by Hannes Wessels


In a thought provoking Spectator article some years ago ( 5th. February 2005) Andrew Kenny asks what defines ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ wing, what is a ‘Liberal’ and what is a ‘Conservative’. He blames the French Revolution for dumbing down political discourse by limiting the debate to two sides; the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ leaving ‘…. the resulting feuding sterile and idiotic’. He goes on to challenge for answers by considering among others Fidel Castro: “He persecutes homosexuals, crushes trade unions, forbids democratic elections, executes opponents and criminals, is a billionaire in a country of very poor people and has decreed a member of his family shall succeed him in power.” Kenny then asks if Castro is ‘left’ or ‘right’ on the political spectrum. Most would say he belongs on the ‘left’.

What, Kenny asks is the meaning of being ‘right of Atilla the Hun’? If Atilla was ‘right’ wing because he was violent and cruel then where does that leave Lenin he asks. Lenin was crueller and more violent and killed many more people so was he more right wing? And Hitler was a socialist. Socialists are normally from the ‘left’. Then if, as Kenny does, one tosses the word ‘liberal’ (usually synonymous with the ‘left’) into the philosophical quagmire it all becomes even more confusing.

In trying to make some sense of this I have tried to simplify the polemic by identifying the ‘liberal’ essentials of; liberty, equal opportunity, tolerance of diversity, acceptance of change, generosity and the desire for fair and competent governance and in doing so have identified someone who seems a slick fit.

He was handsome man, a bit of a bruiser, companionable, convivial he liked the boozer, ladies, rugby and loved to laugh. Never one to miss a scrap he would always look out for the underdog and bullies received no quarter. Animals in distress could not be ignored and were immediately taken into caring custody making his home a permanent refuge for the waifs and strays of the streets. A naturalist, outdoorsman, tracker and expert on wilderness survival, he, unlike many of his associates, had no interest at all in hunting or killing wild game.

As a white man in a divided multi-racial society where he wielded considerable authority he was committed to integration and was totally intolerant of any form of racial discrimination. In the great ‘liberal’ tradition he promised all who worked under him equal opportunity, freedom to choose, promotion on merit and offered an open ear to new ideas. Serving a government that did have a racial agenda he was often defiant and unyielding in protecting the interests of the black men who he led.

Under the hostile circumstances pertaining at the time, concerned that the children of the black men under him were not being educated in a safe and academically productive environment he went beyond the ‘liberal’ call of duty and rallied his white friends and associates to the cause of gathering the resources needed to build them a better school and library through personal contributions. That done, knowing how devout his black subordinates and their dependents were, he and his friends built them a place of worship. In the process of meeting the financial requirements for this endeavour he reached out to the World Council of Churches for assistance but was angrily refused. Undaunted, the task was successfully completed by him and his small band of helpers with no outside support.

When a force for change appeared on the political horizon that he concluded was anathema to his (liberal) ideals he was at the vanguard of those who would confront them and risk their lives with the absolute support of the multi-racial group that served him. In the years that followed, he led his men of all races fearlessly from the front and all but thwarted the onslaught of those he identified as the enemy.

He was Colonel Ron (‘Uncle Ron’ to most who knew him) Reid-Daly who founded, formed and commanded the Selous Scouts of Rhodesia. Through his leadership and by insistence on the enforcement of his values this regiment may be remembered as one of the most formidable fighting forces of recent times.

But now I tumble to the fact this helps me not a jot in my bid to understand the dichotomy, because I am reminded that Ron loathed ‘liberals’ and he would have considered it an insult to be labelled one but then what was he! He certainly was not racist and he also was not ‘conservative’ because he was an exceptionally progressive and open-minded thinker. And he also wasn’t a voracious capitalist plundering the poor because money was not a motivational factor for a man who placed a priority on the simple but special values that included friendship, loyalty and kindness to those less fortunate.

His idea of ‘liberals’ included people like Harold Wilson, (Lord) David Owen and President Carter and he despised them because he saw them as liars and charlatans who said one thing and did another and primary players responsible for the destruction of his country through the introduction of the despotism they supported. And the ‘liberal’ institution he detested above all was the BBC which he insisted stood for the ‘Biggest Bullshitters Corporation’!

Just where old Uncle Ron plugs into the political spectrum still leaves me bereft for answers but the world would be a better place if there were more of his kind around.