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Ian Smith

Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia for 15 years during its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain, died on 20 November 2007 aged 88.

He’ll be most remembered as the man who led Rhodesia into international isolation rather than concede black majority rule before independence, defying British decolonisation policy (the so-called “Nibmar” formula: “no independence before majority rule”) for 15 years. Unsurprisingly, The Guardian doesn’t have much good to say about him, describing him in these forthright terms:

He was a man who wore his mind on his face, as others wear their heart on their sleeve. His glass eye and half-frozen features proclaimed his obduracy before he opened his mouth to make history – by defying it for an unlikely decade and a half.

The Independent is even more caustic:

When the final history of the decolonisation of Africa is written, Ian Smith will merit little more than a footnote. He will be remembered as a small-minded Canute who tried to resist the tide of black rule sweeping inexorably across the continent.

Even the Daily Telegraph (whose obituary is the longest and goes into most detail about the protracted crisis which led eventually to the country’s independence as Zimbabwe) is less than warm about him, though it does comment favourably on his political acumen:

He was awkward socially, disliked publicity, and his taste in clothes was drab. But his craggy, rough-hewn image concealed an astute tactical mind and a talent for political infighting which his opponents tended to underestimate.

It goes on to cite his predecessor Sir Roy Welensky’s comment that “dealing with Smith is like trying to nail jelly to a wall”.

The Times gives Smith perhaps the most sympathetic obituary, at least in the sense of trying to convey his attitudes and feelings (it’s the only one to quote him at any great length). Commenting on the decision by South Africa (still under apartheid) to stop supplying his regime with arms, it says:

Smith’s impotent anger was clear in his remark then: “I longed for those carefree days when I was flying around the skies in my Spitfire, saying to myself, ‘Let anyone cross my path and he will have to take what comes his way.'”

(Ian Douglas Smith, born 8 April 1919 in Selukwe, Southern Rhodesia (now Shurugwi, Zimbabwe), died 20 November 2007 in Cape Town, South Africa.)

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