Carrington and Mugabe

Trevor Grundy writes on the legacy in Zimbabwe of the lauded British statesman

Lord (Peter) Carrington: Politician, born on June 6, 1919. Died on July 9, 2018, aged 99.

Lord (Peter) Carrington who has died aged 99, will be remembered in Central and Southern Africa as the English grandee who chaired the 1979 Lancaster House Conference that turned white-ruled Rhodesia into black-ruled Zimbabwe in April 1980.

He was a constant critic and eventually the deadly enemy of Rhodesia’s Ian Smith who attended the talks in London alongside the newly elected prime minister of the oddly named Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, Bishop Abel Muzorewa.

The diminutive Methodist cleric had been elected prime minister after the March 1979 internal election, boycotted by the men with guns – Joshua Nkomo of Zapu and its military wing Zipra, Robert Mugabe, political head of Zanu and the key man in its military wing Zanla, Josiah Tongogara.

Carrington was able to use the threat of British recognition of Muzorewa’s government as a way of bending the will of militant nationalists, especially Robert Mugabe, who after first pressure and then threats from Samora Machel of Mozambique, signed up to a British-designed constitution guaranteeing full rights for minorities and a commitment spread over ten years that looked after the interests of around 4, 500 white farmers. Land would only be bought by the state on a willing seller/willing buyer basis.

The following year Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) won a landslide victory after the country’s Commonwealth-supervised “one person/one vote” elections.

This week, most British newspapers carried lengthy obituaries on Lord Carrington, one of them reading more like a eulogy to a saint than a dispassionate summary of the life of a man who personified the power and prestige of the English class system in the age of de-colonisation.

A lord at the age of 19, Carrington was the product of Eton, Sandhurst and the Grenadier Guards. He was a man gifted with what the English novelist Evelyn Waugh called “creamy English charm”.

After Margaret Thatcher became British leader in 1979, she chose Carrington to be Foreign Secretary (from the House of Lords) and charged him with ending a problem that had be-devilled the British Government for a generation – the Rhodesian issue.

The settlement in 1979 has since been seen as Carrington’s greatest single achievement. As the long drawn-out Rhodesian saga neared its end, he said that racial as well as political reconciliation was possible. His words included these: “Wounds so deep can be healed in Rhodesia and I pray they shall be in the months ahead. Then the people of that country will have set an example and given hope to others throughout the world.”

The “example” came sooner than expected.

The Thatcher Government failed to publicly condemn Mugabe for organizing the slaughter of anything between 25,000 to 30,000 men, women and children in Matabeleland and the Midlands between 1983 and 1987 (the Gukurahundi). Like a blinkered horse, Britain trotted alongside its latest poster boy.

To downplay or ignore the Gukurahundi was part and parcel of the belief of men like Carrington, Soames and Renwick that Zimbabwe’s government must not be flayed in public by its former colonial master because this would harden white resistance to change in South Africa. And the installation of a moderate, forgiving, tolerant and wise black nationalist in power in South Africa was always Britain’s first prize.

Renwick, a close adviser and friend of Peter Carrington, is particularly important during the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and his two books Unconventional Diplomacy in Africa (1977) and The End of Apartheid – Diary of a Revolution (2015) are essential reading for journalists, historians and the general public.

The Daily Telegraph (11 July, 2018) published a picture of Carrington sitting next to Mugabe under a headline: ”Veteran Tory statesman and war hero who brokered a settlement in Rhodesia but resigned after Argentina invaded the Falklands.” A cosy scene. They look like couple of headmasters at an education conference.

Sadly, the love affair between Britain and Robert Mugabe didn’t last more than a couple of decades. “Only a very few Tories denounced Mugabe from the beginning,” wrote one of Britain’s finest journalists Fergal Keane in The Spectator (16 March, 2002). “The Tories tiptoed around the butcher while the Labour party regarded him as a fraternal ally.”

Assisting the butcher were two men now distancing themselves from slaughter in the mid- 1980s Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe leader) and Perence Shiri, known to terrified civilians as Black Jesus because he had the power of life or death over so many people.

The last British governor, Lord (Christopher) Soames was fully aware of Mugabe’s mass intimidation of voters in the rural areas during the run-up to the 1980 election. Soames and company left Zimbabwe as fast as they could, despite a call by Mugabe the last governor of Britain’s most troublesome colony to stick around because no-one in the new cabinet knew anything at all about running a country.

Soames, who died in September 1987, always had a soft spot in his heart for “Robert”.

The fact that the Governor and the “Marxist terrorist” were on first name terms so soon delighted the Foreign Office in London. After its Independence, Carrington hardly mentions Zimbabwe in his memoir.

As the Daily Telegraph reminds us Carrington went on to be secretary-general of Nato following his resignation over the Falklands, ending up being seen as “one of the last great honourable politicians”, as a BBC commentator described him last week

What the obituaries do not mention is an article Carrington wrote in April 2008 for The Times which asked if Britain had been party to putting a dictator into power.

He said that both he and Renwick knew that Mugabe and his soldiers had used mass intimidation to win the 1980 election. In that article, he revealed that Nyerere told him that if Mugabe did not win the election, Tanzania would refuse to recognise the new leader. At that time, Nyerere was arguably the most influential of all African leaders when it came to Rhodesia. He hosted almost every liberation movement recognized by the then OAU.

The he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not African soap opera went on between Britain and Zimbabwe until Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed at the turn of the century and disgruntled members of Zanu (PF) went for the architect of disaster, Mugabe.

But as the Zanu bull charged, El Roberto deftly moved his fighter's cape and directed the furious African bull towards European farmers. The real Robert Gabriel Mugabe, reconciler, prince of peace and champion of human rights in Africa came out of the closet at long last. With the deaths of thirteen white farmers, Britain was well and truly shocked and took away Mugabe’s knighthood given to him by the Queen of England in 1994.

During a radio programme (BBC Scotland, April 2008) Renwick said that he had “inner fears” about the British Government’s decision to install Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s first Prime Minister in 1980. “Yes, I did,” he told his interviewer, “because I had seen his methods for winning power in existence at villages at night. His forces would execute publicly any headman, or local person who had the courage to oppose him”.

Years after such deafening silence about the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade’s slaughters in Matabeleland, Renwick told BBC Scotland that Britain was “duty- bound” to speak out against what was happening in Zimbabwe . . . in 2008.

He said: “We owe it to the people of Zimbabwe and certainly to the Opposition who have had the most enormous courage, who have lived with most terrible threats, provocation, murders, beatings, torture to say what we believe.”

In an article headlined “Robert Mugabe has got away with murder for long enough” (Daily Telegraph, 29 January 2002) Renwick wrote:” I was recently declared an ‘enemy of the state’ in Zimbabwe, in the excellent company of Peter Carrington and Helen Suzman. And it is true that I am as much committed to the overthrow of Mugabe today as I was to that of Ian Smith 20 years ago. “

Renwick was not the only one who condemned Ian Smith for the tragedy of Rhodesia.

Most of the world joined in and for decades any journalist exposing black tyrants in other parts of the continent were branded as either Ian Smith sympathisers or apartheid supporters. Few of us had the courage of Fergal Keane. One of the last meetings (confrontations, rather) between Carrington and Smith took place in London before the Lancaster House talks collapsed.

Smith wrote in his book The Great Betrayal (1997) that Carrington gave little attention to Bishop Muzorewa’s delegation at the Lancaster House talks in London. “At one stage,” wrote Smith, ”Carrington went to Washington for more than a week. On his return, I reminded him that innocent people were being murdered in our country every day and this would continue until we finished our work. I hoped he would dedicate more time to our mission.”

Carrington wrote in his book Reflect of Things Past (1988): ”I think I kept my temper throughout some pretty provoking moments at that conference, but on this particular occasion it was touch and go. I said to Smith – ‘Perhaps you might recollect that but for you nobody in Rhodesia would be being killed.” Carrington added: ‘I think it was a fair reply.’”

And at the end of his article entitled "Did we help bring a tyrant to power" Carrington fell back on what one day might be seen as the enduring myth –“For all that has followed we did the right thing, the only thing that could be done back then.”

Trevor Grundy was correspondent for Time magazine in Salisbury, Rhodesia from 1977/1980 and later the government - accredited correspondent in Harare for Beeld and the SABC’s Radio Today from 1980 until 1995. He is co-author of the 1980 book Farmer at War, which tells the story of how white farmers lived and fought against Mugabe and Nkomo during the final days of the war in Rhodesia.