Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Profile: THE MAN WHO TRIED TO TURN THE TIDE: Ian Smith

In A.Graham on January 23, 2018 at 5:35 pm

There’s been much publicity given by the media to Mugabe’s attempts to cling to power in Zimbabwe as he became increasingly isolated.

But there’s been hardly any coverage given to the man who preceded him – Ian Smith.  Smith was the last white Prime Minister of what was then called Rhodesia. It was a self-governing colony in which the black majority had no say in the government of their own country.

Ian Smith was a second generation Rhodesian settler, one of the white minority who ruled the country (they numbered no more than 120,000 at their peak). Smith became Prime Minister in 1960, and was to occupy that post (increasingly precariously) until 1979).

FIGHTER PILOT:

Before taking up politics, Smith had had an interesting role in the Second World War. He volunteered for the RAF, and became a fighter pilot in a Spitfire squadron. After being shot down over Corsica he fought alongside Italian partisans behind German lines.

After the end of the war, he was de-mobbed and returned to Rhodesia, where he entered the colony’s political circle (restricted, of course, to the White population).  Here, he went on to become a Minister, and from there rose to be Prime Minister,

WINDS OF CHANGE:

But Rhodesia was facing the winds of change. “Colonisation” was going out of fashion, and Smith and his government came under increasing pressure to allow the black majority to vote in future elections.

Smith declared that there would be no black rule – ever – but he was becoming increasingly isolated in a changing world.  According to one joke that circulated at the time, white Rhodesia had become “a Surrey with the lunatic fringe on top” (you have to remember the song to appreciate the pun).

With a Labour government now in power, pressure was increasingly brought to bear on Smith to move towards black majority rule. In 1965, in response, Rhodesia declared UDI, declaring that the move was “striking a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity” (sic).

Of course this was unacceptable as far as Britain was concerned. But Harold Wilson, the PM, was reluctant to use force to impose a settlement.  Instead he imposed sanctions which he believed would be sufficient to reach a deal for the introduction of black rule.

Meanwhile, Rhodesia’s external support was eroding.. Portugal’s African colonies of Angola and Mozambique gained their independence, and the backing of South Africa (the last African bastion of white rule) was becoming less certain.

In Britain’s election of 1971, Labour lost and the Tories returned to power under Alec Douglas Home (remember him?) A deal was struck with Smith to legalise his declaration of independence, with an eventual (bur remote) movement towards black majority rule.

CIVIL WAR:

Such a formula was, of course, unworkable and Rhodesia descended into civil war. The tide was now turning against Smith and finally he was forced to hold talks.

Interestingly his first meeting with Mugabe was quite cordial. Smith declared that he was someone who “behaved like a balanced, civilised westerner”.  He was soon to revise his opinion!

Finally, however, Mugabe took over the reins of power. And Rhodesia was confined to the history books, becoming the independent country of  Zimbabwe – with Mugabe as its president.

As for Ian Smith, he left politics, to devote his time to his 5,000 acre farm – but he continued to denounce the Mugabe Government to an ever-decreasing audience.

He finally died in Capetown in 2007 – by that time an almost forgotten footnote in the history of Africa.

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