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Ian Smith

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Ian Smith
Ian Smith

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 white 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 the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II. 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 black 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 blacks entering the political process; some racially-based constitutional barriers did in fact exist, however, but were justified by the Rhodesian government as preventative measures against terrorism.

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, and even the apartheid 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 white minority rule could not continue indefinitely.

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 black Prime Minister. Smith became minister without portfolio in the new government. However, the civil war waged by 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 by many 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, as many white parliamentarians who had previously belonged to his party changed their allegiances to support Prime Minister Mugabe. 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.

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