‘We reject as inhuman and intolerable all policies designed to perpetuate apartheid, racial segregation or other policies based on theories that racial groups are or may be inherently superior or inferior.’
Above is an extract from the Lusaka Declaration of the Commonwealth on Racism and Racial Prejudice, issued on 7th August 1979 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Zambia. The 1979 Declaration was a follow up to the 1971 Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles that had set out the core values of the Commonwealth. Specifically, the Lusaka Declaration was a response to the ongoing civil war between the white minority and black majority in what was then Zimbabwe Rhodesia.
Similarly to the Singapore Declaration, the 1979 Lusaka Declaration was the result of a long period of negotiating and visits to Commonwealth nations by Secretariat staff and Commonwealth leaders. Moses Anafu, Hon. Joe Clark, Sir Sonny Ramphal and Chief Emeka Anayoku are amongst those who discussed the diplomatic campaigns that preceded and followed the Lusaka CHOGM. One particular issue for the 1979 CHOGM was the Commonwealth’s relationship with the newly elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, then Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth noted the potential tensions Thatcher could bring to the CHOGM:
‘Well, it was clear to us that if Margaret Thatcher’s government proceeded to recognise Abel Muzorewa who was no more than a stooge of Ian Smith and his cohorts, the Commonwealth would have exploded. We would have had people walking away saying we will no longer belong to this organisation. And so Sonny Ramphal was working on one hand to try and influence Whitehall to soft pedal on the issue of recognising the Muzorewa government, while at the same time encouraging African heads, and India, and the others, to believe that the situation was going to be manageable and that a middle way would be found to save everybody’s face.’
Farooq Sobhan who was then Director General in the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry attended the 1979 CHOGM and remembers the atmosphere and results of the meeting:
‘The Retreat, where heads mingled without their aides… The whole dynamics of that process was what made the Commonwealth, as an organisation, unique. You now have a Retreat in some of the other regional groups and organizations like SAARC, but I would say this whole idea of the need to see the heads together in an informal setting, where they could talk to each other without aides, came out of the Commonwealth and the CHOGM process. Going back to Lusaka, it was really the Retreat where you saw Malcolm Fraser and a few others prevail on Mrs Thatcher to give ground on the Rhodesia issue, which eventually led to the birth and independence of Zimbabwe.’
With these quotes in mind, the picture to the left, of a smiling Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and Prime Minister Thatcher dancing at the Lusaka CHOGM paints a simplified picture of the meeting. Beyond the forthright Lusaka Declaration and photographs showing heads of state sharing moments such as this one pictured, the interviewees discussed the many hours of diplomacy that went into ensuring a CHOGM that affected change in Southern Africa. Following the Lusaka Declaration, in December 1979, Prime Minister Bishop Abel Muzorewa, representing the Zimbabwe Rhodesia government, was invited to the UK to discuss independence. The resulting Lancaster House Agreement brought white minority rule to an end, paving the way for modern Zimbabwe. Under the leadership of it’s new Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe joined the Commonwealth in 1980, but left in 2003.