Mixed memories

2007-11-22 00:00

The death of Ian Smith, the last prime minister of a white-ruled Rhodesia, will leave mixed memories because there are those for whom he was a hero of courage and tenacity, whereas for others he was a villain who kept his country from inevitable change by his racist policies.

To fulfil his ideal, Smith went so far as to make a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) which, in 1965, severed Rhodesia from any remnants of British rule. It could be held that this was his major blunder because it had the result of isolating Rhodesia from the rest of the international community (with the exception of an apartheid-ruled South Africa) and it led to a guerrilla war which, in its turn, left a devastating legacy of violence and resentment for the new Zimbabwe to inherit in 1980. The supreme irony is that Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe has manifested some of the same narrow and recalcitrant features of Smith's regime. The skittle effect has been remarkable and tragic.

A firm recognition of our common humanity is the key to good statesmanship. This is what both Smith and Mugabe have lacked because of their sectarian preferences. Courage and grit are not enough in themselves. They need to be accompanied by larger and more generous virtues.

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