Operation Quartz Goes Ahead
What Really Happened : After the Lancaster House agreement and its provisions for an election in Rhodesia involving Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe (African Nationalist Guerrilla leaders backed by Russia and China respectively), the spectre of one of these individuals gaining power in Rhodesia became a possibility.
Despite elections that were declared free and fair by British observers in 1979 which saw Bishop Able Muzorewa come to power over a multi-racial government, internationally the election result was not accepted due to Nkomo and Mugabe being excluded due to their terrorist activities.
Most people expected the aging father of Rhodesian African Nationalism, Joshua Nkomo, to garner the largest share of the votes in the election, but not an overall majority, in which case he would have to form a coalition with Muzorewa, which would see white Rhodesians retain some measure of political power and influence.
Robert Mugabe was not expected to take this well, and known concentrations of his troops were secretly targeted, as were his senior aides and commanders, for elimination in the event that he attempted military action following his defeat. This action would be prevented by surgical strikes by RDF special forces, the Rhodesian Air Force, and possibly aided by the 1000 South African troops who had secured the Beit Bridge area in the South of the country as a safe avenue of escape for white Rhodesians should everything turn to chaos.
Secret negotiations with Nkomo’s party had also been made, and it was likely that any damage to his units in areas where his men and Mugabe’s were mixed was to be avoided if possible. While Nkomo was loathed by the white Rhodesians, he was seen as a more reasonable man than Mugabe, and someone with whom an arrangement could be made.
When Mugabe won the election, commanders in situ expected the "go" order, but it never materialised. Whether this was confusion caused by his unexpected election victory, or just a loss of nerve, is unknown, but in any case a possible opportunity to severely harm, and perhaps destroy Mugabe and his military forces was lost.
The author has also spoken to several serving Rhodesian veterans from that time who have a different reason why the operation did not take place. According to them, General Walls (the commander of the Rhodesian military) had spoken clandestinely with London and had secured the approval for action from Margaret Thatcher, but only if Mugabe won the election and only after the General have spoken with Mrs Thatcher.
According to those I have spoken to, Walls called Thatcher immediately after the announcement of the election victory for Mugabe, but failed to actually get to speak to her for eight hours, by which time most of Europe and the US had recognised the election as free and fair. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe’s future was cast in stone from that moment. The author will explore the possibilities if General Walls had managed to get through to the Iron Lady.
Point of Departure : Operation Quartz is activated after General Walls contacts London and gets backing to act against Mugabe.
What might have happened : Forces from the Rhodesian SAS, Rhodesian Light Infantry, Rhodesian Air Force, Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment (strengthened by eight T-55 tanks recently gifted by South Africa), and Selous Scouts decimate the gathering areas for ZANU affiliated troops.
In the firestorm of unleashed military power, eagerly seized by the RDF who had long hungered for this sort of battle as opposed to endless guerrilla insertions, saw thousands of ZANLA fighters slain, and the death of Mugabe, Muzenda, Nhongo, Dabengwa, and Musika, amongst others.
The British Forces in the country fortify their positions, and secure the safety of British and Rhodesian governmental buildings, but do not inhibit the actions of the Rhoedsians. For years there are rumours of British SAS aiding their Rhodesian counterparts, but nothing is ever proven.
The RDF declares martial law with the intention of turning over power to a new coalition government made up of Nkomo and Muzorewa, claiming massive election rigging and voter intimidation on the part of Mugabe and ZANU (which is actually true in OTL). The entire international community protests vehemently, but can do little since ZANU’s leadership has been destroyed and its forces decimated.
Nkomo’s ZIPRA fighters, fighters loyal to Muzorewa, and the RDF spend the next 4 months hunting down and destroying as much of Mugabe’s old organisation as possible. There is world wide outrage, but British government under Thatcher adopts a very pragmatic approach, saying whats done is done and now everyone needs to move forward and ensure a peaceful and democratic process in Zimbabwe from now on.
Thatcher goes as far as to authorise the British forces in situ to act in support of the Rhodesian military in securing peace and preventing ZANU/ZANLA interference.
At the beginning of September 1980, the RDF begins handing over control to a civilian government made up of a majority of African members with a number of guaranteed seats for white Rhodesians slightly reduced in number from those agreed with Muzorewa in 1979. December 1st 1980 is named as Independence Day for Zimbabwe, and a collation government made up of Muzorewa as President, Nkomo as Prime Minister, and Ian Smith as Foreign Secretary takes power in Salisbury.
The new coalition government makes law several provisions set out in the Lancaster House Agreement, and in fact expands several of them to be more favourable to the whites, such as making enforced eviction from farmland illegal, but making it law that sales of farms adjacent to tribal lands must be offered to the government first, who would purchase them at market rate. Other legal protections include a general amnesty for military commanders on all sides for any "war crimes".
Legal protections slow the mass immigration to other countries, and in fact bring several thousands who had moved to the UK and South Africa back to Zimbabwe. This cessation of brain drain starts the country off on a stronger foot than in OTL with less of the "frozen in time" effect that can be seen in Zimbabwe in several industries in OTL.
UN sanctions are not fully lifted until late 1981, but by then most of the world had been disregarding them for a while. Nkomo shows his true inclinations by turning his back on Moscow backers, instead embracing the US and positioning himself as a democratically aligned ally in the mostly Eastern allied region. This results in material, monetary, and military aid starting to trickle, and eventually flow, into the country.
The UK follows suit, and by the mid-1980s Zimbabwe is an agriculturally advanced state producing large cash crops such as tobacco and coffee alongside enough food to feed three other African countries.
A larger proportion of the RDF stay in uniform than in OTL, and the Zimbabwean military are soon second only to the South African when it comes to equipment, training, and professionalism, despite it being more than 80% composed of ex-guerrilla irregular troops. General Walls remained in overall command of the new Zimbabwe Defence Force, which was soon centred around the elite Zimbabwe Light Infantry Brigade (all races), Zimbabwean SAS Regiment (predominantly white), and the 3rd and 4th Commando Brigades (predominantly black).
Unable to ignore the growing economy on its Northern border, South Africa begins energetic economic interaction. This causes a slightly faster erosion of Apartheid, with Nelson Mandela being released in 1990 and democratic elections, based on the Rhodesian model, being held in 1991.
Both Rhodesia and South Africa have guaranteed representation for the white community in parliament, but this is slowly phased out over the next decade, although the whites enjoy a higher proportion of representation than their numbers would dictate for years to come.
Conclusion : This may all be a trifle fantastic and optimistic, but it is purely a reaction to what is going on in Zimbabwe today and the wreckage that more than a quarter of a century of Mugabe has made of a once proud, successful, innovative, and advanced country. I cannot help but think what a fantastic opportunity to eliminate ZANU and Mugabe from the picture was lost in 1980 when Operation Quartz was not activated.