Статья 'Вооруженные силы и полиция независимой Родезии (1965-1979). Часть 1: Полиция' - журнал 'Genesis: исторические исследования' - NotaBene.ru
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Genesis: Historical research

Armed Forces and Police of Independent Rhodesia (1965-1979). Part 1: Police

Gonta Semen Nikolaevich

Student; Department of Theory of Law and State, History and Philosophy; Sochi State University

354000, Russia, Krasnodar Territory, Sochi, ul. Plastunskaya, 94

Other publications by this author










Abstract: This research is devoted to the study of the functioning of the Rhodesian Security Forces (the general name for the police and army forces of Rhodesia) during the years of its de facto independence from 1965 to 1979. The relevance of the study is due to the absence in domestic historiography of any fundamental research that would be devoted to this issue. The subject of the study is the Rhodesian Security Forces. In this (first) part of the work are considered the activities of the Rhodesian police after its declaration of independence. The author has studied the history of the development of the Rhodesian police from its founding until the official cessation of activity in 1980. Also, the author presents data on the number, racial composition, technical equipment, structure of units and other information about the police forces of Rhodesia. After the declaration of independence, the Rhodesian police faced difficulties, but even in such conditions they managed to maintain combat effectiveness and continue to improve. Based on this article, conclusions can be drawn about the important role played by the Rhodesian police in maintaining law and order in a country that was actually involved in the counter-terrorism struggle throughout its existence. Also, we can conclude that the Rhodesian police were only partly a “racist” structure, since most of the police were of African origin, although there were certain restrictions for them.


Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia, Rhodesian security forces, Rhodesian police, Rhodesian army, Rhodesian war, terrorism, ZAPU, ZANU

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.


Today, the topic of the war in Rhodesia (1965-1979) is undeservedly forgotten, but this page in the history of local conflicts of the 20th century is an instructive and illustrative example of anti-partisan and even anti-terrorist warfare (if viewed from the point of view of the government of independent Rhodesia). After the end of this local conflict, the analysis and study of experience and specific combat aspects took place for a long time in the Western military and scientific environment, but this topic is not so popular in our scientific environment.

The relevance of the study lies in the fact that in Russian historiography there are no fundamental studies covering in detail the events that took place in 1965-1979 in Rhodesia, a similar situation has developed in the issue of studying the armed conflict in Rhodesia. In this regard, this article proposes to study one of the aspects of this topic, namely, the functioning of the Rhodesian Security Forces in 1965-1979.

The purpose of the study is to review and analyze the activities of the armed forces and police formations of Rhodesia during the period of its de facto independence from 1965 to 1979. 

This study is an attempt by the author to study the issue of ensuring public safety and countering rebel formations by the Rhodesian Security Forces (the common name of all law enforcement agencies in the country, including the armed forces).

Materials and methods of research

The methodology is determined directly by the research topic and includes general scientific research methods: analysis, synthesis, induction, deduction, classification method. Special historical research methods are also used in the work: historical-genetic and narrative methods.

All illustrations given in the work are taken from Internet resources www.bsapolice.org , www.rhodesianforces.org . These sites are Internet portals dedicated to the history of the formation and development of the Rhodesian Security Forces and are supported by veterans who served in them from all over the world. 

The bibliographic database of the article consists of current works by domestic and foreign authors on the topic of research, as well as articles and other materials from the Internet, some of which are being introduced into scientific circulation for the first time.

There is a sufficient number of works devoted to the study of Southern Africa in Russian historiography. In the context of studying the history of Rhodesia and subsequent Zimbabwe, it is first of all worth mentioning the Soviet and Russian historians V. G. Shubin [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6], A. B. Davidson [7, 8], A. Y. Urnov [9, 10]. Their significant contribution to the study of the history of the African South in the 20th century is obvious, but has a strong "anti-Western" character (and, accordingly, "pro-Western"). Another researcher of this topic, K. S. Bobrinev, uses a different approach in his works [11, 12], where he analyzes the events taking place on both sides and without reference to the political views of the white inhabitants of Rhodesia and the "pro–communist" rebels. Also noteworthy is the work of S. G. Karamaev [13], in which he analyzes the facts of black and white nationalism in Rhodesia, using quite convincing examples, positioning the events taking place in it as a common "tragedy" of the white and black population affected by the actions of black rebels.

From foreign studies, the works of Rhodesian and then Australian military historian Michael Evans [14, 15], Zimbabwean authors Evans Tsigo and Enok Ndawana [16], Polish historian Andrzej Olejniczak [17] can be distinguished. Separately, it is also worth mentioning the works of North American (USA and Canada) authors: Timothy Bairstow (US Army Command and Staff College) [18], David Muche (University of Nipissing, Ontario) [19] and Max Kohmetcher (US Military Academy West Point) [20].

The results of the study

Before starting a direct consideration of the topic, it is worth making some distinctions in concepts and definitions. The entire security unit of independent Rhodesia was called the Rhodesian Security Forces and included: directly army formations (Air Force and ground forces), employees of the Rhodesian Interior Ministry (INTAF) and police (BSAP), security forces (Guard Force), as well as the intelligence directorate. For ease of understanding, we conditionally divide the power unit into two components: everything related to police functions within the country (fighting crime, maintaining law and order, etc.) and directly the army, which had heavy weapons and was involved in the territory of neighboring states.

Rhodesia Police (British South Africa Police) 1965-1980

The history of Rhodesian police formations begins long before its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965. For the first time, formations of the British South African Police (hereinafter BSAP) appeared on the African continent in 1889, as a paramilitary unit of mounted infantry in the service of the British South African Company Cecil Rhodes. These units provided military support to the European colonialists and almost immediately were involved in skirmishes with the local Matabele tribe – for one of which the commander of a small detachment of the Victoria Police was accused of "ruthlessly shooting defenseless aborigines, but there was no objective evidence of cruelty" [21, p. 79].  

Almost from the very beginning of its existence, BSAP actively recruited black local Africans who knew the local languages well and interacted with the black population much more effectively than the European colonists. Most of the black BSAP workers before the service were ordinary workers from poorer neighboring regions (primarily from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland). But by "1928, among 158 recruits undergoing training in Salisbury, only 18 were from neighboring regions. And in 1938, out of 1,086 black police officers, only 150 people had origins from other regions" [22].

It is also worth noting here that although BSAP were primarily police formations, they were organized in the image of a military unit, which was very disliked by Great Britain, which wanted to limit the military resource of a promising dominion. During the First World War, the Rhodesian military forces actively participated in the European Theater of Operations, as well as directly at home on the African continent (fighting against German East Africa). To help the Rhodesian metropolis, the following were formed: the 1st Rhodesian Regiment (520 men), the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment (500 men) and the Rhodesian Native Regiment (about 2,360 men) [11, pp. 8-16]. At the same time, the Rhodesian contingent was often intentionally limited and involved in secondary tasks and directions.

Most of those who went through the First World War from Rhodesia were ordinary BSAP employees (mostly blacks) and officers (primarily white Rhodesians). It is worth noting here that they proved themselves worthy soldiers, British General Ian Hamilton said about the Rhodesians: "... I am also convinced that nowhere in the world does there exist a more beautiful, more courageous and by nature more militant type of man than in all of Rhodesia." [cit. on 23, p. 21].

In the period between the two world Wars, BSAP was similar in its functions to ordinary civilian police, while, as always, it still remained a paramilitary structure [24]. To maintain the coherence and logic of the study, the role of the Rhodesian contingent in World War II, as well as in some other military conflicts before independence, will be described in the second section, which is devoted directly to the military forces.

Thus, developing and improving, BSAP approached the most important milestones in the history of Rhodesia in the 1960s: the collapse of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in December 1963 and the subsequent unilateral declaration of independence from Great Britain in November 1965 [25, 26].

It is worth noting here that the army and police forces of Rhodesia (at that time still Southern Rhodesia, as part of the federation) were the most developed and combat-ready among their neighbors in the federation, since their backbone consisted of white officers who had extensive combat experience and army traditions. Leadership in the number of police officers per capita also played a role, almost twice as much as in Northern Rhodesia (1 in 700, against 1 in 1300) [27, p. 779]. In the future, these facts will play one of the decisive roles in the phenomenal combat capability of independent Rhodesia.

BSAP gained its first experience of fighting black nationalist rebels already in 1959, when a black nationalist from Nyasaland, Hastings Banda (the future dictator of Malawi for almost 30 years) He announced actions of so-called "regulated violence", which subsequently spread to the territory of Rhodesia. The ongoing riots and acts of vandalism, however, were quickly suppressed, "59 Africans were killed and about 1,500 arrested" [25, p. 196].

Later, some officers of the Rhodesian police were able to participate in the Congolese military conflict in Katanga province (1961-1963). In particular, the historian I. P. Konovalov mentions this in his work on the history of mercenary activity.

After the situation escalated, Katanga President Moiz Tshombe decided that in the absence of external direct military support, hiring white mercenaries would be the best option. The first recruitment centers were opened in Bulawayo (southwest Rhodesia) and Salisbury (capital, northeast Rhodesia). Soon such centers were opened throughout the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, with the tacit support of then Prime Minister Roy Welensky, where "white police officers were officially hired to work in the Katanga gendarmerie" [28, p. 17].

On November 11, 1965, the Rhodesian Government unilaterally declared the country's independence. The entire Rhodesian power bloc remained loyal to its government, even despite the refusal of the UN and UK countries to recognize this step. After these events, a protracted war began in the country by the white government of Rhodesia against black nationalist rebels who wanted to overthrow the current government and used acts of open terrorism to achieve their goals [29].

Under these conditions, BSAP began to act as the first line of defense of the country, since at the first stage of the war (1965-1975) it was on the shoulders of ordinary policemen that the fight against the ZAPU and ZANU rebels fell, who used the tactics of small guerrilla groups, spreading throughout Rhodesia. The Rhodesian police conducted the first successful counter-terrorism operations in April and September 1966. In early April, 7 people from a rebel group of 14 people who planned to sabotage the Beira-Umtali oil pipeline were caught and arrested. Later, in September, they managed to arrest the remaining group of rebels, who by that time had already killed a family of white farmers in the Hartley area [29, p. 48].

Another successful counter-terrorism operation was carried out on April 29, 1966, when a group of 7 ZANU rebels was destroyed by police and reservists on a farm near the city of Sinoya. During the investigation, it was found out that this group planned to attack the police station, as well as destroy the Kariba power line [30].

From the date of the declaration of independence of Rhodesia (1965) until the actual destruction of the country in 1979, the Rhodesian Security Forces and, in particular, the police existed almost unchanged. According to the US CIA (a document declassified in 2001, dated December 1970), the number of Rhodesian police (BSAP) at the first stage of the war was about 7,000 people, of which about 4,500 were black police officers [31, p. 20]. This number can be considered reliable, since, as the researchers note, before the collapse of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1963), the number of BSAP was about 4,250 people [27, p. 779].

Due to the beginning of an open military confrontation, an increase in the number of police personnel looks quite logical. It is also worth noting here that the fact of such a large number of black Rhodesians in the ranks of the police (4,500 out of 7,000) clearly went against the anti-Rhodesian hysteria in Soviet propaganda and Western left-liberal media, which groundlessly accused the Rhodesian police and army of brutality and mass murder of the black population [32, 33].

During the period of Rhodesia's de facto independence, BSAP underwent some improvements, in particular, new units were opened, especially at a late stage, as the war with the rebels escalated. Initially, the police included standard units such as highway patrols (see Figures 1, 2), the criminal investigation department, etc., later a special anti-riot squad was added to them, as well as an anti-terrorist unit (PATU) created specifically to combat insurgents.

Figure 1. Patrol at the entrance to the capital of the country.

Figure 2. A police Land Rover in the bush.

It is worth noting the special importance of the vehicles that were at the disposal of the Rhodesian police. This was explained by the specifics of the country's terrain, which was actively exploited by the ZAPU and ZANU guerrilla groups, spreading out in a remote area, in the so-called "bush". Therefore, police officers sometimes had to travel long distances over rough terrain just to get to the scene of a call, crime or patrol route. All this was further complicated by the fact that large-scale economic sanctions had been imposed against Rhodesia since 1968, which prohibited any export to Rhodesia, including military and civilian automotive equipment [34]. Based on this, there was a shortage of automotive equipment in the country: the population, the government, the power unit, etc. had to use old equipment that had remained since the time of British rule (Bedford RL trucks, Land Rover II, IIa, III jeeps) [35], some models of cars and motorcycles that were assembled on two local assembly plants (Ford, BMC) before their closure in early 1967 [36], as well as cars imported into the country bypassing sanctions.   

However, even despite international sanctions and difficulties in updating the technical park, the Rhodesian government still managed to provide the police with everything they needed. For example, the traffic police also had two-wheeled vehicles (see Figure 3), mainly British-made models from 1950 to 1965, as well as scooters.

Figure 3. Police motorcycles and scooters.

In addition to such specific police vehicles as motorcycles, there were also very rare models of transport for special needs. So, the highway patrol almost all over the country, in most cases, used Peugeot 404 and Austin Westminster cars (Fig. 1), but these models were not suitable for high-speed pursuit and therefore, in the mid-1970s, rare, expensive and fast BMW models began to appear in the Salisbury traffic police 3000S" (see Figure 4). It is worth noting that such modern, at that time, machines began to appear at a time when Rhodesia was already approaching its actual destruction, since the military conflict between the government and the rebels had entered the "hottest" phase, and it was increasingly difficult for the white government to keep the situation inside the country. 

Figure 4. BMW 300S of the Salisbury Highway Patrol.

Source: https://www.rhodesianforces.org .

In addition to the above-mentioned units, the Rhodesian police had several unique formations. At the late stage of the war with the rebels, a mounted unit was formed in BSAP, whose tasks included patrolling (usually 2 days) the forest area, during which the group was completely self-sufficient. Subsequently, the volunteer mounted formation became part of the Support Unit Branch of the police. Another unique unit, which partly belonged to the police, but worked under the guidance of the Air Force, throughout the entire period of the war against the rebels, is the Police Aviation Reserve Wing (PRAW) (see Figure 5). The main task of the police aviation wing was to provide light aviation services: aerial reconnaissance, transportation of goods and personnel, evacuation of the wounded, etc. It is worth noting here that the personnel of this unit used their own light-engine aircraft, payment was made for each flight hour and spent fuel [37].  


Figure 5. Flight commanders of the aviation wing.

Source: https://www.rhodesianforces.org .

Thus, the main changes and improvements in the ranks of the Rhodesian police took place precisely at the late stage of the war against the rebels. Another important aspect is the lifting of restrictions on holding officer positions for blacks, which was lifted in 1976. And already in November 1976, the Rhodesian press reported that 31 African policemen had been promoted to ranks previously inaccessible to blacks [38, p. 21]. By the end of its existence (1980), the number of Rhodesian police was about 40-45 thousand people, 11,000 of whom were regular police officers and about 30 thousand reservists, who were actively involved in the late stage of the war, since since 1973 BSAP has provided an opportunity for white conscripts to serve in its ranks (there was and there is such an opportunity, for example, in the Soviet internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or in the modern Russian Regardie [39]).

The Rhodesian police ceased to exist after ZANU rebel leader Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980. On August 1, 1980, the British South African Police (BSAP) was officially replaced by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). It is worth noting here that after these events, the Zimbabwean authorities began to use a policy of "squeezing" white officers from the service, who were immediately replaced, as a rule, by black supporters of former rebels.


Thus, based on the first part of the study, it can be concluded that the Rhodesian Police (BSAP) during the years of the country's de facto independence from 1965 to 1979 played one of the key roles in maintaining the internal security of society and the country's defense capability, in the context of continuous counter-terrorism struggle. The historical roots of this department go back to the beginning of the country's history and have accompanied it throughout its existence. It is also worth noting an interesting feature of the Rhodesian police – the paramilitary nature of the service.

During the years of de facto independence, the police, like other spheres of the country, faced sanctions difficulties, but even in such conditions, police formations did not lose their combat capability at all and professionally performed their duties, showing ingenuity and using unique units in their structure. At the same time, the Rhodesian police can be called a "racist" structure (as it was called by Western left-liberals and socialist bloc countries) only partially, since most of its employees were black Rhodesians, although there was some discrimination against black police officers before 1976.

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The second half of the last twentieth century was marked by a growing anti-colonial movement, which led to the collapse of the world system of colonialism. Not only the year of Africa, but all the 1960s and 1970s were marked by the declaration of independence of various countries, the collapse of the British, French, and Dutch colonial empires. Speaking about the colonial issue, more often everyone emphasizes that the most tenacious of them was the Portuguese Empire, whose colonies – Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands – declared independence in the mid-1970s. However, in the south of the African continent until 1980 there was another country, to a certain extent a fragment of British colonialism and together with thus, in its policy, it was aligned with the neighboring South African regime. Today, the history of Rhodesia has already been forgotten, but the study of the Rhodesian conflict is important in the light of modern anti-colonial trends. These circumstances determine the relevance of the article submitted for review, the subject of which is the functioning of the Rhodesian Security Forces in 1965-1979. The author sets out to review and analyze the activities of the armed forces and police formations of Rhodesia during the period of its de facto independence from 1965 to 1979. The work is based on the principles of analysis and synthesis, reliability, the methodological basis of the research is the historical and genetic method, which, according to academician I.D. Kovalchenko, is based on "consistent disclosure of the properties, functions and changes of the studied reality in the process of its historical movement, which allows us to get as close as possible to reproducing the real history of the object", and its distinctive features The parties are concreteness and descriptiveness. The scientific novelty of the article lies in the very formulation of the topic: the author seeks to characterize "the issue of ensuring public safety and countering rebel formations by the Security Forces of Rhodesia." Considering the bibliographic list of the article, its versatility should be noted as a positive point: the total list of references includes 39 different sources and studies, which in itself indicates the amount of preparatory work that its author has done. The undoubted advantage of the reviewed article is the involvement of foreign materials, including in English and Polish, which is determined by the very formulation of the topic. From the sources attracted by the author, we will first point to various acts (the declaration of independence of Rhodesia), materials from Internet resources, etc. Among the studies used, we note the works of V.G. Shubin, A.B. Davidson, A.Y. Urnov, which focus on various aspects of the confrontation in southern Africa, as well as military historian Michael Evans, Zimbabwean authors Evans Tsigo and Enok Ndawana, Polish historian Andrzej Olejniczak, etc. . Note that the bibliography is important both from a scientific and educational point of view: after reading the text, readers can turn to other materials on its topic. In general, in our opinion, the integrated use of various sources and research contributed to the solution of the tasks facing the author. The style of writing the article can be attributed to a scientific one, at the same time understandable not only to specialists, but also to a wide readership, to anyone interested in both the confrontation in Rhodesia in general and its military aspects, in particular. The appeal to the opponents is presented at the level of the collected information received by the author during the work on the topic of the article. The structure of the work is characterized by a certain logic and consistency, it can be distinguished by an introduction, the main part, and conclusion. At the beginning, the author defines the relevance of the topic, shows that "the power unit of independent Rhodesia was called the Rhodesian Security Forces and included: directly army formations (Air Force and ground forces), employees of the Rhodesian Interior Ministry (INTAF) and police (BSAP), security forces (Guard Force), as well as the intelligence directorate." The work shows that "despite international sanctions and difficulties in updating the technical fleet, the government of Rhodesia still managed to provide the police with everything necessary," for example, in addition to motorcycles, the police Aviation Reserve Wing (PRAW) also operated. It is noteworthy that although restrictions on the replacement of officer positions by Africans were lifted from 1976, after 1980 "the new Zimbabwean authorities began to use a policy of "squeezing out" white officers from the service, who were immediately replaced, as a rule, by black supporters of former rebels." The main conclusion of the article is that "the Rhodesian Police (BSAP) during the years of the country's de facto independence from 1965 to 1979 played one of the key roles in maintaining the internal security of society and the country's defense capability," while its structure can only be called racist in part. The article submitted for review is devoted to an urgent topic, is provided with 5 drawings, will arouse readers' interest, and its materials can be used both in a course of lectures on modern history and in various special courses. There are comments on the article: 1) There are violations of style ("Another important aspect is the lifting of restrictions on holding officer positions for blacks, which was lifted in 1976"). 2) The author does not always manage to adhere to the principle of objectivity towards the Rhodesian regime. However, in general, in our opinion, the article can be recommended for publication in the journal Genesis: Historical Research.
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