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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 5. 3rd April 1974

Shadow boxing won't hold Zimbabwe back

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Shadow boxing won't hold Zimbabwe back

In his New Year's message, Ian Smith told the (white) people of Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) that their country 'presented an inviting picture compared with Western countries'.

This was not just an exercise in flag waving. Neither was it merely an attempt to boost the flagging morale of the rebel colonies 250,000 white settlers. Both of these it undoubtedly was, but the remarks also represented the opening shots in the regime's campaign aimed at persuading a million white settlers to emigrate to Rhodesia in 1974.

The future for Ian Smith and his regime is bleak, and furthermore. Smith knows it. Over the past year there has been a number of factors which has put pressure on Smith. None of these factors gives the slightest suggestion of disappearing in the New Year. Among these factors must be included the political and military operations of the Zimbabwe liberation movements, the effects of the oil boycott and the Zambian border closure and the increasingly toughening attitude of some of Rhodesia's neighbours, especially Botswana.

The increasing effectiveness of the military operations of the liberation movements must be of paramount concern to Smith. Military activity in the country increased dramatically in 1973, especially in the North East of the country, where Frelimo assistance to ZANU has resulted in the latter's penetrating deep into Rhodesia. (Frelimo has taken ZANU freedom fighters into Mozambique and it is across the Mozambique border that ZANU's most effective military incursions have been launched.)

In the north and north-west of the country, ZAPU forces have been active. It is difficult to estimate how much of the country has been liberated, but it is certainly accurate to state that the military operations of the freedom fighters have turned the whole the north into an armed camp. (This has produced serious problems for Smith, and these shall be discussed later.)

Perhaps the most important single factor in the military campaign has been the working agreement between Frelimo and ZANU. There are many observers who argue that overall, the activities of Frelimo in Tete, and in the rest of Mozambique are the present military key to the future of Southern Africa. Rhodesia recognises this, and although her own forces are extended inside her own boundaries, Rhodesian troops are currently operating in Tete Province in an effort to block support for Frelimo. South Africa and Rhodesia both recognise that Mozambique is the key to their own continued existence. Were Tete to fall to Frelimo the Rhodesian situation would be critical because the borders across which guerrillas could infiltrate would not only have been greatly extended, but such a frontier would be much more difficult to control than the present Zambezi line.

Frelimo launched their first attack on New Year's Eve on the railway which links the Port of Biera with Salisbury. This is a serious setback to Smith, as the railway is an important sanctions' breaking route for him. If pressure on the line can be sustained, Rhodesia may find her international trade seriously disrupted.

Under this kind of pressure, Rhodesia's army is beginning to wilt. Recent reports from Rhodesia have commented on the serious lack of discipline in the army. Black troops have openly rebelled and refused to fight, and white troops do not have their hearts in the fighting. The regular army is grossly overcommitted, and if it is to be increased, will have to depend upon mercenaries and territorials. Every able-bodied man between 18—65 is involved in some way in the territorial army.

Photo of African men holding guns

Smith's efforts to build up morale in the army and in the community have failed dismally. At first he would state that only black soldiers were being killed in skirmishes with the guerrillas. When this produced a backlash among black troops. Smith changed his tune and said whites were being killed. This produced a corresponding backlash in the white community.

Without the support of the South African military machine (which at present has, at a conservative estimate, 10,000 troops in the colony) Ian Smith would find the military situation beyond his capacity.

Rhodesia needs support from South Africa, and it needs support from Portugal, but in his own blundering kind of way. Smith has managed to antagonise both countries.

Drawing of an African man and a Caucasian man with swords

The closure of the border with Zambia was a major diplomatic faux pas. The ramifications have been serious, and their end is not yet in sight. Other than being humiliated and also suffering in a loss of prestige when Zambia refused to re-open the border (after Smith agreed that it should be re-opened), the southern states have lost a great deal economically. Since the border closure no Zambian goods have travelled south through Rhodesia and South Africa, and no goods have travelled north. The southern states have lost this revenue which they derived from freighting Zambian copper south, and at the same time have lost export markets in the north. Vorster is known to have been furious with Smith over his handling of the border closure.

The oil embargo on Rhodesia has begun to have effect. Several people I have spoken with who have been in Rhodesia recently have said there is substantial evidence throughout the country which shows the effectiveness of the sanctions—farm machinery lying idle because of lack of fuel, petrol rationing. Frelimo's activities in Mozambique must also be worrying the rebel regime in this respect, for one of the sources of oil for the colony is through the Port of Biera.

Finally, the increasingly toughening attitude of Botswana to the illegal regime can be no source of comfort to Smith.—only last month it was the South Africans who singled out Botswana (together with Lesotho and New Zealand) as the three Governments from which the Republic had faced the strongest (and one suspects, most unexpected) opposition.

Faced by this situation, Smith has responded in a number of ways—some predictable, some bizarre, but all in the long term of little consequence.

In September, reflecting Salisbury's increasing alarm at the worsening security, situation, new laws were tabled. Their effect is to enforce the death penalty for harbouring freedom fighters, for failing to report their presence, for undergoing guerrilla training or for recruiting people for guerrilla training. The bill also increases the present penalties for terrorism or acts of sabotage from life imprisonment to death.

At another level. Smith has engaged in a round of talks with the ANC of Rhodesia mainly with Bishop Abel Muzowera. Herbert Chitepo, Chairman of ZANU has labelled the talks 'shadow boxing'. Says Chitepo: "Smith is only talking to Muzowera now because of ZANU's activities over the past year. Smith is trying to pretend to the international community that he is not unreasonable, that he is prepared to sit down and talk with Africans, but he knows full-well that the person he is speaking too is not relevant to the current situation."

Smith is making valiant efforts to restore the morale of the country. He does this in a number of ways, most of them relying on either distortion or open lies. For example, he constantly exaggerates the number of freedom fighters killed, while down-playing the loses in his own army.

He does this in a number of ways. The Government will declare a certain area banned No one knows that it has been banned no signs are put up, the regime just decides that it is to be a banned area (always because of guerrilla activity.) Any African who strays inside this banned area is shot, and Smith proudly claims to have killed a freedom fighter, when in effect what he has done is to have killed an innocent African whose only crime was not knowing that the government had banned the area.

Another trick used by Smith to distort figures is just as macabre as the one above—when villagers are killed by the Rhodesian army in reprisal raids (because they have been harbouring freedom fighters) all the villagers killed are added to the list of freedom fighters.

Listening to the news bulletins of the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation one gets the impression that the whole world is faced with devastating crises, but all is well in Rhodesia.

The evidence however would tend to indicate that the regime's efforts in morale boasting have not been very successful. Certainly this is the case if immigration figures are any sort of a guide. Immigration figures have been providing increasingly disturbing reading for the Smith regime. In November 1973 there was a net gain of only 74 white immigrants compared with 600 in November 1972. September was the worst month last year from Smith's point of view when 110 more whites left than arrived.

At the same time, ZAPU has reported that no African woman in Rhodesia can be permanently employed unless she agrees to use contraceptives. The measure is obviously designed to curb African population growth in the country. Although the government has officially denied that such a policy exists, it has been known for some time that the regime has been looking into ways of curbing African population growth. At the annual congress of the Rhodesian Front, the party's chairman, Des Frost stated; "Trying to handle this problem (African population growth) with kid gloves is having a negative effect. We need a ministry dealing solely with this problem, a ministry with teeth that can dish out benefits to those who conform and penalties for those who fail to see the problems that they create for future generations."

In an effort to prevent contact between the freedom fighters and the villagers. Smith is now herding all the villagers in the north eastern districts and putting them in a compound surrounded by barbed wire fences "for their own protection".

Looking at the future, it is difficult to see any of Smith's solutions being effective in the long term. The situation can only get worse for the rebel regime.

Crucial to Rhodesia's future is the attitude which successive South African Governments will adopt. It is no secret that the present government is displeased with Smith over the border closure. Casualty figures among South African divisions in Rhodesia are not known, except that to state that South Africans are being killed and injured. No government likes to see "its boys" being killed on foreign soil. It is not inconceivable that South Africa may decide one day that Rhodesia is not worth the cost involved to the Republic (both in terms of economics and lives) to be kept white. Liberation movements have mentioned that, if Vorster could secure a non-aggression pact from African states to the north and an assurance that South Africa's territorial integrity would be respected, he may well decide to let Rhodesia go. It has been mentioned more than once that although Buthelezi's main mission on his recent African trip centred around the question of oil, he may well have been testing out the attitudes of black leaders to the question.

The attitude of Britain to the rebel colony is another factor which could significantly effect the future. Sir Alec Douglas Home is at retirement age, and it is well known that he would like to clear up the Rhodesian problem before he finally quits. He is due in east and central Africa early in the new year, and it is felt that Rhodesia will be one of the major topics under discussion when he meets Nyerere, Kaunda and others. There have been suggestions that ZANU's unexpected release of Gerald Hawksworth (made without any political capital being gained at a time when Smith is hanging freedom fighters) may be part of a deal which has been worked out with Britain. If this is so, the pay off is likely to surface when Douglas-Home arrives in Africa.

Whatever South Africa might do, and whatever Britain might do, the liberation movements are quite clear as to what they will be doing. Their armed struggle will continue. Ultimately, whatever the machinations of the great powers, of South Africa, or anybody else, it will he the activities of the liberation movements which will oust Smith and secure in Rhodesia a Government which represents the whole of the country, white and black.