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Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath

Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal and the Dreadful Aftermath

by Ian Smith
In July 2007, Zimbabwe's worsening economy saw inflation skyrocket to 7,634 per cent, deepening the already chronic food shortages in a country where only one in five of the adult population is in employment.Months later, on 20 November 2007, Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia died, leaving behind him a lifetime of resistance to black majority rule and


In July 2007, Zimbabwe's worsening economy saw inflation skyrocket to 7,634 per cent, deepening the already chronic food shortages in a country where only one in five of the adult population is in employment.Months later, on 20 November 2007, Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia died, leaving behind him a lifetime of resistance to black majority rule and the dangers that he believed it would bring to his country.Ian Smith was a man with the ability to excite powerful emotions in all who heard his name. To those who still revere his memory he was a hero, a mighty leader, a man whose formidable integrity led him into head-to-head confrontation with the Labour Government of Britain in the 1960s. To others, he was, and remains, a demon, a reactionary whose intransigence long delayed majority rule in an important corner of Africa.The last decades of the twentieth century and the first years of the new millennium have seen Zimbabwe spiral into a chaos of violence and towards the brink of economic collapse, prompting many to reappraise Smith's role and the prescience of his actions.In this revealing and important historical document, Ian Smith charts the rise and fall of a once-great nation. He tells the remarkable story behind the signing of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, as well as the excesses of power that Mugabe has used to create the virtual dictatorship which exists in Zimbabwe today.

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Bitter Harvest

Zimbabwe and the Aftermath of its Independence

By Ian Smith

John Blake Publishing Ltd

Copyright © 2008 Ian Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84358-238-0


Growth of a Nation


'You Rhodesians are more British than the British.' So often I heard that during the war years 1939–45. It was a comment which pleased Rhodesians. To think that we were not British would be ridiculous. After all, what is our history? Rhodes's dream of a British route from Cape to Cairo.

In 1889 Cecil John Rhodes, the founder of a mining empire and inspirational leader of the British in South Africa, secured a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria to form the British South Africa Company to explore and exploit the land north of the Limpopo River. Blessed with the sanction of the Matabele chief, Lobengula, to assess the mineral wealth of the lands to the north and east of Matabeleland, Rhodes sent Major Frank Johnson and 250 young pioneers in a column of wagons on a daring adventure into the unknown.

The formation of the British South Africa Police (BSAP) in 1889 in Kimberley, 500 men in all, was to provide protection for the pioneer column of 1890. Their task was to raise the Union Jack, first at Fort Tuli, then Fort Victoria and finally at Fort Salisbury. They were going into uncharted country, the domain of the lion, the elephant, the buffalo, the rhinoceros — all deadly killers — the black mamba, the most deadly of all snakes, and the Matabele, with Lobengula's Impis, the most deadly of all black warriors, guarding their frontiers against any intruders. But if the mission was to raise the flag for queen and country, no questions were asked. Moreover, their consciences were clear: to the west the Matabeles had recently moved in. They were a tribe of the Zulus in Natal, who had broken away after a difference of opinion with their King Shaka and migrated north, first to the Transvaal and thence crossing the Limpopo and settling in this new country, which was uninhabited apart from wandering Bushmen, and became known as Matabeleland. The eastern parts of the country were settled by a number of different tribes, nomadic people who had immigrated from the north and east, constantly moving to and fro in order to accommodate their needs and wants. To the south were scattered settlements of Shangaans from Mozambique and Northern Transvaal. Clearly it was no-man's land, as Cecil Rhodes and the politicians back in London had confirmed, so no one could accuse them of trespassing or taking part in an invasion.

The mission was accomplished sooner than expected and, apart from a few skirmishes with the Matabele on their western flank, the problems were much as would reasonably be expected on such a pioneering expedition. Such problems led to the short, sharp war of 1893, in which the Matabele were conquered. The people the pioneers met in the eastern part of the country, collectively known as Shonas, because there was a common thread through the various dialects used which came to be known as the Shona language, were friendly and gave a cautious welcome to the newcomers. Lingering dissatisfaction among the conquered Matabele led to an uprising in Matabeleland that coincided with Dr Jameson's ill-fated raid into the Transvaal in 1896, in an attempt to topple the government of Paul Kruger. The unrest spread to some of the Shona. The Matabeles were quickly subdued and pacified by intervention from Rhodes. The Shona took longer to defeat. Once the uprising was over in 1897, peace reigned. Indeed the police would not have recourse to arms until 1962, when African nationalists began to use violence in their campaign for power.

Gradually the pioneers started spreading out, looking for gold, which was the main attraction, and land to start producing food. Among them were my uncle, George, who trekked up from the Cape in 1894, and my father, Jock Smith, who joined him in 1898. There was no friction, because the local black people knew nothing about mining, and were interested and fascinated at the white man's digging. In fact, they were happy to have the opportunity to work and, for the first time in their lives, earn money which enabled them to join in the excitement of this new adventure of purchasing and selling — something they had not previously known. Land was plentiful, so there was no problem over crop growing, which again provided an opportunity to earn money. Moreover, because of the primitive agricultural implements used by the black people, which were wooden as opposed to the iron used by the white man, they were concentrated on the light sandy or loam soils, which they found easier to work. The white man, on the other hand, preferred the heavier soils.

Wherever the new settlers went, the first thing they did was to raise the Union Jack. This was part of pioneering a new country — something in which the people back in Britain had never participated. Nor did they know anything about the spirit of nationalism associated with the opening up of new lands in the name of monarch and country. These were the things that motivated pride and a belief in nationalism. There was feeling of duty to believe in a cause, to make a stand to support and defend it. Again, for the people back in Britain this was a stimulation which they had never experienced.

Certainly, pioneers by nature were the kind of people who sought a challenge in preference to the humdrum sheltered life, with its security based in the knowledge that one lived in a society that provided protection and insulation from external forces. So our foundations were built by people with strong, individual character, with that important quality of having the courage of their convictions — British people who were playing their part in building the British Empire, the greatest force for good the world had ever known. Britain, a small island off the coast of Europe, this mighty atom which had spread its Western Christian civilisation over half the globe, introducing proper standards of freedom, of justice, and the basics of education, health and hygiene. And right now, here in the centre of southern Africa, the dark continent, men of British stock were once more carrying the torch on one of the few frontiers yet to be civilised.

Clearly, this was no place for faint-hearted men, those who were not dedicated, or were not inspired by the cause they were serving. They had to be convinced that if they were not God-sent, then at least it was the next best thing, sent by their queen and country to spread British civilisation.

So it was not surprising that the sons of these pioneers were more British than the British. That was how we were all brought up and taught to live. When you walked past the Union Jack — and it was in the forefront of most buildings of any consequence — you looked at it, and admired it. All formal occasions commenced with the national anthem 'God Save the King', with everyone standing to attention, and if you moved there would be a restraining hand on your shoulder.

Law and order in your society, discipline at your school, play the game by your fellow man, you cannot let your team down, and in the final analysis it may even be necessary to die for your cause. Those were the conditions under which you lived, under which, as a member of the British Empire, you were privileged to live.

However, there was associated with us an unusual and interesting anomaly, for we were never governed directly from Whitehall, and therefore never came within the category of being a colony. We were governed by the Charter Company, the company formed by Rhodes, with the concurrence, indeed encouragement, of the British government, to establish a settlement in the country lying north of the Limpopo, east of Bechuanaland, and south of the Zambezi.

At the end of the First World War in 1918, Rhodesia was prospering and developing in all spheres of life and the settlers were beginning to talk about managing their own affairs, governing themselves. The performance of Rhodesians all round had been exemplary. The economy was well managed, development was planned and there was steady progress. There was a history of harmonious race relations and, in the recent war, Rhodesians had made a contribution second to none. With a record such as this, declared the British government, a move for self-government could only be supported. As a result of negotiations with the British government and the Charter Company, it was decided that Rhodesians should be given the option of either joining the Union of South Africa as a fifth province, or being granted 'responsible government'. The latter was a unique offer of what the British termed quasi-dominion status. Rhodesians were advised that such a constitution would give them the benefits of dominion status, but relieve them of the economic burden of foreign affairs and diplomatic missions throughout the world, which would prove intolerable to their small economy. The British would do this job for them, and no problems were envisaged. It was worth a trial.

In 1922 the choice was put to the Rhodesian people through a referendum. In spite of personal intervention by General Jan Smuts, then Prime Minister of South Africa, who visited the country and addressed meetings, using his great wisdom and personal charm in an effort to convince Rhodesians to opt for joining the Union, Rhodesians voted by a majority of 2:1 for 'responsible government'. They voted with their hearts, not their heads. There were too many non-Britishers in South Africa, the Afrikaners, and Rhodesians were not prepared to accept such a change of national character. Smuts and some of his associates were all right, but what about the others? It would be better to maintain them as friends, as always in the past, but retain our British identity — Rhodesian loyalty was not negotiable.

It is easy to be wise through hindsight, but clearly Rhodesians made the wrong decision. The practical and economic benefits of joining the Union, obvious at that time, would have materialised and even exceeded predictions. With the advantages of being part of a larger and more diversified economy, access to transport and harbour facilities, elimination of customs and trade barriers, retaining our Commonwealth preferences — because South Africa at that time was part of the British Empire — things could only have improved.


Given the nature of the Rhodesian electorate, and its antipathy towards Afrikaner nationalism, the incorporation of Rhodesia into the Union of South Africa in 1923 could have significantly influenced the outcome of the crucial first post-Second World War election in South Africa. In 1948, Smuts's United Party government was ousted by Daniel Malan's Afrikaner National Party by a narrow margin of three seats. This unexpected victory for Afrikaner nationalism had a profound effect on the history of southern Africa in a variety of ways.

The election result was a shock, not only to South African opinion but world opinion. It was a surprise even to the victorious Afrikaner National Party, which was not really prepared for the event. There was, however, a precedent: the British had rejected their great war hero, Churchill. South Africans followed suit. Such is the ingratitude, the unpredictability, the illogicality of human beings. The defeat of the Smuts government was one of the most profound events affecting the history of Africa. Had Rhodesia been the 'fifth province', Smuts would have won that election. There can be no doubt that Rhodesians would have voted solidly for the United Party, and their representation of twelve to fifteen seats would have made the crucial difference.

It is interesting to prognosticate on how such an event would have changed history. At the end of the war, in 1945, the Smuts government had chartered Union Castle liners to bring immigrants to South Africa. Many people in Britain and Europe were disenchanted with the post-war life, overcrowding, shortages, rationing. Many had done war service in Africa, with its pleasant climate and open spaces. So this presented a wonderful opportunity for developing countries to gain a high calibre of immigrant. Rhodesia doubled its white population in a space of nine years. Sadly, we then got caught up in the dissolution of our Federation (which had been formed after 1948 with Northern Rhodesia — now Zambia — and Nyasaland — now Malawi). Our subsequent Declaration of Independence in 1965 brought our immigration to a standstill. Australia exploited the situation, and, although they did not match the Rhodesian immigration figures, their population doubled in approximately twenty years.

However, when the National Party came to power in South Africa, they immediately halted Smuts's immigration plan. Their reasoning was that the immigrants would be United Party supporters, so this had to be prevented. Many prominent members of the National Party conceded to me subsequently that this was their greatest mistake. It was a decision made in haste, by people who lacked the wisdom and foresight which comes with experience. Had they allowed continued immigration, South Africa's white population today would have been around 15 million, instead of 6 million. With all of its wonderful rich natural resources, coupled with the professionalism, expertise and skills of immigrants from western Europe, South Africa could have been one of the great industrial nations of the world. And of vital importance, with the population ratio of white to black being 1:2, as opposed to the present 1:5, the political problem would have been significantly reduced. Moreover, under the United Party philosophy South Africa would never have fallen into the apartheid trap — with leaders such as Smuts and de Villiers Graaf they would have steered their traditional policy of allowing the various races to preserve their history, culture and traditions, without provoking hostility or offending human dignity and feelings, and the Coloured and Asian communities would not have been ejected from the white camp.

There was one other significant fact. Early in my political career I remember listening to Sir Godfrey Huggins talking to a group of MPs, philosophising over the National Party's victory at the polls in 1948. Clearly, he was sad at the defeat of his old colleague Smuts, and at the new trend which was developing in South Africa, which would not be conducive to bringing our countries closer. But most interesting was his comment on South West Africa. Because of South Africa's contribution during the war just ended, its loyalty and dedication to the cause of freedom, going back as far as the First World War, and because of the very high standing of General Smuts, regarded as one of the great statesmen of the world — an undertaking was given that South West Africa would be handed over for incorporation into the Union as a fifth province. It was logical: South Africa had controlled the territory since the First World War, when it took it over from the Germans on behalf of the Allies, and South West African MPs were elected and sat in the Parliament in Cape Town, as the other South African MPs did. To all intents and purposes it had been part of South Africa for the past thirty years, although technically it was a mandated territory. Huggins believed that this plan would now end. In view of the new government's announced reactionary policy, and their record of opposition to Smuts's war effort, neither Britain nor any of the other allies would now support the plan. Moreover, added Huggins, certain Rhodesians were airing the possibility of resurrecting the idea of 1923, to take Rhodesia into the Union. 'Any such idea has now been dashed,' he added sombrely.


Excerpted from Bitter Harvest by Ian Smith. Copyright © 2008 Ian Smith. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Ian Smith was born on 8 April 1919 in rural Rhodesia. He was educated at Chaplin High School, Gwelo, and at Rhodes University, South Africa, before joining No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, RAF. He became Prime Minister of Rhodesia in April 1964, and took his country through the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. His term as Prime Minister ended with the first fully democratic election of April 1979.He was a minister without portfolio in Bishop Muzorewa's Government of National Unity and remained in Parliament until Robert Mugabe had him expelled in 1986. Ian Smith continued to farm in Zimbabwe, maintaining a keen interest in politics, until his death on 20 November 2007.

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