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Ian Douglas Smith Edit Profile


Ian Douglas Smith was a politician, farmer and fighter pilot who served as Prime Minister of Rhodesia (or Southern Rhodesia) from 1964 to 1979. The country's first premier not born abroad, he led the predominantly white government that unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, following prolonged dispute over the terms.


Ian was born on April 18, 1919, on a farm at Selukwe, 180 miles south-west of Salisbury, son of an emigrant from Hamilton, Scotland who earned a high reputation as a butcher famed for his pork sausages.


Educated at Selukwe and Gwelo. Entered Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa but left in 1939 to join the Royal Air Force.


He was badly wounded with severe facial burns on a strafing mission with the 237th (Rhodesian) Squadron over North Africa and endured months of plastic surgery work in Cairo before emerging with a remoulded face. Refusing to be grounded, he returned to combat missions and was shot down over northern Italy. He was picked up by partisans and fought with them for five months behind the German lines until he took a perilous five-day journey across the Alps dressed as an Italian farmer and joined the British forces.

Demobilised in 1945, he returned to Rhodes University, took a degree in commerce, and went straight into politics in Rhodesia. He won a seat as a Liberal—the right-wing opposition in 1948 in the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Assembly. He entered the Federal Parliament in 1953 for the United Federal Party and on November 1, 1956, Sir Roy Welensky, Federal Prime Minister, made him government chief whip.

At his first Press conference as Premier on April 16, 1964, he made the famous statement: “I do not expect to see Africans ruling Rhodesia in my lifetime.” His first act was to have nationalist leader Joshua Nkomo sent to restriction at Gonakudzingwa. His bid for independence led to a communique after talks in London on September 11, 1964, saying he accepted it must be based “upon general consent”. His subsequent consultation of chiefs and headmen did not satisfy the British Conservative government; nor did his referendum on November 5, 1964, registering almost 90% approval after an African boycott impress the newly elected Labour government in London.

Talks with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Salisbury on October 25-30, 1965, did not resolve the deadlock. Smith proceeded to a state of emergency on November 5, 1965. A letter from him and 15 of his colleagues on November 9 to the Queen declared their “constant loyalty . . . whatever happens”.

Announcing UDI at 11.15 am on November 11, 1965, he said: “We have struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity and in the spirit of that belief we have thus assumed our sovereign independence.” A proclamation from Sir Humphrey Gibbs, the Governor, said Smith and his cabinet no longer held office but Smith’s censorship ensured it was not published in Rhodesia.

He twice manoeuvred Harold Wilson into negotiations. They met aboard HMS Tiger off Gibraltar on December 2-3, 1966, and drew up a working document for independence which Smith took back to his cabinet in Salisbury, where it was rejected on December 8, 1966. After further negotiations aboard HMS Fearless at Gibraltar on October 9-13, 1968, it was stated that despite some progress “disagreement on the fundamental issues remained”.

A double referendum on June 22, 1969, gave him 81% support for making Rhodesia a republic, which was finally achieved on March 2, 1970. It also gave him 73% support for a new constitution which introduced new segregation measures and offered at best to the Africans only the prospect of eventual parity with whites. His popularity among the white electorate was confirmed on April 10, 1970, when the Rhodesian Front won all seats.

His third attempt at a negotiated settlement with Britain led to an agreement signed with Sir Alec Douglas- Home, British Foreign Secretary, on November 24, 1971, at Salisbury. He misjudged his control of African opinion by allowing the agreement to be subject to a test of acceptability carried out in Rhodesia by a British Commission under Lord Pearce. Widespread demonstrations against the proposals made him panic into arresting former Premier Garfield Todd, Judy Todd, and Josiah Chinamano and his wife. The Pearce Report on May 24, 1972, ruled out implementation of the proposals by recording that “the majority of Africans reject the proposals”. Nonetheless he was re-elected unopposed as president of the Rhodesian Front on September 23, 1972.

On January 9, 1973, without consulting South Africa or Portugal, his security partners, he closed the border with Zambia on the grounds of increased terrorism being permitted from President Kaunda’s side. It had all the marks of an impulsive gesture which deprived his own railways of much needed revenue from carrying Zambian copper. He reversed the decision on February 3, 1973, without any reciprocal reopening gesture from Zambia.


He quit party and Parliament because of the new constitution for Southern Rhodesia in February 1961 which he believed was too liberal to the Africans with 15 out of 65 seats assured to them in Parliament. He worked with D. C. “Boss” Lilford, the tobacco millionaire, to create the Rhodesian Front as a party dedicated to "preserve Rhodesia for the Rhodesians”. When Winston Field led the Rhodesian Front to victory at the elections he made Smith his No. 2 as Treasury Minister on December 17, 1962.

A right-wing revolt against Field for being too weak, in not getting a deadline for independence from Britain like Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, thrust Smith into power as Prime Minister on April 13, 1964. He set out his policy in a full-page advertisement in Rhodesian newspapers: “No forced integration. No lowering of standards.

No abdication of responsible government. No repeal of the Land Apportionment Act. No appeasement to suit the Afro-Asian bloc.”

He belonged to Liberal (1948–53), United Federal (1953–61) and Rhodesian Front and successors (1962–87) parties.


On the surface, a reluctant rebel, having ended his secession statement with “God Save the Queen”. At heart, a natural outcast in a multi-racial Commonwealth because his First loyalty has always been to keep Rhodesia in “civilised”—for him “white"—hands.