Ian Smith

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Ian Smith

Ian Douglas Smith(8 April 1919 – 20 November 2007) was a former Rhodesian Prime Minster and one of Africa's controversial leaders. Smith become the first man to oppose British rule by illegally declaring Southern Rhodesia independent through the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965 that led to 14 years of civil war against the African nationalists.


Smith was born to John and Agnes Smith at Selukwe (now Shurugwi) in Southern Rhodesia which is now modern day Zimbabwe. He was the third born and only son in a family of three with Phyllis, Joan as his sisters. His father, a Scottish butcher had emigrated to Southern Rhodesia in 1948 where Ian grew and received his education. He was married to Janet Watt, the widow of a South African rugby player and the couple was blessed with three children, two sons and one daughter.


He attended local schools at Selukwe and later Chaplin School in Gwelo (now Gweru). He later moved to South Africa where he were he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Rhodes University.

Guerrilla War

Smith started his political activism at Rhodes University when he abandoned his studies in 1939 to join the Royal Air Force (No. 237 Rhodesia Squadron). Unfortunately, he was unlucky as his Hurricane crashed on take-off near Alexandria in 1943, during the North Africa campaign.[1] As a result his face had to be surgically rebuilt. This did not stop him and after recovering he went on to join his squadron only to be shot down over the Po River in June 1944. The following year he was to spent five months with the Italian partisans before escaping over the Alps into France. He finished the war in Germany with No. 130 Squadron.

Professional Political Career

After the war, he resumed his studies and went back to Selukwe were he was elected to the Southern Rhodesian Assembly in 1948 as Selukwe Member of Parliament. He rose through the ranks to become the Chief Whip for the governing United Federal Party in 1953.[2] In 1961 Smith became the founding member of the Rhodesian Front (RF), committed to negotiating independence from Britain. The party supported a new constitution allowing limited representation for black Africans in parliament. The federation was short lived as it broke-up signaling the defeat of United Federal Party. Subsequently, Winston Field became prime minister with Smith as deputy prime minister and treasury minister.[3] By April 1964, Smith had succeded Field as Prime Minister, and showed his ruthlessness by detaining four African nationalists. As the guerrilla war intensified with likes of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo and pressure mounted on Smith leading to the 1980 elections. This marked the demise of the dreaded Smith as Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front and Nkomo's ZAPU swept to victory. He however remained MP until 1987 when he was expelled for 12 months after criticising sanctions imposed on South Africa. Smith died on November 20, 2007 aged 88 after suffering a stroke.[4]

Southern Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)

On 11 November 1965, Southern Rhodesia’s prime minister, Ian Smith, unilaterally declared his territory’s independence from Britain. Not since the United States in 1776 had a British colony declared itself independent, and the Rhodesian declaration was not dissimilar in language and syntax to its American forerunner. That afternoon Smith addressed the nation. He assured them that Rhodesians remained ‘second to none in our loyalty to the Queen’, but ‘the end of the road has been reached’ The road to Southern Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) began at the Victoria Falls conference in the summer of 1963. It was here that the dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, or Central African Federation (CAF), was agreed. Two of Federation’s constituent members, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, became independent in 1964 as Malawi and Zambia respectively. Southern Rhodesia was more problematic. Unlike its former partners, which were British protectorates, Southern Rhodesia had been a self-governing colony since 1923. However, it was also dominated by a white minority numbering 224,000 according to the 1965 census, as opposed to over 4 million Africans. Predominantly British in origin, this minority community was strong and largely united. It also had the support of the ‘Rhodesia lobby’ on the Conservative back benches back in Britain.


  1. Richard Allport, IAN SMITH, 'Rhodesia', Published: Mar 1997, Retrieved: 30 Apr 2014
  2. Peter Baxter, Ian Smith, Prime Minister Rhodesia 1964-1979, 'African History', Published: 14 Nov 2010, Retrieved: 30 Apr 2014
  3. David Duke, Ian Smith the last White leader of Rhodesia disappears into a crack in the sky at 88, 'David Duke Web', Published: 22 Nov 2007, Retrieved: 30 Apr 2014
  4. Staff Reporter, Former Rhodesian PM Ian Smith dies, 'New Zimbabwe', Published: ND, Retrieved: 30 Apr 2014

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