Good Old Smithy: the Passing Away of Ian Douglas Smith

Good Old Smithy, PDF format

Ian Smith, the brave and principled former prime minister of Rhodesia, fondly referred to as “good old Smithy” by his supporters, passed away in Cape Town, South Africa, on the 20th November 2007.  He was 88, and had been living in South Africa since 2005.

On 11 November 1965, Ian Smith’s government unilaterally declared independence from Britain, because Britain had not been honouring its word or keeping its promises or agreements.  From 1965 to 1979 Smith served as Rhodesian prime minister, and these were the most turbulent and violent years of Rhodesia’s history.  Rhodesia was isolated by the United Nations, international sanctions were imposed, and Rhodesians courageously resisted the Soviet-backed black Marxist terror organisations’ assault.  They did remarkably well, and were it not for their betrayal by Britain and other western nations, they would not have finally lost the country to Robert Mugabe’s terrorist organisation, ZANU-PF.  Through massively rigged elections overseen by Britain in 1980, Mugabe came to power, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, and the country became a Marxist state.

Who was Ian Douglas Smith?  He was indeed a most remarkable man.  He was born in Rhodesia in 1919.  Rhodesia at that time was a young country, just a couple of decades old, and still wild in many ways.  It was a British colony.  During the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force and served in 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron.  He was seriously injured in a crash landing, breaking his jaw, leg, and shoulder and suffering severe facial wounds.  But once he had recovered he returned to active duty.  In 1944 his Spitfire was shot down over northern Italy, but he parachuted to safety and for five months he evaded capture, then later crossed the Alps, much of the time with bare feet, and joined up with the Allied Forces in France.

Smith married Janet Watt in 1948, became a farmer, and also entered parliament in Rhodesia.  Later he founded the Rhodesian Front party, and became prime minister of Rhodesia in April 1964, at the age of 45.  On the 11th November 1965, Rhodesia declared UDI – Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain.  Smith declared that in taking this step he was seeking to preserve western civilization, and to combat Communism.

I was born in Rhodesia two years before UDI.  Although our family moved to South Africa, we returned to Rhodesia for some years in the 1970s.  It was a wonderful life for any boy.  Despite the ongoing terrorist revolution, what a country it was!  It had the reputation of being probably the safest country in the world.  As a young boy of eight or nine I used to cycle alone to school, part of my route lying through open veldt.  I was perfectly safe.  My friends and I used to play in the veldt, without parental supervision, for hours on end, only coming home in the evenings.  Everything was efficient, well run, well maintained, neat, clean, and tidy.  The wildlife reserves were pristine.  The cities shone in the African sun.  There were world-class hospitals, schools, roads, railways, etc.  None of these things existed before the whites arrived, for prior to their arrival the territory which came to be known as Rhodesia was under the despotic rule of black tyrants.

There was very little animosity between black and white.  Ian Smith himself, although he was prime minister, frequently travelled around without so much as a bodyguard or a policeman to protect him.  By contrast, Robert Mugabe, the supposed “liberator”, travels with a massive entourage of motorbikes, police cars, armoured vehicles, soldiers, etc.  Why is it that Smith could travel alone even during the dark days when Rhodesia was under attack from terrorists, yet Mugabe does not feel secure unless surrounded by protectors?  If Mugabe really brought peace and freedom and joy to his people, what is he afraid of?

But the Marxist revolution began to take its toll.  I remember spending a weekend with a friend on his parents’ farm, and we were carefully instructed as to what to do if a hand grenade was lobbed through our bedroom window at night.  Such instructions were passed on to children matter-of-factly.  Everyone had to be prepared.  Robert Mugabe’s terrorists were committing shocking atrocities.  In addition to young men going to the army, older married men, family men, were spending a few months every year in the armed forces as well.  The revolution was escalating.  But Rhodesians stood firm, isolated from the rest of the western world, betrayed by their supposed friends.  They were doing their utmost best, small as the country was.  “With incredible gallantry young national servicemen, as well as the regular army, took up the challenge in the 1960s and not once in all the years of the bush war that followed [right through to 1980! – S.W.], did they face defeat.  They defended the people especially in the rural areas with outstanding tenacity, irrespective of colour or tribe of people who needed protection.  It was the tribal people who suffered worst at the hands of terrorists.” [1]  Rhodesians had a sense of destiny; of a special, almost unique purpose in the world.  As the League of Rhodesia put it in 1976: “We in Rhodesia have a very strong sense of national purpose.  We feel we’ve been singled out by Providence to be the stumbling block in the path of communist aggression.  There is yet time for the Western powers to put Rhodesia’s stand in its historical perspective; but they are leaving it dangerously late”. [2]

This was correct.  This tiny country stood, almost alone except for the support of South Africa until near the end, and against overwhelming foes, against Communist aggression in southern Africa for 15 years.  The Soviet Union picked off the immensely strategic southern African countries one by one.  Mozambique, Angola, Zambia – these were all in the Soviet camp already.  The ultimate prize, of course, was the Republic of South Africa, the richest and most powerful of them all.  But to defeat South Africa, the Communists first had to pick off each one of its neighbouring countries.  White-governed, conservative Rhodesia resisted.  And because it resisted, Communist victory in all of southern Africa was delayed for many years.  And this was an immense blessing not just for Rhodesia and South Africa, but for the entire west as well, even though the western liberal leaders could not see it, or rather – did not want to do so.

After Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and the tyrant Mugabe took over, the vast majority of Rhodesia’s whites left the country.  Rhodesia once had a white population of a quarter of a million.  Today there are less than 50 000 whites in Zimbabwe.  They left because they knew what Mugabe would do.  They were right – he destroyed their country.  Ian Smith, however, continued to live in Zimbabwe.  He refused to leave.  This was his home, and he intended to stay.  And stay he did, despite frequent threats from government ministers, despite being declared Zimbabwe’s public enemy no.1.  He lived quietly on his farm, although he boldly denounced Mugabe’s insane policies and racist thuggery.  “He [Mugabe] should have gone long ago,” he told Reuters in 2000.  “He has ruined a wonderful country.” [3]