The left may have fun with Ian Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, having died on November 20th – the same day as Franco in 1975, and Primo de Rivera back in 1936.
There was a BBC Radio Four discussion on Mr Smith today, but I do not know whether any mention was made of the date of his death – I turned the show off after it became clear that all the participants in the discussion hated Ian Smith and, more importantly, had no interest in truth.
The obituary of Ian Smith in today’s Economist did not make any joke about the date of his death, it just contented itself with accusing him of ‘tyranny’ and saying the government he headed, and the whole of the Rhodesian effort, was “rather squalid”.
However, both the BBC show and the Economist obituary said that Ian Smith had delayed black majority rule for “fifteen years” (1965 to 1980) – this is false.
Under the 1923 Constitution of Southern Rhodesia there were educational and property qualifications on voting – which meant that the vast majority of voters (although not all of them) were white. Even under the Constitution drawn up under Ian Smith in 1969 only eight of the members of House of Assembly were to be directly elected by blacks who do not meet the educational and property qualifications (although another eight were to be chosen by tribal chiefs) – whereas the mainly white voters who did meet the qualifications got to elect fifty members. It is true that the Senate was more balanced – with a minimum of ten Senators (out of 23) being elected by the tribal chiefs. But the Senate only had delaying powers.
However, Ian Smith accepted the 1971 deal proposed by the British government headed by Edward Heath – a deal that would have speeded up the process by which more blacks got the vote on an equal basis with whites. But after widespread protests about how it was wrong to link voting with property ownership at all (oh silly Aristotle for thinking that majority rule can only work when the majority are property owners) this proposal was withdrawn – which Mr Smith regarded as a betrayal (one of many). Ian Smith said many times that he would never accept “majority rule” if this meant the rule of non property owners, i.e. the tribal masses, but in the end he did accept it – and his acceptance was not in 1980…so the “fifteen years” is false.
In March 1978 Ian Smith accepted majority rule in a deal with some of the black leaders, including Ndabaningi Sithole, the founder of African nationalism in Rhodesia, and Bishop Abel Muzorewa – who had played a leading role in sinking the 1971 deal. It is true that under the 1978 deal the new ‘Zimbabwe Rhodesia’ would reserve a third of the seats in Parliament for the mainly white property owners, and it is also true that there were other constitutional protections.
Ian Smith also hoped to be Minister of Defence under a black Prime Minister, but after the elections of 1979 he had to make do with being Minister without Portfolio – a white Defence Minister yes – but not old burnt face, seems to have been the position of the new government.
However, the British government, in spite of the Conservatives having said during the British elections of May 1979 that they would support the internal settlement) undermined the deal and demanded, at the Lancaster House talks, that Prime Minister Muzorewa and the whole government be removed and the country be placed under British control for new elections. Thus Bishop Muzorewa was humiliated in the eyes of his tribe, who made up the majority of the population, and with the British in charge there was nothing to prevent intimidation winning the elections for the most radical elements – as Ian Smith predicted would happen.
So the new Prime Minister in 1980 was the Marxist terrorist Comrade Bob – on the grounds that he was from the majority tribe, unlike the rival terrorist leader, and had the best organized intimidation.
Both the BBC and the Economist choose to date majority rule from this date.
As for the picture presented of Ian Smith as being unwilling to compromise and as having learnt nothing from his experiences in World War II, the Economist obituary makes the latter claim, I do not know whether the BBC show claimed it as well – I do not know for the reason I explained above, well I think what I have already explained casts doubt on this picture.