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‘Noises Off’: South Africa and the Lancaster House settlement 1979-1980

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In the existing historiography on the final settlement of the long running Rhodesian UDI crisis, the role of the South African Government has received relatively cursory consideration. The memoirs of key British players hint at the importance of Pretoria's policy towards final Zimbabwean independence, and the imperative need for the new Thatcher government to manage this aspect of the Rhodesian imbroglio. However, these accounts fail to elaborate sufficiently on the policy and behaviour of the Nationalist Party Government under its new hard-line Prime Minister, P.W. Botha, and the extent to which this interacted with the incoming Conservative government's diplomatic initiative to resolve the Rhodesian issue. Newly available archival material in South Africa casts a fascinating light on the attitudes and behaviour of the South African Government, as well as the interaction between Pretoria and London. Although the British archives covering the period of the Lusaka Conference and subsequent Lancaster House Conference remain closed, oral testimony of key British players - both politicians and civil servants - points to the centrality of importance of the role of South Africa - both in terms of British policy making, and South Africa's own highly conscious management of this long running crisis for the RSA. Thus, just as in the period 1964-65 in the run up to UDI when South African policy occupied a key place in the origins of the original confrontation between Salisbury and London, so South Africa as a key regional player occupied a critical position in the final peaceful transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe in April 1980.

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