The Great Betrayal - book cover

First available in April, 1997

IAN SMITH, Rhodesia's former Prime Minister, is a man with the power to excite powerful emotions in all who hear his name!

To those who revere him he is a hero, a mighty leader, a man whose formidable integrity led him into head-to-head confrontation with the Labour Government of Britain in the 1960s.

To others he is a demon, a reactionary whose intransigence long delayed majority rule in an important corner of Africa.

The truth, as this revealing and long-awaited autobiography reveals, lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Ian Smith's story begins in a small African town where he was brought up with a strong tradition of service to the community. Interrupting his university career, he fought for the RAF in the Second World War. He was shot down over Italy and escaped by hiking over the freezing Alps in his socks.

He entered politics in 1948, shortly after the war ended. He vehemently believed that the plans of Whitehall were not in the best interests of his people and finally declared unilateral independence. His dramatic rebellion against the Crown forfeited the support of the British establishment, but earned him the admiration of many ordinary people. Smith devoted his life to defeating sanctions and the armed onslaught of African Nationalists. He finally managed to bring majority rule to Rhodesia in 1979. His successor, Bishop Muzorewa, refused to be advised by Ian Smith and fell for the guile of Lord Carrington instead. The marxist Robert Mugabe took over the reins of power shortly afterwards, exactly as Smith had warned he would.

Ian Smith brings his story to the present day by detailing excesses of power by President Mugabe, and revealing the way in which Mugabe has crushed his Matabele opposition to create the virtual dictatorship which exists in Zimbabwe today. 


Born on 8 April 1919 in rural Rhodesia, Ian Smith was the third child and only son of John and Agnes Smith, both later awarded MBEs for public service. A gifted all-rounder, he was educated at Chaplin High School, Gwelo, and at Rhodes University, South Africa, before joining No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, RAF.

He was critically injured in a Hurricane crash in 1943, and after recovering he rejoined his squadron to be shot down over the Po River in June 1944. He fought with the Italian partisans before escaping over the Maritime Alps to liberated France. In 1945 he flew over Germany before returning to Rhodes University to complete his degree in Commerce.

In 1948 he acquired a farm, married Janet Watt and entered Parliament. He moved from the Liberal Party to the United Federal Party of Sir Roy Welensky, before founding the Rhodesian Front with Winston Field to thwart British plans for Rhodesia.

He succeeded Field as Prime Minister in April 1964. Smith took Rhodesia through the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and, after repeated attempts at settlement, he reached an agreement with African nationalists in 1978. His term as Prime Minister ended with the first fully democratic election of April 1979. He was a minister without portfolio in Bishop Muzorewa's Government of National Unity and remained in Parliament until Robert Mugabe had him expelled in 1986. Janet died after a short illness in late 1994, and Ian Smith continues to farm in Zimbabwe while retaining his keen interest in politics and sport.

Ian Smith

Book Review


The Memoirs of Africa’s Most Controversial Leader


Ian Smith

Hardback, 418pp, ill., Blake Publishing, London, 1997.

The long-awaited memoirs of Ian Smith, former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, and one of Africa’s most controversial leaders, are at last in print.

Originally scheduled for publication by Harper-Collins at the end of 1995, the book was cancelled at the last moment amid much publicity by the media that this was due to Collins wanting Smith to change all references to Mugabe and his men as "terrorists", to "guerrillas" or "freedom-fighters". Smith refused and went looking for another publisher who would not claim the right to censor his words. When asked about the reasons for cancelling the book, a spokeswoman at Collins was vague and confused, saying "We were going ahead. But we are not now. I am not clear why."

Reading through the book it is difficult to see how Collins could reasonably expect Ian Smith to change his terminology - one can only surmise that the people at Collins failed initially to read the manuscript properly, and then, when they did, back-pedalled in alarm. Throughout the book Smith takes great pains to explain to the reader how he stuck to his principles, acted according to his conscience, all the while marvelling at the duplicity exhibited by some British and South African politicians while attempting to "solve the Rhodesian problem". Agreements were ignored, decisions and commitments reversed, and this, not any supposed intransigence on the part of Smith, who spent most of his time trying to get his opponents to stick to their promises, brought about the tragedy of Rhodesia. Equally, Smith’s views on (and occasional dealings with) the terrorists are explained throughout the book, and he gives numerous examples and analyses to point out the reasons for so regarding those whom leftist politicians and communists have accorded the misnomer of "freedom-fighters". Changing his terminology would in effect have meant re-writing the better part of his book, and, in the process, denying his own principles and beliefs! Smith was not prepared to do so, and fortunately, a publisher made of sterner stuff has now been found, prepared to publish the book without feeling a need to censor it.

The wait for Ian Smith’s book has been worth it. It is a large volume of over 400 pages, and unlike many books focussing mainly on politics, is absorbing to read. Smith’s style of writing is clear and to the point, without the obscure political theorising that often clouds the efforts of politicians to chronicle their lives and achievements. For anyone interested in the subject of Rhodesia, it contains a wealth of detail not published elsewhere, and, after the spate of books in recent years criticising the white Rhodesians, it provides the reader with a clear and reasoned insight into the Rhodesian viewpoint by an expert on the subject.

The book can be regarded as both an autobiography and a history of Rhodesia, since, for most of his adult life, Ian Smith has been closely involved in shaping the course of Rhodesian history. The first few chapters concern his early life as a student, to be followed by his career as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during the second world war, and then back to Rhodesia to complete his studies and settle down to a combination of farming and politics.

Smith gives a detailed account of the Federation - the combination of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland - and his election to the Federal Parliament. Smith was often described as politically naive "cowboy", but in 1961 he was the only delegate out of a total of 400 at a party congress to stand up and proclaim his distrust of the British proposals for the future of the Federation.

The African extremists in both Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were agitating for the dissolution of the Federation and independence for their countries, claiming that Southern Rhodesia was merely taking advantage of them. Smith felt that, with the "winds of change" sweeping through the continent and bringing prominence to all kinds of extremist and pro- communist African leaders, the British were showing signs of wanting to be rid of their colonial problems, regardless of the cost to the white Africans.

His instincts were to prove correct when, at a conference at Victoria Falls, the British Minister for Central African Affairs, Mr. R. A. Butler, made a long speech praising (Southern) Rhodesia for its contribution to the war effort, its healthy economy and wonderful record of responsible government, but when asked point-blank by Smith if this meant that an agreement could now be signed on the question of independence for Rhodesia, Butler replied:

In all these matters dealing with inter-family affairs, between the mother country and her colonies, there must be trust, because without that it simply would not work. Our record with you substantiates that, would you not agree? The thought of signing documents which could be subjected to legal wrangling is completely out of character with the spirit of trust which we believe in and which has characterised our Commonwealth. (p. 54)
A persuasive speech, but it left the Rhodesians without any documentary proof of British agreement to granting Rhodesia independence shortly after the break-up of the Federation. The British were later to hedge and prevaricate, worried about the reaction of the O.A.U., despite the fact that this supposedly venerable body consisted of chaotic and bankrupt African countries ruled by dictators! 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. (p. 61)
Smith was right. The British Government forgot all about the "spirit of trust", went back on its word, and began to warn the Rhodesians of the dangers of declaring unilateral independence. The motley collection of one-party and military dictatorships which now comprised the OAU and a large part of the Commonwealth, called the tune, and the British Government listened, despite the fact that these same countries consistently insulted and hurled abuse at Britain.

Throughout his account of the circumstances surrounding the question of independence for Rhodesia, it is apparent that even now, many years later, Smith still finds it hard to believe that the British could so easily abandon their principles and give in to the demands of African leaders who paid only lip-service to the cause of democracy in Africa. He points out that:

British politicians, including the Labour Party, conceded the justice of our case, and had expressed their desire to assist in producing a solution. But they were hamstrung by the views of other people in the outside world, who were extraneous to the problem... for reasons of political expediency, winning votes in an election, the views of others must be taken into consideration. (p. 77)
The negotiations that preceded UDI were characterised by petty spite and childish tricks on the part of Harold Wilson and his ministers. They were furious that Ian Smith, as Rhodesian P.M., was invited to attend Winston Churchill’s funeral. They therefore contrived to “forget” to send Smith an invitation to lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, along with the other prime ministers. The Queen, however, noticing his mysterious absence, sent her personal equerry to fetch him, thus foiling Wilson’s little plan. When Smith was invited by the BBC to participate in a television discussion, Wilson used his influence to have the invitation cancelled. Smith was extremely popular in Britain, and Wilson was resentful of this.

The British efforts to prevent Rhodesian independence under responsible government hinged on their claim that it was racially biased and the African majority would have no say in running the country. This was a false premise, as Smith explains:

Going back to the original Rhodesian constitution of 1923, there was no racial connotation to the franchise, and from that date there have been people of every race, colour and creed on the voters’ roll. The next step came forty years later with the 1961 constitution, and this embodied the addition of a ‘B’ roll with a debased franchise qualification especially designed to cater for our black people. The normal roll, or ‘A’ roll as it was now called, remained open to all irrespective of race, colour or creed. So this new constitution, far from trying to entrench our white people, did the reverse, and facilitated and encouraged the participation of our black people. The constitution was accepted by, and carries the signatures of, representatives of the British Government, the Rhodesian Government, and the black nationalist leaders. It enshrined the principle of ‘unimpeded progress to majority rule’ and the British representatives involved in drawing up the constitution estimated that it would culminate in a black majority government within ten to fifteen years. If this is the manner in which white Rhodesians attempted to perpetuate their rule of the country, their incompetence, not to say stupidity, was most remarkable. (p. 103)
Despite last-minute pleas and even threats, the British and Rhodesian views were irreconcilable, and UDI was declared on 11 November, 1965. Smith and his government were to defy the British, the United Nations, and African extremists until 1979, keeping the Rhodesian economy functioning and even improving, despite a terrorist campaign and a UN embargo on trade.

An interesting point throughout the period of UDI was the obvious contrast between the views of the British Government and the views of the British man-in-the-street. Although Wilson tried to project Rhodesia as a danger to world peace and a case for urgent UN action, the average Englishman was favourably inclined towards the simple, straight-talking style of Smith, especially when compared with the theatrical antics of those African leaders, such as Idi Amin, who demanded his removal. "Support Rhodesia" stickers proliferated in Britain and at political meetings the cry "Smith for PM in Britain" (only half in jest) could often be heard!

This attitude was particularly prevalent among the British armed forces. After UDI had been declared, Wilson sent RAF squadrons and troops to Zambia at Kaunda’s request as "protection" against the Rhodesians. The commanding officers and men made it clear to Wilson, however, that they would not comply with any order to attack the Rhodesians, their allies during the war. Instead they took every opportunity to cross the border and renew old friendships with the ‘enemy’, raising their glasses at New Year parties to toast "Smith and Rhodesia"! The RAF pilots, reluctant to depend on Zambian airfield facilities, were often guided in by the air traffic controllers in Rhodesia...

Discussions were held with Wilson on two occasions on board British warships, but without result. Here again the high regard in which the British armed forces held Ian Smith became apparent - he was invited to dine with the officers, Wilson was ignored.

Smith describes in full the numerous attempts to solve the impasse in the 1960s and 1970s, including the efforts of Henry Kissinger to mediate. For South African politicians such as Vorster he has little regard, pointing out repeatedly that they were more concerned with promoting their own detente policy than in solving the Rhodesian problem, although he had a good working relationship with the South African military, which was anxious to help as much as possible, sometimes even in defiance of their own politicians. The conference in Geneva, also unsuccessful, is described in some detail.

By the late 1970s the Rhodesians, tired of the fruitless efforts to achieve a solution in cooperation with the British, focussed their attention on obtaining an accord with some of the nationalist leaders who were prepared to renounce violence and work together with the whites in bringing about a democratic African majority government. Another reason was the fact that some whites in the security forces, although winning every battle they fought against the terrorists, were beginning to have doubts about the long-term future of the country. As Smith relates, it took a great deal of effort to get Bishop Muzorewa "into the starting stalls", but once he had been convinced to participate, he complimented Smith on his achievement in bringing together the various erstwhile enemies.

It appeared that the internal settlement was going to be accepted, with Andrew Young and Cyrus Vance visiting Rhodesia to discuss the situation, and reacting positively to what they saw and heard in the country. Later meetings with Vance, however, were less productive, as he was unable to make any decisions without first obtaining clearance from President Carter and the OAU.

In April, 1979, Bishop Muzorewa was voted into power, and Smith, who had been preparing for retirement, changed his mind and decided to stay in politics and assist the new and inexperienced leaders. At first it seemed that the British Government, now led by Margaret Thatcher, would recognise the new government and lift sanctions. British observers had confirmed in their reports that the elections had been free and fair.

Then, in June, it was announced that the USA would not lift sanctions. Smith comments:

Carter’s 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. (p 306)
In August Margaret Thatcher was forced to abandon her promise to lift sanctions by Nigeria and Australia at the Commonwealth conference in Lusaka. The fact that the terrorist war had not ended, but was in fact escalating, was also having an effect on the debate over whether or not to recognise Muzorewa. He had promised that the war would end, but had failed to deliver. The British pressed strongly for a new conference to discuss the situation, feeling that with the redoubtable Ian Smith out of the way, they could manipulate Muzorewa into accepting another election, this time with the participation of Nkomo and Mugabe.

Once Muzorewa had been persuaded to agree to a new election, the British Government continued to make empty promises that they would ensure a free and fair election. Prompted mainly by their desire to be rid of the Rhodesian problem once and for all, they allowed Mugabe’s ZANU to intimidate the voters without fear of being disqualified, despite earlier promises to act decisively if intimidation were to take place.

For Smith, one of the worst offenders was Carrington:

During my world of politics I have come into contact with my fair share of devious characters, but I regard Carrington as the most two-faced of them all. (p. 365)
Hector MacDonald, the Chief Justice of Rhodesia, resigned and left the country, explaining that Carrington had persuaded him and the other delegates at Lancaster House to agree to a new election by undertaking to throw their full support behind Muzorewa. They had also failed to act on the evidence given to them of over a thousand cases of ZANU intimidation. Smith describes the basic method used by ZANU:
The poor, gullible tribesman, already bemused by an election which he was unable to comprehend, extending over three days with intimidation rampant, was instructed by ZANU(PF), prior to the election, that the first day was for Mugabe, the second for Muzorewa and the third for Nkomo. Then the day and evening preceding the election, the messages went out through the ZANU(PF) party machine, that everybody must vote tomorrow, i.e. the first day, which they had previously instructed was for Mugabe. The vast majority voted that day - they had been warned of the consequences if they did not. (p. 354)
Smith points out that
Lord Soames conceded that he had received over one thousand affidavits, many of them endorsed by British observers, confirming massive intimidation by ZANU comrades canvassing while pointing their guns at voters. (p.409)
The agreement had been that if a party used intimidation, it would be disqualified. Soames, however, admitted that Carrington had told him this would be unacceptable to the OAU and was therefore out of the question.

General Walls, the commander of the Rhodesian security forces, comes in for a lot of criticism by Smith for not having played a more active and decisive role during and after the elections. His troops began to lose faith in him, and the commanders of the RLI and Selous Scouts paid Walls a visit and informed him that he no longer enjoyed the support or respect of the men in those units.

Despite all their efforts to ensure a free and fair election, the Rhodesians were ultimately forced to accept the fact that Mugabe and his ZANU(PF) were now in power, and that life was about to change considerably. Smith decided not to be on hand for the independence celebrations:

My decision to be well out of the way was deliberate. Although one had become inured to the facility with which British politicians resorted to appeasement as part and parcel of implementing their ‘diplomacy’, we were now confronted by something which exceeded all their previous nefarious escapades. The thought of being confronted by a scene where they would be wringing their hands in apparent pleasure, and fawning around a bunch of communist terrorists who had come into their position through intimidation, corruption and a blatantly dishonest election, was a situation against which my whole system would revolt. (p. 358)
Once Mugabe had taken office, many white Rhodesians were impressed by his friendly and business-like attitude. He was not at all what they had expected, going by his reputation. He wanted the whites to stay, and work together with him, he said. Smith met with him several times to discuss problems that needed to be solved in order to retain white confidence in the future of the country. During the first few months Mugabe appeared sensible and anxious to address and solve these problems, which included increasing communist propaganda in the media and attacks on white farmers by ZANU terrorists. Mugabe’s promises to take action, however, were not fulfilled, and slowly Smith began to wonder if
he was not resorting to the tactic of feigning ignorance and passing the buck to his various ministers when in fact they were following his instructions. Recently I had experienced a growing uneasy feeling that he was gradually reverting to his true colours as a dedicated communist. (p. 365)
It did not take long for Mugabe’s true colours to show. Although Smith had given a positive report on Mugabe to Britain and the USA during his visit to these countries, he began to realise that Mugabe was slowly but surely preparing for a confrontation with ZAPU, his only real political rival and the last major opposition to achieving a one-party state. Nkomo was demoted and a dozen of his ZAPU officials were detained, including the ZIPRA commanders, Lookout Masuku (who was to die in prison) and Dumiso Dabengwa.

Smith, whose party had undertaken not to criticise Mugabe in public, again confronted Mugabe, this time on his public statement that he planned to create a one-party communist state in Zimbabwe. Smith pointed out that he would be throwing away a lot of goodwill and support both within the country and abroad, and that he would feel obliged to voice his criticisms in public if Mugabe continued on this course. Mugabe refused thereafter to meet with Smith.

The new regime now began to openly provoke the whites, telling the blacks that if whites did not support ZANU, the blacks were entitled to seek retribution! The policy of reconciliation was fast fading as Mugabe began to feel that his grip on power was strong enough to act with impunity. He began to make speeches attacking the whites and generally inciting racial hatred against them. More whites were killed, and emigration rose to 10,000 per month.

Carrington, who visited the country in 1982, refused to meet Ian Smith as leader of the parliamentary opposition (accepted tradition in Britain). In this, according to Smith, he was emulating Mugabe - "If you do not agree with me and my plans, then I refuse to talk to you."

In the razzias against the Matabele, conducted by Mugabe’s ruthless North-Korean trained private army, over 30,000 people were killed.

Mugabe’s government now openly ignored high court decisions, imprisoned whites without trial, and Mugabe himself attacked the whites in his speeches. Smith remained an obstacle in the way of Mugabe’s plans, and so orders were given for Smith to be harrassed. He was arrested at an art gallery for "talking politics" and his farm was raided by the police (in case he was hiding subversive materials beneath his vegetable garden, was one reason given). In each case when Smith asked for the reasons, he was told by embarrassed policemen that it was "orders from above."

Legislation was passed giving Mugabe the right to "declare anything done illegally to be legal and anything done legally to be illegal, and if he thinks any election result to be wrong he may declare it null and void." Mugabe had obviously read the works of Lewis Carroll carefully.

When elections were held in 1985 opposition supporters had their windows smashed, and at least three people were killed.

In the election of 1990, opposition candidates received visits from the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) and were given a clear message - withdraw from the election or their families would get the message... Many saw the light in time to avoid the violence and killing that was now openly advocated by ZANU officials as the only way to ensure a new ZANU victory at the polls. Killers who shot and assaulted political opponents were initially caught by the police, but if they were ZANU members, Mugabe simply pardoned them and they were set free. The police were powerless in the face of Mugabe’s stranglehold on the country.

Smith also exposes the land appropriation tactics of Mugabe’s Government - although there were over 2 million acres of farmland available, with another 1 million readily available from willing sellers, this did not fit ZANU’s vote-gathering tactic of claiming that "white racists”" still owned all the best land and had to be forced to hand it over. There was, in fact, so much land available that it became an embarrassment to the Government, which was unable to dispose of it all! The solution was simple - it was allocated to ZANU party officials, swelling the coffers of the already wealthy party leadership.

As the economy rapidly went bankrupt and became ever more dependent on loans and handouts, Mugabe’s solution was to raise the defence budget from Z$115 million to Z$1,3 billion, award himself and his wealthy minsters a 64% salary increase, and buy a Z$200 million helicopter to use for campaigning and personal trips...

Smith rounds off his book with praise for President Mandela’s success to date in managing to avoid most of the pitfalls and excesses that have accompanied the independence of almost every other country in Africa. Time will tell whether or not South Africa will be able to break free of Africa’s time-honoured tradition of "one-man-one-vote, once."

©Richard Allport, March, 1997

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