Bulawayo — Former soldiers of the Rhodesian army have defied police orders to stop registering for the promised compensation by the British government, amid fears that they might have been swindled out of their money by tricksters.
Last week, scores of ex-Rhodesian soldiers, ex-members of the British South Africa Police, and the dreaded Selous Scouts, gathered outside Florian Court in Bulawayo to register for compensation. There were also former agents of the Special Branch, the Rhodesian government's domestic intelligence service during the liberation struggle. Some of the former soldiers had come all the way from South Africa, where they have been living since independence in 1980. The ex-Rhodesian servicemen were each asked to pay a registration fee of $25 dollars to cover administrative
Police in Bulawayo warned the former soldiers and policemen to stop registering, saying the British government had already made its position clear that nobody would be compensated for defending the colonial government of Ian Smith. The police suspect some of the leaders of the ex-Rhodesian soldiers have sinister motives in continuing with the registration exercise. "Those who are registering for the promised compensation are doing so at their own risk," said Bulawayo's police chief spokesperson, Eastwell Changadeya.
"I have come all the way from South Africa to register for compensation but I am now not sure whether we will get money," said Joseph Maqeda, an ex-soldier. The former soldiers, who battled black nationalist guerrillas of Zipra and Zanla in the 1970s have so far raised more than $50 000 for their compensation fund .
Speaking to The Standard outside Florian Court, some of the frustrated former soldiers said they were told by their leaders that all those who fought in the colonial army would be compensated by the British government, the former colonial master. Their leaders allegedly met with the former Rhodesian prime minister, Ian Smith, who told them they were entitled to compensation under the British Royal Charter. But two weeks ago, the outgoing British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Martin Williams, said his government had not made any commitment to the compensate ex-Rhodesian soldiers.
Rhodesia became a British colony after the demise of the Nguni Kingdom under Lobengula Khumalo in 1893. According to the former soldiers, each ex-Rhodesian soldier was told he would be paid $100 000 for his role during the liberation struggle. Their claims for compensation come in the wake of demonstrations by ex-guerrilla fighters of Zapu and Zanu for compensation by the government for liberating the country from colonial rule. After a series of violent protests, the former guerrillas were each paid lump sum gratuities of $50 000 by the government. The decision to pay former guerrillas compensation has triggered more protests from groups of people who participated in the struggle. The former guerrillas, and their families, were also promised free education and free medical treatment in government institutions. The majority of former Rhodesian servicemen who gathered at Florian Court to register for compensation were members of the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), which was better trained and equipped than other army units, with the exception of the counter insurgency unit, Selous Scouts, and former secret service agents.
"My father lost his life defending Smith. I have come here to represent him as his son," said a 23-year-old Brandon Michaels of Thorngrove. He said Smith should compensate all coloured people because they were forced to join the army.
Another ex-Rhodesian soldier, Lamech Siziba, who is now based in South Africa, told The Standard that if President Mugabe compensated former guerrillas for liberating the country, the British government should also compensate them for defending white rule. "We are not mercenaries but we are only claiming what belongs to us," said Siziba, who operated in Matabeleland during the war. After independence, scores of ex-Rhodesian soldiers, Selous Scouts, policemen and former security agents left the country for South Africa in what became known as 'Operation Winter'. What the former Rhodesian soldiers have overlooked is the fact that Smith ruled Rhodesia in defiance of his colonial master, Britain, when he declared the UDI in 1965. Smith was, however, very popular with many die-hard Rhodesians who saw other white prime ministers, such as Garfield Todd, as black sympathisers. He was forced to surrender power in 1979 at Lancaster House in London, which led to the ceasefire between his forces and the guerrillas.