The Sunday Mail
JUST been reading the book, “The Empire Writes Back” by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin and the book tickled me to critically think about the on-going and well-funded project by ex-Rhodesians. Borrowing from the title of the above book, I think the project should be called “Unrepentant Rhodies Write Back to Our Struggle.”
Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is on the onslaught because after defeat at the battlefront, ex-Rhodies have in recent years revived their fight through publishing volumes and volumes of books that seek to portray the losers as the winners of the Second Chimurenga War. What they failed to win through the gun in the bush, they want to win it through text in the media. This is the tragedy that confronts us as Zimbabweans because the victors haven’t yet told their story.
Fortunately, in their bid to present themselves as victors in a war they lost in embarrassing ways, these ex-Rhodies are exposing themselves in shocking ways and also in the process revealing to the world what Zimbabwe’s gallant freedom fighters were up against. Reading some of the books by these ex-Rhodies, one can easily conclude that Zimbabwe is a miracle country because while the Rhodesian forces were armed to the teeth, they were fighting an ill-equipped guerilla force. On paper, there was no way these ill-equipped pockets of freedom fighters could defeat the heavily equipped Rhodesian army.
Maybe Zimbabwe’s Second Chimurenga clearly illustrates the point that weapons don’t fight a war. A war is fought by the heart of men and women.
One of the writers who is at the forefront of trying to portray the losers as winners is Peter Baxter and his 2011 book, “Selous Scouts: Rhodesian Counter-Insurgency Specialists,” published under the “Africa @ War Series is an interesting read. In the book, Baxter tries to present the Selous Scouts as a mean machine, but dismally fails to do so as he succeeds in exposing the numerous weaknesses of the Rhodesian forces.
Allow me to quote some sections from this book which is a loud call to veterans of the liberation struggle to come out and tell their stories because the distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies contained in the book are just too glaring.
On the cover page of the book, the Rhodesian Selous Scouts are described by one Lt-Col Robert Brown who is said to be a Soldier of Fortune, as “Undoubtedly one of the most, if not the most, effective counter-insurgency units in the history of warfare.”
Well, this “most effective” counter-insurgency unit was exposed by the gallant freedom fighters who outsmarted it to an extent that the Rhodesian forces foolishly concluded that the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo had some “muti” to disappear after they failed on several occasions to assassinate him.
In his foreword, Baxter starts by giving a context of how and where the name Selous came from. He writes about Frederick Courteney Selous as one of the “most fascinating characters of imperial Africa, and doubtless one of the greatest of the white sons of Rhodesia.”
Already, Baxter is trying to create a hero from a bloodthirsty colonialist who was at the forefront of plundering Africa’s resources. He goes on to describe Selous as someone who “epitomised to a generation of avid imperial youth the ‘Great White Hunter’ creed.” This supposed “Great White Hunter” was killed in very simple ways “by a sniper on the Rufiji River on 4 January 1917.” This great fighter? Dead, just like that?
Tracing the formation of the Selous Scouts, Baxter narrated how the Rhodesian forces succeeded for a while to keep the Zipra and Zanla forces in Zambia and Mozambique.
“To achieve this, the Rhodesian security forces relied heavily on a collection of unique and rather unconventional special force units. The army for example, made practical use of mounted infantry, versatile platoon-sized police reserve tracker units, conventional special forces in the form of the Special Air Service (SAS), the compact and deadly Rhodesia Light Infantry, and of course the enduringly iconic Selous Scouts…
“By the beginning of the 1970s, however, the situation had deteriorated significantly with the advent of fully fledged armed incursions beginning to take place from bases in Zambia and the Tete province of Mozambique…” writes Baxter.
He goes on to accept that the watershed year for Rhodesia was 1972 when, as reported last week by this publication in its Second Chimurenga Chronicles, Cde John Pedzisa and a group of other freedom fighters hit Altena Farm.
Baxter agrees that the new war strategy by Zapu and Zanu which was anchored on the “tried and tested revolutionary principles drawn from Mao tse Tung’s Red Book brought a new dimension to the liberation struggle and the Rhodesian forces were forced into action.
“As the 1960s drew to a close and the armed insurgency appeared to subside, an aura of apparent peace settled on the land. The Rhodesian security and intelligence services relaxed somewhat, allowing themselves to be lulled by the notion that the nationalists had been defeated.
“However, under the surface, Zanu political commissars had been very busy moving among the population of the northeast in an effort to inform the masses of the coming revolution. This process typically involved an intoxicating mix of Marxist orientation and extreme violence,” says Baxter in clear reference to the success of the Pungwe meetings that freedom fighters held during the night with villagers.
“The preparation for this new phase of the war went on right under the noses of the Rhodesian security services,” he said showing the effectiveness of the strategy by the freedom fighters. He continued: “The local population was siding with the revolution, hearts and minds were being lost and a drastic review of military strategy was urgently required.
“The solution was partly home-grown and partly borrowed. The borrowed element can be traced to the British counter-insurgency operations in Malaya during the uprising in that colony that began after the Second World War.”
Baxter reveals that although the Rhodesian Special Branch was in place, it was not enough to deal with the freedom fighters who kept sneaking into Rhodesia and causing all sorts of mayhem. He said facing with the continuous attacks by the freedom fighters, the Rhodesian forces resorted to “pseudo operations” which were an innovation of the civilian intelligence community.
Baxter goes further saying Rhodesian director general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, Ken Flower is sometimes touted as the midwife of the concept of the Seous Scouts but “no single organisation or person can realistically lay claim to the original idea of the Selous Scouts.” In a way, this is an acceptance that the Rhodesian security forces had been thrown into disarray and there was no time to properly think of how to counter the strategies by the freedom fighters.
“Concern at the higher levels of command suddenly became acute and the need for intelligence urgent. . . Meetings were held every evening at the Centenary Joint Operation Centres. . .
“On one particular evening the discussion centred around plans to deal with a local medium carrying the pseudonym Nehanda who was active in the liberation movement in Mozambique,” said Baxter. So even the Rhodesian forces acknowledged the role of the spirit mediums during the liberation struggle.
Some of the early recruits into the Rhodesian Selous Scouts were Andre Rabie and Stretch Franklin who were considered to be ruthless veterans of war. However, despite trying to portray these two as brave soldiers, the death of Rabie exposed the lies. He was killed in a shoot-out with freedom fighters after he walked straight into a trap. “A second tragedy occurred just a month later with the death in action of territorial officer Lieutenant Robin Hughes,” said Baxter.
What is interesting is that in all these deaths, Baxter writes with no reference to the fact that these Rhodies were shot by freedom fighters. It’s as if they shot themselves. The first commanding officer of the Selous Scouts was Captain Ron Reid-Daly, a close friend of Lieutenant-General Peter Walls who was the commander of the army at the time. The then Prime Minister’s Office and CIO came up with the terms of reference for this new unit.
The directive when it was complete read as follows:
“The unit came into being following a directive issued by the Prime Minister to the director-general of the CIO who in turn promised the full cooperation of the Commissioner of Police and the Army Commander to staff and equip the same. It was tasked to carry out operations of a clandestine nature wherever it may be called upon to serve, drawing manpower from the combined services and other less obvious channels while receiving instruction from the OCC, Director-General CIO, Service Commanders and operational JOCs. . .
“Ken Flower would remain overall commander of pseudo operations, undertaking to appraise the commissioner of police on all operations, while Walls would assume responsibility for military logistics and personnel. Mention was made of the role of proposed unit in the clandestine elimination of guerillas both within and without the country. Special branch liason officers were accounted for, most notably Winston Hart, who were to be commanded by Superintendent Mac McGuinness. . .
“The original Selous Scout home in an isolated corner of Trojan nickel mine near Bindura remained the home of the Special Branch Selous Scouts…
“Initial proposals were that the unit should be of company strength, perhaps 120 officers and men. The command element would be all white, with the highest rank to which a black soldier could aspire then being a colour sergeant.”
The principal modus operandi of the Selous Scouts, according to Baxter were to “effectively impersonate black, communist-trained guerillas operating within their own social medium. . .”
When all had been set, Baxter says “the party was held, the food eaten and the drink drunk, after which the first fellowship of the Selous Scouts stepped into the world to do maximum damage.” Maximum damage meant the ruthless and wanton killings of freedom fighters.
The Selous Scouts relied heavily on what they called Fireforce which according to Baxter in simple terms meant a “standby force located at various forward airfields scattered around the operational areas.
“It consisted typically of three Alouette III helicopters, or G-Cars, armed with door-mounted machine guns and configured primarily for troop deployment and support, and a fourth Alouette III, called a K-Car, which was armed with a formidable mounted 20mm cannon. . . As of 1977, an additional complement of 16 to 20 troopers could be deployed from the venerable C-47 Dakota transporters.
“Air support was usually available from one of the Rhodesian air force’s multi-functional Cessna Lynx aircraft and a squadron of Hawker Hunters should all this still prove inadequate. The key to the success of Fireforce was speed, accuracy and aggression,” said Baxter who went on to reveal how the coordination was done for Fireforce to be effective.
Clearly the Rhodesian forces had weapons that could flatten a mountain within seconds and understandably many didn’t give freedom fighters any chance to win, but using guerilla tactics, the war raged on. Baxter admits that the Selous Scouts were ruthless and even suggests that some of their operations went overboard. He quotes Ken Flower to illustrate his point. Flower said:
“Certainly, the unit contained individuals who performed heroic feats and fought with the greatest honour and distinction. . .but it also attracted vainglorious extroverts and a few psychopathic killers.”
According to Baxter, British historian and journalist, David Caute, commenting in his 1983 book, “Under the Skin” about the decline of white Rhodesia, the Selous Scouts were “upstarts in a hurry to describe themselves as legendary.”
As the freedom fighters kept pushing into the country, the Rhodesian forces came up with all manner of operations from Operation Hurricane, Operation Thrasher, Operation Repulse, Operation Tangent, Operation Splinter and Operation Grapple among other operations.
The Rhodesian forces even recruited some freedom fighters like Morrison Nyathi, a former Zanla fighter who they turned into a spie and accompanied Rhodesian soldiers as they massacred comrades at Nyadzonya and camp.
Baxter writes about another Selous Scout spie, Allan Brice saying he was “an agent embedded in Lusaka and surrounds, who had since the mid-1970s been responsible for generating a great deal of mayhem in the capital, including the March 1975 assassination of Zanu political chairman Herbert Chitepo. Allan ‘Taffy’ Brice, an ex-British SAS soldier and an extremely able and dangerous operative, had remained undetected to the extent that, until the publication of his biography in 1985 by Rhodesian war historian Peter Stiff, there had been no clear evidence linking anyone with the assassination.”
Baxter goes on to make several revelations exposing the inefficiency of the Rhodesian security system and the failure by the Rhodesian army to contain the freedom fighters as the war escalated. The Smith regime employed all dirty tricks in the book including mounting raids into Zambia and Mozambique but the struggle was unstoppable.