Queen used royal clout to change Kaunda’s speech

Politics is supposed to be a ‘no go’ zone for the British monarch. But a new book by Commonwealth expert Philip Murphy discloses how Queen Elizabeth 11 used royal clout to persuade former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and his main political adviser in 1979, Mark Chona, to drop parts of a planned speech that could have given offence to people who didn’t like to hear men like Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo referred to as “freedom fighters.”

Philip Murphy, talk of freedom fighters would be inflammatory.
Philip Murphy, talk of freedom fighters would be inflammatory.

In a chapter which reveals little-known aspects of the preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Lusaka in 1979, Murphy says that the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was ”notoriously cautious” about the prospect of the Queen travelling to Zambia.

The author is the director of the London-based Institute of Commonwealth Studies and he tells in his new book Monarchy and the End of Empire (Oxford University Press, 2014) how now and again the queen exerts ”a tangible influence over British foreign policy.”

There were also strong suspicions that Thatcher did not want the Queen embroiled in a Commonwealth row that had plagued the organization since Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965.

According to Murphy, Thatcher believed it was essential to make Kaunda do something about the guerrilla’s ground-to-air missiles. “If the missiles could once be taken away from the guerrillas, it might prove possible to ensure that they did not receive any more,” he wrote.

Nine days later, Thatcher told Lombe Chibesakunda, the Zambian High Commissioner in London, about her concern for the Queen’s safety and the possibility that such deadly weapons might be used for an attack on her plane. Thatcher said that while her government was doing everything possible to reassure “doubters” that Elizabeth would be safe, the final reassurance could only come from Kaunda if he were to ensure that all missiles were removed from the guerrilla forces in Zambia and that no maverick fired one.

Sir Walter ‘Len’ Allinson, the British High Commissioner in Zambia, advised that the Queen’s visit should go ahead but that a military team should be sent to Zambia to review the security situation. This was duly dispatched, led by Air Vice Marshal Reed Purvis.

While he was there, the Rhodesians carried out an audacious raid by helicopter on Nkomo’s intelligence headquarters in Lusaka. Zambian anti-aircraft guns failed to fire on the Rhodesian helicopters. But they did open fire on their own planes which appeared a few minutes after the Rhodesians had departed.

The following morning, the British military team had a meeting with Kaunda who, writes Murphy, ”was suddenly far more conciliatory, and a member of the British military mission was subsequently stationed at Lusaka airport with direct contact with Zambian anti-aircraft batteries to ensure that no similar errors occurred as the Queen’s plane approached.”

In addition to security concerns, two matters of protocol intervened to complicate the Queen’s visit to Lusaka. The Zambians let it be known that they wanted Nkomo to be included in the line-up to greet the Queen.

“They initially backed down in the face of British objections but the night before the Queen’s arrival, Allison learned that Nkomo was indeed to be included in the line-up. He approached Mark Chona, Kaunda’s political assistant, and warned that if plans went ahead for Nkomo’s inclusion he would telegram the Queen’s party in Botswana and ensure that she would not fly to Lusaka. Kaunda again retreated and Nkomo was not included in the line-up,” writes Murphy.

A second problem related to Kaunda’s speech at the state banquet. Allison had been shown a copy and he warned that some of the text would be unacceptable to the British. “The Queen intervened personally with the President. When we arrived at Lusaka Len Allinson reported to me that the only way in which he could get the offending passages removed was for the Queen to speak to him personally. This she did in the motor car and later that evening, Mark Chona came to see me to say that the President had agreed to make all the amendments for which we had asked,” her private secretary Philip Moore later wrote.

The rest we know. The Lusaka summit paved the way for a final settlement to the problem of Rhodesia, based on a constitutional conference in London in December 1979, a ceasefire by the (short-lived) Patriotic Front and elections involving all parties in February 1980 which were won by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu (PF).

Murphy told me that the Queen’s objections were about Kaunda’s planned rhetoric. “I think he was going to talk about freedom fighters in relationship to ZANU (Mugabe) and ZAPU (Nkomo) and there was a sense that that would be inflammatory to some of the sides in the negotiations,” he said in an interview. – Grundy worked for the Times of Zambia between 1974-1976 in Lusaka. He was also the Zambian correspondent for the Financial Times and the BBC’s Focus on Africa.

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