Ian Smith

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For other people named Ian Smith, see Ian Smith (disambiguation).
Ian Smith on the cover of a 1965 TIME Magazine.
Ian Smith on the cover of a 1965 TIME Magazine.

Ian Douglas Smith (born April 8, 1919) was the Premier of the British Crown Colony of Southern Rhodesia from April 13, 1964 to November 11, 1965 and the Prime Minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from November 11, 1965 to June 1, 1979, when Rhodesia was ruled by its European minority.

He was born in Selukwe (now Shurugwi) and educated in Gwelo (now Gweru) and at the Rhodes University in South Africa. He served with distinction in the Royal Air Force (RAF) at Pembrey during World War II, during which he lost an eye in battle. He returned home to finish his degree and then bought a farm in Selukwe. He became active in politics from 1948, first with the Southern Rhodesia Liberals, then the United Federal Party. In 1962 he was one of the founders of the Rhodesian Front (RF).

The RF won a slim majority in the 1962 elections and formed a government. In April 1964 Smith was appointed leader of the Rhodesian Front, replacing Winston Field, as Premier of Southern Rhodesia.

Smith was staunchly opposed to Britain's insistence that he prepare to transfer political control of the colony to the African majority, at one point stating that there would be no black majority rule in his lifetime. Smith always maintained, however, that there was no constitutional inhibitor to Africans entering the political process; some racially-based constitutional barriers did in fact exist, but were justified by the Rhodesian government as preventative measures against terrorism.

The Unilateral Declaration of Independence
The Unilateral Declaration of Independence

Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965. The British colony of Southern Rhodesia became a sovereign state, a move Smith believed would finally free the nation from Britain's constant meddling. This brought widespread international condemnation, led by Britain, and even the European-dominated government in South Africa, although sympathetic and privately supportive, was anxious to avoid sharing in the international condemnation of Rhodesia and did not officially recognise the new state. In 1974, B.J. Vorster, the Prime Minister of South Africa, forced Smith to accept in principle that European minority rule could not continue indefinitely.

Throughout the 25 year period 1965 - 1990, Ian Smith was given complete support in London by the Conservative Monday Club who organised pro-Rhodesia demonstrations outside number 10 Dowing Street several times during the late 1970s, and provided Smith with a platform at several receptions and major dinners. The Club had a Rhodesia sub-committee chaired by Tory M.P., Harold Soref.

The numerous international sanctions that were imposed eventually proved too difficult for the new country to withstand, though Smith earned praise from his supporters for lasting as long as he did. In 1979 Smith agreed to hold multi-racial elections. Following the elections, Rhodesia was re-named Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected as the country's first African Prime Minister. Smith became minister without portfolio in the new government. However, the civil war waged by the two Marxist terrorists, Mugabe and Nkomo, continued unabated, and the British Government persuaded all parties to come to Lancaster House under Lord Carrington in September 1979 to work out a lasting agreement.

Elections were held again in 1980, and despite being held under international supervision were widely condemned as having been fraudulent. Robert Mugabe defeated Muzorewa, and Smith became Leader of the Opposition, as leader of the newly re-named Republican Front. In the years that followed, Smith's support among the white minority increasingly eroded. In the 1985 election, however, Smith managed to recapture 15 of the 20 parliamentary seats that were reserved for whites. Mugabe, angered and threatened by Smith's strong showing, moved to abolish the reserved seats two years later. Smith retired to his farm in Shurugwi, his political career of 39 years over.

Since his retirement, Smith has remained an outspoken critic of the Mugabe regime. Now in his eighties, Ian Smith has reentered the political fray by challenging Mugabe publicly. He has written an autobiography, The Great Betrayal, which is as much an attack on the Mugabe regime as a memoir of his own that preceded it. Smith is also the author of Bitter Harvest.

Preceded by:
Winston Joseph Field
Prime Minister of Rhodesia Followed by:
Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa
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