History Monday: The Lancaster House Agreement Part 2

The purpose of the Conference was to discuss and reach agreement on the terms of an Independence Constitution. Central to these talks was the burning issue of land. The Patriotic Front wanted their grievance on land to be addressed adequately by the new constitution. On the other hand, Ian Smith’s representatives wanted to maintain the status quo on land and the talks almost collapsed because the Patriotic Front would not accept a deal that did not address the issue of land imbalance that was heavily skewed in favor of the British settlers.

With the intervention of the then head of the Commonwealth, Sonny Ramphal, the warring parties agreed for land to be redistributed on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller basis’. The new constitution had an additional clause that protected the private property rights of white farmers for the first 10 years. Margaret Thatcher’s government was largely interested in protecting the property rights of the white minority. Her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, insisted Zimbabwe’s new constitution include a 10-year bar on the forcible redistribution of the farms. Mugabe – who once vowed that “none of the white exploiters will be allowed to keep an acre” – wanted to go back to war. He was dissuaded by a promise from the UK to raise hundreds of millions of pounds for long-term land reform. The Margaret Thatcher led government agreed to provide the resources that would be required to purchase the land for redistribution.

At the request of the British government, America’s Carter government also chipped in. Sir Shridath Ramphal  recalled: ‘’..(The US government) would support the establishment of an agricultural development fund and they would make a substantial contribution to it; that they would recognize the right of the government after the elections to use this fund to help to defray any compensation that had to be paid under the constitution; that the fund would be a responsibility they would accept, providing it was matched by the British government and had an international character”. The Patriotic Front took the British and Americans word and a conference that had dragged for 3 months ended, marking the creation of a new non-racial Zimbabwe. The Lancaster House Agreement in 1979 was Thatcher’s first international achievement right at the beginning of her first term in office.



  1. Mupandawana, M. (2013) ‘Britain’s colonial obligations and Land Reform in Zimbabwe’
  2. McGreal, C. (2002) ‘The Trail from Lancaster House’

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