8 APRIL 1919 – 20 NOVEMBER 2007
The courageous Prime Minister of Rhodesia (from 1964-1979) died peacefully of natural causes at St. James, near Cape Town, in South Africa.
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 MBE’s for Public Service. A gifted sportsman, Ian Smith was educated at Chaplin High School, Gwelo, and at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, South Africa.
With the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force and served in 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron. He flew Hawker Hurricanes serving in Egypt, Lebanon, Persia, Iraq, and then in the North African Desert War. He served at El-Alamein and Tobruk and was severely injured in a crash landing. He suffered a broken jaw, broken leg, broken shoulder and severe facial wounds. Initially it was thought that his back was broken, but it turned out to be, as he put it, “only buckled.” After five months recuperating under expert medical attention in Cairo, he returned to active service, flying Spitfire Mark IX’s.
It was during the Italian campaign in 1944 that he was shot down. He jettisoned the canopy, released his harness and turned the Spitfire over onto its back so that he could drop free, pull his ripcord and parachute to safety. For the next five months he evaded enemy patrols and joined up with the local Resistance movement to continue to fight behind enemy lines. Later he crossed the Alps, much of it on bare feet, to link up with Allied Forces in France. In 1945 he flew over Germany before returning to Rhodes University to complete his degree in Commerce.
In 1948 Ian Smith 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 to betray Rhodesia. He succeeded Field as Prime Minister of Rhodesia in April 1964. Ian Smith was at that point 45 years old. He led Rhodesia through the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and the courageous campaign to resist Soviet expansionism. Ian Smith described his policies as: “Responsible Government”, “qualified franchise”,“preserving Western Civilization”, “fighting for Christian Civilization”, “resisting communism”, and developing Rhodesia into a country where blacks and whites would work together with a 50% parity in Parliament.
In 1976, as the war was hotting up dramatically, the League of Rhodesia wrote the following: “From Thermopylae (480 BC) to Malta (AD 1565)… it has often fallen to a small community of people to give a moral example to its larger and more powerful neighbours…in each case valuable breathing space was gained for other parties to rally to the cause and to complete the task so boldly initiated by faith.
“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…” (Rhodesia: Myths and Facts)
In standing firm against communist aggression for 15 years, Rhodesia indeed won valuable breathing space for the Free World. In much the same way as the 300 Spartans held up the enormous invading force of Persians at Thermopalae, and as the courageous Knights resisted the Islamic invasion of the small, but strategic, island of Malta, I believe that, in time, history will recognise that the sacrifices and courage of Rhodesians in resisting communist terrorism contributed to the ultimate collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.
Had Rhodesia not resisted, the consequences for South Africa and the West could have been absolutely disastrous. Had South Africa fallen to communism during the Cold War, the strategic Cape Sea Route and vital minerals essential for Western industry and defence, would have fallen into the hands of the Soviet Union – with catastrophic consequences.
The reign of terror and state sponsored terrorism of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF regime in Zimbabwe have only vindicated Ian Smith’s position. In time it will become even clearer that in no small measure Ronald Reagan’s successful stand against communist expansionism in the 1980’s was made possible by Rhodesia’s stand against communist terrorism in the 60’s and 70’s.
The history of Rhodesia confirms the disastrous consequences of the unprecedented foreign interference and the rejection of Rhodesia’s internal settlement. Even more seriously, there is a real danger of Mugabe’s example of racist and lawless land invasions, and national suicide, in Zimbabwe being followed in South Africa.
The first time I saw Prime Minister Ian Smith was as a young boy of fourteen standing outside the Bulawayo Club in Rhodesia. I had heard from my father that the Prime Minister was coming. Expecting some impressive entourage, I was standing by the entrance in 8 th Avenue with my cat, Tim. I can still remember my surprise as I saw a rather humble Peugeot 404 park in front of the Bulawayo Club and out stepped Mr Ian Smith. The Prime Minister was completely alone. There was no driver, or adjutant, no bodyguards, or policemen, visible anywhere. The Prime Minister had driven himself alone to the club. He stroked my cat who was sitting on the wall, smiled at me and walked into the club!
Almost ten years later I was in Harare on Samora Machel Avenue, when Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe drove past. The contrast with Mr Smith’s arrival couldn’t have been more acute. First came 8 motorbike outriders, then some police cars, two armored luxury Mercedes Benz’s with tinted windows (so you wouldn’t know which one Mugabe was in) followed by another police car and a truckload of soldiers with heavy weaponry. Sirens blaring. All vehicles on both sides of the roads had to come to a complete stop at the side. And this, I was informed, by residents, was how Mugabe travelled every day!
When I mentioned this to Mr Smith, he laughed and commented that he feared God, he was a lifelong Presbyterian, he believed in the Sovereignty of God, and as he had survived the Second World War did not see what he had to be afraid of. In fact, even during the war years, as Prime Minister, he would frequently travel alone, without a convoy, down to his farm near Gwelo. He would also often give all the staff at the official residence the weekend off, so that there would not be so much as a cook in the kitchen or a policeman at the gate. He and his wife would be alone atIndependence and that was the way they wanted it. He couldn’t bear people fussing around him.
Mr Ian Smith was a remarkable Statesman, he is one of the very few heads of state that I have ever met who I can say was a man of integrity. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. He was an example of an honorable man of his word.
Over the last twenty years, I frequently had the privilege of having lunch or tea with Mr Smith. As his daughter lived in Cape Town and he visited frequently, especially for rugby and cricket matches, I had the privilege of interacting and benefiting from the insight of this courageous leader. We read the Scriptures and prayed together on a number of occasions and I also interviewed him on Radio Tygerberg.
It was just over twenty years ago that Mr Smith sent a message that he would like to meet with me. He had heard that some ex-Rhodesians were involved in missionary work in communist Mozambique and he wanted me to brief him on it. At that stage he was visiting his daughter and I met him at their home in Hout Bay. I noted that he had the largest teacup I had seen. He laughed and explained “These civilian cups are too small.”
After I’d shown some of my photographs and explained what we were doing in Mozambique, Mr Smith proceeded to give me detailed advice on how to evade enemy patrols, infiltrate and exfiltrate Mozambique safely, and some tips on escape and evasion.
I must admit that at the time I was quite bewildered that the man who was Head of State while I was at school, could be giving me such practical, down to earth advice on strategy for Bible smuggling into Mozambique. Then I remembered, that of course, he had served in the Forces in the Second World War, and he himself had to evade enemy patrols for five months behind the Lines in Northern Italy. Also, as Prime Minister, he would have received numerous briefings on Mozambique, including the military situation there, by the SAS, Selous Scouts and other Rhodesian Forces. I left that remarkable meeting once again impressed that such an important leader could have taken the time to help a young missionary survive in his Bible smuggling ministry into Marxist Mozambique.
I’m so very grateful that Ian Smith wrote his Memoirs which were first published in Great Britain in 1997, by Blake: The Great Betrayal – The Memoirs of Africa’s Most Controversial Leader.
This has since gone through many printings and a new edition: The Bitter Harvest. It is a fascinating read and gives the story behind the drama and the war for Rhodesia. As Ian Smith declared: “We were never beaten by our enemies, we were betrayed by our friends.”
On 11 November 2005, at the 40 th anniversary of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Rhodesia, Ian Smith sent the following message to the Frontline Fellowship rally held at the Pinelands Town Hall: “To all the wonderful Rhodesians, wherever you are in the world. We are making a special effort to celebrate the 40 th anniversary of our independence when we decided to cut our ties with the British government, who had betrayed us in an effort to placate those devious people who were using us for their convenience.
“It is an honest and positive fact, supported by world-renowned politicians, that Rhodesians have distinguished themselves in whatever endevours they have undertaken. This was clearly indicated by the British leaders, such as Harold Wilson and Alec Hume, who acknowledged the great contribution that Rhodesians made in WWII.
“I would ask you to join me in ensuring that we do our utmost to preserve, perpetuate and enhance the Rhodesian spirit. May it continue forever.”
At the height of the Cold War, Rhodesia was in the very frontline of the battle against Soviet expansionism in Africa. Under Ian Smith’s courageous and principled leadership, the Rhodesian Forces, and people, held the Line and won valuable breathing space for the Free World. Recent history would be unrecognizable had Rhodesia not done so.
Today as we face new threats, not only from communism, but from Islamic Jihad, may the resilience, tenacity, courage and integrity of Ian Smith and the Rhodesia he exemplified, continue to inspire us to fight for Faith and freedom.
In 2005, Christian Action magazine ran a “Greatest Africans of All Time” readers survey. Ian Smith was voted one of the ten greatest Africans of all time in the following words: “The courageous and principled Rhodesian Prime Minister who led his country in a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, and against all odds in a vicious civil war where the communist terrorists received vast amounts of support from the Soviet Union, Red China, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the OAU and the World Council of Churches. Ian Smith was a fighter pilot in the Second World War and was twice shot down and once fought behind enemy lines in Northern Italy, evading enemy patrols for five months.”
We praise God for a courageous, principled, God fearing and honorable man of integrity, Ian Douglas Smith.
Letter to the press available here