Former Rhodesians Remember UDI Under Smith

By Sij Ncube

HARARE, November 16, 2015 – DIE-HARD white former Rhodesians domiciled elsewhere in the world nostalgically marked the 50th anniversary of Ian Smith’s UDI Wednesday last week much to the chagrin of Robert Mugabe’s administration but former Rhodesians still domiciled in the country agree old Smithy “did a silly thing”.

Most Rhodies, as the former Rhodesians under Smith are known, took the gap soon after   Mugabe assumed the reigns at in 1980, finding sanctuary in far flung places such as Australia, New Zealand and Britain, Zimbabwe’s former colonial master.

Last week some of them lined up events to commemorate Smith’s UDI as they remember the “good old days under Dear Old Smithy and his Super Rhodesia, raising anger within Mugabe’s Zanu PF who view some whites Zimbabweans of being unrepentant 35 years into independent.

But the few former white who lived and served under Smith’s UDI but stayed on to live under Mugabe’s controversial rule,  took note of the 50th anniversary in Zimbabwe albeit without any fun-fare.

However, the few whites still domiciled in Zimbabwe say they have embraced Mugabe’s rule and are in agreement UDI was fundamentally flawed when Smith unilaterally declared it in 1965.

David Coltart, a celebrated human rights lawyer who served as a policeman under UDI and is also a former cabinet minister under Mugabe during Zimbabwe’s ill-fated government of national unity,  is presently writing a book chronicling life under Smith’s UDI.

Coltart, considered a fiery critic of Mugabe’s rule since independence, hopes to publish the book early next year.

“Despite the worries of people like my parents and last minute efforts of the British Government to dissuade them, the RF (Rhodesia Front) continued with its helter-skelter policy to declare independence. Somewhat disingenuously at 11am on November 11 1965, Armistice Day, during the traditional two minutes silence to remember the fallen in the two World Wars, the Rhodesian Cabinet gathered around Smith as he signed the Declaration of Independence. The declaration itself and the ceremony was modelled on the American declaration but omitted two keys phrases, that “all men are created equal” and the “consent of the governed”.

“The timing was made to emphasise the sacrifices that Rhodesians had made for Britain. Attached to the declaration was an amended version of the 1961 Constitution severing all ties to Whitehall and creating a separate Rhodesian monarchy (making Elizabeth II “Queen of Rhodesia”, a title which she was never well disposed to take up).

“As was his custom, my Father came home for lunch that Thursday. The Rhodesian Broadcasting Coporation had announced that the Prime Minister would be addressing the Nation at 1.15pm. After a quick lunch we moved to my Father’s study to listen to the radio. I sat on my father’s lap with my Mother alongside. Smith announced what he and the Cabinet had done in his clipped Rhodesian accent. My Father shook his head throughout the broadcast and at the end turned to me and said in his lilting Scottish accent “Oh Davie boy – Mr Smith has done a very silly thing”, reads part of an extra from Coltart’s forthcoming book.

John Robertson, a respected Harare-based economist and economic commentator who also lived and served under UDI, says the UDI made life tough for the country as it dependent heavily from outsider assistance. 

“Our Declaration of Independence made us anything but independent. We soon became totally dependent on South Africa and Portugal and on just South Africa after 1975. The claim that UDI spurred Rhodesia’s industrialization ignores the large industrial foundation that was built even before the Federation started,” said Robertson.

“The country has never recovered from those 15 years of isolation, despite the many remarkable successes of people who loved the country, even though a high proportion of them were very critical of the RF government.”

But Mugabe’s supporters are adamant there are unrepentant whites outside Zimbabwe who still cherish UDI 50 years later after the Zanu PF leader instituted land reform.

Mugabe’s controversial land reform has largely been perceived by the outside world as reverse racism after he seized farms for redistribution to landless blacks. 

But seizures of white held farms appear to be escalating ahead of the 2018 polls. For instance, in Matabeleland South, poplar farmer David Connolly is desperately fighting the take-over of his farm in Figtree by Mugabe’s aide Ray Ndhlukula, the deputy chief secretary of cabinet and President’s Office.  

Despite several court rulings, Ndhlukula has refused to leave the farm, giving credence to assertions Mugabe wants to flash out of Zimbabwe the few remaining white former Rhodesians. 

Giving his perceptive published on an Australian website last Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of UDI, Mark Dale, a reservist who had a modesty experience  in the bush war in former Rhodesia, attributed Zimbabwe’s present political and economic quagmire squarely on Mugabe leadership.

“Rather than make the effort of running the complex modern economy and efficient infrastructure that Mugabe inherited, “he (Mugabe) preferred to become a paramount tribal thug similar to many of the tyrants found elsewhere in Africa. He ran a kleptocracy based on patronage. The web that held the hierarchy together was corruption. Corruption is essential so that the leader has a hold over his cronies,” wrote Dale.

“Mugabe sent his infamous North Korean brigade to the west of the country to slaughter thousands of Ndebele. He sent the national army to the Congo in search of loot. Meanwhile at home the country spiralled into impoverishment. He printed money that led to inflation that surpassed even that of the German Weimar republic.”  

Dale notes that a significant proportion of the population is now outside the country seeking work and “an existence at least marginally better than poverty and hopelessness at home.”

“There is always enough for the favoured few at the top of the dung heap. Mugabe and his Close cronies have enjoyed lavish lifestyles for decades. Intriguingly Mugabe, now 90 years old, looks and sounds little different from the Mugabe I left behind 35 years ago. He is a little bulkier round the middle but I put that down to a bullet proof vest under his stylish suit. If I believed in the supernatural I would say he had sold his soul to the devil.”