On 4 March 1980, following Zimbabwe’s first all-party elections, Robert Mugabe won overall control of the country’s new 100-seat parliament.
On 4 March 1980, following Zimbabwe’s first all-party elections, Robert Mugabe won overall control of the country’s new 100-seat parliament. The result, a humiliating defeat for outgoing Prime Minister Bishop Abel Muzorewa, prompted sharply mixed reactions in Britain. The former Tory Foreign Office minister and MP for Brighton Pavilion, Julian Amery, lamented that ‘The government’s Rhodesian policy lies in ruins’, while Labour MP Tony Benn said, ‘I can’t think of anything that has given me so much pleasure for a long time.’ Here’s how the British press saw it.
From the Guardian, 5 March:
The Rhodesian elections have produced the best possible decision. Anything else would have been not a decision but a lack of decision, leading to long and damaging infighting or worse. There should be no mistake that both Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo know that the unity of their country is absolutely essential and will set about to achieve it. This emphatic endorsement puts them in the strongest position to do so.
Zimbabwe has voted as one nation, and the outlook for the country is better now than it has ever been.
Nicholas Davies, the Daily Mirror, 5 March:
Robert Mugabe, Marxist hero of the Rhodesian blacks, will be known officially as Comrade Prime Minister. The whites fear him for his Marxist views and his threat to destroy the society which they have built for themselves. But Robert Mugabe is unlikely to try to change everything overnight. He wants the whites to stay... in a sharing role. For he is a man dedicated to building a new life for his black nation. A life which embraces Western attitudes, too.
From the Times, 5 March:
So ends the vain dream of white supremacy and white leadership in Rhodesia. In the perspectives of African history and geography it was always an illusion.
The all-important question now is whether white co-operation, pretty well on the terms that Mr Mugabe has offered with considerable if perhaps calculated generosity, will be forthcoming. There are strong reasons for thinking that the white role in black Zimbabwe could be great and constructive. It can be, if the white population, more particularly its younger generation, can accept great and often upsetting — perhaps humiliating — changes in its lifestyle, and set itself new goals.
Mr Mugabe has started with fair and wise words. Circumstances must suggest to him that a middle way is best. All this may change for the worse, but that is for the future.
From the Observer, 9 March:
Mr Mugabe has behaved with commendable restraint and good sense in his hour of overwhelming victory.
Zimbabwe’s future remains troubled. There are bound to be serious incidents, and decisions taken to redress past mistakes will be unpopular with white Rhodesians and even with the City of London. It is asking much of white Rhodesians, in their moment of defeat, to take on trust a man they have been brainwashed into believing is a ‘communist terrorist’. Equally, it is asking a great deal of victorious guerrilla leaders that they should behave sensibly after years of suffering and humiliation.
From the Daily Telegraph, 5 March:
The great gamble in Zimbabwe Rhodesia is over. The result is presumably not what those who staked so much can have hoped. They may nonetheless still hope that the consequences will not be as dire as expected. Mr Mugabe is in fact an unknown quantity. How he will turn out is unpredictable, as it always seems to be with Africans who get power. We welcomed Amin — remember? — and quaked with terror at Kenyatta. Wrong before, we may be wrong again: time will tell. If Mr Mugabe disappoints his ideological friends and delights his opponents, he will not be the first African to do so. We must hope he will do both. Only evil people rejoice at predicted disasters, exultantly crowing ‘we told you so’.
Meanwhile Zimbabwe Rhodesia is launched on a journey into the dark and inscrutable unknown, taking with her our prayers and deep anxieties and — dare we say? — some measure of fingers-crossed contrition for what we may have brought about.
From The Spectator’s leading article, 8 March:
The man Britain least wanted is the victor; we have settled upon him the future of Rhodesia in order to get ourselves off the hook. Now at last we can wash our hands of Rhodesia. They are pretty dirty hands. We wish Zimbabwe-Rhodesians good fortune and Mr Mugabe good judgment: they will need them if their country is to prosper.