Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to annul Robert Mugabe’s election in 1980 as first black leader in independent Zimbabwe following shocking violence by his supporters against opponents, the last Rhodesian military commander, Lt. Gen. Peter Walls said.

Thatcher whose government supervised the trantional Rhodesian elections which resulted in the black majority government after Mr Mugabe emerged winner, had powers within her jurisdiction to annul the elections, but she chose not to.

Lt. Gen. who died in South Africa last month acknowledged in a BBC interview before his death that he had asked Mrs Thatcher, the British prime minister at the time, to annul the results of the election that brought Mr Mugabe to power because vast numbers of voters had been intimidated. Mrs Thatcher refused, British officials said.

Lt. Gen. Walls who played a central and sometimes ambiguous role in the first days of his country’s transition to majority rule only to fall out bitterly with its first black leader.

The prospect of black rule sent tremors of concern through many whites, and as elections – brokered by Britain, the former colonial power – approached in early 1980, the country seemed on a knife edge, balanced between the expectations of the black majority and fears that white soldiers under General Walls might resist the new order and even stage a coup.

In a memoir published in 1987, Ken Flower, the intelligence chief of both the last white government and the first black one, said General Walls himself had helped deepen fears of a coup among the British officials overseeing the transition to majority rule. But, Mr. Flower said, the idea of a coup was never seriously debated by the military and security elite.

White apprehensions sharpened on March 4, 1980, when the election results were announced and the clear victor was Mr. Mugabe, seen by many whites as a Marxist rabble-rouser who would hound them out of the country.

But instead of staging a coup, General Walls publicly appealed to the white minority “for calm, for peace,” Mr. Flower recalled.

Mr. Mugabe also went out of his way to assure whites. In what seemed a political masterstroke, he appointed General Walls to oversee the planned fusion of the former white-led army with the two guerrilla armies.

In one widely reported exchange after several attempts on his life, Mr. Mugabe was said to have asked why the general’s soldiers were trying to kill him. General Walls reportedly replied that if his men had been involved in the attempts, Mr. Mugabe would be dead.

Deep down, though, profound mistrusts lingered from the war years, and Mr. Mugabe began to pay heed to reports circulating at the time that General Walls had indeed plotted against him.

Increasingly estranged from Mr. Mugabe, General Walls offered his resignation within months of independence and later moved to South Africa’s Eastern Cape region, where he lived for many years in relative obscurity.

As the overall commander of Rhodesian forces from 1977 onward, General Walls oversaw an ultimately doomed campaign to halt a shifting bush war conducted by guerrillas loyal to Joshua Nkomo, a nationalist patriarch, and Robert Mugabe, who went on to become the increasingly autocratic – and so far only – president of Zimbabwe after the country achieved independence in 1980.

As the fighting unfolded, Rhodesia, named for the British archcolonialist Cecil John Rhodes, was an international pariah, shunned by most countries with the exception of apartheid-ruled South Africa, its neighbour.

The Rhodesian forces were far superior to the sometimes ill-equipped guerrillas, displaying their military might with cross-border strikes against insurgent rear bases in Mozambique and Zambia, even as General Walls spoke of winning the “hearts and minds” of the black majority inside the country.

By 1980 the options open to Rhodesia’s white minority had narrowed, whittled away by international economic sanctions, the withdrawal of unconditional South African support and the growing recognition that a deal with the guerrilla leaders was inevitable.

Born in Rhodesia in 1927, General Walls had a long military career, training at the British military academy in Sandhurst and the staff college at Camberley. As a commander of a Special Forces unit, he also fought insurgents in colonial-era Malaysia.