Ian Smith Time


Ian Smith Actor

I went to the movie DISTRICT 9 last night (as I said I'd be doing in the SOUTH AFRICA A SCI-FI SLUM article) and it was fantastic - the most unHollywood movie imaginable with soul-searching, thought-provoking plot, character development and action (the reality of the battle scenes make Schwarzenegger look like a cartoon character in comparison).

Having personally read so much African history - with South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) being among my most studied countries (along with Rwanda and Congo) I could recognize several layers of depth and analogy in the storyline (more about those later when I hopefully take time to write a review).

One analogy that struck me all the way through (from the minute he was first seen on screen and began speaking in the Africaaner twang) was the main character's physical and personality resemblance to Ian Smith - the infamous Prime Minister of Rhodesia whose army fought Mugabe and his thugs for over 30 years and whose country and people are now destroyed - many of them living in displacement camps in South Africa like those portrayed in the movie, which was shot on location in a slum of Johannesburg, using locals as extras.

The resemblance of the movie's hero (a South African actor named Sharlto Copley) to Ian Smith goes so far as to include a glass eye (although in the movie it's not glass, just a symptom of transformation from human into alien). For readers who may not know, Ian Smith lost an eye during WWII when the plane he was piloting crashed on take-off (not stopping him from getting back in the air six months later and subsequently being shot down over enemy territory and walking out five months later, fighting all the way). It's even the same eye - the left one - as can be seen in the photos scanned above.

I'm not saying the creator of the film intended the hero (a good guy) to parallel Ian Smith in so many ways, but that's how it turns out to be.

Ian Smith lived his entire life in Africa, mainly in his ancestral homeland of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, dying 3 years ago (in South Africa) at 88 years old. I learned much of what I know about Ian Smith and his love for Rhodesia and South Africa from his 2001 autobiography BITTER HARVEST: THE GREAT BETRAYAL AND THE DREADFUL AFTERMATH. That's where I learned which eye he was blind in and that his nickname was "good old Smithy" but that sometimes he was called good old "Squinty". And it was the real eye that squinted, not the glass one.

Ian Smith Bk1 Ian Smith Bk2

Part of the betrayal Ian Smith is talking about in THE GREAT BETRAYAL is the betrayal of Rhodesia by South Africa - when after WWII its Africaaner government adopted the principles of apartheid - something Smith's government never ascribed to or implemented (contrary to what his detractors have always claimed). ~ Jackie Jura



IAN SMITH COMMENTS DURING GUKURAHUNDI (regarding Mugabe threat to form one-party state, which he did, dropping Nkoma from parliament in February 1982), YouTube


London Telegraph, Nov 21, 2007
...To his supporters - white Rhodesians and many in Britain - he was a political visionary, the simple farmer who had stepped forward reluctantly to defend his country against Communism. To the Left he was as abhorrent as the leaders of apartheid South Africa. The context of Smith's declaration of UDI was the deep distrust among Rhodesia's 200,000-strong white minority of Britain's motives in Africa following Harold Macmillan's 1960 "Winds of Change" speech which presaged Britain's withdrawal from the continent. To Smith and his supporters it seemed the West was only too willing to overlook military dictatorship, violence and corruption in black Africa while condemning Rhodesian society which, whatever its shortcomings, offered relative security for its citizens. The West, Smith argued, no longer had the will to stand up to Communism; Rhodesia was the front line, and the whites were not engaged merely in a battle for their existence but for civilised values.

To begin with, despite UN-imposed economic sanctions, Rhodesia's economy actually strengthened under UDI, and Ian Smith appeared to relish his position as an international pariah. Many international companies secretly broke the sanctions and Rhodesian businesses and farmers diversified to fill the gaps. Smith managed to convince white Rhodesians that they could continue to defy world opinion indefinitely: "I don't believe in black majority rule over Rhodesia," he proclaimed, "not in a thousand years." The tide of white emigration from Rhodesia was reversed as thousands of whites, mainly from Britain and South Africa, came to enjoy the advantages of white supremacy.

Smith, the first native-born Rhodesian to lead his country, seemed a simple man, blunt, unemotional and lacking a sense of humour. He was awkward socially, disliked publicity, and his taste in clothes was drab. But his craggy, rough-hewn image concealed an astute tactical mind and a talent for political infighting which his opponents tended to underestimate. Sir Roy Welensky once remarked that "dealing with Smith is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Make no mistake: Smith is a ruddy ruthless man."....

But in the end it was not diplomacy which wore Smith down, but armed black opposition and, decisively, South Africa's decision to withdraw support. UDI galvanised black nationalist feeling, and, by 1972, guerrilla armies led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo were leading regular attacks on white border farms. From then on they conducted their activities from bases in Mozambique, and Smith countered with vigorous retaliatory measures by the Rhodesian armed forces. By 1977 the war was costing Rhodesia around 500,000 a day, and all able-bodied men between 18 and 60 were spending up to a third of the year on active service.

Smith took part in the talks at Lancaster House in London which were to set a new path for what would become Zimbabwe. The final result of UDI was that the white Rhodesians were landed with a deal that removed all traces of their political influence and, after the country's first democratic elections held in 1980, brought about the one thing Smith had promised them they would never have - a black Marxist government run by the man they most abhorred, Mugabe....

Robert Mugabe: Lonely Monster (Ian Smith was right)
by Graham Boynton, Telegraph, Jun 27, 2008
Had Robert Mugabe been a white politician he would surely have been removed from power years ago. Can you imagine the international community standing by while a colonial ruler reduced an African country to grinding poverty, at the same time murdering, torturing and starving its citizens into submission on the scale that Mugabe has, simply because they refused to vote for him? How can this be acceptable to the political leaders of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania or the United Nations? And yet, for the entire 21st century the perpetrator of the continent's worst human rights abuses since the heyday of Amin, Bokassa and Charles Taylor appears to have attracted only muted censure. Indeed he was the recipient of standing ovations at recent African Union conferences and earlier this year he and his ghastly wife were able to travel to Rome - with an entourage of bodyguards and chefs - to join, of all things, a UN debate on the global food crisis.

It is with this perspective that these two books now have to be viewed. Had Ian Smith's autobiography - formerly The Great Betrayal and now re-titled with a brief postscript and a new foreword by Rupert Cornwell - been published at a time when Zimbabwe was enjoying a relatively successful post-colonial existence, it would be seen as the boring recollections of an unpopular colonial rebel who took his country to war and lost. However, Smith, who died in a South African nursing home last November, can now quite reasonably be regarded - in the context of the ruthless politician who followed him and the catastrophe that is the country he once led - as a pragmatist whom present-day Zimbabweans would probably prefer as their ruler. I have met both men. Smith was, as advertised on the box, a dull, down-to-earth man who sincerely believed the country he knew as Rhodesia was better off under white rule. This view in the late Sixties and early Seventies was quite at odds with the way the world was turning and he was branded an international pariah.

Mugabe, by contrast, swept to power on a wave of post-colonial, Marxist/Maoist-infused African nationalism and was hailed as a liberator. I interviewed him during the 1980 election that turned Rhodesia into Zimbabwe and, although he made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I found myself unable to swim against the tide as I was a white African liberal. White man bad, black man good was our mantra, this despite the fact that we all suspected Mugabe had had his charismatic guerrilla leader, Josiah Tongogara, bumped off in a road accident and that he was already preparing to wipe out his rival Matabeles in a genocide that may in the end have killed 20,000 people. Heidi Holland was, and probably still is, a white African liberal who, in the midst of Zimbabwe's current holocaust, is trying to understand the mind of a liberator turned despot. To that end, Dinner with Mugabe is an entertaining, well written, well researched and, in the end, completely unsatisfying book.... What I really want to know is, when Mugabe failed to forgive the Matabele for being members of a rival tribe; did he order his Fifth Brigade soldiers to cut off the lips and ears of innocent villagers in the Eighties or was that creative butchery on the part of his soldiers? Equally, did he understand that by running the white farmers off the land and handing it to his inner circle of idle kleptocrats that he would derail the economy for as long as he ruled? And does he regard the total collapse of Zimbabwe a fair price for an extra, say, decade in power?

As for good old Smithy, you really have to be a devotee of African colonial history to be prepared to plough through this rather self-regarding tome. However, it does provide insights into Mugabe that are lacking in Heidi Holland's book. These are borne out of frequent meetings between the two men in the first 18 months of Mugabe's rule. If Smith is to be believed, in those early days of Zimbabwe, Mugabe was a conciliator who seemed intent to put the colonial confrontations behind him and move forward, a far cry from the Mugabe of today who blames all his country's ills on the legacy of colonialism. However, this remains an unreliable memoir because it is infused, in Rupert Cornwell's words, with the "self-righteous paternalism" that was the mark of Ian Smith's Rhodesia. I have never believed the popular thesis that Smith's extremism begat Mugabe. I think Mugabe would always have been there, even if the liberal Garfield Todd had been the last colonial leader. Post-colonial Africa seems to have been doomed by a succession of corrupt, venal villains who have turned this beautiful continent and its lovely people into a wasteland inhabited by the wretched of the earth. Until the rest of the world has the courage to stand up to the likes of Mugabe with some of the enthusiasm with which it stood up to Ian Smith, the African continent will continue its downward journey into Hades.

Why "Cry The Beloved" wife fled S/Africa ("President Mandela said we're cowards; but crime is rampaging through the land"). by Anne Paton (widow of Alan Paton). Sunday Times

Ian Smith declared Rhodesia independent (severed link with Britain in 1965). BBC, On-This-Day Mar 2, 1970


Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

email: orwelltoday@gmail.com
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