Rhodesian Impasse

October 20, 1978

Report Outline
Unsure Transition to Black Rule
Colonial Past in British Rhodesia
Perilous Future for Rhodesia
Special Focus

Unsure Transition to Black Rule

Aftermath of Ian Smith's Visit to America

The recent visit to the United States of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith and the three black members of Rhodesia's governing Executive Council appears to have left the Rhodesian situation just where it was before: at a dangerous impasse. The Rhodesian delegation was unable to persuade officials of the Carter administration to support the “internal agreement” reached last March between Smith and the three black leaders — Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the Rev. Ndabanigi Sithole and Chief Jeremiah Chirau. The agreement created the first biracial executive authority in the country's history to prepare the way for elections and a transition to black majority rule at the end of this year or early in 1979.

It is unclear, on the other hand, whether U.S. officials made much progress in persuading the Rhodesians to accept a joint Anglo-American Plan for convening an “all-parties conference,” including leaders of the two principal guerrilla factions battling the Smith government for control of the country. Early in their visit, Smith and the black members of the Executive Council flatly rejected the plan. Then, on Oct. 12, in an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Smith said he was prepared “without preconditions” to attend such a conference. As a result, all four members of the Executive Council were invited to meet in Washington on Oct. 20 with “senior [State] Department officials and British representatives” to discuss the matter. The plan has been turned down by guerrilla chieftains Robert Mugabe of the Mozambique-based Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo of the Zambian-based Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).

Smith's visit was, in some respects, a public relations victory for his regime, which has steadily lost support in the United States since its 1965 “Unilateral Declaration of Independence” (UDI) in defiance of an earlier British plan for a transition to black rule. Although unable to see President Carter, the Rhodesians met with Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and other high administration officials, conferred with members of Congress and held a well-attended press conference on Capitol Hill under the aegis of Sen. S. I. Hayakawa, R-Calif. Smith also addressed the National Press Club and appeared on NBC-TV's “Meet the Press.” In the midst of the visit, the Rhodesian government in Salisbury announced it was ending formal segregation in residential areas, hospitals and schools, extending a previous decree limiting desegregation of public facilities such as hotels, theaters, swimming pools and public toilets.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Diplomacy and Diplomats
Imperialism, Colonization, and Independence Movements
Regional Political Affairs: Africa