Ian Smith was defiant to his last day

Jan Raath

Jan Raath

When Ian Smith led an illegal and non-violent rebellion in the 1960s against British control, they said it would be over in weeks.

Instead, the former World War II fighter pilot and Rhodesian prime minister for nearly 14 years, defied a campaign of total isolation by the rest of the world and a long guerilla war meant to force him to allow black Zimbabweans the right to rule themselves.

The seven-year guerrilla campaign mounted by black nationalist fighters almost became the only liberation war in Africa to fail in the face of the highly mobile, lightly armed commando-type Rhodesian force that developed counter-insurgency tactics that were adopted throughout the world.

In the end, his vow that "never in a thousand years" would there be black majority rule in Rhodesia was undone, ironically, by his closest ally, apartheid-ruled South Africa.

Ian Douglas Smith was born on April 8 1919 in Selukwe. At the outbreak of World War II, he flew high-speed Hurricane and Spitfire fighter-planes for the Royal Air Force over North Africa and Italy.

He became the youngest MP for his home area in 1948. He was chief whip of the ruling Federal Party when British prime minister Harold MacMillan made his epoch-marking "winds of change" speech about the need to acknowledge the striving for self-rule in European colonies all over the world.

Smith rejected the advice, and in 1964, when he became prime minister, he had the entire leadership of the increasingly defiant black nationalist movement arrested and imprisoned.

On November 11 1965, he declared Rhodesia's unilateral independence from Britain - and ruled until elections and independence under Mugabe in 1980.

Smith remained in parliament until 1987. He continued running his farm, Gwenoro, during Mugabe's mass land seizures in 2000.

By 2005, ill-health forced him to move to Cape Town where his step-children, Jean and Robert, were able to care for him until his death this week. - Sapa-DPA