Attempts to reach a compromise by personal meetings, held first on board the cruiser HMS Tiger and then the assault ship HMS Fearless, between the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson and Ian Smith failed to reach an agreement. Trade sanctions were imposed and a naval blockade was implemented. Rhodesia was declared a republic in March 1970.
Then, in 1972, a guerrilla campaign was begun with scattered attacks on isolated white-owned farms by the military wings of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo respectively, which wished to bring white rule of the country to an end. Mugabe’s army was ZANLA (Zimbabwe National Liberation Army) which was largely drawn from the Mashona tribe and received considerable support from China, while Nkomo’s was ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army), which was mostly Matabele and obtained weapons and training from Cuba and the USSR. Both peoples were traditionally enemies.
Initially, the activities of ZANLA and ZIPRA were contained by the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF), but it developed into a very nasty conflict with bloody deeds on both sides. However, the situation changed dramatically after the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique in 1975. All attempts made by Smith, Nkomo and Mugabe to broker an honourable peace that would guarantee the rights of the white minority failed. In September 1976 Smith accepted the principle of black majority rule within two years.
By 1978-79, the ‘Bush War’ had become a contest between the guerrilla warfare placing ever increasing pressure on the Rhodesian government and civil population and the Rhodesian Government’s strategy of trying to hold off the militants until external recognition for a compromise political settlement with moderate black leaders could be secured. Elections were held in April 1979. The United African National Council party won a majority in this election, and its leader, Abel Muzorewa, a United Methodist Church bishop, became the country’s Prime Minister on 01 June 1979. The country’s name was changed to Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
While the 1979 election was non-racial and democratic, it did not include ZANU and ZAPU. In spite of offers from Ian Smith, the latter parties declined to participate. Bishop Muzorewa’s government did not receive international recognition. The Bush War continued unabated and sanctions were not lifted. The international community refused to accept the validity of any agreement which did not incorporate the ZANU and ZAPU.
The British Government (then led by the recently elected Margaret Thatcher) issued invitations to all parties to attend a peace conference at Lancaster House, in late 1979,which resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. UDI ended, and Rhodesia reverted to the status of a British colony under a new Governor, Lord Christopher Soames.