Air Rhodesia Flight 825 - Background


A dispute over the terms for the granting of full sovereignty to the self-governing colony of Rhodesia led the colonial government, headed by Prime Minister Ian Smith, to unilaterally declare independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The UK had recently adopted a policy of "no independence before majority rule", and Rhodesia's government was dominated by the country's white minority, so the colonial declaration went unrecognised internationally. Britain and the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Rhodesia.

Two rival black communist parties initiated military campaigns to overthrow the government and introduce majority rule: the Chinese-aligned Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), mostly comprising Shonas, created the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), while the Ndebele-dominated Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), aligned with Marxism–Leninism and the Warsaw Pact, mobilised the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). These guerrilla armies proceeded to wage what they called a "Second Chimurenga" against the Rhodesian government and security forces. The resulting Rhodesian Bush War escalated sharply in December 1972, after two years of relative inactivity, when ZANLA attacked Altena and Whistlefield Farms in north-eastern Rhodesia. The security forces mounted a successful counter-campaign during 1973 and 1974, but developments overseas caused the conflict's momentum to shift in the insurgents' favour. Following the leftist Carnation Revolution of April 1974, Portugal's key economic support for Smith's government fell away; the following year, Portugal's overseas province of Mozambique, on Rhodesia's eastern frontier, became an independent communist country, openly allied with ZANU. Around the same time, Rhodesia's other main backer, South Africa, adopted a détente initiative, forcing a ceasefire just as the security forces were pushing the guerrillas back.

Following the abortive Victoria Falls Conference of August 1975, Smith and the ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo held unsuccessful talks between December 1975 and March 1976. During the run-up to the Geneva Conference of December 1976, ZANU and ZAPU announced in October that they would henceforth attend conferences as a joint "Patriotic Front". In March 1978, Smith and moderate nationalists Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole reached agreement on what became the "Internal Settlement". This created a joint black–white transitional government, with the country due to be reconstituted as Zimbabwe Rhodesia in June 1979, pursuant to multiracial elections. ZANU and ZAPU were invited to participate, but refused; Nkomo sardonically dubbed Muzorewa, Sithole and Smith's other black colleagues "the blacksmiths". ZANU proclaimed 1978 to be "The Year of the People" as the war continued. Officials from Muzorewa's United African National Council, sent to the provinces to explain the Internal Settlement to rural blacks, were killed by communist guerrillas. Cadres also began to target Christian missionaries, climaxing in the killing of nine British missionaries and four children at Elim Mission near the Mozambican border on 23 June.

The transitional government was badly received abroad, partly because Rhodesian whites were determined to keep control of law enforcement and the military even following the introduction of black rule in parliament. No country—not even South Africa, despite its continued support—recognised Rhodesia's interim administration. Smith again worked to bring Nkomo into the government, hoping this would lend it some credence domestically, prompt diplomatic recognition overseas, and help the security forces defeat ZANLA. Starting on 14 August 1978, he attended secret meetings with Nkomo in Lusaka, Zambia (where ZAPU was based), doing so with the assistance of the mining corporation Lonrho. Attempts were made to also involve the ZANU leader Robert Mugabe, but Mugabe would have no part in the talks. According to South African military historian Jakkie Cilliers, negotiations between Smith and Nkomo progressed well and "seemed on the verge of success" by the start of September 1978. On 2 September, Smith and Nkomo revealed publicly that the secret meetings had taken place.

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