by Hannes Wessels

David Coltart is a man who I have long held in high regard. Courageous and principled, he has been at the fore in the dangerous struggle for meaningful change in Zimbabwe and all of us who want better for Zimbabwe are indebted to him. However, reading his account of events in the country and his opinion of what went wrong in Rhodesia I must beg to differ and here are some of the reasons.

The title, ‘THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES, 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe’ sets the tone of his position immediately in that it signals his view that Ian Smith, like Mugabe was a ‘tyrant’. Incidentally, Smith the ‘tyrant’, be reminded dear reader, fought real tyranny as a fighter pilot in WW II so I assume it’s safe to say he was only later transformed into the noxious individual we learn about in the book.The Struggle Continues

In my understanding a tyrant rules with brutality and cruelty, lacks any right to rule and generally craves power for selfish ends which almost always includes the amassing of personal wealth at the expense of the populace. I knew the man well and simply don’t accept Ian Smith was a cruel man or that he ever craved power for his own ends. On the contrary, I believe he cared very sincerely about his people and to his dying day he was anxiously looking for ways to save his countrymen from the hardships of life under true tyranny. Interestingly, one of his early speeches as a young parliamentarian was on behalf of African women who, he believed, were cruelly disposed of by their fathers who sold them into a form of sexual slavery with the highest bidder succeeding under the ‘lobola’ system. He found this repugnant and sought to soften it but was advised the practice was too deep-rooted in African culture to be interfered with.

Tyrants are invariably loathed by the majority of their subjects and this appears true in the case of Robert Mugabe who travels, (on those rare occasions when he travels by road) with a cavalcade that includes armoured vehicles, troop carriers and sometimes air-support. This is because he fears the wrath of the people he has misgoverned. In office, Ian Smith, on occasion went to work unaccompanied on a bicycle. When by car, he liked to drive himself. His security was often little more than a single bodyguard carrying a pistol. This was the lifestyle of a man who held no fear of his people and that was because he knew the majority, while they may not have agreed with him, respected him. One of his last conversations with Mugabe was a challenge to him to walk the streets of Harare with him without protection. He never heard from Mugabe again. In his dotage he told me he was becoming a tad reluctant to visit the shops because he was finding being mobbed by the Africans a little overwhelming and physically daunting.

In the course of the narrative the author speaks justifiably highly of the African policemen with whom he served and refers to their courage, competence and loyalty. These men, unlike the author, were volunteers, not conscripts and they provided roughly 70% of the manpower for the country’s armed forces. Why would all these good Africans have volunteered to serve a tyrant one must ask.

While David and most of the world disapproved of what he stood for Ian Smith did not use power to enrich himself. He was a frugal man who loved the simple pleasures that life offers. He loved his wife, he was a devoted father and step-father, he loved sport and he loved his country. He treated his personal African staff with decency, kindness and respect and most served him with devotion. Not even his most outspoken critics, and that includes Mugabe, have ever accused him of corruption. Nor for that matter, have they accused him of running an incompetent administration. Rhodesia was, most agree, the best governed country in Africa and one of the best governed countries in the world. David alludes to the fact that this excellence in governance was ‘efficient .. for whites at least’. This is not true, the country ran efficiently in the interests of all which explains the massive population growth that occurred under European rule.

Tyrants also don’t relinquish power easily; Ian Smith did. Coltart blames Smith for the failure of the ‘Tiger’ and ‘Fearless’ talks. Harold Wilson, we are led to believe, was the voice of reason, Smith the reckless extremist. We now know Harold Wilson, if not a full Soviet agent, was certainly in the thrall of the Soviets and his Labour Party was in receipt of strong support from the Kremlin so Wilson’s credibility and real intentions, at this juncture is worthy of closer scrutiny. What we are also not told is that Smith’s big problem with the Wilson terms was he did not trust the British leader on his demand that Rhodesia return to legality through an interim transfer of power that would have seen a British governor take temporary power. Smith did not trust the British to honour their commitments in the event they took back direct control of the country. His exact fears were realised fifteen years later when Soames took over from Muzorewa and reneged on virtually everything agreed at Lancaster House leading to Mugabe taking power.

Later, in 1972, Smith was happy to surrender power on terms agreed with Alec Douglas-Home. This process was derailed through no fault of the Rhodesian premier’s despite the writer’s assertion that the ‘RF did much to scupper its acceptance’. David gives us no indication of what the RF did in this regard and in my recollection Smith was very anxious to get the ‘Pearce Commission’ on the ground and running before the agreement was derailed by radicals looking for a more extreme solution.

In 1974 he acceded to John Vorster’s misguided ‘Détente’ initiative aimed at ‘majority rule’ and he agreed to the power transfer foisted on him by Kissinger in 1976. These initiatives came to nought through no fault of Ian Smith’s. He then organised a democratic transfer of power to Bishop Abel Muzorewa in 1979 in probably the only free election ever held in the country. If this is a tyrant in play then David and I have different dictionaries.

David repeatedly lauds former premier Garfield Todd as a visionary who was an early and committed Mugabe supporter. We are reminded that Todd admonished the Europeans for being ‘fear-ridden neurotics’. Well yes he’s right, many Europeans were indeed afraid that power might be transferred to a despot and it looks like they were right and Todd was wrong. Unsurprisingly, David chooses to ignore that. He recalls with a measure of contempt Smith’s reference in his UDI speech to the battle against the ‘forces of evil’. Well again, I must ask the author if Smith was right or wrong when we look at what has transpired. Or would he suggest the incumbents are a ‘force for good’?

We are also repeatedly referred to Ken Flower as another man of ‘moderation’ in contrast to the ‘immoderation’ repeatedly reserved to describe Smith. Well, we now know, almost beyond any doubt, that Ken Flower was a traitor working to undermine the government he swore to serve who was tasked by his Whitehall and Intelligence masters with the tricky task of manipulating events to chart a course that would see Mugabe acquire power. A cunning, capable and convincing operative the British chose their sleuth well and his success in this mission has visited misery on millions.

Covering the war years David leads the reader to believe both sides were equally guilty of egregious misconduct and of committing atrocities. Again, I believe this is a gross distortion of the truth. As an RLI trooper I remember clearly, a corporal being charged for purloining a transistor radio following a contact when a village accommodating the enemy was attacked in the course of a ‘Fire-Force’ operation. The villagers had been providing succour to the enemy but this was not considered an acceptable justification for looting and the man was reduced in rank as punishment. Such were the strictures in play within a fighting battalion that acquired renown for aggression leading to the elimination of many of the enemy but prided itself on professionalism. While I have no doubt there were acts of brutality in the field perpetrated by Rhodesian soldiers I think it is fair to say the security forces of the day conducted themselves with restraint in with regard to the civilians caught in the crunch of war. This was certainly not the case with the enemy which, history clearly shows, attacked far more civilian targets than military ones.

While I was dismayed by what I read in the above regard I know I’m but one of a tiny minority who lived through the same time and in the same place, who also remembers all too clearly what happened. For the vast majority, particularly that legion of liberals around the world who worked so assiduously to end European rule this book will have come as a huge relief. Most of them have gone quiet of late having run out of excuses and any remotely cogent defence of their earlier endeavours. David has given them something to cheer about even if it’s based on distortions and selective reporting but these days, let’s face it nobody cares as long as we can sit back and blame the ‘usual suspects’; that’s the Europeans and their ‘tyrannical’ leaders.



By Managing Editor

Highly respected, Writer, Blogger, Wildlife Conservationist, Hunter and Father.......

18 thoughts on “‘THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES’ 50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe’ by David Coltart. A contrarian view.”
  1. It saddens me that people get so personal in their comments. I of course have this for a long time from the likes of Jonathan Moyo and Mugabe himself, so am used to this type of thing. I suggest that people try to focus on the issues. I also encourage people to read the book to make up their own mind. Closed minds never helped anybody.

  2. Another good read thanks. What fool this Coltart is , suppose if he makes the right noises he thinks he is going to be accepted.?.Before the war started I read that most of GDP was spent on African education, so the only losers were the blacks.

  3. Hannes – you’ve talked me out of reading David Coltart’s book and for the same reasons you eloquently describe; the man was brave to fight Mugabe but that’s the whole point … he shouldn’t have ever had to; Mugabe could and should have been prevented.

    What is especially annoying is this anti-Smith diatribe from him – and it is so shallow and incorrect – plays to the gallery, those people of liberal northern hemisphere persuasion (the Matthew Parris’s and James McManus’s of this world), who are responsible for Mugabe coming into timeless power, now feel their guilt (or the guilt they should be feeling) satiated.

    It’s just not correct history Mr Coltart – I also grew up in that country and remember how the black soldiers volunteering for the Rhodesian Army wanted to take the battle to the ZANLA/ZIPRA forces. Like the Rhodesian government that forged UDI they had no illusions about where “majority rule” would lead – to power once only for the most organised gangster; and the country would be run into the ground thereafter.

    And so it has come quite inevitably to pass and the abundant view among the black diaspora and blacks still in the country is that life under Smith, in relative terms was much better – for them, for everybody. Nobody went hungry, or without schooling, you could always get a job (despite sanctions) and if your needed to go to hospital it was there, virtually free. Those days are so tragically over.

    And that is what it was all about – in a practical world there was no clean middle solution combining the best of both worlds – it was Smith or Mugabe, take your pick. Quite frankly history has proved which was the far lesser of two evils. You would have thought DC, of all people and one so close to all the rigged farces of elections with the attendant ruthless violence, would know that.

    As for the comments on the traitor Ken Flower why doesn’t Coltart lead a movement to have his remains interred in Heroes Acre where he belongs?

  4. Hannes – just one final point, not about Zimbabwe but about the Congo. Have you ever read King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild ? It is an outstanding book which lays bare everything that the Belgians did in the Congo. The truth is hard to stomach but it is truth.

    1. Yes I did Dave but again I found it unbalanced. The Belgians did wrong but they also did an awful lot right in the Congo but the full story, like ours, was never really told. And of course look what happened after they left. Arguably the richest country on the planet is close to the poorest and millions live a life of misery and fear. I’m not sure that would be the case if the Belgians had hung around?

  5. Hannes. Thank you for your reply. We will have to agree to disagree on this. In the interests of balance and transparency I have posted your review on my Facebook page and will in due course put it up on my web site. I respect your right to hold the views you do, even though I disagree with many of them. I hope this finds you well. Kind regards, David

    1. Thanks David I appreciate you taking this in the spirit you do. I know this is a tricky subject and I too respect your views. I’m pleased we can have this discussion without rancour and wish you everything of the best.
      Regards Hannes

  6. Whilst I am in almost total agreement with the Managing Editor regarding his comments on Ian Smith and a few other aspects in The Struggle Continues, I cannot agree that David Coltart was anything less than honest in expressing his view of history. I did read David’s book – took several days over it, actually – and found that the latter part of the book was of more interest to me.

    I worked with and for Ian Smith for many years, both before and after 1980. I cannot praise him highly enough as a man of integrity with simple, straightforward values. I do not recognise the Ian Smith of David’s book, but accept that he is entitled to his opinion.

    Ken Flower is a subject best not discussed!

  7. This is an interesting critique Hannes but it does leave me with a sense that you haven’t even read the whole book, just its title. If you were balanced you would have mentioned the positive things I said about Smith, for example that he wanted the Tiger proposals but that he was blocked by the extreme right wing within the RF. Also you dont even allude to my meetings with him. You accuse me of “distortions and selective reporting” but isnt that the very trap you have fallen into yourself? One final thing – even if one doesnt get beyond just the title ,it says “50 years of tyranny”, not 50 years of tyrants. I never accused Smith of being a tyrant but there is no doubt by all objective criteria that for the black majority population RF rule was tyranny. It may have been an efficient tyranny, it may have been a far less corrupt tyranny than what we endure today, but it was still tyranny. Best wishes, David (the self serving prat)

    1. David you are right I did not read the whole book but I read enough to not want to carry on because I could see this was going to be a very unbalanced account and I’m afraid I got quite angry. Your basic premise is that the Europeans are essentially to blame for the Zimbabwean tragedy and that is what upsets me because I think most Europeans who lived in that country, including Ian Smith, tried very hard to make it work for everyone but thanks to the liberal/progressive global media with the BBC at the fore, the other side of the story was never told and you continue in that vein. If we had been given anything like a fair hearing and judged honestly and empirically surely we would not have been attacked and destroyed as we were. We Europeans all wanted to stay and work with our African compatriots and make it the greatest country in Africa which would have brought prosperity to all but we were defeated by people and politicians around the world who believed the big lie. The ‘big lie’ was that the European ‘settlers/colonists’ were avaricious oppressors enriching themselves at the expense of the vanquished Africans. I’m afraid you do fine job of perpetuating that view and I reject it.
      You apply the same logic to the debacle in the Congo which saw the Belgians slaughtered and put to flight following their ‘liberation’.The reader is immediately reminded that this was on the back of Belgian brutality so in a nuanced way they (and that includes the missionaries who were murdered) are to blame. No mention of all that the Belgians did to try and develop the country through roads, hospitals and schools. This is exactly what the multitude of liberal apologists want to hear because they don’t know how else to explain that fact that the side they backed so energetically turned out to be such atrocious rulers.
      The title says it all David. If a ‘tyranny’ was in place only one man was responsible and that’s Ian Smith and that’s what most of your readers and I suspect your publisher want to hear. And I’m not sure you are right when you say you believe the ‘majority’ believed it was a ‘tyranny’. I too spent much of my life discussing politics with many Africans right across the spectrum and while I clearly recall criticism I do not ever remember the ‘majority’ sentiment as you describe it.
      I am sure you have made a useful contribution to our history but I remain convinced you would have done yourself and your countrymen a huge favour by being more forthright about the other side of the story.
      Best regards, Hannes.

  8. Ian Smith was such a different politician to those we have in the world of today – Ian Smith was a man of Integrity, honesty and cared for all the people of Rhodesia, Black and white and coloured… far as I know he was one of the last honest politicians to serve his people, I could go on and on, but believe that is enough to say

    1. It is highly offensive to say that Ian Smith cared and loved everyone in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. The Ian Smith which the black People know was a Tyrant and a racist. His white government was the chief architect of colonial laws, similar to those of the apartheid system of SA. His policies relegated black people to the bottom of humankind and gave whites privileges – was that LOVE and CARE? Ian smith treated blacks as second citizens of the country in their own country of birth. A system that segregate black people in high density suburbs and reserved areas not suitable for farming. This was against the backdrop that many blacks were peasant/subsistence farmers – was this caring?

  9. I find it very disappointing that Coltart, a man that I admire, runs down into the ground a man that very few can aspire to emulate. Ian Smith was beyond reproach of any kind – he and his beloved wife Janet, were kind and always humble.

  10. Coltart is living in cloud cuckoo land.
    His chum Flower should have been hung – that is what one does to traitors. Was he (Flower) not responsible for warning Mugabe of a possible attempt on his life?

  11. Could not agree with you more Hannes – never liked or trusted the man – a self serving prat…

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