‘Dirty War’: Inside Rhodesia’s chemical warfare

Source: ‘Dirty War’: Inside Rhodesia’s chemical warfare | The Herald April 10, 2017

Simon Massey Special Correspondent
I have been looking into the Rhodesian “Bush War” for many years after growing up in the country through this period. I have an old copy of Plague Wars by Tom Mangold sitting right next to me and have recently read “The Myth of Smith” by Doug Schorr, “Assignment Selous Scouts “by Jim Parker and “Special Branch War” by Ed Bird. All of these books describe in some way the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons or false flag atrocities by the pseudo-terrorist Selous Scouts (Schorr).

The book begins with a brief overview of the Rhodesian war mindset. It describes how Rhodesians were subject to a propaganda campaign that sought to dehumanise and demonise their black enemy. Of course, Rhodesian civilians were the same colour as the terrorist insurgents.

The Rhodesian government retained tight control of the media and of its own information and when their actions began causing a sharp increase in seemingly accidental poisonings and deaths amongst civilians, even in the city of Salisbury, the government forced the media to cover it up.

Because the modern, well-equipped and well-trained Rhodesian security forces tended to win direct battles easily they were struggling against their enemy.

The sheer numbers of insurgents in the country and their tendency to attack soft rather than hard targets using hit-and-run techniques meant that the insurgents did not often engage in direct combat with the considerably more advanced Rhodesians. This asymmetric style was running rings round the well-equipped Rhodesians and as such the Rhodesians developed their own asymmetric techniques.

It is clear that desperation amongst the Rhodesians in their battle of attrition against the liberating forces of black nationalism drove the Rhodesian regime to measures that can only be described with the benefit of hindsight as war crimes.

This desperation also brought the well-publicised Selous Scouts false-flag atrocities blamed on the insurgents against African civilians as well as Catholic missions, which often aided and abetted the insurgents. Rhodesians faced a huge economic and moral decline through the 1970s and this created an environment where the more desperate measures of the regime became tolerable and acceptable.

The Smith regime ran what Cross described as a “rudderless bureaucracy”, with Smith intent on preserving his own position and often refusing to delegate to more experienced individuals. Cross says, “factionalism and rivalries crippled decision-making”. Rhodesia’s regime was riddled with persons Cross describes comfortably as “right-wing racists” including Defence Minister PK van der Byl.

It is obvious that the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons came out of a deep hatred for the blacks regardless of whether they had taken up arms or not. Obviously no one cared that innocent persons were being killed so long as white hegemony in Rhodesia was protected.

When Ed Bird as a recruit discovered contaminated clothing being packed and asked how it was assured that only terrorists would find the clothing and not civilians, he was asked, “you’re new here, aren’t you mate?” Collateral damage, they call it now. Innocents caught in the “cross-fire”.

The Rhodesians developed counter-insurgency chemical warfare from the early-to-mid 70s, which, once its success was known, expanded to the point where, by the end of the war in 1979, it was causing health problems amongst the civilian population.

The techniques employed were questionable right from the start in the early 70s, when clothing and food soaked in toxic organophosphates were distributed by a double-agent, to recruits on their way to terrorist training camps in Zambia or Mozambique.

The recruits would die in the bush long before they reached the border. Here, right from the start of their CW programme, the Rhodesians were effectively poisoning persons who had not actually taken any armed action against Rhodesia, other than sign up with the revolutionaries.

The morality of murdering Israeli schoolchildren on the pretext that they will grow up to join the Israeli security forces is equally morally bankrupt.

Later, boxes of poisoned clothes or food or medicines would be left on known terrorist routes where they were often recovered by local civilians, who put on the clothes, ate the food or used the medicines, and then died.

Boxes of tainted products were also stored in local shops so that when these shops were raided by insurgents they would steal tainted goods. It seems pretty clear given the numbers of civilians suffering from poisonings that these materials often made it into the hands of innocents. It is not known how many civilians might have been harmed or killed by poisonings but such is the preserve of indiscriminate action.

The Rhodesians probably tested their materials on captured insurgents at secret Selous Scouts bases hidden away in the bush! There are few if any records of animal testing so it seems the Rhodesians jumped straight to testing on humans. This is utterly beyond the Geneva Convention! It is a war crime to experiment with lethal compounds on captured enemy subjects. Once the Rhodesian war ended much of the material and techniques learned were exported for use in South Africa, Namibia and Angola.

Cross’ work researching the funding for the Rhodesian chemical and biological weapons programme threw up something interesting. Cross found that funds for the chemical weapons work as well as for the Rhodesian Selous Scouts, the purveyors of false-flag, so-called “terrorist atrocities” during the war, was channelled first through Saudi Arabia and then through what was then apartheid South Africa.

As there cannot be any obvious reason for Saudi Arabia to fund the Rhodesian Bush War, it strikes me as extremely likely that the United Kingdom funded the chemical, biological weapons effort in Rhodesia and the Selous Scouts pseudo-terrorist groups.

The Selous Scouts are now thought to have performed numerous atrocities against both black villagers and Catholic missions as part of the propaganda war. The false flag attacks were used to pin atrocities on the freedom fighters and drive international public opinion against the insurgents.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are presently being used to funnel Western funding to ISIS as they battle to remove Assad in Syria. This shows circumstantial evidence and precedent suggesting that it’s most likely that the Saudi funds through Pretoria had come originally from the United Kingdom. The same thing is happening right now except it is ISIS receiving the funds instead of Rhodesia.

The Rhodesian propaganda war is STILL in full force, with most ex-Rhodesians unwilling to accept that Rhodesia committed the most vile of war-crimes and used chemical weapons indiscriminately, directly affecting the civilian population in the process. Cross describes ex-Rhodesians who would prefer to “glorify the past as the realm of heroes” rather than dredge up this dreadful issue. They would rather not have to face the facts of this “ungentlemanly footnote”.

Simon Massey was born in the UK but grew up in both pre- and post-independence Zimbabwe. He left in 1987 but has returned several times for long trips and follows Zimbabwe affairs closely. He wrote this exclusively for The Herald.

Although Rhodesian war-crimes have been documented and discussed before, “Plague Wars” was published in 1999, Glenn Cross’ book is by far the most well researched and detailed examination. His credentials are second to none and infallible, and although it repeats itself in places, the book is very well written and flows effectively.

The revelation that funding for the Selous Scouts and the chemical weapons programme that leaked into the civilian population came first through Saudi Arabia and then through apartheid South Africa, obviously originating in the United Kingdom, should be a heads-up for anyone who thinks that the West has some sort of moral high ground in the war against terror.

The Rhodesian Bush War was, in fact, a microcosmic prototype for the kind of underhanded illegality of Guantamamo Bay and the extra-judicial drone killings of the Middle East now common as well the Islamaphobic propaganda streaming from our media outlets since the inside-job, false-flag attack of 9/11. The fact that the Rhodesian Bush War was primarily a propaganda war should give anyone who watches TV or reads the newspapers a compelling and rather rude awakening.

Trust no one. Believe Nothing. Question Everything. This was once the mantra of the conspiracy theorist. It’s now just plain common sense.

Simon Massey was born in the UK but grew up in both pre- and post-independence Zimbabwe. He left in 1987 but has returned several times for long trips and follows Zimbabwe affairs closely. He wrote this exclusively for The Herald.


  • comment-avatar
    Sam Smiler 7 years ago

    Thank you for showing the extent Rhodesians went to retain their grip on power. Many look back with nostalgia and yearn for the past but I’m happy living in Zimbabwe despite all the difficulties knowing that I’m luckier than a poor family in the rural areas. Hope and optimism cost nothing and things will change for the better. It’s just a pity that those who committed theses atrocities did not serve time; but may they spend many sleepless nights like those who killed many in Matabeleland after independence.

    • comment-avatar

      Well said Sam, I might be younger to you but I share the same sentiments in what you said .Our country is blessed and the people are loving so much ..Black or white our leaders made it possible for us to be one.See good in one another .not to hate the ills of our fore fathers..Proudly Zimbabwean

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    the truth 7 years ago

    Just like filming local blacks lying on the grass during lunch time and announcing to the world that the Government was starving the black population when all they were doing was lying down during their lunch break, which was a very common custom.
    What about throwing money into a rubbish bin and taking pictures of black children digging out the money from the bin. Look at the atrocity the Rhodesian Government is portraying against young black children was the message from BBC. Ha ha
    This Simon Massey wrote for the Herald!! Ha ha. The Herald is a propaganda newspaper owned by the current Government which just shows how rubbish the report really must have been. Rhodesian civilians were also white in case you were unware.
    They were not running rings around the Rhodesian Forces you pillock, they were attacking white civilian farms!! Raping women and children, cutting off mens testicles in front of their families!!
    Zim is one hell hole now after 37 years independence. I absolutely laugh at the previous two comments made by WASU and Sam Smiler. You two will never make the world better to live in, you would rather allow idiots to run a country they are not capable of in the slightest. I mean they are not even capable of running a small business.

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      Kevin 7 years ago

      The description of what Massey wrote is almost word for word out of the charge sheet of a South African doctors who was prosecuted unsuccessfully for exactly what is described. As for the funding that is beyond belief and feeds into a ZANU PF narrative that is frankly unbelievable. I was born and brought up in Rhodesia and financed part of my university education by smuggling currency out of Rhodesia. I subsequently worked in financial services and banking in the 1970s and 1980s after leaving Rhodesia. I can state that at that time Saudi Banking was in the dark ages of fixed exchange rates which meant that all their banking would have been conducted through a foreign corespondent bank and the actual details would have been beyond the research capabilities of any western journalist. Travelling to Saudi and asking theses questions would have meant a long and unpleasant stay in a Saudi prison.This part of the narrative is absolute fiction. That South Africa provided funding for Ian Smith and his government of outrageous racists (Partrige, Graham, Harpur Maclean Lardner Burke and Dupont spring to mind), is beyond dispute as it was recorded in South African hansards. That the insurgents moved on to asymetric warfare after the disaster in Wankie in 1968 is also beyond dispute. That the Rhodesian forces won nearly every direct engagement is also beyond dispute. The war had been lost by 1976 as the rural areas were firmly under the aegis of the insurgents and travel in the rural ares by anyone not in an armed convoy was suicidal. However the idiot who wrote this article is clearly wrong on some of his facts.

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        The idiot who wrote this article is repeating the assertions of the author Glenn Cross whose book Dirty War is being reviewed. Cross’ credentials are beyond dispute, so perhaps rather than bothering this idiot, perhaps the complainant above would like to direct his misery at Glenn Cross instead.

        Or even just buy the book & read it……

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      Sam Smiler 7 years ago

      So sorry for the late reply. Your arrogance in denying aspects of the Rhodesian period shows me that you are a negationist and I’m sure you deny Hitler’s final solution. Your obvious disdain indicates that you are one of those rhodies who will look for all the flaws and never accept that your lifestyle will never return. Please go back to your council house and curtains and kippers and be part of the change instead of whining and whinging. The selous scouts are guilty of crimes against humanity as are the forces in the matabeland massacres!
      Go back to your soggy island and please do come back to Africa,you’re not wanted!!

    • comment-avatar
      Sam Smiler 7 years ago

      So sorry for the late reply. Your arrogance in denying aspects of the Rhodesian period shows me that you are a negationist and I’m sure you deny Hitler’s final solution. Your obvious disdain indicates that you are one of those rhodies who will look for all the flaws and never accept that your lifestyle will never return. Please go back to your council house and curtains and kippers and be part of the change instead of whining and whinging. The selous scouts are guilty of crimes against humanity as are the forces in the matabeland massacres! Just admit that Rhodesia was defeated and move on. As I have written before, white rhodesia was built by the black man and all the whites did was to lay the plan and recruit slave labour. Idiots like you don’t belong in a developing country as whatever happens you’ll always find some negative and debasing criticism. You would never have achieved the life quality you have if you did not come to Africa.

  • comment-avatar

    the use of poison in warfare is forbidden by Geneva convention.
    its not only that poison is the cause of indiscriminate suffering of innocent non-combatants, women and children.
    poison is also barred for use against combatants.
    this is because death by poison is horrific and immensely painful
    there is no situation where the use of poison can be justified.
    it is a war crime and a crime against humanity whether it is ordered by Assad or by Smith

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    Well, look at that!! Just as Assad is using chemical weapons the Herald get some dude to make up a story of Rhodies using chemical weapons!! Good job mate, I hope they paid you well to write that amazing facade which I am sure will convince a lot of people who were not there, but not I Simon Massey, as I was there and I know the truth. Oh! and by the way look at the disaster of a country we have now compared to what was handed over in 1980!! And Oh why dont you write a story about the genocidal masacre of over 20,000 helpless poor people by the “leaders” of this evil regime, and the murders tortures, beatings and abductions by zanupf as they enriched themselves at the demise of the population. Go on Massey, I dare you.

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      This artile was submitted to The Herald before the recent false flag chemical attack in Kahn Sheikhoun.
      Nothing that is written in Dirty War or anywhere else seeks to lessen or mitigate any atrocities by anyone else. What it seeks to show is that atrocities are most certainly not the preserve of so-called third world despots & can confidently be engaged in by so-called civilised countries.
      This is just a review of the book. If you wish to critique the review with any real skill & to actual effect, you’ll need to read theDirty War by Glenn Cross. Go on, I dare you

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    Dubbozimbo 7 years ago

    Looks like this twit was paid by ZANU. Anyone who writes for the Herald is part of Bobs propaganda machine. Your pathetic.

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    Flick 7 years ago

    Simon Massey, 37 years after mugabe was handed the country on a plate, suddenly says Rhodesians used chemicals. TWAT !!!

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      The first reports of chemical warfare crimes & false flag terrorist attacks by Selous Scouts came in 1989 with the book Rhodesian Front War by Henry Ellert.

      In this review of this book also from 1989 Guardian correspondent James MacManus says, “the Selous Scouts virtually fought a war of their own against the guerrillas. Along- side the duties of tracking and infiltrating guerrilla groups they indulged in chemical warfare, assassination, abduction, and psychological warfare. Although the Spe- cial Branch provided much of their oper- ational intelligence the Scouts ran their own informers within and beyond Rhodesia’s borders.”

      So. Who’s the twat, exactly..?

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    Chatham House 7 years ago

    How does the author feel about the bravest of brave, ZANLA heroes who risked life and limb to murder a 6 week old Natasha Glennie in Chimanimani in 1977? And then repeated the exercise in Matabeleland in the Gukuruhundi? Such brave disciplined heroes – they should all be buried at Heroes Acre?

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      How does Chatham House feel about the fact that many of the atrocities such as those described above are no being attributed to Rhodesia’s own so-called “psuedo-terrorist Selous Scouts” as “false-flags” atrocities & pinned on the Nationalists as part of an “Operation Favour”, which the desperate Rhodesians started up in an effort to deter international support for those fighting to free Zimbabwe from the clutches or cruekl & dangerous racists?

      1989 – http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/11th-november-1989/12/secrets-of-the-rhodesian-war