The Great Betrayal: A Review Of Ian Smith’s Book


There is nothing about “Never in a thousand years” (Former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s vow that blacks would never be allowed to rule the country now named Zimbabwe in the next 1 000 years), or baboon climb the mountain (his message to black students at the University of Rhodesia when they demonstrated against his government), or Chifambausiku (the plot by jailed African nationalist Ndabaningi Sithole to assassinate Smith).

But there is a lot about the great betrayal: by the British who were bent on spoiling things for the happiest blacks in the world instead of siding with their kith and kin; by the South Africans who despite their apartheid policy held Rhodesia to ransom to appease the Organisation of African Unity and to make their detente exercise a success; by Abel Muzorewa because he could not stand his ground against the “communist terrorists” when the British had promised him the country on a silver plate; by the British representative during the transition period leading to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 Lord Christopher Soames because he went back on his word to ensure that Robert Mugabe did not win the elections at any cost; by General Peter Walls, Smith’s army commander, because he failed to nullify the elections when Mugabe won yet he had the power to do so.

Smith also claims that former ZANU-PF military commander Josiah Tongogara was assassinated by the party and although President Mugabe may not have actually participated he did not object to the assassination; Chief Jeremiah Chirau was murdered and so was Maurice Nyagumbo whose death was officially a suicide. He also says blacks control 50 percent of the economy now and that there are more black millionaires than white millionaires.

This in essence is what Ian Smith’s book: The Great Betrayal, published this year by a London publisher, Blake, is all about.

While Smith feels he was betrayed, his book, seems to be a great betrayal of the black people in this country.

As far as he was concerned they could not think on their own. He and his government knew what was best for them. He was never a racist and blacks were never denied the franchise. They were offered the best facilities: education, health and housing. They were not interested in politics and could not be expected to understand it anyway because they have only been exposed to civilisation for a hundred years yet it took whites thousands of years to reach the stage they are at today.

The whole world was misled to believe that his government was trying to preserve white rule yet all he was after was to maintain civilised standards. “Responsible” opinion, every “intelligent American”, and the majority of blacks were behind him. Only the communist terrorist dictators were against him.

He was so popular, he says, that, “on one occasion, after I became Prime Minister, (Dr) Gelfand arrived at my office with one of those people living in the Zambezi Valley who have only two large toes. Otherwise the African seemed perfectly normal, and when Mike Gelfand asked him if he knew who I was, without hesitating, he replied: ‘The Prime Minister’. He said this in spite of the fact that he lived in one of the most remote parts of the country, and had never previously visited any urban centre”.

According to Smith, “Rhodesia was an oasis of peace and contentment. Visitors to the country invariably commented on ‘the happiest black faces, we have seen’.” Even the British, he said, had conceded that the Rhodesian government had looked after its black population better than they (the British) did in their two territories of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi).

“Proportional to population we had provided double the amount of facilities in the fields of education, health, housing, recreation and culture than the British had to our north… But all these truths were of no concern to international politicians preoccupied with appeasement.”

He could not understand what Rhodesia had done to deserve this treachery. “Our opponents had great success in twisting the truth against us. They accused us of being racists, when in fact we were being realists, constantly planning ways and means to improve the lot of all our people, black and white……We are accused of not having done enough to bring our people into our political system.

“Again this is not in keeping with the facts. Not only has our voters’ roll been open to all our people, whatever their race, colour or creed, since 1923 when we were granted our first constitution by Britain, but specific campaigns were launched by our government aimed at encouraging our black people to register as voters. It was unsuccessful for a number of reasons. First, the black nationalist campaign of intimidation warned people not to register, or else! Probably even more important, though, was the fact that our tribesman did not understand what we were trying to talk him into, and he just was not interested. Often I was given the reply: ‘Maybe this thing you call the vote is good for the white man, but we have our system which we have lived with all our lives, and our fathers before us, and we see no reason to change.

“We cannot have two systems, we prefer ours. Many of our senior black citizens will tell you the same today. And I seriously question whether they should be pressed to change, unless there is conclusive evidence that they would enjoy a better life under our system.”

Smith argues that the vast mass of Rhodesians — the white tribe as he calls them– have always been moderate, middle of the road conservatives.

“Extremists, whether to the left or right, never succeeded in gaining support in our politics….However, the continuing devious manoeuvring of the British government, including their rejection of the settlement agreement signed by Sir Alec Home and myself, influenced some people, including certain members of Parliament to advocate the adoption of a reactionary course. They were ejected from our Rhodesian Front Party, and when they opposed us at an ensuing general election, all were subjected to an ignominious defeat by the electorate. All these actions, which clearly indicate Rhodesian moderation, reason, and fair play to all our people, black and white, are assiduously ignored while the rabble-rousers succeed in branding us as white racists, oblivious to the interest of our black community. In fact, they are the racists, fabricating their case against us for the reason that we are white people living in Africa.”

Although he boasts of providing the best education for blacks, he still argues that they were not mature enough to understand what an election or referendum was. This is why when the British asked for a test of acceptability of his demands for independence of Rhodesia among the people of Rhodesia as a whole, they could not agree because although “on the evidence before us we were satisfied that it would receive approval.. it would be impossible to obtain an honest assessment of our black people, since the vast majority of them had never exercised a vote in their lives, could neither read nor write, did not understand the meaning of the word ‘constitution’, and were completely bemused by all the talking and manoeuvring going on around them.”

He also argued: “Any attempt to explain to them the intricacies of our constitution, which, by any standard, was involved and complicated, would not only be farcical, but dishonest. Any such exercise would obviously undermine the authority of the chiefs and the whole tribal structure. For the first time in history the tribespeople would be led to believe that their Chiefs and Headmen were no longer their leaders and that something else had been introduced into their lives which was absolutely beyond their comprehension.”

The danger with holding any referendum, he says, was that” communist-motivated extremists would mount an anti-campaign, resorting to emotional tactics and mob psychology, and the very effective weapon of intimidation”. Allowing tribespeople to vote instead of letting the chiefs decide for them would have provided a “happy hunting ground for extremist politicians whose objective was to destroy the tribal structure. Anything which maintained law and order, regulated people’s lives and supplied them with services, preserved their standards of justice and freedom, was anathema to the spread of communism.”

The British government’s refusal to accept the chiefs as the representatives of the black people was therefore a “blatant discourtesy” which deeply hurt them because they represented 90 percent of the population.

Almost half the book which is devoted to talks with the British government and its denial to grant Rhodesia independence which from 1923 it had promised could be granted any time Rhodesians asked, is dominated by this kind of argument.

The main problem, Smith argues, was to get Britain to understand that “our problem was to bring these Africans across, to try to bridge the 2 000-year gap in the shortest possible time….It took time, planning, professional services and finance to bring about the necessary improvements, and if people tried to run before they could walk, they invariably tripped.”

The other half of the book is devoted to Mugabe, how Smith had worked tirelessly to ensure that he would not be involved in any talks, how he would be prevented from contesting the elections, and after winning the elections, how he ran the country down –proving what Smith had argued all along that the country should never be allowed to fall into the hands of a communist terrorist. Smith accuses the British of double standards.

Just before the Geneva Conference of 1976, for example, he says “after assuring me that we were working to a common objective of dividing Nkomo and Mugabe, in order to move the latter out of the way, and having the assurance reiterated in a message he asked van der Byl to pass on to me in Salisbury, I was subsequently confronted with a press photograph of Richard (Ivor) with his arms around (Joshua) Nkomo and Mugabe, boasting his success in uniting them in their common objective….”

Nkomo and Mugabe had just formed the Patriotic Front. During the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, he says, he was assured by Lord (Peter) Carrington that the British were working at producing an agreement that would ensure the return to power of Muzorewa, who had been elected Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in April.

When he told Carrington that by the way things were going Zimbabwe would end up with a Mugabe government, he says, Carrington replied: “My dear Mr Smith, I want to assure you that our whole strategy has been formulated to ensure that your prognosis will not eventuate. Quite the reverse. We have no doubt that your next government will be formed with a combination of Muzorewa, Nkomo and Smith.

“Moreover, should your worst fears materialise with a victory of the external forces, the leader will be Nkomo and not Mugabe. Even (Julius) Nyerere (President of Tanzania) has confirmed to us that all of them have accepted that Nkomo, as the first leader of African nationalism in Zimbabwe, will be the leader of the first government.”

Smith says despite this assurance he realised that Mugabe would be the winner. He was quite thrilled when he learnt that Mugabe had decided to pull out of the talks and was flying to the United States, because the British had said that if any party pulled out of the talks, the conference would continue without them.

“We had been assured that there would be no deviation from this plan. Our spirits were buoyant and we set about our business in a more sanguine frame of mind.” But, he says, everything was spoiled by Carrington who contacted Mozambican President Samora Machel who dispatched his ambassador in London to intercept Mugabe at Heathrow Airport.

“Clearly, Mugabe had no option.” he says. “He returned to his hotel with his tail between his legs. I do not believe he could have been as depressed as I was — my hopes were dashed”.

Even his army commanders, he says, had been assured after the Lancaster House agreement that Mugabe would not be allowed to win the elections. In fact, he was not even going to be allowed to contest. When the details of the Lancaster House agreement were made available to the National Joint Operating Command (Nat JOC), one of the commanders said, this had caused “great concern, indeed, alarm” among the army commanders.

They were, however, assured by General Walls on his return from London that the British were on the same network and were working in total collusion with the Rhodesians.

“Under no circumstances, Walls had declared, would Mugabe be allowed even to get to the starting post –both (British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher and Carrington had assured him on that point. Moreover, in the run-up to the election he had consistently reported that Soames was in agreement with the plan to disqualify Mugabe’s ZANU (PF) in certain provinces, but when the time came, Walls was found to be wanting, and all his supporters were left hanging in mid-air.”

Smith who says he had been aware from the start of the Lancaster House talks that Mugabe would win the elections –not because he was popular but because of intimidation– details several moves he made to ensure that Mugabe would not win or assume power when the election results were announced.

He says as early as January, before Mugabe had even come back to the country from Maputo, Soames had told him that he had received reports of “massive intimidation and the confirming affidavits which had been produced–over one thousand of them”. Soames, he said, produced a map, and said they proposed to disqualify the Patriotic Front from three provinces: Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Victoria (Masvingo). If the PF was disqualified from these provinces, which had 38 seats, Muzorewa would have been assured of victory.

“I had to agree; it was easy to work out the mathematics. A typical piece of British diplomacy: dishonest but effective.”

The British, Smith says, once again went back on their word. He even proposed the postponement of the elections but Walls told him this would serve no purpose because the internal factions would lose and not gain ground. The only way to solve that problem, and prevent Mugabe from coming to power was to bring in Nkomo.

It was estimated, correctly, that Nkomo would win 20 seats, and with the other black parties expected to win 15 to 20 seats between them and the Rhodesian Front’s 20 seats which it had already won, this would give them 55 to 60 seats in the 100 member house.

Muzorewa agreed to the plan saying: “If he and his party could not collect twenty seats, then they were Mickey Mouse”.

Mugabe surprised everyone by winning 57 seats enabling him to form a government without inviting another party including his former PF partner Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU which had 20 seats, if he wished, but he decided to form a government of national unity which included Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front members.

Smith made frantic efforts to get Soames to nullify the election results and when he refused he pressed Walls as head of Nat JOC to do so.

“I was not suggesting any unconstitutional action,” he argues. “Surely, I argued, because of the massive intimidation we would be within our rights to demand a re-election…..The obvious solution was to publicise this (massive intimidation) and declare the election null and void, and force the British to remain in position with a council of ministers including Mugabe and Nkomo until conditions of normalcy had returned and it was possible to hold free and fair elections. Walls did not think there was much hope of the British going along with this; they were too tired now. My response was that if the demand came from the politicians the British would brush it off, but if it came from the Nat JOC they would not dare.”

Smith says although Walls had agreed that he would not allow Mugabe to win, he refused to take any action. Because of Walls’ refusal to take action, Mugabe came to power and within sixteen years he had run down the country, Smith says.

Throughout the book, Smith argues that he was fighting to keep Rhodesia in the “free world”. He also conveniently does not mention anything that could spoil his argument. Edgar Tekere is treated like a hero because he provided the most serious challenge to Mugabe in the 1990 elections, yet in 1980, he was allegedly involved in gunning down a white farmer but was acquitted.

There is no mention of any intimidation by the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian forces like the attacks on the homes of Kumbirai Kangai and Mugabe himself during the run up to the 1980 elections.

Although Smith throughout claims that he was leading the happiest blacks in the world, and that they were totally behind him, one of those who watched Smith on South Africa’s M-Net television discussing his book said: “Any Zimbabwean who goes to see Ian Smith is a criminal deserving the death sentence. He (Smith) is lucky to be alive. I hope he dies a violent death like he killed my people.”

Another said: “Smith appears to be one of those people who feel that the whole world was against him and did not seem to understand why. He was an only child”. Another quoted what Smith himself allegedly once said: “Anyone who is not confused about what is going on must be misinformed.”

The book which has 413 pages of copy and 16 of pictures, though biased, is a good read. It clearly shows Smith’s own way of looking at things. He even writes that during the last days, Muzorewa ditched him because of the influence of his “friends” who “had swallowed hook, line and sinker the theme that ‘poor old Smith, great guy that he may have been, is now over the hill and unable to adapt to the realities which surround him’.”

It is a pity that the book is not available in Zimbabwe, and may never be, but it would provide local historians with something to talk and write about. By denying Zimbabweans access to the book, the authorities are letting Smith get away with “murder” because his views and what he says in the book will remain unchallenged.

Some of the interesting points –worth debate or investigation—which Smith raises in the book are that:

  • Garfield Todd, considered one of the most liberal white leaders in this country, had a tendency to give priority to black political advancement at the expense of economic and material advancement. He held talks with Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole behind the backs of his cabinet colleagues. This resulted in his being booted out of government because, according to Bennie Goldberg: “In the final analysis, if we had to choose between Todd and a donkey, then it’s the donkey”.
  •  Chief Jeremiah Chirau, “a strong man who was not prepared to allow the post-1980 black government to deflect him from his beliefs and principles”, died suddenly while in his prime, “from what the government reported to be natural causes, but his family and friends assured me that they were very unnatural. An aggravating factor was that the new PM, Robert Mugabe, was born and educated and grew up in Chirau’s country, and as a tribesman from that area traditionally owed special allegiance to Chief Chirau. Obviously there was a clash, and those who came to power through the barrel of the gun were going to stay there by the same means”. (Really!)
  • It was surprising that the Shonas were so vocal politically and were accusing the whites of oppressing them yet had it not been for the coming of the white man with his civilisation they would have been wiped out by the Ndebele or would have been driven to Mozambique.
  •  Smith had become such a good friend of the late Josiah Tongogara (They met at the Lancaster House talks in London in 1979) that on January 25, 1980, a month after Tongogara’s death, he received a call from some Portuguese “chap” who wanted to know how he could get some prawns to his (Smith’s) mother. This was an express wish of Tongogara before his death. Tongogara was one of the few black politicians who gave Smith hope. “I made a point of discussing his death with our police commissioner and the head of the special branch, and both assured me that Tongogara had been assassinated. This was a dreadful act of treachery that would have sad ramifications on the future of our country. If extremists were so much in control that they could do this kind of thing with impunity, then it boded ill for the future … there was no doubt in my mind that Mugabe, while not actually a participant, had no objection to his assassination.”
  •  Nkomo refused to join the plan to have the election of Mugabe nullified because he did not have the “stomach” for it. “History seemed to prove that he was a born loser — on a number of occasions when opportunities had presented themselves, he had hesitated and lost out, lacking leadership qualities to make a positive decision.”
  •  On Muzorewa as the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Smith wrote in his diary: “The first week in Parliament went well with good speeches from some of the new black members. The only thing which raised some interest was Muzorewa’s trek by ox-wagon though the city to take up occupation of the Prime Minister’s Residence. It was given headline prominence in The Herald with a big photograph of the new Prime Minister sitting in his throne, dressed up like a colourful rooster, and a bantam at that, sitting on a replica of the ox-wagon used by the Pioneer Column when they occupied the country in 1890. I cringed and closed my eyes. Muzorewa and his ancestors had not even invented the wheel by the time the white man arrived –like most thinking people, I wondered what he was trying to portray.”
  •  “The communists had successfully misrepresented the situation by depicting white Rhodesians as colonial oppressors and our blacks as the oppressed. But the truth was that our black people were better off than the blacks anywhere else in Africa, with more freedom, better justice and a higher standard of living.” ( Makes you wonder what the 14-year armed struggle was all about then, doesn’t it?)
  •  ZANU-PF was so scared it would not win as many seats as it had anticipated in the 1985 elections that it approached the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe (the Rhodesian Front)– van der Byl in particular– to cooperate with them by appointing three of their candidates– Dennis Norman and two others. ZANU-PF, however, won enough seats and “they were relieved to be spared from the embarrassment of putting themselves in a position where they would be seen to be talking to us. Politically this would be worse than death!”
  •  “We have more government ministers than any other government in the world, travelling to the four corners of the earth, attending more conferences than any other government in the world, taking larger delegations than any other government in the world. A local medical practitioner estimated that the expenses involved in attending one conference would cover our immediate medical needs.” (Travel they certainly do. but can the expenses of one conference really cover the country’s immediate medical needs?)
  •  The government’s plan to compulsorily acquire land was “absolutely evil”, Smith says. (Nowhere in the book does he state that his own government confiscated farms which black farmers had bought in “white” commercial areas during the federation. These farmers were never compensated and when they raised the issue with Mugabe’s government, it could not do anything either.)
  •  On Maurice Nyagumbo‘s death, officially a suicide, he says: “There was clear evidence, however, which pointed in a different direction. It was well known that others were involved (in the Willowvale car scandal) and Nyagumbo had made it clear that they too should be exposed, as he had been. The problem was that they were the comrades at the very top. This was obviously an emergency that had to be dealt with rapidly and mercilessly. Who were above him in the party? The two vice-Presidents, Nkomo and (Simon) Muzenda, President Mugabe and his wife, Sally, who always worked closely with him! The idea that Nyagumbo had committed suicide was laughed out of court by all those in the picture. Nyagumbo was a reserved, elderly man, noted for his strength of conviction and his dedication to the party he served.” ( Smith ought to know him well because he kept him in and out of jail throughout his 15 years as Prime Minister.)
  •  Perhaps this is a typographical error but he says the Unity accord, the official “marriage” (as he calls it) of ZAPU and ZANU was on 22 December 1989. Shouldn’t the date be 22 December 1987?
  • “The average (white)farmer is not concerned with politics or racism –he concentrates on maintaining viability in a part of the world notorious for the hazards of nature.” (makes you wonder in which world Smith really lives, doesn’t it?)
  •  On the 1995 general elections: “Rumour had it that the election would be held in April. This meant we were heading for a traumatic period where our people would be subject to intimidation, corruption, campaigns of misinformation, bribery and the use of public funds to promote ZANU (PF). For fifteen years now our voters have been brainwashed into believing that this is how democracy works. Ninety percent of them previously lived under the traditional tribal system and hence have no means of comparison with the genuine article.” (It appears no matter what blacks did, they could never change, especially to understand elections and their rights.)
  •  “There is less freedom and justice in Zimbabwe today than in such countries as Nigeria, Nicaragua or North Korea, where one-party states have been established and the reasons for them openly declared. Whether you agree with them or not, at least they are honest. In Zimbabwe, in theory, we have a democracy and a voters’ roll, but in practice, as I have recorded in this book, to attempt meaningful opposition to ZANU(PF) is to court disaster … proportional to population, more people have been murdered in Zimbabwe because of their opposition to the government than in the countries I have mentioned above.” (Are things really this bad?)
  •  On the call for indigenisation, he says; “There are reputable economists who say that today our black people are in control of 50 percent of the nation’s economy and this figure grows by the day … When people complain that they lack the necessary finance to purchase their basic requirements, they are informed that this has been brought about because the white man cornered the economy, to the exclusion of our black people. They are not told that there are more black millionaires than white millionaires in Zimbabwe, with government ministers and their comrades living at a lavishly high level, enjoying five-star treatment in their constant world travels.” (Are all those people saying blacks only control two percent of the economy lying? As for millionaires, what figures is Smith talking about? Is this proportional because the population ratio is now 110 to one, so to have more blacks millionaires than white this would also follow this ratio, not just numbers like 50- 50 but 550-5.)
  •  “History will record (South African President) Nelson Mandela as the first black statesman, as opposed to politician, to be produced by Africa.” A footnote says: ” A statesman thinks of the next generation– a politician thinks of the next election.” (The big question should be: which one was Smith?)


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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