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Former Rhodesian PM Ian Smith's Death Ends Era in Zimbabwe

Former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith who died in Cape Town late Tuesday brings to an end an era, which haunted citizens of independent Zimbabwe. Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA that Ian Smith, who took his country into war rather than give up white minority rule, died unrepentant.

The Zimbabwe state press has reported Ian Smith's death at 88, in moderate tones.

Opposition to his rule helped bring to power the present leader of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, who lead guerrillas in a punishing civil war for one man one vote. Only black people with a certain education could vote in what was then Rhodesia.

Ian Smith stayed on in Zimbabwe after independence, without security, and continued to farm undisturbed until health problems forced him to move closer to his two surviving children in Cape Town.

He never wanted to leave Zimbabwe and remained profoundly critical of President Mugabe's rule.

"Many of his political decisions and policies were disastrous for this country," noted David Coltart, one of Zimbabwe's longest serving human rights lawyers, who as a teenager was drafted into Ian Smith's police force during the end of the civil war. "The draconian legislation passed under his tenure as prime minister in the 1960s and 1970s and the unilateral declaration of independence announced by him in November 1965 were the root cause of the civil war that erupted in then Rhodesia in the 1970s. Those policies also radicalized black nationalist movements and directly spawned the violent and fascist rule of Zanu-PF today. I think history will show that his policies contributed to the disastrous state that Zimbabwe is in today."

Coltart like most Zimbabweans, including President Robert Mugabe, who was jailed for a decade during the civil war, say Mr. Smith led a personally moral life and loved the country.

"During the 14 years of his rule, Rhodesia became a country that produced a wide variety of goods. In the early 1970s and late 1960s the Rhodesian economy grew and of course at the time of independence Ian Smith bequeathed to Robert Mugabe a very strong currency. A currency that was certainly stronger than the U.S. dollar at that time," he explained. "He also ran a very efficient administration. No Zimbabwean ever starved to death under his tenure. And Robert Mugabe has taken the jewel of Africa in 1980 and destroyed it. So that would be the positive legacy of Ian Smith."

Zimbabwe's currency is virtually worthless now, and inflation at about 17,000 percent is the highest in the world. Nevertheless, most Zimbabweans, including those who are now suffering, have demonstrated since independence they would not want to return to minority white rule.

There are now only a few thousand economically active whites left in Zimbabwe.