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Reflections on Zimbabwe Independence Day

By Gary K Busch
Today, the 18th of April, is the thirtieth anniversary of the independence of Zimbabwe. It seems to me, and I expect to many others,as fresh a memory as if it were last week, not thirty years.

It marked the final triumph over an illegal regime of racial suppression, colonial land policies and an uninhibited war against the African population.

Most of the commentators I read today who wax so eloquently and impartially about the failures of the "Mugabe Regime" to achieve all its goals do not or cannot remember the outrage at the injustices of the Rhodesian Government of Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Front. Its nasty history has been airbrushed over in the thirty years and the crimes of the oppressors have been relegated to a foot note as has the active involvement of the Western Powers in covertly supporting Rhodesia and South Africa.

I must confess that mine is not an unbiased view or one gained at a distance. I despise the actions of the Rhodies and their South African partners in crime almost as much today as I did then. What they did, and later admitted to, would have kept the judges in The Hague busy for a generation had the court been formed at that time.

Even as they knew they were losing the battle in 1978 they experimented with the use of weaponised anthrax against the civil population. In 1979, the largest recorded outbreak of anthrax occurred in Rhodesia. As shown in sworn testimony and repeated in the autobiography of Ken Flower, Chief of Rhodesia's Central Intelligence Organization ('CIO') and CIO Officer, Henrik Ellert, the anthrax outbreak in 1978-80 was anything but benign.

The original outbreak was the result of a policy carried out by the Rhodesian Front governmen with the active participation of South Africa's 'Dr. Death' (Dr Wouter Basson) and together with the South Africans the Rhodesian Front used biological and chemical weapons against the guerillas, rural blacks to prevent their support of the guerillas and against cattle to reduce rural food stocks.

Much of the detailed background of this program emerged from testimony at the South African Truth and Reconciliation hearings. Dr. Death used Rhodesia as a testing ground for their joint chemical and biological warfare programs.

Witnesses at the commission testified to a catalogue of killing methods ranging from the grotesque to the horrific:
"Project Coast" sought to create "smart" poisons, which would only affect blacks people, and hoarded enough cholera and anthrax to start epidemics Naked black men were tied to trees, smeared with a poisonous gel and left overnight to see if they would die. When the experiments failed, they were put to death with injections of muscle relaxants.

Weapon ideas included sugar laced with salmonella, cigarettes with anthrax, chocolates with botulism and whisky with herbicide. Clothes left out to dry were sprayed with cholera germs. Water holes were doused with poisons to kill the cattle and anyone else who drank from them.

Dr. Wooton Basson was aided by the work of Dr. Robert Symington, professor of Anatomy at the University of Rhodesia. The active work was performed by Inspector Dave Anderton, head of the "Terrorist" desk at the CIO. In 1979-80 there were 10,748 documented cases of anthrax in Rhodesia which involved 182 deaths (all Africans).

In contrast, during the previous twenty-nine years there had been only 334 cases with few deaths. This was no accidental outbreak. Some of the weaponised anthrax was delivered to the US by the South Africans where it provided feedstock for the US chemical and biological feedstock. At the time of independence this was still unproven but few of the leaders doubted its veracity. The process of negotiations on independence was more amusing. I had the good fortune to be at the Geneva talks and the Lancaster House talks.

The African delegations were brought to Geneva to engage in talks with the Rhodesian Front. The British Government was subsidising the delegations. However, they had put everyone up in the very expensive Hotel President. The room, alone, was more expensive than the British allowance. No one but the Rhodies could afford it. A committee was formed and Swedish air agency SIDA was contacted.

They agreed to move the African delegations to a less expensive hotel near the railroad station. The best part of the hotel stay was the provision of a nice breakfast as part of the deal. However, as no one had a lot of money the delegates would bring down plastic bags and fill them with rolls and cheese to take to their rooms.

That was lunch. After the conference SIDA was presented with a bill for over four hundred dollars for the missing rolls and cheeses.

The Lancaster House talks were even more amusing. It soon became clear after the first four days of the meetings that an agreement was ready to be signed. The Rhodes and the Patriotic Front were in basic agreement but there was a fight between Lord Carrington (Foreign Secretary) and the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office was committed to seeing Bishop Abel Muzurewa installed as the first President. Peter Carrington, and everyone else in the room, knew that it wouldn't be Muzorewa but Robert Mugabe.

Carrington and the Foreign Office tangled for almost a week until it was finally settled. It was difficult for the African delegations to respond quickly or release public statements as the British gave them no type- writers or copy machines. We had to search around for a proper typewriter for Willy Musarurwa, the journalist who was part of Nkomo's ZAPU delegation. Although he wasn't part of Mugabe's group he was trusted as he had spent seven years in Gwelo Prison with the others. He wrote the replies for the joint delegation.

This presaged the problem which followed Lancaster House. The delegations return to Salisbury to campaign. However no one had typewriters or mimeograph machines. In 1968 I had been sent to Lusaka to deliver a Varitype machine and some other printing equipment to ZAPU; to Dumiso Dabengwa, but these were too big to be brought down to Salisbury.

It would have to be typewriters. As the Rhodes and the British had made acquiring typewriters so difficult that some of us were asked to buy typewriters in London which we would give to tourists visiting Rhodesia. If they took the typewriters with them they could get a couple free nights at a local hotel. We managed around twenty typewriters. Finally the election was held and Robert Mugabe was named President.

Independence Day was set for 18 April. This wasn't the end of the problems. My colleague and good friend Dr. Mariyowanda Nzuwah was put in charge of protocol. That was not something he had been entirely prepared for. Mariyo had worked with me at the United Auto Workers Union International Affairs Department before becoming a Professor and Head of Department at the University of Maryland.

Mariyo was an expert on African Politics and was the editor of the "Journal of Southern African Affairs"; I was the publisher. His job was to arrange the greeting of all the foreign dignitaries scheduled to come to Zimbabwe's Independence Day. He pointed out that each Head of State was entitled to a 21-gun salute and each Head of Government a 19-gun salute. There were so many leaders scheduled to arrive they don't have enough ceremonial shells and the barrage of such an intensity would probably scare the Rhodies into thinking the war had started again. Mariyo had to calculate the arrival times and do a mass salute for six or seven heads of state or government at a time, He worked it out.

One of the first things which become obvious after independence was the need to explain to the world what changing over to a non-sanctioned economy would take and what assistance would be needed. In March 1980 they held the Zimbabwe Conference on Reconstruction and Development (ZIMCORD) to co-ordinate and aid program.

I was asked to attend. At that time one could go to Harare (as Salisbury was now called) via South Africa or via Lusaka. I went to the South African Embassy (it was an Embassy not a High Commission as they had left the Commonwealth) and asked if I could get a transit visa through Smuts Airport. I was told "Mynheer Busch, if you set one foot into our country we'll throw you in the tronk (jail)." I was banned from South Africa until 1995; from Rhodesia until 1980; from Mozambique until 1985. This was not unreasonable - I was their enemy.

When I attended the ZIMCORD conference I learned a lot about the new Zimbabwe. I was having tea at the Jamieson's Hotel. Sitting to my left was a table of four elderly Rhodies; two husbands and two wives. I couldn't help but hear their conversation. The first woman said "Well I guess we'll have to let them attend our schools now." The other woman nodded and replied "Yes, we must, but we must insist on standards. They must have proper uniforms and behave themselves. Otherwise we cannot allow it".

I couldn't resist. I asked "Do you understand that you have lost. The Africans are in charge of the country. It isn't for you to decide" The woman smiled and said, "We haven't lost. UDI has lost and now we are a British colony again." I sometimes think this delusion has never penetrated Rhodie consciousness. Well, Zimbabwe was launched. It has faced severe storms over these thirty years. It hasn't won all its battles.

However I shall never forget the feeling of joy and anticipation which accompanied its day of independence and I rejoice at its achievements over this period


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