Review & Mail Writer
A two -year long legal battle pitting former South African and Rhodesian mercenaries, playing out in South African courts, could throw significant light in events, people at the tail end of the war of liberation – or the Rhodesian Bush War in the late 1970s.
General Peter Walls is accused of having had prior knowledge of the infamous downing of a civilian plane; Rhodesian Forces were responsible for anthrax attacks on black people and Rhodesian some excursions in Mozambique ended ignominiously, while the settler forces were informed by “wrong theories”. Further, the Rhodesian army has been revealed to have been in a shambles, not professional hotshot, and relied on mass killings of blacks.
The High Court in Pretoria is hearing a case in which former soldiers are trading accusations on an abortive mission by the Rhodesian forces.
The parties are Brian Carton-Barber of 91 4th Avenue, Northmead in Benoni near Johannesburg, and Ian Bate of 17 Stableford Road in Randpark also near Johannesburg.
Carton-Barber who is the Applicant, is a former South African mercenary who served in the former Rhodesian Light Infantry under command of the Ian Smith regime. At the time of the incident that ultimately led to the court case he was a lieutenant, whilst Bate, the Respondent, was the RLI commanding officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Carton-Barber is the nephew of Jack Carton-Barber who became famous whilst serving in Mike Hoare’s mercenary army that served in the Congo under the direction of Moise Tshombe. Before volunteering for service under Smith, Carton-Barber was an officer in the South African Army and served in Angola and Namibia. He joined Smith’s forces in 1977.
According to the court papers Bate ordered him to participate in Operation Inhibit. This was in 1979 and was an effort designed to isolate the town of Malvernia in Mozambique. The plan was to deny facilities to ZANLA forces. From the Rhodesian perspective the operation carried a hoodoo, for not only was the operation a complete failure but it led to three deaths in another participating unit, the Special Air Service. The court documents assert that Bate was furious at the RLI failure, and dismissed Carton-Barber from the regiment on the pretext of his having displayed cowardice in the face of the enemy. The same documents refute this, listing a serial of blunders that constituted a level of Rhodesian military incompetence certainly not spoken of in the post Chimurenga books written by and read by former Rhodesians. Bate, according to Carton-Barber, was central to this incompetence, but chose to deflect from his deficiencies as a military commander by laying blame on a junior officer (Carton-Barber) instead.
Another figure listed in the documents as not being the brilliant soldier he still is held up as, is Patrick Armstrong who was Bate’s deputy at the time of Operation Inhibit. Armstrong supported Carton-Barber’s dismissal for alleged cowardice. The former man had been decorated by the Smith regime through being made an Officer of the Legion of Merit. The award is senior to the bravery award, the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia, but the RLI history, a book called “The Saints,” copies the official award citation. It states part grounds for the award as Armstrong’s “superficial but painful” wounding by a few pieces of plastic. Armstrong was to be promoted to commanding officer of the Selous Scouts. At the time of both the award and promotion, Armstrong was dating a daughter of the Rhodesian military supremo, Lieutenant General Peter Walls. The couple were to marry and now reside at 11 6th Street, Houghton in Johannesburg
In Carton-Barber’s submissions to the court, he states that as a result of the now ignored but ignominious defeat of the Rhodesian forces on the outskirts of Chicualacuala, that a number of RLI troops were so shattered by the experience as to mutiny. Both Bate and Armstrong have denied this under oath, but the statements are in conflict not only with their formal admissions that the troops had refused orders, but with the Rhodesian Defence Act and its successor (the Zimbabwe Defence Act).
Both define mutiny as a refusal of orders. As pointed out by Carton-Barber, both pieces of legislation require senior officers to suppress mutiny, something no one in the RLI nor the rest of the Rhodesian Army saw fit to do. He states further that his requests for a court martial to test the allegation of cowardice in the face of the enemy, were denied. One has to ask what the effects on the white minority should have been, had the mutineers been charged as the law dictated? In other words, that the Rhodesian Army should have been exposed for the fraud that it was? Bate has expressed that Carton-Barber’s dismissal was “in the interests of my regiment.” Carton-Barber in a statement to Review and Mail has indicated that he intends asking Bate for clarification and meaning of these “interests” when the court matter is heard.
Although these military events occurred a long time ago, they are not without legal consequence as Carton-Barber states that he learned of broader facts only recently. It was this fresh knowledge that enabled him to approach the courts. His posting from the RLI was followed by one to Headquarters Midlands District in Gweru, where he was a staff and not a field operative. Yet it was the very nature of his headquarters duty that exposed him to very disturbing developments in the war. Carton-Barber has told Review & Mail that although it took years for him to “connect all the dots,” that he was aware of the levels of desperate depravity to which the Rhodesian regime would stoop in its frustration at losing the war.
An important dimension was the anthrax pandemic that seized rural Zimbabwe in 1979. Many observers have suspected that it was engineered by Smith’s government, but little in the way of first hand evidence has emerged. Until now. Carton-Barber has disclosed to Review and Mail that anthrax investigators have misdirected their enquiries. The reason is that these enquiries were aimed at a Rhodesian Army formation called Psychological Operations, or Psyops. This body inadvertently has been confused with a similarly named but different civilian agency called Psychological Action, or Psyac.
It was Psyac, according to Carton-Barber, who coordinated the spread of anthrax spores in the Tribal Trust Lands. He states further that the Rhodesian Veterinary Department were the physical cultivators of the spores. He admits that he cannot speak for the country beyond the Headquarters Midlands District zone of authority, but that as far the zone itself was concerned, that light civilian type aircraft flying from Thornhill Air Force Base ferried the spores to target destinations within the zone
“I ought to know,” he said, “because my task was to log the flights.” He says that the reason for this biological warfare programme was firstly to create a massive outbreak of anthrax infections, and secondly that Psyac leverage of the media could bring the disease spread to public attention. The theory was that intended and actual guerrilla incursions to rural areas then would be upset due to fear of the disease. “The point,” he goes on to say, “was the fact that the security forces had lost control of the war.”
The reason why he has included these facts in the court papers is to present the culture of illegality that motivated Smith regime action. Allied to this is that it contextualizes his illegal dismissal from the RLI as also impacting on the illegal condonation of mutiny within that regiment. Bate’s papers state that the adjutant general of the Rhodesian Army supported Carton-Barber’s dismissal from field command. “I was given no opportunity to defend myself,” the latter tells Review and Mail.
“The army was following its own shadowy agenda of self preservation in order to mislead the country and the world. What happened in the process was that the army mislead itself into believing that it was professional and hot shot. It wasn’t. It was a shambles that resorted to mass murder of tribespeople. – R&M