Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ian Smith, RIP

Avoid the PC knee jerk and go with the flow with me for a bit.

Little did I know last month when I alluded to him in context of a song from the Boomtown Rats (that BTW, none of you got) - that it would be time to bring him up again.
Ian Smith, the former prime minister of Britain’s rebellious colony of Rhodesia, who once promised that white rule in Africa would endure for 1,000 years, died yesterday in South Africa. He was 88.

The cause was a stroke suffered at a nursing home near Cape Town, said Sam Whaley, a friend and former senator in Mr. Smith’s Rhodesian Front government.

Mr. Smith’s resistance to black rule led to a unilateral declaration of independence from Britain in 1965 and, later, severe repression and a seven-year guerrilla war, costing about 30,000 lives, most of them black fighters and civilians.

Second only to the apartheid rulers of South Africa, Mr. Smith became a symbol, both to black Africans and many others, of iniquitous white rule.

The land Mr. Smith left behind is markedly different from the one he nurtured before white-ruled Rhodesia became majority-ruled Zimbabwe, an era in which a tiny white minority of mainly settlers of British descent clung to privilege, prosperity and power in the teeth of international pressure.

In the earliest years of independence, in the 1980s, Zimbabwe impressed many outsiders as a stable and prosperous land, where high school enrollment for black children, held back in the long decades of white minority rule, soared and tourism to game parks and the famed Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River flourished.
I think in the West we should be careful judging Ian Smith. In an American context, the very thought of the Rhodesian government of minority rule is repugnant and unexplainable in the second-half of the 20th Century. The thing is, the Rhodesians did not exist in an American context. In many ways, they lived in a parallel universe that you can only vaguely grasp. Like many things in the Carter Administration, they let their emotions overrule their intellect and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe never had a chance. They did not have the peace at the right time to transition. Mostly, they did not have a Mandela; they had a Mugabe.

In the end, though - even his critics; most of whom don't give a d@mn about Zimbabwe or its people, would have to admit that he was right.
But in later years the formerly white-owned farms that once fed much of southern Africa and earned millions of dollars in foreign exchange were decimated by a precipitate land-redistribution program. The economy is in tatters, with hyperinflation running at such a pace that currency bills change hands in brick-sized bundles.

An urban elite with ties to the regime of President Robert G. Mugabe prospers while the poor go hungry. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled to neighboring African states. Political opposition to Mr. Mugabe’s regime has been suppressed with the same zeal as Mr. Smith himself once displayed in the fight against African nationalist strivings for majority rule.

Zimbabwe’s troubles only fed Mr. Smith’s unwavering white supremacist views, his unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people who come to me and say, when you were in the chair, we thought you were too inflexible and unbending; we now see that you were right,” he said in an interview during a visit to London in 2004.
I hope that South Africa will prove him, at least about Black Africa, wrong. So far, so shakingly good.

Read his obit to read his remarkable WWII service history - but thinking of military; that is one thing the Rhodesians left when it was all done - a remarkable military history. 99.9% know nothing of it or only the PC history of it - but, well, let it speak for itself.

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