via email – by Jan Raath
The son of a Cypriot immigrant, Costa Pafitis seemed hardly material to become an exalted member of the fiercely exclusive Anglo-Saxon ruling class of white-run Rhodesia.
But he outshone his peers with honours at one of the country’s top schools and went to Sandhurst.
He became one of Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith’s most trusted confidantes. He then became one of the country’s key secret contact figures in the interminable negotiations over the crisis of the country’s illegal declaration of independence from Britain in the 60s.
Despatched undercover to Europe, he established himself as sanctions buster, fuelling the country’s remarkable economic boom in the face of a United Nations trade embargo, selling Rhodesian tobacco for attack helicopters, locomotives and parts for its power stations.
Constantine “Costa” Pafitis was born in 1938 near the small town of Hartley (now Chegutu) on a farm run by his father, Savva, and mother, Eve. At Prince Edward School in Salisbury (now Harare) he played first team cricket and rugby, represented Rhodesian schools at cricket and was appointed head boy.
He was accepted in the 1957 colonial intake of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and went on to join the Kings African Rifles as a lieutenant, on active duty in Nyasaland (now Malawi) maintaining order in the turbulent days leading to independence.
In 1963, he returned to Rhodesia where his father, now a wealthy businessman, was appointed Greek consul for the burgeoning population of Greek migrants. He helped run the Ambassador, built by his father as the country’s first multiracial hotel, to the outrage of most white Rhodesians.
Pafitis was among thousands of young white Rhodesians inspired by Smith’s UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) rebellion against British attempts to get him to concede to black majority rule. He joined the civil service where his seniors recognised his charm and his resourcefulness, and sent him in 1967 to Pretoria, South Africa.
It was neutral ground where British envoys were able to meet clandestinely with Pafitis and other Rhodesian officials, usually on a golf course, to relay exchanges in diplomatic initiatives to attempt to resolve the Rhodesian crisis.
In 1972 he was deployed to Rome as an undercover diplomat and part of the network of Rhodesian officials across Western Europe secretly arranging for the purchase of fuel, equipment and stores critical to the country’s economy. The “sanctions busters” evaded one of the world’s most severe economic blockades with a myriad of disguised export documentation and devious travel routes for everything from razor blades to Boeing jetliners.
Using his Greek passport, Pafitis passed himself off to Italian immigration authorities as an architecture student, and presented his own sketchbook of Roman landmarks. He opened a small office next to the Italian financial police in the Piazza del Viminale, with a plaque on the door announcing “Centro Informazione Rhodesiano.”
Fluent in Greek, he learnt Italian. His path was eased by the Circolo Italia-Germania, a powerful right-wing lobby group, that, Pafitis said later, “made contact with key people in politics, trade, industry, military, defence and whatever, just a phone call away.”
Italian companies had been heavily involved in the construction of the country’s major Kariba hydroelectric scheme, its iron steel plant, the railways and the national airline. Pafitis ensured supplies continued. He also set up trips for Rhodesian captains of industry to enter Italy undetected.
He even managed an unofficial diplomatic bag with South African Airways. Pafitis would be given a Salisbury-bound pre-departure passenger list from which to choose couriers. They would be given small parcels of secret documents and met by an official at Salisbury, assured duty-free entry.
It ended with the Geneva talks in 1976, the first major British attempt to bring together the Rhodesian government and black nationalist movements for constitutional negotiations. It failed but Pafitis, drafted from Rome to support the Rhodesian delegation, managed to arrange for an excited telephone call between Smith and the Italian family in the Po Valley who had hidden him from the Nazis after his Hurricane fighter was shot down in World War II.
Smith brought Pafitis back to Harare as his principal spokesman. He continued after the “internal agreement” between Smith and the moderate Bishop Abel Muzorewa in 1979, and served the Bishop in the 10-month Zimbabwe-Rhodesia black majority-elected government. It excluded externally-based guerrilla leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo and failed to win international recognition.
It was followed later that year by the Lancaster House constitutional talks which saw final agreement which led to internationally endorsed elections, won overwhelmingly by Mugabe, who asked Pafitis to stay on as his chief spokesman. Pafitis agreed and resigned two years later, although agreeing to a few extra months at Mugabe’s request.
He was immediately head-hunted by controversial Zimbabwean millionaire John Bredenkamp, with major interests in tobacco, mining, arms, petroleum and tourism. Bredenkamp had been a major supplier of arms to the Rhodesian government in the war, and was banned from the country after independence. Pafitis interceded with Mugabe and Bredenkamp’s passport was returned. He continued to work for Bredenkamp as his spokesman until 2011.
Constantine “Costa” Pafitis was born in Hartley, Rhodesia, on May 20, 1938. He died of a heart attack on November 5, 2013. He leaves his wife, Elaine, and children Paula, Philip and Andrea.