Rhodesian army secrets kept safe in the UK

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IN 2006 the University of the West of England (UWE) was awarded £423 000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), for a project to research and catalogue Rhodesian military archives (records).
The project was to be carried out in conjunction with the British and Commonwealth Museum.
In September 2006 Diana Jeater, the then head of the Rhodesian Army Archives Project at UWE, wrote that the archive was; “sitting in hundreds of uncatalogued boxes in the Bristol-based museum.
“Researchers who have investigated the boxes have found gems such as poignant photographs of soldiers on both sides of the war for independence; intelligence reports; operational instructions, and policy debates exposing the strengths and weaknesses of a doomed, but desperate government.
“However, there is no way of locating specific documents and no organising principle behind the collection, which was saved from destruction after independence.”- (https://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/UWENews/news.aspx?id=917).
The collection is understood to have caused tension between some Rhodesian elements and the original project coordinators at the UWE.
In addition, the National Archives of Zimbabwe has been appealing for the return of the collection, but to no avail.
A source that declined to be named doubts if the records/archives are still being kept in Bristol.
“As of 2009, the records were still kept at the BECM, but what happened after that we do not know,” the source said.
“Diana Jeater has no influence whatsoever on them anymore.”
The withdrawal of the collection from UWE is thought to be a result of mistrust on access and confidentiality.
There is suspicion that the whole set up surrounding this collection is still controlled by the Rhodesians and consequently the tension and confusion over who can access them.
Maybe this explains why I did not get a job to work on this project when I applied in September 2006.
I was alerted to the existence of these Rhodesian army archives by my former manager in September 2006, when I worked for the Coventry City Council in the City Records Office.
The UWE had put up an advert for archivists and assistants to work on this Rhodesian Army archives collection.
I assumed that my chances of getting the job were high because first, I was a Zimbabwean and familiar with the background of records.
And secondly, because I had many years experience working in archives both in Zimbabwe and in the UK.
I was never called for the interview.
The director of the National Archives of Zimbabwe, Ivan Murambiwa, reports the challenges he encountered when he asked to access the archives during his visit to Bristol (British Empire and the Commonwealth Museum) in June 2008.
In a paper he presented at a workshop ‘Expatriate Archives in Museums’ in Bristol during his visit, he said, “I took the opportunity to arrive in Bristol a few days in advance in order to familiarise myself with the collection. “Regrettably to this day I have not been able to access the collection due to what I believe to be the politics of expatriate archives.”
So what information/secrets are concealed in this archive collection?
Why were they smuggled out of the country and how did they get to the UK?
It is widely believed that these records/archives were smuggled out of Zimbabwe and into South Africa on the eve of independence, before they were shipped to the UK.
It is understood they were whisked out of Zimbabwe between 1979 and 1980 when the Rhodesian Front government realised that they had lost the war, and that black majority rule was imminent.
It is also understood that a large collection of the Rhodesian government records, including army records, were burnt on the eve of independence while these ‘special’ ones were concealed and transported to South Africa where they were kept for nearly 26 years before they were shipped to the UWE in Bristol.
In addition, the Smith regime withdrew many sensitive records from the National Archives between 1978 and 1979 including some Cabinet records and records belonging to the Prime Minister’s office.
These were also never returned to the National Archives.
Other records were sent to the Rhodes University for safekeeping.
But these particular Rhodesian Army Archives are believed to be a product of a private collection.
A Rhodesian Army project Newsletter, Wars of Liberation, Wars of Decolonisation: The Rhodesian Army Project (April 2007), highlighted the challenges and sensitivity of these records.
“We quickly realised that there were important ethical and practical issues associated with the Rhodesian Army Archive (RAA) project,…there were also significant concerns about the uses of the material, including issues of copyright, confidentiality and access.”
From the project reports (April 2007 and February 2008), the archives catalogued by September 2007 included records from the Rhodesian Army Headquarters (G, A and Q branch papers); the Operations Co-ordinating Committee, the Joint Planning staff, the National Joint Operations Command and the Combined Operations (COMOPS) HQ; Rhodesian Air Force Headquarters records, Air Force Squadron diaries; and the Special Branch/Central Intelligence Organisation Records.
The collections also include situation reports and prints of official photographs.
But what is even more shocking is that thousands of more boxes were shipped from South Africa between 2006 and 2007, and arrived in Bristol before Easter in 2007.
The RAA Project Newsletter (April 2007) reported: “But the work just keeps on coming – several thousand more boxes arrived from South Africa just before Easter.
“We expect them to be delivered to the Museum as soon as the storage, shipping and import details are settled.
“It seems that the collection may be even larger than we originally anticipated…”
In February 2008 another Rhodesian Army Archives Project Newsletter reported the arrival of these records from South Africa.
“Some of the collection was still in South Africa and was shipped to the UK during the first year of the project,” it stated.
“This collection of new material turned out to be significantly larger than we had originally anticipated.”
There are many questions that remain unanswered, or probably need some answers.
Who in South Africa managed to keep these boxes secretly for nearly 30 years, and where?
Were they kept at the Rhodes University or in someone’s private garage, as one of the project workers suggested?
Why would the South African government allow the shipment of the Rhodesian army archives to the UK and not to their neighbour Zimbabwe?

2 COMMENTS

  1. HI,
    I have a lot of interest in the Rhodesian army as a member in my family was in the Rhodesian Forces.Yet I can not find anyone or any records of him and his men. I know him and his boys did a great deal for their country and all I am trying to do is get these guys (of which there are many I am sure ) the rocognition they earned and deserve. I don’t accept that these men can just be ghosts in the wind even after all this time. They deserve to be known and honoured. I don’t wish to put all the secrets out I just want folk to know that these guys exist and played an important role in Rhodesia’s military. If anyone can help me then please contact me
    Regards

  2. Hi,
    To the person who wrote this article could you contact me as I have some questions too . But this is where it gets interesting your dates of when the records came to the UK coincide with something else and the more I think about it, it seem to coincidental that there can’t not be a connection. It maybe pure coincidence but I am very doubtful

    Thank you

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