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Ian Smith

This is about Ian Smith the Rhodesian Prime Minister. For the former British Conservative Party leader, see Iain Duncan Smith'

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Ian Douglas Smith (born April 8, 1919) was the Premier of the British Crown Colony of Southern Rhodesia from April 13, 1964 - November 11, 1965 and the Prime Minister of Rhodesia from November 11, 1965 - June 1, 1979.

He was born in Selukwe (now Shurugwi) and educated in Gwelo (now Gweru) and at the Rhodes University in South Africa. He served with the Royal Air Force (RAN) during World War II. He returned home to finish his degree and then bought a farm in Selukwe. He became active in politics from 1948, first with the Liberal Party, then the United Federal Party. In 1962 he was one of the founders of the Rhodesian Front (RF). The RF won a slim majority in the 1962 elections and formed a government. In April 1964 Smith was appointed leader of the Rhodesian Front, replacing Winston Field, and thus became Premier of Southern Rhodesia.

Smith was staunchly opposed to Britain's insistance that he prepare to transfer political control of the colony to the black majority, at one point stating that there would be no black majority rule in his lifetime. Smith always maintained, however, that there was no constitutional inhibitor to blacks entering the political process; such a constitutional barrier did exist, however, to prevent what the Rhodesian government considered to be terrorist groups from doing so.

Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965. The British colony of Southern Rhodesia became a sovereign state, a move Smith believed would finally free the nation from Britain's constant meddling. This brought widespread international condemnation, and even the apartheid government in South Africa, although sympathetic and privately supportive, was anxious to avoid sharing in the international condemnation of Rhodesia, and did not oficially recognise the new state. In 1974, B.J. Vorster, the Prime Minister of South Africa, forced Smith to accept in principle that white minority rule could not continue indefinitely.

The numerous international sanctions that were imposed eventually proved too difficult for the new country to withstand however, even though many veiw Rhodesia's coping with them for so long as remarkable; in 1979 Smith agreed to hold multi-racial elections. Following the elections, Rhodesia was re-named Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected as the country's first black Prime Minister. Smith became minister without portfolio in the new government.

Following a second election in 1980, held under international supervision but widely condemned by many as having been fraudulent, in which Robert Mugabe defeated Muzorewa, Smith became Leader of the Opposition, and his party was renamed the Republican Front. In the years that followed, he saw his support among the white minority increasingly eroded, as many white parliamentarians, who had belonged to his party, changed their allegiance to support Mugabe. In the 1985 election, however, Smith recaptured 15 of the 20 parliamentary seats that were reserved for whites, but Mugabe, angered by Smith's strong showing, moved to abolish the reserved seats two years later. Smith retired to his farm in Shurugwi, his political career of 39 years over at last.

Since his retirement, Smith has remained an outspoken critic of the Mugabe regime. Now in his eighties, Ian Smith has recently reentered the political fray by joining the Movement for Democratic Change, an opposition party seeking to end Mugabe's 24-year rule. He has written an autobiography, The Great Betrayal, which is as much an attack on the Mugabe regime as a memoir of his own that preceded it.