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UK Confidential Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 11:42 GMT
Government compromise in 1971 Rhodesian talks
Ted Heath's cabinet
Heath's cabinet with Douglas-Home in the background
Documents released under the 30-year rule reveal how much the British Government was willing to compromise with Rhodesia's white majority ruler Ian Smith in an attempt to guarantee land rights and majority rule within the country.

In 1965, Ian Smith declared independence illegally to prevent a move to rule by its African majority. In 1971, the Prime Minister at the time, Sir Edward Heath and the British Foreign Secretary, Alec Douglas-Home were in talks with Smith to organise a legal settlement that would ensure the equality of land rights between Africans and Europeans.

Ian Smith
Ian Smith declared independence illegally
The files reveal that following several months of secret diplomacy, Douglas-Home finally signed a settlement with Smith, but only after the British government was forced to compromise on certain principals of land tenure.

A secret telegram from Alec Douglas-Home to Ian Smith reveals just how much Douglas-Home was prepared to compromise and how difficult his dealings with Smith were:

"I must again ask you to consider some re-allocation of land in favour of the Africans. If the multi-racial state to which we both attach so much importance is to become a reality, it is essential to avoid the built-in inequality that springs from the allocation from the start, and in perpetuity of almost 50 percent of the land to what is now one twentieth of the population and will inevitably over the years become an even smaller fraction."

Ian Smith: A controversial leader
1948-1953 - Served in the Southern Rhodesia legislative assembly
1962 - The Rhodesian Front won in Southern Rhodesia elevating Smith to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Treasury
1964 - Became Prime Minister of Rhodesia
1965 - Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesian independence
1970 - Smith consolidated white rule and declared Rhodesia a Republic
1980 - Rhodesia becomes Zimbabwe with black majority rule

Compromise

Douglas-Home goes on to try and coax Smith in to agreeing to his conditions:

"If you could make some positive movement on this we would be justified in dealing with future legislation on the use and acquisition of land in the Declaration of Rights, on the lines of the draft on discrimination which was put forward by our side and slightly amended in discussion. Even then we should be criticised but we could wear it."

The settlement was rejected the following year when it was put to the Rhodesian people. A civil war broke out which lasted until 1979 and cost around 30,000 lives.

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