Monday, April 8, 2019

14 terrorists for interrogation

‘The operation was a success which exceeded our expectations, with everybody safely back - the most serious casualties were two cuts and a bruise. The snatch from ZIPRA base in Botswana brought back 14 terrorists for interrogation . . .’. This is Ian Douglas Smith, the white Rhodesian politician born a century ago today, who led his country into independence from Britain and through many years of international sanctions and mounting opposition and attacks by black Rhodesians. The quote, along with just a few others, comes from a diary kept by Smith. They are quoted in his sole autobiographical work, but there is almost no other readily available information about his diaries.

Smith was born on 8 April 1919 in Selukwe, Rhodesia (now Shurugwi, Zimbabwe), then a British colony. He was educated locally, and at Rhodes University, Grahamstown (South Africa) until 1939, when he joined the Royal Air Force. He was shot down twice during World War Two (after one crash, part of his face was reconstructed surgically), but survived to complete his university studies in commerce. Back in Selukwe he married Janet Watt, with whom he had one child (though he also took on Janet’s two young children). Having decided on a career in politics he served, from 1948, in the Legislative Assembly as a Rhodesian party member. And when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed in 1953, Smith was elected to the federal parliament as a member of the ruling United Federal party. He was appointed chief government whip in 1958.

In 1961, though, when the federalists supported a new constitution allowing for greater black representation in Parliament, Smith resigned from the party, and became a founding member of the new right-wing Rhodesian Front party This won a surprise victory in the 1962 general election. Under Prime Minister Winston Field, Smith served as deputy prime minister and minister of the Treasury. The Federation was dissolved in 1963, and in 1964 Field was ousted, and Smith became prime minister of Southern Rhodesia. He soon ran into a serious stand-off with Britain, and in 1965 unilaterally declared Rhodesia independent. Britain refused to accept this move. It sought and won approval from the UN for economic sanctions - nevertheless, Rhodesia continued to receive oil and other goods from South Africa and Portuguese Mozambique. In 1969, Smith won a referendum establishing Rhodesia as a republic and enshrining a constitution favourable to the white minority.

In the early 1970s, Smith’s government was preoccupied with developing military capability to counter increasing black Rhodesian guerrilla activity. In 1977, finally, he negotiated with the moderate black leader Bishop Muzorewa for a transfer of power from the whites to the black majority. Smith remained as prime minister and a member of the Transitional Executive Council that oversaw the process until mid-1979. In 1980, Robert Mugabe easily won an election and established the first free African government in Zimbabwe. Smith remained a member of parliament until 1987, when he was suspended. Although his influence was waning, he continued to criticise the government, and tried, unsuccessfully, to rally opposition parties in the 1995 elections. He moved to Cape Town in 2005, and died there two years later. Further biographical information can be found at Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and

In 1997, after Smith had effectively retired from politics, John Blake published The Great Betrayal: The Memoirs of Ian Douglas Smith. This was subsequently republished under slightly different titles: Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal, and Bitter Harvest: Zimbabwe and the Aftermath of its Independence. Some pages of this latter can be previewed at Googlebooks. In the memoir, Smith refers to - and quotes from - his diary on a few occasions. However, I have not been able to find any further information about this diary. In a Washington Post article from 1983, Smith is quoted as saying that, after his house had been searched, some of his diaries had not been returned. And Dr Richard Wood (I presume, though his name is absent) in an obituary on the website for 1st Battalion Rhodesian Light Infantry Regimental Association says he helped Smith on his memoir but was not, however, ‘offered access to his private papers or his diaries’. 

Here are most of the quotes from Smith’s diary that he includes in his memoir.

6 February 1976
‘A message from Harold Hawkins [the Rhodesian diplomat] to say that Vorster had called him in for a briefing on how the talks were going, and then thinking aloud wondered whether it might not be a good idea for South Africa to have an observer present. If we agreed he hoped an invitation would come from us, as they did not want to be seen to be pushing in! We discussed the idea and concluded that it would be preferable if they stayed at home.’

7 February 1976
‘Spent a few hours this morning watching our Currie Cup cricket game against Western Province, and Rhodesia put up a very good performance. Eric Rowan, one of South Africa’s great batsmen, was there, and he came and had a good talk with me - cricket and politics! That evening a message came in reporting a successful encounter, where we had bagged 18 terrorists with no casualties on our side. An enjoyable and successful day.’

13 May 1978
‘A pleasant break away from it all, with a happy trip to Kariba to unveil a
memorial to Operation Noah. This had been a fantastically successful exercise, rescuing thousands of wild animals [when Lake Kariba started to fill for the first time], something quite unique and which had never previously been done in the world. My heart was in tune with that small, simple, dignified ceremony, in keeping with the concept and execution of the operation, which extended over a period of a few years in order to ensure maximum rescue.’

12 April 1979
‘For the past week I’ve been talking with Nat JOC about a few trans-border operations. From captured terrorists we have information that it is their intention to step up operations during our election in order to harass and embarrass us. ZIPRA has a base in Botswana, and they travel to and from Zambia using the Kazangula ferry. The ZIPRA HQ is in Lusaka, the nerve centre from which all their operations are planned. And they have a large base west of Lusaka from which operations in that area are conducted. One captive from that base tells us that they are planning a big operation to take over a landing strip in north-western Matabeleland, to which they will fly in aircraft from Angola. Our chaps on the ground are hoping that they will try, because they will all be eliminated and we would welcome a few extra aircraft to add to our fleet! But of course, they have neither the ability nor the nerve for such an operation.

So we are going in tonight with a four-pronged attack, just to give them a reminder. The preparations have been meticulous, because at this kind of game the element of surprise is crucial and for that reason one seldom has a second chance. As always, there are great risks, especially with daring operations, and one of these involves driving over the Kafue Bridge on the main trunk road, which is heavily guarded. But our SAS have a plan, and they are confident. These fantastic chaps have proved so many times in the past that they can do the almost impossible. I wished them well, and that night offered up a prayer for their safe return. Many a time I have heard visiting military specialists comment that our Army and Air Force must be, for its size, one of the finest in the world.’

13 April 1979
‘The operation was a success which exceeded our expectations, with everybody safely back - the most serious casualties were two cuts and a bruise. The snatch from ZIPRA base in Botswana brought back 14 terrorists for interrogation, the Kazangula ferry was at the bottom of the Zambezi River, Nkomo’s house, which is a stone’s throw from State House in Lusaka, was demolished, and ZIPRA HQ and an arms cache nearby blown up. The base west of Lusaka was sent flying in all directions.’

No comments: