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Ian Smith
Coloured photograph of Ian Smith
Smith in 1975
8th Prime Minister of Rhodesia
In office
13 April 1964 – 1 June 1979
  • Clifford Dupont (1970–75)
  • John Wrathall (1976–78)
Deputy Clifford Dupont
John Wrathall
David Smith
Preceded by Winston Field
Succeeded by Abel Muzorewa (as PM of Zimbabwe Rhodesia)
Personal details
Ian Douglas Smith

(1919-04-08)8 April 1919
Selukwe, Rhodesia
Died 20 November 2007(2007-11-20) (aged 88)
Cape Town, South Africa
Resting place
  • Near Shurugwi, Zimbabwe
  • (ashes scattered)
Political party
  • Liberal (1948–53)
  • United Federal (1953–61)
  • Rhodesian Front and successors (1962–87)
Janet Duvenage Smith (née Watt)
(m. 1948; died 1994)
Children 3, including Alec
Alma mater Rhodes University (BComm)
Military service
  • Southern Rhodesia
  • United Kingdom
Branch/service Royal Air Force
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank Flight Lieutenant
Battles/wars Second World War

Ian Douglas Smith GCLM ID (8 April 1919 – 20 November 2007) was a Rhodesian politician, farmer, and fighter pilot who served as Prime Minister of Rhodesia (known as Southern Rhodesia until October 1964 and now known as Zimbabwe) from 1964 to 1979.

He was the country's first premier not born abroad, and led the predominantly white government that unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom in November 1965 following prolonged dispute over the terms, particularly British demands for black majority rule. He remained Prime Minister for almost all of the 14 years of international isolation that followed, and oversaw Rhodesia's security forces during most of the Bush War.

Family, childhood and adolescence

Jock and Agnes Smith, 1935
Smith's parents, Jock and Agnes, in 1935. Jock emigrated to Rhodesia from Scotland in 1898; Agnes arrived from England in 1906.

Ian Douglas Smith was born on 8 April 1919 in Selukwe, a small mining and farming town about 310 km (190 mi) southwest of the Southern Rhodesian capital Salisbury. He had two elder sisters, Phyllis and Joan. His father, John Douglas "Jock" Smith, was born in Northumberland and was raised in Hamilton in Lanarkshire, Scotland; he was the son of a cattle breeder and butcher. He had emigrated to Rhodesia as a nineteen-year-old in 1898, and became a prominent rancher, butcher, miner and garage owner in Selukwe. Jock and his wife, Agnes (née Hodgson), had met in 1907, when she was sixteen, a year after her family's emigration to Selukwe from Frizington, Cumberland. After Mr Hodgson sent his wife and children back to England in 1908, Jock Smith astonished them in 1911 by arriving unannounced in Cumberland to ask for Agnes's hand; they had not seen each other for three years. They married in Frizington and returned together to Rhodesia, where Jock, an accomplished horseman, won the 1911 Coronation Derby at Salisbury.

The Smith family involved themselves heavily in local affairs. Jock chaired the village management board and commanded the Selukwe Company of the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers; he also became a founding member of the Selukwe Freemasons' Lodge and president of the town's football and rugby clubs. Agnes, who became informally known as "Mrs Jock", established and ran the Selukwe Women's Institute. Both were appointed MBE (at different times) for their services to the community. "My parents strove to instil principles and moral virtues, the sense of right and wrong, of integrity, in their children," Smith wrote in his memoirs. "They set wonderful examples to live up to." He considered his father "a man of extremely strong principles"—"one of the fairest men I have ever met and that is the way he brought me up. He always told me that we're entitled to our half of the country and the blacks are entitled to theirs." Raised on the frontier of the British Empire in the UK's youngest settler colony, Smith and his generation of white Rhodesians grew up with a reputation for being "more British than the British", something in which they took great pride.

Smith showed sporting promise from an early age. After attending the Selukwe primary school, he boarded at Chaplin School in Gwelo, about 30 km (19 mi) away. In his final year at Chaplin, he was head prefect and captain of the school teams in cricket, rugby and tennis, as well as recipient of the Victor Ludorum in athletics and the school's outstanding rifle marksman. "I was an absolute lunatic about sport," he later said; "I concede, looking back, that I should have devoted much more time to my school work and less to sport." All the same, his grades were good enough to win a place at Rhodes University College, in Grahamstown in South Africa, then often attended by Rhodesian students—partly because Rhodesia then had no university of its own, and partly because of the common eponymous association with Cecil Rhodes. Smith enrolled at the start of 1938, reading for a Bachelor of Commerce degree. After injuring his knee playing rugby, he took up rowing and became stroke for the university crew.

Second World War; Royal Air Force pilot

During the Second World War, he served as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot. A crash in Egypt caused debilitating facial and bodily wounds that remained conspicuous for the rest of his life; following rehabilitation, he served in Europe, where he was shot down and fought alongside Italian partisans.


Smith established a farm in his hometown in 1948, and, the same year, became Member of Parliament for Selukwe—at 29 years old, the country's youngest ever MP. Originally a Liberal, he defected to the United Federal Party in 1953, and served as Chief Whip from 1958 onwards. He left that party in 1961 in protest over the territory's new constitution, and in the following year helped Winston Field to form the all-white, firmly conservative Rhodesian Front, which called for independence without an immediate shift to majority rule.

Smith became Deputy Prime Minister following the Rhodesian Front's December 1962 election victory, and stepped up to the premiership after Field resigned in April 1964. With the UK government refusing to grant independence while Rhodesia did not devise a set timetable for the introduction of majority rule, talks with the UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson repeatedly broke down, leading Smith and his Cabinet to declare independence on 11 November 1965. His government endured in the face of United Nations economic sanctions with the assistance of South Africa and, until 1974, Portugal. Talks with the UK in 1966, 1968 and 1971 came to nothing. Smith declared Rhodesia a republic in 1970 and led the RF to three more decisive election victories over the next seven years. After the Bush War began in earnest in 1972, he negotiated with the non-militant nationalist leader Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the rival guerrilla movements headed by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe.

In 1978, Smith and non-militant nationalists including Muzorewa signed the Internal Settlement, under which the country became Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979. Mugabe and Nkomo continued fighting; no country recognised the settlement. Smith was part of Muzorewa's delegation that settled with the UK and the revolutionary guerrillas at Lancaster House, and, following Zimbabwe's recognised independence in 1980, he was Leader of the Opposition during Mugabe's first seven years in power. Smith was a stridently vocal critic of the Mugabe government both before and after his retirement from frontline politics in 1987; he dedicated much of his 1997 memoirs, The Great Betrayal, to condemning Mugabe and several UK politicians. As Mugabe's reputation thereafter plummeted amid Zimbabwe's economic ruin, reckoning of Smith and his legacy improved. Zimbabwean opposition supporters lauded the elderly Smith as a symbol of resistance.

Final years and death

St. James Near Muizenberg
St James, the Cape Town suburb where Smith spent his last years

Smith travelled to South Africa for medical treatment in 2005, and moved into a retirement home overlooking the sea in St James, a southern suburb of Cape Town. He was reportedly devastated by the death of his son Alec from a heart attack at London Heathrow Airport in January 2006. Despite some marked differences—Alec openly opposed his father's policies while he was Prime Minister—they had been very close. The elder Smith had referred to his son as "my rock". Smith's stepdaughter Jean, who had married the prominent Rhodesian singer-songwriter Clem Tholet in 1967, was by this time also widowed. She and Robert Smith cared for their stepfather in his final years.

After some weeks of illness, Ian Smith died in Cape Town on 20 November 2007 at the age of 88, having suffered a stroke. Jean was with him. His ashes were returned to Zimbabwe and scattered by his family at Gwenoro.

Character, reputation and legacy

"Smith was a simple man," Graham Boynton wrote soon after his death, "and it was his rather humourless, one-dimensional Rhodesian-ness that at once made him a hero among his own people and a figure of derision among his enemies". As leader of the Rhodesian Front and its successors, he was the foremost figure of his country's white community—a "symbol and father figure", in Mordechai Tamarkin's phrase, who as Prime Minister "personified white Rhodesia".

His determination to preserve the white minority's position in Rhodesia caused many black Africans and others to perceive him as a symbol of iniquitous white rule and racism.

In his prime, Smith was widely recognised by both contemporaries and rivals as a formidable negotiator. He had an "iron nerve", to quote his RF colleague P. K. van der Byl, and a reputation for "icy calm"; he almost never got angry or raised his voice.

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See also

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