Smith to Mugabe: A Brutal State of Affairs

Ellert_Smith to Mugabe

Author: Henrik Ellert
Publisher: Mambo Press, Gweru 2018
ISBN 978 0 86922 903 3

This book is written with a slightly different perspective to those that have come before it, dealing with the economically and socially ring-fenced community of Rhodesians that had fought to uphold a very privileged way of life. It did so under the duress of an escalating black nationalist insurgency, a nasty trade embargo, and a pending, yet inevitable, collapse in the late 1970s. This was of their own making with an illegal UDI becoming their greatest betrayal in the end. Ellert strives to identify the ethos of ‘white nationalism’ within a grouping, some of whom had their heads deeply buried in the sand; its weaknesses; and the reasons for sustaining its struggle. And he does so with a rather brutal trip down reality lane, but, perhaps, with a little admiration for the Rhodesians who went on; right to the bitter end.

The history of black struggle and its cause was often ignored by white nationalism and it remains little understood by most whites and some blacks, even today. The evolution of indigenous nationalism, reborn from the smouldering embers of the First Chimurenga, has a history rich in both cause, its protest and the heroics of often lone agitators trying to foment change, which re-ignited those embers in 1964. Yet it is littered with political ineptitude, internecine squabble and tribal divide, so much so that a nation went to war with itself; in more ways than one. Henrik dedicates space to the growth of nationalism, but perhaps fails to unfold the entire picture, concentrating on the first flames of the second revolution which were mercilessly snuffed out by the Rhodesians.

Rhodesians just simply failed to recognise the impact of the land issue and the polarised demographics, but their real unhinging began in 1972 with the liberation movements, still licking their wounds, crossing the Zambezi, their own Rubicon if you like, with a paradigm shift in guerrilla strategy. This resulted in the opening up of Operation Hurricane, to which the author dedicates a chapter. The origins of this book quite clearly lie in Ellert’s first book, ‘The Rhodesian Front War’ (Mambo Press, 1989), and he dedicates chapters to areas with which he had deep experiences. These including the media, infiltrated as a Rhodesian intelligence officer, the British South Africa Police, his regiment, and the Central Intelligence Organisation of the day. We still need a more definitive history of the latter. The most feared Selous Scouts Regiment also gets its chapter and some may be none too pleased with its content.

The germane factor which turned the tables on Rhodesia is with little doubt the collapse of Portuguese rule in Africa, especially the fall of Mozambique, ending 470 years of colonial rule. The events that unfolded in late 1974 eventually allowed the Zimbabwean insurgency to proliferate along a longer front, and escalate into a bush war of almost conventional proportions; thus stretching the Rhodesians to their limits. The author well covers the colonial war in Mozambique; the chicanery of Portuguese politics and the military; and the loss of one of Rhodesia’s great allies. The Portuguese actually saw the light, well before the Rhodesians.

This book would not be complete without a chapter on the treacherous South Africans, or rather its politicians, who first nurtured Rhodesia’s counter-insurgency with manpower, aircraft, materiel and munitions; saturated the nation with its observers and spies; even unleashed its experimental, biological programs; and then dropped the nation, incredibly, like the proverbial hot potato. This topic is, of course, linked to the sanctions war to which Henrik also dedicates a chapter. The South Africans were often instrumental and were the principal conduit for essential sanction-busting needs, but they also turned this against the Rhodesians.

As an interesting observation, Ellert believes that Rhodesians have perhaps missed the boat on decolonizing their history, but one might suspect many are happy they did, when reflecting on the most appalling ruin that Zimbabwe now finds itself in. Echoes of that “old pariah, defiant and bigoted to the last… with the familiar Smithy whine: ‘I told you so’” (Smith Obituary – The Guardian 21 November 2007). Zimbabwe is perhaps unique in that most of its military history has been written by the vanquished, and we are yet to see an honestly written definitive history of the struggle, without political agenda.

The reviewer was a little let down by out of perspective pictures and the poor print reproduction of images, especially a few illegible charts. Regrettably the indexing leaves a lot to be desired. The sequence of chapters is a little disjointed too and content is a touch iterative in places. There is even a chapter concerning the military coup d’etat, that wasn’t, and the ascension to power of Mnangagwa, post Mugabe, that, in the writer’s opinion, is superfluous to the plot. Never-the-less, this book is a ‘must read’ for the gullible many, who have been subjected to decades of the lies and mistruths championed by politicians and their cohorts on both sides of the fray.
Andrew D Field

US$40.00 – soon to be available through retail outlets

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