Prime Minister during the interim government fall like lead balloons for the moment. The Rhodesians seek to avoid making a tough choice by claiming that they cannot think of anyone who might fill the bill—though they wish to split Nkomo and Mugabe; the nationalists contend that such an individual would not have sufficient authority to lead the country during the difficult transitional period. One observer, Botswanan Foreign Minister Mogwe, suggests that the British could fulfill the function by designating the Prime Minister, and by dividing the other portfolios equitably among the four groups. However, he offered no hope that the front line states, or more importantly the nationalists, would guarantee to go along with the British decision. In this issue, as in all others, the nationalists seem to be looking to the British to solve those questions they think are impossible to resolve.
Rhodesia Front role—while the Africans are jockeying amongst themselves for position, the Rhodesian delegation remains firmly committed to propounding its own central role in the interim government. As Gaylard expressed this recently, the blacks must realize that the whites, not the British, control power in Rhodesia, and that the Rhodesia Front will continue to exercise that control during the transitional period, and implicitly, in a measurable way in an independent Zimbabwe. This belief in their own centrality has no doubt been increased by their military successes in Mozambique and what is per[Page 622]ceived to be an encouraging shift in Western, and in particular South African public and governmental opinion, toward their favor since the conference’s inception. For their part, the Africans remain implacably distrustful of Smith and his cohort and can be expected to dig their heels in deeply to avoid giving the Rhodesia Front any meaningful power during and beyond the transitional period. Their position may be best reflected in Nyerere’s November 10 statement in Dar that the transitional government should be “a government of national unity, a government of consensus of Africans and whites who are acceptable to the majority of people . . . If I were a Rhodesian nationalist, I would not want a racist to be in my government. I would not mind including whites in an interim government as long as they had all along been against Smith and what Smith stands for.”
The above enumerated pitfalls are only a few of several that could debilitate the conference. Even wider and more fundamental cleavages separate the basic outlooks of the white and black delegates. One factor favorable to the conference’s ultimate success, however, is a real appreciation on the part of most of the participants, and particularly the old line nationalist political leaders, that this is their last best chance for a negotiated settlement in which their own political aspirations might be served. Nothing that has happened since the outset of the conference has changed that perception.
To date the United States’ role at the conference has been generally low key and suitable to the nature of the discussions which have taken place. However, given the fact that all of the participants, for disparate reasons, view the United States as a critical player in the negotiations, it is inevitable that pressure will build for more active participation on our part. Botswana’s Archie Mogwe noted recently, in bemused disappointment, that we have “religiously avoided involvement in the independence date dispute”. Every delegation knows, however, that we believe the principal purpose of the conference is the organization of a government of transition. Assuming the date of independence problem is solved, the conference will have overcome two major hurdles and avoided deadlock and breakdown. As a result, the timing and manner of our involvement will have to be carefully judged. The British, including Richard, continue to be extremely sensitive to any hint we are trying to second guess British management. We have an invitation to join Richard in planning a negotiating strategy to deal with the interim government and we should accept. Tactical decisions concerning our engagement in the other issues of interim government can only be made as the conference’s proceedings bring problems to the fore.
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 14, Switzerland—State Department Telegrams, To SecState—Nodis (15). Secret; Immediate;Nodis.
  2. The British delegation’s legal adviser was Henry Steel.