Peter Stiff
\nOn April 18, 2015 Zimbabwe celebrates its 35th Independence Day Anniversary. In the run-up to this day, The Sunday Mail will publish a series of articles on the liberation war. This year, we have set out to speak to individuals who figured in the war, including Zimbabwe’s nationalist veterans and those who fought for Rhodesia. While readers may disagree with certain opinions expressed in the series, our objective is for the reader to understand how the narrator viewed the armed struggle.

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This week, former British South Africa Police Superintendent Peter Stiff recounts his wartime experience to our News Editor, Morris Mkwate. The following are excerpts.
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Peter Stiff
\nI joined the British South Africa Police in 1951. I served for 20 years, and was a Superintendent when I left.
\nI saw a lot of the war and the early-day stuff, most of which very few people know much about.
\nThis war need never have happened. The reason why it did is the fault, really, of the British and Russians.
\nIn 1960, the prime minister was Edgar Whitehead. He wanted to get a settlement; to get peace.

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His idea of a settlement was there would be Independence on a majority rule basis after five years. The Russians and Joshua Nkomo had very close ties, which we Rhodesians did not know about at all.

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Anyway, what happened was they went to London. Joshua Nkomo, the British, the prime minister and everybody were there and agreed Rhodesia should become independent.

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There would be a five-year wait, and then there would be Independence with full majority rule. And people would be trained. They would be able to work under a lot of people like whites who were in Parliament to teach them what to do.
\nI don’t think they had a name for it: “Zimbabwe” came later.

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In fact, Joshua Nkomo told me personally when he was on one of his trips around the country that the country was going to be called “Zimbabwe”. But that was after 1960.

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Ten days after (the London meeting), Nkomo . . . went back to London and the British backed out as well.
\nThat was really the start of all those long years of war and all the troubles.
\nI don’t know (the reason), but it really signalled there was going to be a war, particularly once Ian Smith came into power.

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There were lots of riots; people being killed unnecessarily. It happened in all the townships and locations all over Rhodesia.
\nMugabe was not there then. It was during those riots that he returned from Ghana. He had been there wanting to be an educationist. He had married a Ghanaian girl, Sally, and returned to Rhodesia with her when all this stuff was starting and, I think, got a taste for it.
\nSo, that’s the story – in short – of how the war came to be. It was the British who changed their mind after they had signed everything.
\nThere wouldn’t have been a war.

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The war begins
\nIt broke out with attacks in the locations. Initially, the (mastermind) was Zapu. Zanu came afterwards, so it was really Nkomo and his people. They were running riot. During that time, of course, Mugabe came from Ghana and joined Zapu.
\nI was an inspector in the district police. I was in the town police for a while when all these things happened because I had been brought in to write a police instruction book. There wasn’t a comprehensive instruction book, so I was given a year to write, which I did.

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I was in charge of several riot squads in Harare, Salisbury then. We operated all over the country – first of all in Harare locations; Highfield; Gatuma; Gwelo.

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The BSAP had a reputation of not opening fire in anger on anybody since 1896 during the rebellion. The Commissioner of Police at that time was a man called Colonel Sperling. He gave the order that nobody must fire unless it was absolutely essential.
\nFor the first 48 hours, there were houses burning. There were petrol bombs; Molotov cocktails and we didn’t open fire.

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We had been using teargas. We had a very large stock of teargas, a five-year reserve stock and we had used it all up. Everything was finished! We used that up in 48 hours! (Laughs)

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The British flew out some more for us after they were asked about it. But even so, we could not do anything with it because you could not have people being killed. So, then we opened fire.

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The first opening fire was in Bulawayo. There was a man called Sergeant Darks. A guy poised over him with a bloody panga, and an officer-in-charge there shot the guy.

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One night, I was down in a Harare location. I was called to it at about 11 o’clock at night. In Matapi, all the shops were on fire. People were in and out, looting. The only way you (could) stop that was to open fire. But we weren’t opening fire to kill: we always shot low – the legs.

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A lot of people went to Harare Hospital with wounds. Every one of them who was at Harare Hospital — when they were interrogated — said, “No, we weren’t doing anything. We were just going along (whistling) and suddenly I felt this pain.” (Laughs)
\nWhen it calmed down in about October/November 1961, there was to be a referendum.

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Edgar Whitehead said: “If the British are going to interfere, we will have a referendum of the people.” That didn’t get very far because rioting broke out again immediately.
\nI was again in Highfield.

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It’s not very pleasant to be in a Land Rover and have guys chucking Molotov cocktails at you (chuckles). It’s not very nice at all (chuckles). You can fry on that, you see.

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There were a few people shot there, mainly the ones with Molotov cocktails. There were huge riots at Machipisa. It was just terrible.
\nIn the districts

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After that, I moved to the districts. I went to Matabeleland: I was Member-in-Charge of Filabusi.
\nThat was when Nkomo started stirring up the people. He was going around and they were having big meetings. He was talking to them, causing a lot of bloody trouble.

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Ndabaningi Sithole was doing the same in Matabeleland. Those were two senior men and they spoke SiNdebele, which a lot of the others didn’t.
\nWe had instructions to go out to all of their meetings. We recorded everything that was said just to see if they were inciting violence. (If they were) then we would have charged them.

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But it was very difficult to charge people because it was difficult to say whether or not they were inciting violence. We took a great deal of care.
\nThere were only about eight cases in Matabeleland, spread over about two years where people were charged. Nkomo was charged once, and Sithole twice. They were acquitted both times: very frustrating.

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There was an operation — I think it was “Sundown” — and all known Zapu and Zanu (members) were rounded up and put into detention camps. There was also the Malawi Congress. They were causing a lot of problems, so they were rounded up as well.
\nThere was a heck of a lot of people in detention.

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The Zanu people went to Gwelo and the Zapu people to Gonakudzingwa. Some were in prison, others were in camps. There was no plan to release them. This was a move to see whether they could handle what was going on.

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They thought if they put all the leaders away, this would stop most of the trouble. It didn’t. You always had new leaders come in. But (the detention) didn’t last very long.

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They were gradually released over two or three years, and we were back to where we were before. And then, of course, we started getting in terrorists from across in Zambia. They were all Zapu. There were two big engagements.

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The first one was the ANC together with Zapu. They came in across one of the gorges of the Zambezi. That’s where a lot of fighting took place.
\nAfter those two big pushes by Nkomo — one in Matabeleland, the other one in Mashonaland — things quietened down quite a lot because Nkomo had pushed in every man he had in Zambia.
\nThere were around 204 people that he pushed in.

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There was no ANC there. I think 200 of them were either killed or captured, while three or four managed to get away. Some of them did not get out of Rhodesia and back to Zambia for a year or two. They couldn’t.

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There was one guy who had actually done a lot of incidents in Matabeleland. He had been operating there, with just two or three men. He escaped, or thought he had anyway. He went due east and got into Mozambique. He could see the Zambezi.

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He got hold of some local fishermen and asked them if they could take him across. They said yes, they would. They took him across to this other side and left him there. He thanked them, and paid them as well.

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When he looked around and tried to get to other side, he couldn’t: he was on an island (chuckles). The Mozambique authorities told the Rhodesian police and got him. He was on the island for about a week or 10 days (laughs).

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Escalation
\nNobody really thought it was that serious because we won every encounter. They had wiped them out or taken them prisoner. They were also sitting in jail for a long time. A lot of people didn’t believe it was a full-fledged war.

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In fact, the government tried to play it down. They tried to make out that people shouldn’t worry. “It’s just a few insurgents coming in and we can handle those.”

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But, of course, to people like myself who were in the police — in the frontline to a large extent — it seemed wrong. By that time I was an officer in Salisbury, a superintendent.

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The general public was being told lies. They should be told what was happening. I am a great believer in Winston Churchill in England. Britain probably won (World War II) because when things were bad he told the people it was bad and that made them stern up towards the enemy.

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They knew if things were bad, they would have to do something to fight.
\nBut for reasons best known to himself, Ian Smith didn’t. It was all played down. I was going to leave the police. I had finished 20 years and was starting a security company in Salisbury — Safeguard Security.

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I wrote this book “Rain Goddess” about what was going on. I wrote it as a novel. I couldn’t write it as factual because I would have been in trouble, as I would have been breaching the Official Secrets Act. With a novel, you can do that. I got my message out.
\nZipra really faded out after the Zambezi (engagement). For several years, they were doing nothing. Suddenly, you had Zanla come in. They did an attack at Centenary. Rex Nhongo led that attack.
\nHe was on “the list”, if you like.

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We had very good intelligence. There were so many (people on the list); it’s difficult to state all their names. Every group leader who came in kept a notebook in which he put all the names of his guys; where they came from — full details of those blokes. So, when there was a contact with the group and people were killed, the first thing everybody looked for were these notebooks.

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What they also had in there were the numbers of the AK rifles that were issued to these guys. So, there was a list of people with those AKs. Sometimes you had AKs that were picked up in the bush without people there.

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But it reached a stage where somebody could say, “Well, what’s that number?” They would look up, and say: “Oh, yeah, that’s Senzo (laughs).”
\nSometimes that would happen where someone came in and made two or three incursions, and then when he was caught and he was being interrogated by Special Branch, he would find that they knew everything about him (chuckles).

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They couldn’t understand how the police had so much information.
\nThe war went on and eventually became just too big.
\nThe big problem, of course, was that South Africa deserted Rhodesia. They stopped supplying ammunition, petrol and all sorts of things.
\nSupplies were coming in by train, and the trains just didn’t arrive. Trains were expected and they didn’t come.
\nBy then, I was out of the police. There was a stand-off between (Smith and apartheid leader John Vorster).

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Vorster was a difficult bloke. He was not good himself, as a leader. In fact, he was very poor. He was negotiating with Kenneth Kaunda. The condition that Kaunda was laying down was that he should stop supporting Smith, which he did. All that led to Rhodesia’s final collapse.
\nEventually, it would have collapsed anyway; there were just too few people.

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They brought in national service for blacks towards the end of the war because there weren’t enough whites around as many were leaving the country.

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You must appreciate that Rhodesia had a lot of black soldiers. A lot of them were national servicemen.
\nInterview and transcription by Morris Mkwate in Johannesburg, South Africa on March 16, 2015