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Alex Callinicos

Southern Africa

Kissinger’s Carve-up

(November 1976)

From Notes of the Month, International Socialism (1st series), No.93, November/December 1976, pp.7-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Alex Callinicos writes: The major development since the black youth rebellion in South Africa began in June has been, of course, Henry Kissinger’s ‘peace’ mission. This seemed to be crowned with success when in September, Ian Smith accepted an agreement under which majority rule would be established in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) within two years.

A number of factors underlay the direct intervention by the US in Southern Africa. One was the Angolan war, which (for the first time) brought home to America’s rulers just how serious the threat is to white power in Southern Africa. Previously US policy had been that

‘... the whites are here to stay and the only way that constructive change can come about is through them’ (The Kissinger Study on Southern Africa, Nottingham 1975, p.66).

After Angola this policy was, apparently, reversed. Kissinger flew to Africa in April and made a major speech in Lusaka. He declared US opposition to apartheid and support for majority rule in Southern Africa. Another major attack on South African racism followed in September.

Kissinger’s aim, however, was to refrain the breach caused by the Angolan war between South Africa and the black Africa states. After the fall of Portuguese colonialism in 1974 the Vorster regime in South Africa had a policy of detente with black Africa aimed at the establishment of neo-colonial black governments in Namibia and Zimbabwe. The lynchpin of this policy was the alliance between Vorster and Zambia’s President Kaunda (see A. Callinicos, Southern Africa: the Great Carve-up, International Socialism 86). After the Angolan debacle, in which both South Africa and Zambia backed the losing side, this alliance collapsed. Kaunda was forced to line up with those like Samora Machel of Mozambique and Julius Nyrere of Tanzania who were calling for an end to negotiations with the Smith regime and an intensification of the armed struggle in Zimbabwe.

And indeed the fighting in Zimbabwe did resume in January 1976. Guerillas mainly from ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union), who had been gaoled by Kaunda in Zambia, were concentrated in Mozambique and formed into the reconstructed Zimbabwe People’s Army (Zipa). In March the Frelimo government closed the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique – previously about 30 per cent of Rhodesia’s trade had gone via the ports of Mozambique. Soon the white settlers found their last two links with the outside world, the road and rail connections with South Africa in the south and south-west of the country, threatened by guerilla attacks. In November and December, when the summer rains would cover Zimbabwe in thick green foliage that is perfect cover for guerillas, a massive Zipa offensive was expected.

The renewed commitment to armed struggle by the frontline presidents (the black rulers of Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana and Angola) appeared to mean the end of the road for detente. In fact, things were a bit more complex. The decision to close the Mozambique border, for example, was taken in consultation with the British and American governments (see Socialist Worker Africa Group, Crisis in Zimbabwe, London 1976). The objective of the guerilla campaign was not to smash the structure of white power in Rhodesia, but to force the Smith regime to negotiate with the nationalist leaders. The Western governments were seen by the frontline presidents as playing a crucial role in negotiating majority rule in Zimbabwe ‘We are building the pressure to deliver Smith to London’, Nyrere explained (Observer, March 7 1976).

The Western imperialist powers reciprocated. Mozambique was offered economic aid to offset the effects of closing the Rhodesian border. James Callaghan laid down the target of majority rule within two years, underlining the importance of the guerillas. He told the House of Commons on March 22:

‘We may have to appeal to a wider constutuency also including forces which some MPs may not care for. I refer to the guerilla forces’.

Kissinger’s role was to serve as an intermediary between Vorster and the black rulers in an effort to orchestrate the moves forward a neo-colonial deal in Zimbabwe. Kissinger met Vorster twice before his confrontation with Smith. In early August the Rhodesians attacked a refugee camp at Nhazonia in Mozambique hoping to escalate the war and thus force South Africa and NATO to intervene. Hilgard Muller, the South African Foreign Minister, declared his support for the Kissinger initiative and even for majority rule in Zimbabwe, obliquely criticising the Rhodesian attack. Rhodesian goods routed through the South African railway system were subjected to mysterious delays.

Therefore by the time Smith met Vorster and Kissinger in late September he was under heavy pressure to settle. He was offered a deal riddled with what Kissinger called ‘constructive ambiguities’ which left open who should control the army and the police during the transition period to majority rule and whether or not the white dominated Council of State or the black controlled Council of Ministers would be the ‘supreme body’ set up by the agreement. The Americans promised £1.5 billion in economic aid, which would obviously benefit the white settlers and the British and South African companies that dominate Zimbabwe’s economy.

The Americans promised £1.5 billion in economic aid, which would obviously benefit the white sett-ers and the British and South African companies that dominate Zimbabwe’s economy.

The agreement was immediateely rejected by the frontline presidents and by the Zimbabwean nationalists. However, there followed an period of intense jockeying for the strongest possible bargaining position among the Zimbabwean leaders. None of them refused to attend the Geneva conference convened by the British government.

The African nationalists coalesced into three main groups. The first was the wing of the African National Council (ANC) led by Joshua Nkomo, former President of ZAPU (Zimbabwe Africa People’s Union), who has spent most of his political life negotiating with one settler government after another and is everyone’s favourite for the role of black neo-colonial ruler of Zimbabwe.

The second was the other wing of ANC led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, and composed mainly of former ZANU members. Muzorewa had split with Nkomo when the latter pressed ahead with negotiations with Smith during the first phase of detente the previous year.

However, neither Muzorewa nor Nkomo controlled Zipa. Indeed, Muzorewa had protested to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) that he was prevented from visiting the guerilla camps by the Mozambique government (see statement reprinted in Ikwezi, August 1976). The commanders of Zipa are a number of former ZANU military leaders, most notably Rex Nhongo, who had broken with both Muzorewa and his ally Ndabaningi Sithole, the founder of ZANU (see Memorandum ... by ANC fighters at Mgagoo Military Camp in Tanzania, December 1975). The nationalist leader most closely identified with the guerillas is Robert Mugabe, Secretary-General of ZANU.

As the Economist put it:

‘There are no obvious ideological differences between Mr Nkomo, Mr Mugabe and Bishop Muzorewa. All of them say that Zimbabwe should be a multi-racial society and argue that no racial group should enjoy any privileges; all speak of being committed to “African socialism”; all favour a mixed economy.’ (October 9 1976)

The most significant development following the Kissinger visit was the announcement on October 9 of a ‘Patriotic Front’ formed by Nkomo and Mugabe. This agreement had many advantages for both parties: it froze out Muzorewa; it enabled Nkomo to claim to speak for the guerillas; it confirmed Mugabe’s position as a force to be reckoned with. The new alliance laid down various preconditions for negotiations – release of political prisoners, freedom of political activity within thecountry, etc. – but Nkomo hastened to explain that these were only negotiating points and that they would not stop him from attending the Geneva conference.

Whether this cynical deal had Zipa’s support was unclear. Geurilla activity continued keeping up the pressure on the regime. But even if the Zipa leaders are genuinely opposed to a neo-colonial solution in Zimbabwe they are not free agents. They are under the control of the Mozambique government, which in its turn is heavily depen dent on South African aid to keep the economy going and which would find it very difficult to stand out against the other frontline governments should they decide to support a deal.

It would be unwise to predict what is going to happen in Zimbabwe. The settlers and the nationalists may be hammered in line by Kissinger. But if the Kissinger deal falls through then the prospect is one of escalating guerilla war in Zimbabwe. Vorster is desparate to prevent this.

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Last updated: 3.2.2008