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Rhodesia (Elections)

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Rhodesia.

The results of the Common Roll elections held last week were announced this morning. They give Mr. Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party 57 seats, Mr. Nkomo's Patriotic Front party 20 seats and Bishop Muzorewa's UANC party three seats.

In his report to the Governor the Election Commissioner concluded that despite some distortion of voting as a result of intimidation in certain areas the overall result would broadly reflect the wishes of the people.

It has been the virtually unanimous view of the British, Commonwealth and other international observers who witnessed the elections that they were, in the circumstances, free and fair. The exceptionally high turnout provides an indication of the confidence of the Rhodesian people in the conduct of the elections and the secrecy of the vote.

The Government are grateful for the efforts of all those concerned with the organisation of the elections for their unstinting work.

The need now is for national unity and reconciliation. The Governor has seen Mr. Mugabe, as leader of the party with an absolute majority of the seats in the House of Assembly, and asked him to set in train the process of forming a Government that can contribute effectively to these goals.

An important step toward reconciliation and the integration of forces has already been taken with the start of joint training between units of Mr. Mugabe's and Mr. Nkomo's forces and of the Rhodesian Army, under the supervision of British members of the monitoring force.

The growing confidence and contact between the two forces means that the role of the monitoring force is increasingly one of liaison and training, and there will be a phased reduction in its size. The first members will return to the United Kingdom today.

The Government would wish to record once again their thanks to all members of the force for the admirable way in which they carried out their difficult task, above all in winning the confidence of all sides.

The people of Rhodesia have now made their choice of Government under conditions agreed by all the parties at Lancaster House, who committed themselves to accept the outcome of the election. It is no less important that the other aspects of the Lancaster House agreements reached should be faithfully observed.

The independence constitution, which will shortly come into force, provides safeguards for the minority community and will ensure that it can continue to play its full part in the life of the country.

Britain's task now is to assist in the orderly transfer of power to a stable Government. The Governor will do all that he can to ease the transition and to help overcome whatever problems may arise in the period until independence.

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), who is in Rhodesia, I warmly welcome the statement by the Lord Privy Seal and fully endorse his view and the view of all independent observers, including hon. Members of this House, that the election was conducted freely and fairly. We congratulate Mr. Mugabe on his victory, the statesmanship that he has shown, and the will with which he has made clear that he wishes to see a united Zimbabwe and is taking steps to ensure the confidence of people of all races and colours in that country.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that I pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Secretary, first in Lusaka and again at Lancaster House, for having made this ceasefire and election possible? We also pay tribute to the invaluable role of the Commonwealth, the soldiers of the Commonwealth monitoring force, who played a crucial role in maintaining the ceasefire, the work of Commonwealth Heads of Government, especially those in Africa, and the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how long he expects the period to be until independence? I assure him that we accept that the Governor should stay for as long as can be agreed with the new Government and hope that the decision of Zimbabwe to become a member of the Commonwealth will be recognised by the early appointment of a high commissioner of high standing.

May we have an assurance that everything possible will be done to help with the rehabilitation of refugees, both inside and outside Zimbabwe, and that all technical, administrative and financial assistance will be generously given to the new Government?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the British members of the Commonwealth monitoring force will remain in position for as long as they are needed to carry out the crucial role of integrating the forces?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's confirmation of the freeness and fairness of the election, and for the tribute that he paid to my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.

I cannot give an exact answer to the right hon. Member's question about how long the period will be before independence. That will depend on matters beyond our control, such as the actions of Mr. Mugabe in the formation of his Government. The right hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that Mr. Mugabe has asked that the Governor should stay as long as he thinks fit. There will certainly be no rush for him to leave.

As we made clear in the Lancaster House agreements and since, we shall discuss with the new independence Government what assistance will be necessary. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, a large number of refugees have already returned and we shall assist in their rehabilitation.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that we on the Liberal Benches consider that the carrying out of these elections without upset was a major success, for which all concerned deserve full credit and congratulations, including the people of Zimbabwe? It was a major success, and no one should detract from that in any way.

Does the Lord Privy Seal accept that the emergence of one party with a clear majority may, at the end of the day, be the best outcome, especially in view of the doubts being cast by the Government last week about who would be selected to form a Government?

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is in the best interests of this country that good relations should be established between our Government and the new Government of Zimbabwe, especially in view of the political differences that exist between them, and that the Governor should stay in Zimbabwe at Mr. Mugabe's request for as long as is reasonable?

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The holding of free and fair elections in these unprecedented and difficult circumstances, almost at the end of a civil war, was an extraordinary achievement, which reflects enormous credit on the Governor, the monitoring force, the Commonwealth force, the policemen who went out there and everyone concerned with the election arrangements.

It is certainly not for me—it may be right for the House—to express an opinion on the question whether an overall majority for one party was the right result. That was entirely a matter for the people of Zimbabwe, and they have so chosen. Naturally, we want good relations with the new Government. That was implicit throughout the negotiations at Lancaster House and is implicit in the agreements. As I said, the Governor will stay in Zimbabwe until independence. However, immediately independence is declared the Governor must, of necessity, leave.

Will my right hon. Friend recognise that Mr. Mugabe's victory represents a major defeat for the West? Does he agree that it brings Soviet influence to within a few hundred miles of the mineral resources of South Africa, on which Western and Japanese industry depends? To that extent this victory is comparable, in terms of the danger that it poses, to the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan.

Does my right hon. Friend further recognise that Mr. Mugabe's victory owes much to the systematic destruction of Bishop Muzorewa's authority by the Government, and is it not time now to embark on a total revision of British policy towards Central and Southern Africa?

I am afraid that I must disagree with every part of my right hon. Friend's question. To say that free and fair elections are a major defeat for the West is surely not a very Western attitude. It was Mr. Molotov who said that the trouble with free elections was that one could never be sure of the result. I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not really agree with that attitude.

On the question of Soviet influence, again I must disagree. I have no evidence at all that Mr. Mugabe is under Soviet influence—quite the contrary in fact. Nor do I see any parallel whatever with Afghanistan. For my right hon. Friend to say that we have gone in for the systematic destruction of Bishop Muzorewa is totally unjustified. Nobody would wish to diminish the part that Bishop Muzorewa and his colleagues have played in bringing about majority rule and ending the war in Zimbabwe.

It has always been common ground in this House that the people of Zimbabwe should have the determining say about who should govern them on independence. Hon. Members will recall the leading role that Bishop Muzorewa played at the time of the Pearce Commission and subsequently in the pursuit of genuine majority rule. At long last this has come about, and the whole House will pay tribute to the Bishop's contribution. In view of the very low vote that the UANC received, however, to claim that this was caused by any action of the British Government is a travesty of what took place.

Will the right hon. Gentleman extend the congratulations of the Government and this House to Mr. Mugabe on his election victory? In a spirit of reconciliation, will the Government now make two clear commitments—first, to the new Government of Zimbabwe, in that if they require financial help for reconstruction to repair the ravages of war, the British Government will provide it; and, secondly, to Zimbabwe's territorial integrity by telling the South African Government that they will not be allowed to interfere in the future of Zimbabwe?

Normally it is customary to send formal congratulations at the time of independence. Of course we congratulate Mr. Mugabe on his victory.

[Interruption]. It is all very well for Labour Members to make animal noises, but we negotiated with Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Nkomo and Bishop Muzorewa.

We are prepared to provide various forms of assistance after independence. That remains the position, and of course we shall do what we can to help the new Government.

On the question of South Africa, I honestly do not think that the hon. Member is being very helpful. The South African Prime Minister put out a statement that was perfectly correct in every way, and it is not for the hon. Member to make such remarks.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us at least on the Government Benches would like to congratulate Mr. Mugabe, both on his election victory and on the statesmanlike nature of his victory speech? We welcome the moderate nature of the policies that he has put forward and his decision to join the Commonwealth. May I add my name to the list of those who have already congratulated the Governor, the Foreign Secretary and the whole Foreign Office team on this magnificent achievement?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. Mr. Mugabe has made some very encouraging statements today about the need for a broad national Government and the need to inspire national confidence.

May I fulfil my promise and congratulate the Lord Privy Seal on bringing about this result? If that makes him feel bad, he should spare a thought for Tiny Rowland's feelings today. Why is it that whenever we get to this stage of post-Imperial hand-over we, and the Foreign Office in particular, fail to make a correct assessment about the indigenous people of the country that we have ruled for so long? Is it not time that the Foreign Office changed its way of assessing public opinion in the Third world so that it goes to the people concerned and not to the white Establishment?

The difference between the hon. Gentleman and myself is that I would have welcomed the results of free and fair elections whatever they were, and I do not think that he would have done so. As for his remarks about the Foreign Office not being aware of the views of people whom we have ruled for so long, I must point out that we have not ruled Rhodesia since 1921, so it is not surprising that the Foreign Office should not be so well aware.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that real elections in Africa, with universal suffrage, are an illusion? Will he say whether his Department is still living in a dreamland of Kenyattas after it has just forged another Nyerere, or worse?

My hon. and learned Friend refuses to recognise the facts. There is overwhelming evidence that these elections were free and fair. My hon. and learned Friend was not there. The elections may be an illusion to him, but they were a reality to everyone else. Certainly I agree that free elections in Africa are rare, and therefore I think that some of the Commonwealth Governments who criticised us in the run-up to the elections should do some re-thinking.

The Lord Privy Seal has had his share of accolades today, but will he not accept that there are others who should share the praises? Those are the people who made the elections possible—the British Election Commission, which did an absolutely excellent job in the administration of the election; those Government officers of all the cities and towns, who were in a very tricky situation and came out of it well; and whoever thought of that stroke of genius of sending out our policemen. No one trusted anyone, but as soon as the policemen went out there they clearly inspired confidence in the secrecy of the vote, which was particularly important.

No praise is too high for the Commonwealth monitoring force. It had a difficult job to do in unpredictable circumstances. It had to monitor and assemble over 22,000 guerrillas in camps. It did so without a shot being fired. It was ably led by Major General Acland and his staff. Our praise should go out to them all.

The House will be aware that the right hon. Gentleman has just come back from Rhodesia. He therefore speaks with great authority. I am most grateful to him for his remarks. I agree that no praise is too high for all those involved in keeping the ceasefire and in organising the elections. I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

With the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), I was a member of the parliamentary delegation that observed the elections. I associate myself with all that he said by way of tribute to the Election Commissioner, local government officers, monitoring forces and others who have done so much to inspire confidence in Zimbabwe and Britain about the manner in which the elections were conducted.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that before the results were declared all members of the delegation were satisfied that they would represent a fair expression of the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe, despite a degree of intimidation that was not wholly one-sided? I associate myself also with the tributes that have been paid to the Governor. He has done a magnificent job in difficult and unpredictable circumstances. However, will my right hon. Friend tell us a little more precisely when independence day will be? Does he agree that the sooner the Governor is replaced by a high commissioner the better?

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. He has spoken with authority about the conduct of the elections and their freeness and fairness. It cannot be repeated too often that enormous credit is reflected on all those who took part. I am sorry that I cannot give a specific answer to the second part of my right hon. and learned Friend's question. It is too early to give an exact date for independence. My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Soames invited Mr. Mugabe to form a Government only this morning. As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, the formation of the Senate and the election of a president will follow. I cannot, therefore, give an exact date for independence. I shall not go all the way with my right hon. and learned Friend in saying "the sooner the better". This issue should not be rushed, although clearly there should be no undue delay.

I wish to underline the remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). It is important to place on record that all members of the parliamentary group of observers stated that the elections were free and fair before the result was known and before the first vote had been cast. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) stated that he was interested in free and fair elections. Will the Lord Privy Seal consider withdrawing his slight upon my hon. Friend concerning his attitude? Will he also answer the question put to him previously? There has been tremendous devastation in Zimbabwe. Many refugees have not yet returned. Those who were previously fighting in the bush but who are now in camps need retraining. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore be more forthcoming about the amount of aid to be given? A proper rehabilitation programme is needed.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her remarks concerning the conduct of the elections. However, as to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and myself, there is not much chance of either of us withdrawing anything that we say to each other. I have nothing more to add on the question of aid. Nothing more can be said until the new independence Government have been formed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be wrong to prejudge any actions of the new Government in Zimbabwe? Many people were wrong to prejudge the actions of my right hon. Friend's Government when they came into power. I say that in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe - Rhodesia. Will it be possible to build on the success of those free and fair elections and to achieve the same type of elections in other countries in Africa? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we might start with Angola, where a similar guerrilla war continues? Hopefully, free and fair elections could be extended to many other countries that have not seen such elections for a long time.

It is premature to judge the new Government. No Government have as yet been formed. We do not know who will be included. I commend to the House the attitude of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Home. To seek to produce free elections in other countries is a noble ambition, which, I do not wish to pursue at present.

I most warmly congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his minions here below on the extraordinary and unexpected success of the whole operation. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that Mr. Mugabe's clear success is the best guarantee of Western interests in Southern Africa and the best guarantee for the future of the white citizens of Zimbabwe? Further, to what extent will the Governor continue to have executive powers, particularly as regards the Southern Rhodesian security forces?

I am not sure that I agree that the election has been an "unexpected success". Throughout the Lancaster House agreements and during many debates last year we said that we were confident that we would be able to organise free and fair elections. It is not for me or, with respect, this House to say what the result of this election will mean to other people. We know only that this is the unequivocable verdict of the Rhodesian people. We cannot go any further than that.

The executive power of the Governor will last as long as he is Governor—that is, until the day of independence.

I propose to call four more hon. Members from either side. That will provide a very good run indeed.

Will it not be in keeping with the interests of Rhodesia and with the traditions of this House if we look to the future and not to the past? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that Mr. Mugabe will be welcome in London whenever he wishes to come here? I hope that Mr. Mugabe will go down the path of Kenyatta and of Makarios and not down that of Castro or Nyerere. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that trade between Britain and Rhodesia will be encouraged in every respect? Will he confirm that we will ensure that pensioners are looked after? Finally, does he agree that we should encourage Rhodesia and South Africa to come as close together as possible?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we should look to the future. We shall do everything possible to foster good relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. If Mr. Mugabe wishes to visit this country he will be warmly welcomed. I think that he feels that he spent quite a lot of time in Britain last autumn. He may not wish to come back so quickly.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the issue of pensioners was discussed at Lancaster House. An agreement was reached. We cannot go any further than that.

Does the Lord Privy Seal accept that the vast majority of hon. Members wish to add their congratulations and that they side with him in his dispute with a certain element, namely, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)? Does he agree that any danger of Russian influence infiltrating the Government and people of Zimbabwe will come only from an attempt to destabilise the Government of Zimbabwe by South Africa, or any other country that has boundaries with Zimbabwe?

Of course, any attempt to destabilise the new Government would be deplorable, but there has been no suggestion of that and I hope that the House will not make any such suggestion.

I congratulate all concerned on the conduct of the election, but will my right hon. Friend say what proposals the Government have for safeguarding the future and pensions of the security forces and the Civil Service in Zimbabwe?

My hon. Friend will be aware that that was discussed and decided at the Lancaster House conference. He will also be aware of the statesmanlike statement that General Walls made last night. He said:

"We are not going to allow jealousy or old hatreds or bitterness to affect our actions. We will be looking forward in a spirit of reconciliation to maintaining law and order."
That statement sums up the position better than anything that I can say.

In view of the dismay expressed over the election results by some of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, will he make clear to the House that the Government will be no less forthcoming with offers of aid and other assistance to a Government led by Robert Mugabe than they would have been had Bishop Muzorewa been the victor in the election?

I have already answered four questions on aid to Zimbabwe. My answer remains the same, and I hope that it will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that a victory by the Marxists, regardless of how the elections in Rhodesia were conducted, can hardly be described as favourable to the West? On reflection, does he agree that the Bishop is entitled to feel a betrayed and disillusioned man? In view of the pending proximity of a Marxist State to South Africa, will my right hon. Friend have discussion with the South African authorities with a view to defending our interests and particularly the trade route around the Cape?

I do not believe that it is a great asset to clear thought to tie labels on people or States. As I said earlier, we do not yet know the exact formation of the Government. To call it a Marxist Government appears to be totally fallacious.

I frankly do not know what my hon. Friend means when he says that we betrayed the bishop. We provided free and fair elections. I have already expressed my admiration for the bishop and the gratitude of the House for the way that he behaved. The fact that he lost the election can hardly mean that we betrayed him.

As to the trade routes around South Africa, my hon. Friend will be aware that Rhodesia is landlocked.

Reverting to the question of financial aid on which the Lord Privy Seal has been a little reticent, does he agree that due to the privations of war rural areas will need immediate assistance? In view of the Government's cuts in the overseas aid budget, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that aid to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, particularly the rural areas, will be outside the current aid budget?

No, I cannot confirm that. When the aid budget was drawn up we were aware of the likely need for aid to Zimbabwe, but I am afraid that I can say no more than that. I have already given undertakings to the House.

While congratulating my right hon. Friend and the Government and not forgetting the good West Country general in charge of the monitoring force, may I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he will back up the achievement with a programme of aid and encouragement to get Zimbabwe-Rhodesia under way again? Will he also encourage other countries to give it a fair wind? It needs time to settle down and get on with its business.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I have already stated our position on aid. My hon. Friend will be aware that Commissioner Cheysson has been very helpful about European Community aid to Rhodesia. We shall certainly encourage our friends, allies and all other countries to help in that endeavour.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most daunting tasks facing the new Government in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia will be to integrate the various armies? Given that members of the British forces have built up a degree of good will over the past weeks and months, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that should the new Government need technical and military assistance, particularly with training and integration, it will be fully and freely given?

As I said in my statement, a start has been made. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an extremely important matter. I have suggested that some of the liaison team will stay on for a bit. Anything else must be subject to conversations and agreements between the Governor and the new Government of Zimbabwe.