/ 29 November 2007

Hundreds pay tribute to Ian Smith

Hundreds of people gathered in a Cape Town church on Thursday to remember Ian Smith, Rhodesia’s widely reviled former prime minister, as a kind, stubborn and misunderstood son of the soil.

The hall of the St John’s Anglican Church in Cape Town, which Smith called home in the final years of his life, overflowed with well-wishers — all but a handful of them white and many ex-Rhodesian.

Most speakers conceded that Smith, who died last week aged 88, would be remembered by many as a racist oppressor. But they appealed for his legacy as the last white leader of modern-day Zimbabwe to be seen in the context of the times.

”In practice, politics is all about power, manipulation and patronage. Politics is a nasty game, but someone has to play it,” Smith’s son, Robert, said from the pulpit.

In measuring his father’s legacy, he added, one had to keep in mind the circumstances of the time and remember that he ”always strove to help the common man”.

Also, Ian Smith left Zimbabwe with one of the most efficient public services in the world, and the second-most developed infrastructure in Africa.

”This is why Ian Smith was proud of his country.”

Grandson Michael Smith said the former politician was most often remembered as ”a demon who embodied the most iniquitous aspects of European tyranny”.

In reality, he was not a caricature but a man, an extraordinary politician and ”incredibly stubborn”.

”He had a great and enduring sense of love for the land — both for Africa and for his farms,” said Michael Smith.

Smith, who unilaterally declared Rhodesian independence in 1965, was leader of the former British colony from 1964 until the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, which ushered in full independence under black majority rule the following year.

He maintained a parliamentary seat until 1987, but continued to flay his arch-enemy, President Robert Mugabe — whom he said had ”ruined my country” and was ”mentally deranged”.

The government of Zimbabwe, where Smith still had two properties, had reacted to news of his death by calling him an unrepentant racist and saying ”good riddance”.

Earlier this year Mugabe said Smith, whose Rhodesian forces killed thousands of liberation fighters loyal to Mugabe, should consider himself lucky to have been spared the noose for atrocities committed under his rule. — Sapa-AFP