Rhodesia was founded by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in 1890 under the direction of South African mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, and his colonial partner Leander Starr Jameson. Known as Southern Rhodesia the colony was granted self-governing status by the British government in 1923 under the administration of the white European colonial minority, and soon burgeoned as an economic powerhouse in southern Africa.
By the 1950s the standard of living for the white Rhodesians was vastly superior to most of the British living in the United Kingdom, and was even higher than many parts of the United States. It was not unusual for a white family living in the suburbs of the capital of Salisbury to own a single family home with a swimming pool, a car, all the contrivances of modern life, as well as employing more than one black African domestic worker. However, the white minority government only sought to assimilate the black African communities living within the state at a snail’s pace, and maintained a sort of parochial paternalistic racism over the black Africans, which was deeply resented. These ethnic tensions, and the communist Cold War strategy of fostering Marxist-Leninist wars of national liberation would snowball into what became known as the Rhodesian Bush War. The outcome of the war was the extinction of the white settler state of Rhodesia, and the birth of Zimbabwe under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist and Pan-African ideologue Robert Mugabe.
In their book on the Rhodesian Bush War, Moorcraft and McLaughlin offer a political as well as military history of the war conveying thorough analysis of the tactics and strategies employed by the warring factions.
“Rhodesia’s first concern, according to Prime Minister Ian Smith’s followers, was to prevent the spread of godless communism. But the war led to the triumph of a self-professed communist, Robert Mugabe. The most right-wing British prime minister in modern history, Margaret Thatcher, had inadvertently created the conditions for the first democratic electoral victory of a Marxist leader in Africa.
“The greatest paradox involved South Africa. Rhodesia broke away from Britain to avoid black rule and then, with the onset of the guerrilla war, became completely dependent upon an apartheid regime which subsequently became even more determined than London to establish a black premier in Salisbury, soon to be renamed Harare. Above all, Pretoria dreaded the possibility of a victorious Marxist army marching through the streets of Salisbury and Bulawayo, a precedent which it feared could be replicated in the Transvaal.
“The Zimbabwean nationalists called the whites ‘settlers’, but the ‘European’ population thought of themselves as Rhodesians, a nation in themselves, or a white African tribe at least.
“Many whites believed they were sincerely battling against communism to preserve a civilized Christian order; it was not merely to protect a three-servants-two-cars-one-swimming-pool way of life. But although the whites did fight long and hard, Rhodesia was not a militaristic society, despite the ubiquitous weaponry and uniforms. By 1979, as black rule became imminent, the whites looked back on the tragedies of the war. The mood was one of sorrow and resignation rather than anger; and they displayed a bruised pride in having survived for so long against such steep odds.
“…towards the end of the war, the Rhodesian military had begun to act as a state within a state. It was only the personal contacts between Smith and his service chiefs which kept the fiction of political supervision intact. With 95 per cent of the country under martial law, military dominance was inevitable.
*All excerpts have been taken from The Rhodesian War: A Military History, Stackpole Books.