STATEMENT BY DAVID COLTART ON RHODESIAN ATROCITIES, HIS TIME IN THE BSAP AND AN APOLOGY FOR HIS ROLE IN SUSTAINING AN UNJUST SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT WHICH DISCRIMINATED AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOUR
26th January 2018
This week I have been the subject of a sustained social media campaign seeking to portray me as an unrepentant Rhodesian who has refused to condemn atrocities committed by the Rhodesian security services. I have also been accused of killing Black Zimbabweans during my time in the police and of refusing to apologise for the role that I played. This portrayal of my views and the allegations made against me are patently untrue. I have addressed these issues comprehensively in my book The Struggle Continues: 50 years of tyranny in Zimbabwe and in speeches and interviews throughout my professional career spanning the last 35 years. Nevertheless, I feel it necessary to make this statement to make my position clear:
1. I unreservedly condemn the atrocities committed by the Rhodesian regime, such as the Nyadzonia massacre in which an estimated 1028 men, women and children were killed. I also unreservedly condemn the unjust system of governance in Rhodesia which was based on a white supremacist ideology and engaged in the brutal oppression and systemic discrimination against Black, Coloured and Asian people. This is a position that I have held since the early 1980s and affirmed when I wrote “ I regret some of the things I have done (and) if I had my life over I certainly would not have done some of those things”. In my book (at page 68-69), I called the Nyadzonia incident “a massacre…(which) left a searing wound” and stated that “atrocities were committed by both sides” (page 81). I expressed how I feel “ashamed that I did not do more (as a nineteen year old) to prevent (the use of torture) or speak out against it” (page 85). I expressed my deep anxiety at the time when I realised that “everything (around me) was bad, evil, awful, wicked and soul-less” (page 84).
2. I have always been open about the fact that I was once a police officer with the BSAP. At age 17, I was conscripted and joined the police force and served for just over 2 years. It was a legal requirement for all white men to do national service in the security forces, but as I’ve admitted before, as a teenager I was caught up by the propaganda that it was a war to preserve Christianity and willingly joined. However, even before I left the police I had begun to see through the propaganda. For example, I wrote on the 24th October 1977, in the aftermath of Steve Biko’s murder, about my concern that the South Africans “were so blind to the consequences of their actions” and that when I went to University I would do all I could “to help South Africans ‘see the light’”. I was never at any time part of the Selous Scouts as alleged by some. I am grateful to God that I was never involved in any direct combat and have never killed anyone. There was, however, one extremely horrible incident where I was required to dispose of the dead body of a guerrilla (who had been shot and killed in a gunfight with Rhodesian forces) down a mineshaft. I disclosed this incident in my book precisely because I believe we all have an obligation to share the truth and to not spare ourselves in doing so.
3. I sincerely apologise for the role that I played in propping up a racist regime as a young man in the police. If I knew then what I know now, I would have resisted conscription and actively sought to fight, using non violent means, the injustices of the Rhodesian regime. Even though I was a teenager at the time, I take responsibility for my actions and inactions. I also acknowledge that, as a White person, I have benefitted from Rhodesia’s discriminatory policies and laws. While I can’t apologize on behalf of a government that I was not a part of, I do apologise on behalf of the broader White community which was largely complicit in the oppression of Black, Coloured and Asian brothers and sisters. When I speak with my Black, Coloured and Asian friends and colleagues about their awful experiences under Rhodesian rule, I deeply regret my failure then to stand by you. I have repented before God and ask for forgiveness from the millions of people whose lives were terribly affected by that dark period in our history.
4. My experiences in the war have left an indelible mark on me, which is one of the reasons I have passionately promoted the use of non violence to oppose unjust societies the world over since I graduated from University in 1982. Having seen the horrors of war face to face, I am convinced that war and violence should be opposed by all people at all times. I believe that until Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans turn their backs on the use of violence to attain political objectives our Nation will never truly prosper and reach its full potential. I also believe that part of the process of healing and reconciliation consists in all of us acknowledging, and apologising for, our own complicity and responsibility for the things we have done.
So what is to be done going forward?
I have always said that our failure, as a nation, to address the wrongs committed during Rhodesia have contributed to a continued culture of violence, oppression and impunity in the post-independence Zimbabwe. I believe that we need a Truth Commission which covers atrocities perpetrated by and against all races going back to at least 1965 (when UDI was declared) and up to the present day. I commend the passing of the National Peace and Reconciliation Act as a positive step in the right direction and call on government to ensure that it has the independence, resources and cooperation it needs to be able to expose the truth and begin the long, hard but critically important process of reconciliation and healing.
Senator David Coltart
26th January 2018