23 AUGUST 1975, Page 9

Rhodesia (1)

Three questions on the bridge

David Martin

Barring a last-minute hitch, Rhodesia's recalcitrant rebel, Mr Ian Smith and the country's black nationalists, led by Bishop Abel Mu zorewa, will come face to face in the somewhat bizarre setting of a plush railway carriage on a bridge over Victoria Falls next Monday. In this `no man's land' it is supposed that they will try to begin the process of ending the almost ten-year constitutional impasse Which has followed Mr Smith's unilateral declaration of independence in November 1965.

The journey from his comfortable capita:, Salisbury, to the Victoria Falls Bridge, has been a long one for Smith in terms of both miles and mental change. Since Portugal's coup d'etat on April 25 last year he has frequently commuted between his capital and Pretoria, as South Africa's Prime Minister, Mr John Vorster, increasingly put the squeeze on to get him to the conference table. Vorster is all too aware of the chain reaction of change touched off in Southern Africa by the soldiers' action in Lisbon. Smith may also be aware of his new realities, but hitherto he has shown little sign of acknowledging them.

Now, as the two sides prepare to assemble, three questions arise. The first concerns their different positions and is interlocked with their relative strengths. In broad terms the nationalist position is clear. They will demand immediate majority rule, which allowing for negotiations of around six months, would mean the transfer of power from the white minority to black majority in late 1976 or early 1977. Joshua Nkomo might be willing to accept longer than his three colleagues, Bishop Muzorewa, Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema, but it would be politically suicidal to say so publicly. They are likely to drop their demand of 'one man one vote' in favour of a qualified franchise. Present thinking indicates they will demand voting eligibility for all literates over twenty-one, those in salaried employment, owners of movable or immovable property and those with family responsibilities. This, they estimate, would give a million Africans the vote; ten times the eligible white electorate. And during any transitional phase they will want consequential Participation, including over decision making, in the civil service, armed forces, judiciary and Police, the repeal of the notorious Land Tenure Act and a very different constitution.

And Ian Smith? He has been playing his cards very close. True he has released some of the nationalists fron detention. And he has apparently retreated from his earlier statements that there would not be majority rule in his lifetime and that he would never sit With the nationalists, whom he persists in calling "terrorists." But he still talks of maintaining 'civilised standards' in areas like the judiciary, civil service and so on, which to translate him, means keeping white control for the foreseeable future. Smith insists the Victoria Falls talks will last only thirty minutes and that all subsequent committee meetings Will be.in Rodesia. Bishop Muzorewa expects them to take a day or two and says the. committees will not meet in Rhodesia as this Would deprive his African National Council of some of its best men, because they are on Smith's 'wanted' list.

Inevitably this leads to the second question: do the talks have any chance of succeeding? On present evidence the answer must be a categoric 'No'. The nationalists want majority rule within .eighteen months and the signs are

that Smith is thinking of at least five years and possibly another decade. For Smith there are factors to be considered other than the fact that Mozambique is now independent and that his former reliable sanction breaking routes through Beira and Lourenco Marques can be cut any day. The Indo-China war has ended and there are some indications of a possible Middle East settlement. This is having the effect of releasing quantities of modern armaments to Southern Africa from the traditional supporters of nationalist causes: China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

It is worth pointing out here that this does not mean the nationalists are Communists. In more than decade of African reporting I have met only a handful of black Marxists. The fact is that they cannot get armaments from anywhere else. Western assistance by supporters of the liberation movements like the Scandinavian countries, churches, wealthy foundations and so on, usually being limited to 'humanitarian aid'; books and bandages instead of bazookas and bullets. A second point to be considered here is the psychological impact on Africa of the Porguguese coup d'etat, caused largely by the African wars, and the subsequent decolonisation process. The wars had begun in 1961 and by the time the soldiers in Lisbon moved there were many in Africa who wondered if they could ever win. Independence for Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, has given new heart, and more importantly, new determination. The nationalists are assured of their strategic rear bases in Mozambique, Tanzia and Zambia. Smith has none. His backers, either for their own political reasons, or because they believe he now holds a losing hand, are diminishing.

The greatest chance of reaching a constitu

tional t1.ment lies with Vorster and Zambia's Preside Dr Kenneth Kaunda. For very different reasons ey will exert pressure on the two sides. Kaunda a fervent believer in the philosophy of Humanism which he has given his country. It means exactly what it says; perhaps more a contemporary quasi-political bible than an ideology. He abhors violence and, in the radical view, will go to excessive lengths to pursue a forlorn hope of peaceful settlement. But equally, having given peace a chance, if that fails, he will support an escalated nationalist war.

John Vorster's motives are very different. Last year vetoes by Britain, France and the United States, in the United Nations Security Council, averted South Africa's expulsion from the world organistion. The three Western powers were unhappy about their vetoes; this being seen in Africa and most of the Third World as a vote for apartheid. In the knowledge that the Africa bloc would push the question again this year they politely informed Vorster that some changes in the rigid nature of apartheid would help. First he asked for six months to bring about change. There have been a few, but little more than cosmetic changes, removing some of the more blatant signs of petty apartheid. But beyond that, Vorster will now argue that he has been responsible for convening Rhodesian constitutional talks, is soon to hold a conference to discuss Zambia's future and has considerably improved his links with some independent black African states.

The South African leader has so far gained a great deal from the so called detente exercise which began last November. But there remains the danger of its being a boomerang. Now that Mozambique is independent, Rhodesia is little more than a South African client state. Everyone now knows that. Vorster is the only person who can really force Smith to make a settlement acceptable to the nationalists. He controls his only trade routes and the support for the Rhodesian dollar. So, if the talks fail, everyone will know that in the final analysis it was because Vorster was not willing to exert enough pressure and that he had offered Smith respite, albeit temporary. It may hold international support for Pretoria for a while, but it cannot do so for long. Perhaps therein lies the best hope of a negotiated settlement. The third question is: what is the alternative? There is only one answer: an all-out guerrilla war. Rhodesia's nationalists can now obtain all the arms they need. Their rear bases are guaranteed if talks fail. And there are already 4,000. Rhodesian Africans in training and a further 6,000 undergoing screening to weed out infiltrators from Smith's security forces. New recruits are leaving Rhodesia at the rate of 100 a day, many secondary school children playing truant for the duration of the war, The ANC plans to build up an army of 20,000, officials say, but that seems excessive in terms of normal manpower needs in guerilla warfare. Smith is mobilising, too, but his resources are limited. The influx of Portuguese from Mozambique has for the moment served to conceal the reality of his white exodus. With increasing war taxes and military service, many young white Rhodesians are leaving for good and new investment has virtually dried up. By all accounts Rhodesia is economically in deep trouble and white bravado cannot conceal the growing concern.

No doubt the view will be put that given the state of civil war in Angola and the excesses of Uganda's Idi Amin, surely Smith is correct in retaining white rule until the Africans areready? That is not a valid view ih a country where we have long since accepted the democratic rights of the majority and where, in theory at least, we are opposed to racialism. Idi Amin is an historical freak. And after all it is only thirty years since Europe endured far worse excesses at the hands of Adolf Hitler. We would have been very angry had others argued he was just a typical European and that we were all therefore unfit to rule ourselves on the basis of democratic norms.