Ian Smith (8 April 1919 - 20 November 2007)

As John Edmond sang, "The last word in Rhodesian is Ian". With Smith's declaration of UDI (and his claim that majority rule would not come to Rhodesia for 1000 years - hence the title of Paul Moorcroft's book. "A Short 1000 Years") the initial guerrilla attacks began only a few years later, and it became apparent that only an armed struggle could enforce political change. Smith ends his book, "The Great Betrayal" with praise for President Mandelaís success, although this is tempered by his refusal - both in the book, and with his later appearance at the Oxford Union - to accept any responsibility for suffering in the war. (The publication schedule for the book was cancelled amid much publicity that this was due to the publishers wanting Smith to change all references to Mugabe and his men as "terrorists", to "guerrillas" or "freedom-fighters").

Born on 8 April 1919 in rural Rhodesia, Ian Smith was educated at Chaplin High School, Gwelo (now Gweru) and at Rhodes University, South Africa, before joining No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, in the British RAF in the Second World War. Injured in a Hurricane crash in 1943, after recovering he rejoined his squadron to be shot down again, over the Po River in Italy in June 1944; whilst escaping over the Maritime Alps to liberated France he fought with the Italian partisans. .

In 1948 he acquired a farm and entered Parliament, moving from the Liberal Party to Sir Roy Welensky`s United Federal Party, before founding the Rhodesian Front with Winston Field. Smith was to succeed Field as Prime Minister in April 1964. After repeated attempts at forming a settlement with the warring parties, but never able to offer sufficient incentives, he reached an agreement with African nationalists in 1978; his term as Prime Minister ended in April 1979 with the first fully "democratic" election (although many would note that the 1979 election marked only a very rudimentary form of democracy - it seems that many Africans had been advised by the guerillas that they should vote, to avoid unreasonable pressure being put on them by the security forces). Smith was then a minister without portfolio in Bishop Muzorewa's Government of National Unity, remaining in Parliament until Mugabe had him expelled in 1986. His book essentially serves both as Smith's autobiography and a refusal to admit that the problems in Rhodesia were caused by anything other than external forces. Essentially, if South African and British politicians had been more honest in their dealings with Smith, much of the tragedy could have been avoided; agreements were ignored, decisions and commitments reversed, and this, not any supposed intransigence on the part of Smith, who apparently spent most of his time trying to get his opponents to stick to their promises, brought about the tragedy of Rhodesia. Smith attempts to explain, and excuse his occasional dealings with "terrorists", often giving "examples" to justify his continued refusal to label the guerillas as anything other than "terrorists". The assumption has to be, that, had he changed his terminology, a very different book might have been written. 

From the disintegration of Federation to the dissolution of the British Empire, it was generally due to British intransigence that agreement could not be reached; when no written proof of Rhodesia's future independence was obtained following a conference at Victoria Falls granting Rhodesia independence following the collapse of the Federation, Britain was apparently concerned more about the reaction of the OAU, even if "this supposedly venerable body consisted of chaotic and bankrupt African countries ruled by dictators". 

Apparently, Smith was the sole voice arguing that as practically the lone "democrat" in Africa it was apparent that the "free world" would give in to pressure from the OAU, an organisation he vehemently opposed. Other Rhodesian delegates felt that Britain would honour her promises to the Rhodesians, but Smith had reservations: "I disagreed, believing that the OAU would grow in strength, not through performance or the justice of their cause, but because of the guilt-conscience of the free world. Already history had proved that they would resort to appeasement and back down, no matter how outrageous the demands." All sides of the British political spectrum apparently agreed the justice of of Smith's case, but once again, it was external forces (and petty behaviour by Harold Wilson) that contributed to the need for UDI.

Smith even claims that, with the original Rhodesian constitution from 1923 (which apparently had no racial connotations) and the amended 1961 constitution with a "B" roll aimed specifically at Africans ("our Black people"), this effectively would have resulted in an easy, peaceful progress towards majority rule "within 10 to 15 years". It was therefore apparent that it could only be due to stupidity and incompetence on the part of the African if white Rhodesians were able to perpetuate their control. 

Smith's apparent popularity in Britain is demonstrated in his treatment compared to Wilson on the two conferences on board British warships - HMS Tiger, 1966, and HMS Fearless, 1968; Smith being invited to dine with the officers, whilst Wilson was ignored; a view supposedly mirrored on the streets in Britain, with "Support Rhodesia" stickers on cars. The international attempts to resolve the crisis in the late 1960s and 1970s were apparently weakened by South African politicians, concerned more with stabilising their internal problems (although Smith was complimentary about the South African military; who it seems, often chose to support Rhodesia despite South African attempts to prevent this).

By the late 1970s it was becoming clear, that, due largely to the failure of international efforts to achieve any form of settlement, Smith would have to reach an accord with moderate African politicians, on condition they were to renounce violence. It was now apparent that the security forces were seriously overstretched, so Smith felt the need to get a tame supporter; and so, in April, 1979, Bishop Muzorewa was voted into power; Smith, who had apparently been preparing for retirement, decided to stay in politics to "assist" the new, inexperienced leaders. With British observers having concluded that the elections had been free and fair (a conclusion shared by very few, however), it was hoped that the new British Government, now under Margaret Thatcher, would recognise the new government and lift sanctions.  

When it was announced that the USA would not lift sanctions, Smith claimed "Carterís hypocrisy and rank dishonesty was unbelievable and unforgivable. He advanced the reason that the removal of sanctions would be to the prejudice of our country... it was obvious to any thinking person that he had only one objective in mind: winning himself black votes in the coming presidential election". Smith's actions never seemed to share the same objective.  

Thatcher was forced by Nigeria and Australia to abandon her promise to lift sanctions at the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka In August 1979. Muzorewa had failed to end the war (which was in fact escalating); this had an effect on the debate over whether or not to recognise him. Compared to Smith's intransigence, Muzorewa could be more easily manipulated by the British than Smith; the British therefore coerced Muzorewa into agreeing to a new election, which would be won by Mugabe due largely to the failure to prevent voter intimidation, and the gullibility of tribesmen not able to properly understand the election. Unsurprisingly, "Operation Quartz" is not mentioned in the book; it seems unlikely that Smith would have had no knowledge of it. Smith's decision not to participate in the independence celebrations was due to his refusal to be in the same company as "a bunch of communist terrorists who had come into their position through intimidation, corruption and a blatantly dishonest election". It now seems that Smith's intransigence was largely behind Mugabe coming to power - material recently released from the UK Public Record Office at Kew in London (under the 30 Year Rule by which the public can gain access to government papers) indicates that Smith was responsible for the failure of the proposed introduction of Joshua Nkomo as Zimbabwean president rather than Mugabe - "Better a crook than a zealot".  David Owen, then Callaghan's Foreign Secretary, had gained support from other African nations (notably Angola and Zambia) - the plan being that Smith would step down. Nkomo becoming the care-taker head of a transitional government that would hold internationally monitored elections within the year. Nkomo would therefore have gained the electoral advantage over Mugabe, but the combination of Smith's stalling, then leaking of the details (which resulted in other African leaders denouncing the plan) and the downing of Viscount Hunyani, caused any international support for Nkomo to be lessened to the point at which any chance of Nkomo becoming the new leader was destroyed.

 

Trace