Selous Scouts


The Selous Scouts (no relation to the short-lived Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Armoured Car Regiment which had previously borne the name) provided the most aggressive (and feared) arm of the Rhodesian military machine. The Scouts were named after the British explorer Frederick Courteney Selous and their motto was pamwe chete - the Shona for "all together", "together only" or "forward together". The Selous Scouts are now generally pictured as the most effective arm of the Rhodesian security apparatus. 

Certainly the number of casualties caused - whether directly inside Rhodesia, often through providing targets for Fireforce attacks, or on many of the more violent external raids,  - was greater than all other arms of the Rhodesian security apparatus combined. That they were disbanded so swiftly in 1980 (without any ceremony) and their continued portrayal in Mugabe's Zimbabwe as, essentially, poorly-trained thugs, certainly indicates the strength they were believed to wield. Certainly some of the activities that former members of the Scouts got up to after war's end would dispute the assessment that they were poorly-trained. Thuggish, possibly, but well-trained at least. 

Reid-Daly and Flower, who headed Rhodesian Intelligence did not get on - Flower looking towards a political solution for the struggle, whilst Reid-Daly seemed to believe simply that through increasingly esoteric actions, the war could be won - seeing the struggle as essentially military, rather than political. The standard apologia on the Scouts would note that a far higher proportion of Africans served in the force than any other Rhodesian unit, and that many were "turned terrs". The actual number of African troops serving in the Scouts is still debated.

Two examples are worth focusing on in some detail demonstrate the ways in which this history is being either rewritten, or simply ignored. Both are related to the "sanitisation" of the Scouts, and the Rhodesian struggle more generally. Reid-Daly completely ignores the increasingly well-documented role played by the Scouts in perpetrating Rhodesia's chemical and biological war. The book Plague Wars goes some way towards demonstrating the role performed by the Scouts as being among the first Rhodesian troops to use biological weapons during the war.

Otherwise, Edward Piringondo. A Scout from the earliest days in 1973, he was eventually nominated for Rhodesia’s highest gallantry award , the Grand Cross of Valour; only two other soldiers were to receive this award; Acting Captain C . F. Schulenberg (Selous Scouts) and Major Grahame Wilson, second-in-command of the SAS (sometimes rather esoterically known as "The Phantom Major"). Piringondo died "on operations", and is listed on the Rhodesian roll of honour as "KOAS Detonation of Explosives" (he was apparently blown up while trying to plant a bomb at a church, part of the Rhodesians’ increasingly unsubtle propaganda campaign against ‘Marxist’ ZANU before the 1980 elections). Piringondo receives no mention at all in the earlier Selous Scouts -  Top Secret War, and only the most perfunctory mention in Pamwe Chete - in neither of these is there any mention whatsoever of the man, his life, or his fate. 


Robert Taber wrote in the "War of the Flea" in the late 1960's that the '...counter insurgents could not match the insurgents tactics." Today they not only try to match but sometimes they succeed in being more progressive in their use of methods than the insurgents. Initial attempts at "psuedo operations" in Rhodesia (psuedo operations were when members of the security forces masqueraded as guerillas - this approach had initially been tried during the Mao Mao years in Kenya) had apparently been carried out unsuccessfully as early as 1967, but it would only be several years later that it was decided the role to be played by the Scouts would be a valuable one. The later attempts to recruit African servicemen from the RAR - presumably due to the relatively low numbers of "turned terrs" were resisted by regular servicemen. 

One of the less savoury activities is chronicled in the following link : Project Coast. Whilst Basson was to cause even greater damage later on, it is fair to say that Rhodesia, and the Selous Scouts, offered him an excellent starting-point. (For more, check my review of the book "Plague Wars"). A long article in the South African Sunday Times (31 October 1999) claimed that the witness, a mercenary now living in Texas, saw Basson injecting men with an unknown substance before they were thrown out of the plane over Mozambique in 1979. The group he saw included South African recces and an American intelligence officer. The group who had been injected were clearly still alive, and semi-conscious. His assumption was that this contamination would then be spread among the guerrilla forces in the area.

Otherwise, the Scouts have been linked both to the initial and continuing Rhodesian use of chemical and biological warfare. Reid Daly again fails to mention these.  

After war's end, perhaps due to the reputation that had been created and possibly with more than a grain of truth, former Scouts were implicated in a number of unsavoury activities, many connected with the death-throes of apartheid South Africa. The assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme in 1986 - a strident anti-apartheid campaigner - has been linked to a former Scout, then working with BOSS (the South African Bureau of State Security). A number of other South African related sources have also been implicated. Captain Anthony White remains an intriguing character who, amongst other activities, seems to have run an exceptionally unprincipled logging operation in Mozambique, played a role in the increasingly well-documented ivory poaching activities performed by the Scouts during the war (ironically, many of his former colleagues were to work for the National Parks organisation in Zimbabwe - it is fairly safe to assume that any who still remain there would probably not admit to their past) and seems to have been involved in Palme's assassination.