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Digital Archive International History Declassified

July 29, 1979

MINUTES OF TODOR ZHIVKOV – ROBERT MUGABE CONVERSATION, SOFIA

This document was made possible with support from the Blavatnik Family Foundation

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    Robert Mugabe - leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and future president of Zimbabwe - visits Bulgarian and meets with Todor Zhivkov. Mugabe discusses the progress of the conflict in Zimbabwe and requests Bulgarian military support for his forces. Zhivkov expresses concern about the division of the Zimbabwean forces into two separate and competing military groups and advises him to unite with Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).
    "Minutes of Todor Zhivkov – Robert Mugabe Conversation, Sofia," July 29, 1979, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 378-B, Record 1, File 523. Translated by Assistant Professor Kalina Bratanova; Edited by Dr. Jordan Baev and obtained by the Bulgarian Cold War Research Group. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/111111
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STENOGRAPHIC NOTES

On the Meeting between Comrade Todor Zhivkov and Robert Mugabe

[Sofia, 29 July 1979]

Todor Zhivkov
Let me welcome you on behalf of the party leadership and express my satisfaction that you accepted the invitation to visit Bulgaria. I do hope that your visit will be beneficial for the development of relations between the BCP and your movement. My comrades have informed me briefly about the problems you have put forth and the talks already held.

Robert Mugabe
Thank you, comrade President. We are very grateful to you for your warm welcome, this cordiality was not only manifested by our Bulgarian friends, but by the weather as well - it is so warm. My visit is the result of last year’s invitation that you made during your visit to Luanda. Then you told me that you would raise the question of my invitation before the Central Committee –– so here I am.

Comrade President, we are in Bulgaria to seek your solidarity and are driven by our wish to strengthen our friendship. We therefore feel obliged to tell you about the events, taking place in our region, so that all issues, concerning the situation, that I would like to put forth, may become clear; thus you will be able to make your conclusions about the opportunities available to respond to our request. Last year we told you our opinion of the following: whether the intentions of the English and the Americans will be realized; because then (last year) the English and the Americans were ready to give up/renounce their own proposals; and they actually did renounce them, claiming that an internal settlement of the crisis was better. Then they were getting ready to strengthen the union between Ian Smith and the marionettes Muzorewa, Chirau, against whom we were struggling. They were upset with our achievements throughout the entire country. Then we informed you that we controlled 85 percent of our territory, and now we control about 90 percent. Then our strategy was to destroy the communications between the villages and the cities, and then surround the city centers. About 1/3 of the territory were liberated zones. We fortified these zones in administrative terms, established people’s municipalities, organized health care, schools, etc. We took advantage of getting control over these zones and focused all of our effort on the other zones. We disrupted one of the two railroads, southbound. Military action is being taken against the railroad to Botswana, but we haven’t been able to destroy it so far. We have been taking action in towns and villages; many of the enemy’s bases have been destroyed. As a result, the white population is fleeing the country. There were at least 2000 settlers who left the country and their number is growing. Hence the enemy is frightened and is taking the same measures as in Namibia. In April this year general elections were held, as a result of which the government of “African Unity” took office. Imperialism’s strategy is clear enough –– military bases are to be set up in Zimbabwe and Namibia to take action against Angola and Mozambique. Imperialism is to create a ‘geographical belt’ to use to guard South Africa’s interests. The English and the Americans, as well as other countries of the West have been taking measures to stabilize the situation. We are worried, since there is a threat of Muzorewa’s regime being recognized. Should this regime be recognized, it will have legal grounds to ask to have military troops deployed on our territory. South Africa will readily meet this demand. It has already guaranteed its presence under the guise of so-called voluntary forces. Apart from that, South Africa has been supplying the country with armaments it has produced, and others from NATO. Should the regime be recognized, the situation will be aggravated. I don’t mean that we will lose the war; the latter will last much longer. Therefore we are grateful to our friends from the OAU [Organization for African Unity], for their prompt reaction, the UN and the socialists countries that are defending our interests.

The situation in political and diplomatic terms, however, is favorable for us. Great Britain intends to officially recognize the regime, and we are not sure whether this will not actually happen in November. We are willing to intensify our struggle as much as possible. We are therefore asking all friends for assistance. It is true that the struggle is beneficial to us at present. The settlers have been leaving the country. However, the enemy has a lot of arms available and they also have a lot of airplanes and things to do with aviation. We have not encountered any difficulties with the infantry so far. Our brothers from the front-line countries have been facing similar difficulties. We would most kindly ask you to consider our request for assistance in this light. We need a lot of various types of arms to effect our operations in the cities. Our soldiers need to be trained. This is the most important issue. We need humanitarian aid as well; our staff needs technical training. Yesterday we handed our request over to comrade [Milko] Balev. We trust you and Bulgaria as an ally. We are very grateful for the support and assistance provided to Zimbabwe’s people. We think this assistance must be continued; besides, representing one of the Patriotic Front’s wings, we are entitled to enjoying direct assistance. We are also enjoying the advantages of the help provided to Mozambique, Angola and Ethiopia, since they can help us. The Ethiopian soldiers were trained in a brilliant fashion, and we would like this training to go on. This help may be best used if we have the political support. We are therefore organizing a wide-spread campaign within our country to this effect.

We are happy to have achieved a unity between the army and the people. The latter are united mostly in the countryside and in the smaller villages. It is there that nearly 6 million out of the 7 million people of the population live. We cannot claim that the population in the cities is ready to sacrifice their lives. Much work to activate the struggle is still ahead. The forces of repression there are more powerful than we are, and therefore it is difficult for us. We have developed our strategy for military action in the cities, and hope we will not only be politically supported, but will enjoy the back-up of an extensive partisan struggle. We are aware that the enemy has been fortifying its positions. We consider that strengthening our unity is an important task; we thus set up three bodies: a Coordination Board, a Defense Board, and a Common Operative Headquarters. At the latter’s recent meeting, a resolution on joint action in certain zones was agreed upon. Joint action does not imply unity, however. It is simply the minimum requirement to achieve unity. There are no obstacles to unity in political terms; military unity is difficult to achieve. Our task is to achieve complete military unity and re-establish ZIPA, whereas ZAPU’s has adopted the approach of setting up a single Party with a single leader. We have gone through a series of long arguments and debates without reaching any unanimous consent. We decided, however, that we can specify certain spheres in which we can undertake joint action; thus we established the above-mentioned bodies of the Patriotic Front.

The Common Operative Headquarters consists of 6 members. Our representative is Rex Nhongo, chief of our military headquarters, and a Deputy Secretary of Defense. ZAPU’s representative is Maffela. They met to discuss the strategy to be implemented in the different zones. The meeting in Addis Ababa considerably improved the atmosphere of the Patriotic Front and the two countries are willing and ready to cooperate. This may be a result of the greater degree of polarization within the country. Nobody can be impartial and indifferent to such a political situation.

There are problems that have not been solved yet. We will therefore preserve large areas to take action separately. We decided that the action along the separate front lines must be coordinated, the information provided by intelligence must be exchanged, and joint action must be taken against one and the same targets. This is the way to achieve complete unity.

We are very happy that it was Monroe’s Patriotic Front that was acknowledged as the one and only legal representative of Zimbabwe’s people. At its Maputo meeting, the Coordinating Bureau of the non-aligned countries acceded us as a full-rights member, and we can thus take part in Havana as such, a member of equal rights. We shall take advantage of this situation, so that we can be represented in the UN as SWAPO in political and diplomatic terms. This will raise problems for the enemy, who counts on Muzorewa. We are worried about the maneuvers of the English and the Americans; we are to fight them both politically and by diplomatic means. We are aware of the fact, however, that the political and diplomatic struggle cannot be brought to a successful end without military action. Hence our opinion that military struggle has proved most effective; we are thus asking you to respond to our request for help.

We will be grateful to you for any financial aid, and any political assistance within the UN. We share common beliefs and expectations. We have a common goal. Our ideological views are clear enough: our goal is not only to win our national independence; the latter is viewed as the means by which truly progressive socio-economic relations are established, based on scientific socialism and Marxism-Leninism. That is genuine socialism. Should we establish a socialist zone within the borders of Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, then success in South Africa will be guaranteed. South Africa is quite aware of this impending danger; that is why it provides assistance to Ian Smith.

This is the situation, comrade President. We have laid solid grounds, providing for the triumph of our struggle in Zimbabwe. Thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to talk with you and present to you our problems.

Todor Zhivkov
Thank you for the information, it is very interesting. As a communist party of a socialist country we provide assistance to all struggling people, including the peoples of your region. According to our resources, we have helped ZAPU, with whom we have maintained close relations; we have provided help to it indirectly, as you emphasized as well, through the aid granted to Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia. I want to assure you that you can rely on our help, both military, and political and moral support, in the future, through the UN and our press. Of course this assistance depends on our resources. If you go through our dailies and periodicals of the last month only, you will see that the struggle in Zimbabwe has been widely reflected.

After I came back from my visit to Africa last year, Mr. Nkomo was awaiting me. We had a frank and open discussion; he had never had with anyone until then. I cannot act diplomatic. That’s my nature. He said that was the first time he had ever had such talks. He probably had in mind the talks he had held with the brotherly parties, providing assistance. I do agree with your judgment, that the necessary conditions, both internal and external, have been created to guarantee a foreseeable victory of your people. You will encounter difficulties, of course. The enemies are also taking the appropriate measures. You have the right to say that they will make an attempt to recognize Muzorewa –– the British and the Americans in the first place, followed by the NATO member states. This will not be achieved easily, for official statements have been made by the OAU, our countries and the non-aligned countries. This is very important. This attempt has to be made to fail, otherwise official recognition may be used as a motive to provide arms to Ian Smith. The struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism is now embarking upon its most important stage; the unity of all revolutionary forces is of prime importance. All progressive movements are now acclaiming the achievements of the Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinist Front [FSLN]. If we analyze the US’s impotence to carry out military intervention, we become aware of the role of the Latin American countries and the socialist countries’ support. However the major determining factor is the unity of the revolutionary forces. If this unity had failed, then the struggle would have lasted much longer. This is not the first time that such a conclusion has been arrived at regarding the struggles of the international revolutionary movement. Therefore we appreciate what is being done to strengthen the unity among you. I personally am very glad, since, having taken part in such movements, I realize the importance of achieving unity, and the consequences of failing to achieve it. The question that naturally arises for me is: “What is it that separates ZANU and ZAPU? Are there any differences in principle? I don’t think there are. The historian of the future will definitely draw the conclusion that there have been no differences in principle. History will give its severe, yet impartial judgment. If there are no principle differences, then what can we say? That these differences are unprincipled, which implies that both ZANU and ZAPU will bear the historic responsibility. History will never forgive you. I invited you, and that is why I am frank and straightforward. After I came back from Africa, I informed the brotherly parties of the necessity that the Patriotic Front be strengthened. You said that you controlled 90 percent of the territory. Nkomo informed me of them controlling 80 percent. So, that must be your common opinion.

The front-line states are to be held responsible as well. They are friends of ours –– Neto, Machel, others. I would hate putting them in a common basket. Although you can best draw any conclusions, I still think that one of the obstacles is their interference. They are considering their economic and political interests in Zimbabwe in the future. You are much better aware than I am, of what these interests are. I am happy, however, that these countries are realizing that they have no alternative.

As for our socialist countries, I would not like to express any opinion on their behalf. I think that we are willing to provide assistance and thus contribute to activating your struggle –– political, diplomatic and military. I accept your opinion that the present stage of your struggle necessitates the coordination of both the political and diplomatic [aspects of the] struggle. Both are of equal importance. We are ready to help only the Patriotic Front. How are we to provide assistance? Should we provide assistance to ZANU and ZAPU separately and how are we supposed to provide indirect help? Our aim is not to [facilitate your] disintegration by helping you; just the contrary –– we want to unite you. This is necessary. This is all. That was what I told Nkomo as well. I was even more direct, for we met three times. I am frank and open as a revolutionary and a sincere friend of yours.

You will probably be seeing Samora Machel. Please send him my regards. We’ll be waiting for him. He would have come, but the situation prevented him. Nyerere is also coming. We were the only ones to help him.

As for Bulgaria, we adopted a new program at the 10th Congress. Our main goal is specified: to build up an advanced, well-developed socialist society. Four years ago the 11th Congress of the BCP specified the particular methods and tools to achieve this goal. In the past Bulgaria was in the second to last place in terms of its backward economic development. Only Albania ranked after our country; and the Albanian people cannot be blamed for this, of course. Within a 35-year period Bulgaria managed to overcome its backwardness and be transformed into a country with a well-developed industry and agriculture. We have not been able to catch up with the most developed countries so far in terms of their industrial development, but we are very close. (After that comrade Zhivkov told about our achievements in building a developed socialist society, and the tasks that the BCP is now facing; he gave an account of the political and moral unity of our people, our relations with the socialist countries and the Soviet Union, above all. He emphasized that we have been providing help to many other countries in the world.)

[…]

We are now providing assistance to Nicaragua. This is an international duty of ours and we are thus fulfilling it. International solidarity is our guiding principle. We have no economic goals –– neither petroleum, nor other raw materials. During my visit to Mexico President Portillo stated that I was the first president not to be asking for petroleum.

This is the situation in general terms. Class struggle will continue. There has been a clash of interests throughout the world. If it were not for the Soviet Union, we would be done away with. We are not a real power. Nicaragua’s example should be followed. I do not know who has advised them not to mention socialism. However, they are building it. Castro is aware of this best.

We will consider your request with attention and care, and we will do our best. You can tell everyone that we firmly support you. We are convinced that your struggle will be triumphant. If you have no more questions, we can have lunch.

Robert Mugabe
Thank you for the chance to outline our problems and for your analysis. We are grateful for your frank attitude that is why we are frank as well. I would like to answer only one of your questions. It is true that there are no ideological differences between our two parties. The goal a given party is pursuing, and the policy it conducts, is what matters. In this respect we have reached reconciliation, and have drawn up a common program. Both parties have had a 14-year history so far as separate parties. This is the one of the major factors for the present situation. The other factor is the different attitude to struggle we have adopted with time. We took up armed struggle, and were then followed by ZAPU, together with the ANC [African National Congress]. We have gained some advantage due to FRELIMO’s help. Therefore we assume that armed struggle is the major tool. Our difference from ZAPU is the correct practical steps we take. When we maintain our support for armed struggle, we have in mind uniting our efforts and military strength. When we talk about a control over 80 percent or 90 percent of our territory, again we presume the areas in which we take military action, whereas we have gained actual control over only 1/3 of the territory. We also envisage the regions, in which Mozambique provides assistance. ZAPU interprets armed struggle only in terms of exerting pressure on Great Britain, whereas for us it is a major means of operating. I do think their understanding will be changed. The environment is now much more favorable to achieve unity. We are reluctant to talk about the past, for the future is more promising. Besides, the question of leadership has been raised. This issue is irrelevant to us for the time being. When we are back in our country, our people will decide. Our goal is not to have Mugabe as a leader. I am leader at present, because of the on-going revolution, whereas our friend is trying to make the issue of leadership central for the revolution. I am convinced, that if we now decide to set up a temporary party, which is impossible to happen, and if it turns out that some other person different from Nkomo is its head, and then I am sure he will be against such a party being established. That is why we decided that there is no point in bringing about a crisis. I am a friend of Nkomo’s, I have worked as his secretary in the National and Democratic Party, and after that in ZAPU. That is why I cannot help being emotional when I talk about him. We are friends indeed, yet there are differences in our political views and our ways of struggling. Apart from that, I have told him several times that he must create a realistic idea of the Patriotic Front. People must see us, to see that we are together and have taken up a common struggle against imperialism. I think that, having signed our agreement to fight imperialism, we will meet more often than we used to in the past. We are both happy now, although we are aware that there is a lot of work to be done to iron out our problems. However unity must be achieved at all levels, not only at the top. This is a problem. That is why we insist that military unity be established. Nkomo is unwilling, but we still hope things will change and we won’t give up.

Todor Zhivkov
Thank you. I am glad indeed that particular steps forward to strengthen the Patriotic Front have been made.


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