THE "SAVE RHODESIA CAMPAIGN" - WHY IT FAILED


At the beginning of 1977 the Rhodesian nation was facing its darkest hour ever. The destruction of the country had apparently been time-tabled by the cunning machinations of Henry Kissinger and, more worryingly, Ian Smith was being pressurised to surrender by South African Prime Minister John Vorster. To those in the know, however, the situation was far more complex than this; Ian Smith had been slowly jettisoning the stronger members of his original UDI Cabinet almost from the very day that he had declared Rhodesian independence, and was now apparently eager for a "settlement" (a euphemism for a sell-out) at any price. The malleable Vorster, seeing that there was apparently declining determination to carry on resistance within the Rhodesian Cabinet, washed his hands of the whole matter and left Rhodesia to its fate - this in spite of the fact that the fall of Rhodesia would present severe security problems for South Africa itself, which was subsequently so well confirmed and illustrated.

To the average non-politically-aware Rhodesian it therefore appeared as if they didn't have a friend in the outside world; even their trusted Southern neighbour now seemed to be turning their back on them. This was not the case however. The overwhelming majority of Whites in South Africa stood four-square behind the Rhodesian nation in their fight for survival. Furthermore, there was a highly significant pool of support at grass-roots level elsewhere throughout the Western world.

Many political observers in South Africa became aware of this situation, and realised that it was essential for the survival of the Rhodesian nation, and ultimately of South Africa also, to increase the will of the Rhodesian people to resist. In order to do this it was vital to convince them a) that they did not stand alone, and indeed had significant grass-roots support not only in South Africa, but throughout the Western world, and b) that the Rhodesian Front Government of "Good Old Smithy" was in actual fact becoming weaker and weaker as a result of pressure from Vorster, and indeed was preparing to surrender the Rhodesian nation, so therefore must be replaced at the earliest possible opportunity by a stronger government, as was already waiting in the wings in the form of the Rhodesian Action Party [RAP].

There were, of course, already at this time a number of pro-Rhodesian organisations in South Africa, including the Cape-based Friends of Rhodesia and the South Africa-Rhodesia Association [SARA] of Mrs. M.V. Maxwell and Mrs. Eve Brierley. Both these bodies, however, were essentially nothing more than comfort-fund organisations, which merely collected funds to provide materials and gifts for Rhodesian troops etc., and in no way could be considered as racial-nationalist in motivation - nor even "political" in the widest context.

It was against this background that the Save Rhodesia Campaign was founded on May 20th 1977 by four members of the Cape Town Chapter of Ivor Benson's National Forum organisation, Stanley Deane, Bernie Foyle, David Overton and Brendan Willmer. Although still fully in agreement with the basic ideology of Ivor Benson and the National Forum, these four realised that something more active than the National Forum's mere "talk-shop" approach was now essential at this most important juncture in Southern African history, when the very existence of the Rhodesian nation was at stake. At the same time, however, the existing pro-Rhodesian "comfort-fund" organisations did not provide the answer; as they concentrated on the mere material needs of the Rhodesian nation. What was now vitally required was a pro-Rhodesian organisation in South Africa which was prepared to fight the psycho-political battle. This was the very raison d'ątre for the foundation of the Save Rhodesia Campaign.

Although the motivations behind the foundation of the SRC were therefore faultless, and although the organisation was expertly and professionally established, within just a few weeks of its launch the seeds were sewn which were to lead not only to its own eventual impotency, but also, as a result of this, to the complete failure of its ultimate aims. No sooner had the SRC been founded and was starting to gain publicity and to make progress than a "palace coup" was staged by Brendan Willmer, ably assisted by David Overton (something which he later came to regret greatly), and both Stanley Deane and Bernie Foyle were ousted from the organisation.

Willmer was a highly suspicious character. A British citizen, it was subsequently discovered (shortly prior to his deportation from South Africa in 1984) that during his previous 13 years in the country he had never attempted to gain South African Citizenship - nor even permanent residence! He had been involved in neo-Nazi and Hitler-cultist organisations in the U.K. during his early teens, when he even dropped out of school early so as to become more active. He subsequently joined the British National Front in 1969 and, through his unquestionable organisational ability, quickly managed to work his way up through his Leicester party branch. In 1971, however, he was forced to leave the organisation following a number of unsubstantiated, though widely believed, allegations concerning sexual and financial misdemeanours. He subsequently emigrated to South Africa where he was completely politically inactive until he joined the National Forum shortly prior to the launch of the SRC.

Once he had ousted Deane and Foyle and seized dictatorial control of the SRC Willmer immediately started to distance the organisation from its natural power-base in South Africa, namely the existing racial-nationalist and patriotic bodies in the country. The National Forum had initially been "plugging" the SRC at its meetings and in its journal Behind the News, but Willmer sent an arrogant and insulting letter to Ivor Benson's wife Joan instructing them to cease this support as he did not want to be associated with "extremist organisations". When it was revealed that the wife of the founding Leader of the HNP, Albert Hertzog, had joined the SRC Willmer likewise wrote to her and asked her to resign. All officials of the SRC were similarly instructed to sever all connections with the HNP, the National Forum and the embryo National Front of South Africa, a body which Willmer conducted a particularly childish vendetta campaign against, probably because of his earlier experiences with its U.K. parent organisation.

Willmer also started to pursue a personality cult within the SRC. His name would appear with regular monotony on almost every piece of literature and press release emanating from the Campaign offices. Although he had managed to retain control of the Western Cape Region of the SRC, the Transvaal Region had remained loyal to Deane and Foyle. Willmer's superior organising ability managed to "rectify" this situation within a few months however, and by using his only real supporter in the Transvaal at the time, James Sives, Willmer was able to gain control of the region's main asset, the SRC Office in Johannesburg. In spite of having no support to man this office he continued to retain possession for over 12 months, paying the rental etc. for the "white elephant" regularly from Cape Town simply in order to deny access to his opponents. In January 1978 Willmer issued a "Transvaal Interim Newsletter" from Cape Town (complete with a nauseating picture of his own self-righteous face on the front page) which was sent to all SRC supporters in the Province, the result of which being that the Campaign in the Transvaal became hopelessly divided and withered into impotency. Indeed, apart from a branch of the organisation set-up by James Sives's brother in Pietersburg, the only place in the country outside the Western Cape which maintained an active branch was Durban, where the local Chairman, Duncan du Bois, was a youthful and initially unquestioning Willmer yes-man.

Having gone out of his way to alienate support from the organisation's natural power-base, the existing patriotic political movements in South Africa, and having also antagonised the pro-Rhodesian "comfort fund" organisations (bodies with whom the SRC could have and should have co-operated closely) by treading on their toes and trying to upstage them, Willmer then attempted (predictably unsuccessfully) to court the favour of the National Party hierarchy and other facets of the South African establishment. He built up a mysteriously close working relationship with John Wiley, then the leader of the small centrist South African Party. Wiley was prepared to chair several SRC meetings in the Western Cape, and even attended a number of the Campaign's fund-raising dances, where he was evidently a spectacular performer on the dance-floor! (Wiley subsequently crossed the floor to the NP and gained a Cabinet post therein, before committing suicide in 1987, amidst wildly unproven press allegations of homosexual involvement). Willmer also induced a number of mainstream conservative speakers from the United States to appear on SRC platforms, the most bizarre of whom being Ralph Moss, an articulate pro-Rhodesian negro homosexual. Not surprisingly the presence of this "Queen of Spades" on the SRC platform drove away even more supporters from the organisation. It is uncertain precisely through which circles Willmer made contact with Moss; Willmer most certainly was not a negro!

On November 12th 1977 (less than 6 months after the foundation of the organisation) a most extraordinary meeting took place in Cape Town, attended by Willmer, Overton, du Bois (specially flown down from Durban - entirely on SRC expenses!) and a shadowy young student from the University of Cape Town. Although Rhodesia was still in existence, and indeed was facing the most critical moment in its history ever, it was decided to launch a "sister campaign" to the SRC to be known as the South Africa First Campaign, which was to concentrate on internal South African matters. In the months which were to follow, when the need for the tactics which motivated the original foundation of the SRC was greater than ever, the Campaign's time and resources were thus divided between the two "sister" organisations, much to the detriment of the Rhodesian cause, which had been the very motivation behind the formation of the movement in the first place. Although there has never been any hard concrete proof to confirm it, the circumstantial evidence would certainly suggest that the SAFC was a Department of Information funded front-organisation, set-up be the powers-that-be once they had become aware of the efficiency and effectiveness of the SRC. The SAFC was founded before the "Info. bubble" burst and initially had money to burn (as du Bois's flight to Cape Town and the move to new plusher Campaign offices in the city well illustrated), yet once the entire "Info. scandal" was exposed the money suddenly dried up. The Campaign regularly marketed literature supplied by Valiant Books - later exposed as a Department of Information front - at their meetings. Years later, when attempting to make a disastrously unsuccessful political "come-back" in Durban, Willmer was also to renew what appeared to be a long-standing political relationship with "Info. rogue" Connie Mulder.

In September 1978, with the vital Rhodesian Constitutional Referendum having been set for the following January, Willmer was to make an official speaking tour of Rhodesia on behalf of the SRC. The purpose of this trip was apparently to fulfil the original raison-d'ątre of the Campaign and to canvass, on behalf of White South Africans, for a massive "No" vote in this Referendum. Rhodesians, it was thought, were to be informed that they did not stand alone, that White patriots in South Africa - free from Rhodesian censorship - could see that the current Rhodesian Front government was now preparing to sell-out their nation, and therefore had to be swept from power by means of a massive rejection of the Referendum Proposals. What transpired, however, as was witnessed by this present writer who accompanied Willmer during the second half of his trip, was a complete disappointment. Rather than argue for a "No" vote Willmer spent most of the time during his speeches performing little more than a PR exercise for the SRC itself (during which he would even try to claim credit for the SRC for projects initiated by the various pro-Rhodesian comfort-fund organisations in South Africa, incredibly even including the Cavalry horses donated to the Grey Scouts Regiment by students from the University of Pretoria!); when he did touch the subject of the Referendum, however, his message was most ambiguous - to say the least. Most of the audiences who attended his meetings came away confused as to what his message actually was, with some even weirdly believing that he was advocating a "Yes" vote! When questioned about this lack of clarification concerning the Referendum issue by this present writer, Willmer replied that the SRC could not afford to be seen as "interfering" in the internal affairs of a foreign state, and that if he was seen to be so doing then he would quickly be deported back to South Africa. One has to ask, however, what the original purpose of the SRC was if it was not to "interfere" in the internal affairs of a foreign state, as its very name implied, and moreover what could possibly be the moral justification for making a tour of the country completely on Campaign expenses if it was not to fulfil the basic objectives of the organisation! Furthermore, it could also be argued that the deportation of the SRC National Director would result in the greatest possible propaganda coup that the "No" Campaign and the SRC itself could ever obtain. (Years later it was discovered why Willmer so much feared the possibility of deportation: he was still a U.K. citizen travelling on a British Passport!).

Once back in South Africa Willmer was pressurised by the remaining hard-line members of the organisation (including this present writer), and belatedly even by du Bois also, to adopt a far more positive stance as far as advocating a "No" vote was concerned. Dr. Colin Barlow, a leading official of the RAP, was at that time touring South Africa in order to gain support and publicity for the Party and their federal-solution approach, and Willmer was persuaded, somewhat reluctantly, to give him the speaking-platform of the SRC for his tour of the country. Although this tour was far lower-key than most of the previous ones undertaken by the SRC the result was quite dramatic - unfortunately to the detriment of the Barlow tour and the SRC as an organisation. Barlow unashamedly took an anti-Smith stance and openly advocated a "No" vote - clearly much to the embarrassment of Willmer. The outcome was not only that critical letters concerning the SRC were written to the establishment press from politically naive pro-RF elements in the predominantly Rhodesian audiences, but also, incredibly, that several leading office bearers in the SRC resigned from their posts, quoting as their reasons that the Campaign had "gone political". Amongst these turncoats were John and Judy Campbell-Corder, the mainstays of the Somerset West Branch of the organisation almost from day one, and Janet Hale, a Durban Branch committee member and girl-friend of the Branch Photographer David Dodds (who subsequently represented South Africa at clay-pigeon shooting in the Commonwealth Games), who had been introduced into the Campaign by the pro-du Bois Branch Secretary and Office Manageress Suzanne Smith. Needless to say these high-profile resignations were given great prominence by the establishment press, much to the detriment of the belated "pro-No" stance taken by the SRC. The fact that the Campaign had by its very nature been "political" since its initial formation, and had always had as one of its basic founding principles the policy of opposing any betrayal of the Rhodesian nation, when coupled to the fact that such astonishingly naive and ignorant individuals managed to obtain - and then retain - such highly-placed positions within the organisation, is a frightening condemnation of those in top control of the SRC.

The climax of the Campaign's existence, indeed the fulfilment of the very raison d'ątre for the SRC, came with the Rhodesian Constitutional Referendum of 30th January 1979. For weeks previously Campaign supporters both in the Western Cape and in Natal had been feverishly addressing envelopes which were to be sent to the entire Rhodesian Electorate advocating a "No" vote on behalf of the SRC, and indeed the White South African people as a whole. This had been a long-planned tactic of the SRC in the event of a Constitutional Referendum being called, and was of course to be the final make-or-break vindication of the Campaign's existence. This objective of the SRC, however, was sabotaged by three separate incidents, all of which were purely the work of Willmer, and all of which totally ruined the basic aim. Firstly Willmer insisted that names and addresses were taken from the Rhodesian Telephone Directory rather than from the Voters Roll (which could easily be obtained from RAP contacts within the country) as it would be "more up to date". The fact that was ignored, of course, was that the telephone directory would contain a sizeable percentage of names who were not electors (Non-Whites included!) and yet many citizens who were on the Voters Roll might not be on the 'phone. The second disaster which befell the mass-circulation campaign was the fact that although it was intended to keep the entire exercise an absolute secret (and indeed supporters who were involved in the operation were instructed to keep absolutely silent about the precise details by Willmer), a few days before the mass-mailing was to take place the great "National Director" of the Campaign blurted out details of the whole exercise to the South African press. The result, needless to say, was that the authorities both in South Africa and in Rhodesia were alerted in advance, and, as subsequent events were to prove, the vast majority of mailings were intercepted by the various postal authorities. The final disaster came to light when the Willmer-authored broadsheet which was to be sent to the Rhodesian electorate advocating a "No" vote was published. Just like his speaking tour of Rhodesia this leaflet did not spell out in detail that the SRC was opposing the new multi-racial Constitution Proposals, and indeed was extremely ambiguous and wishy-washy in this respect (evidently because Willmer once more did not want to be seen as offending the RF Government!). It was full of mere platitudes, with the back of the sheet containing the inevitable montage "plugs" for the SRC as an organisation. Even the date of the Referendum was incorrectly given! These foolish mistakes made by a one-man dictator turned the entire exercise into a disaster, and all the hard work put into the operation by supporters of the Campaign and the Rhodesian cause over the previous few months therefore came to nothing.

Belatedly both du Bois and this present writer tried to rectify the situation through the pages of the Rhodesian press, the former by privately-placed advertisements and the latter by letters to the editors, but it was all too late. The damage had already been done. Unsurprisingly even these late efforts were disapproved of by Willmer, and shortly afterwards the final breaks occurred between him and the two Durban stalwarts, the latter somewhat sooner than the former. In retrospect these breaks should have been made much earlier, but the vital urgency of the Rhodesian struggle made it essential to continue working through an established organisation, rather than attempting to set-up something new.

The rest is history. On 30th January 1979, no doubt under the illusion that they stood alone and without a friend in the outside world, the Rhodesian people, by an incredible 85.4% of the vote cast, voted for voluntary national euthanasia. The Rhodesian nation was dead. Although Willmer continued to capitalise upon the emotive term "Rhodesia" in the Western Cape for some while thereafter in order to boost SAFC funds, the Durban Branch of the SRC disbanded the following day.


As can be seen, therefore, although the original founding principles of the SRC were faultless, and in all probability could have proved successful if fully adhered to, the failure of the leadership of the Campaign, or more precisely of one man, to carry out the plans and tactics of the organisation as originally constituted proved to be its very ruination, and turned the entire exercise into something worse than useless.

Although the silver tongue and natural organising abilities of Willmer undoubtedly helped to publicise and gain support for the SRC in certain respects, his many faults and failings (made worse by his lack of a finalised formal education) put to naught any benefit which he may have given to the Campaign, and indeed such failings in a man who had usurped dictatorial control over the entire organisation meant that it was inevitably doomed to disaster. If we are to accept that Willmer was sincere in his beliefs (which is by no means certain, particularly in view of his counter-productive actions whilst organising the Referendum mass-circulation operation) then we can only arrive at the conclusion that he was seriously lacking in both political analysis and strategic judgement.

But everything could have been so very much different. If the support of the natural power-base of the SRC, the existing patriotic political groupings in South Africa, had not been snubbed, if the pro-Rhodesia comfort fund organisations had not been alienated, if there had been no self-defeating attempts to court the favour of polite establishment circles, such as from Wiley and the Campbell-Corders etc., if a totally unambiguous "Vote No" campaign had been conducted, then the Rhodesian people would undoubtedly have realised that they did not stand alone and that a significant body of White society in South Africa (and indeed around the Western world) wished them to carry on the struggle. They then might well have rejected the sell-out RF Government and not have voted for national suicide. If this had been the case then the Vorsterite Government in South Africa would probably have renewed their support for the Rhodesian struggle - if only for the self-interest of the South African nation as far as the security angle was concerned - for it appears that the apparent lack of resolve on the part of the Rhodesian people was one of the prime reasons why they washed their hands of them in the first place. It must be remembered in this context that spirited White resistance in South-West Africa prevented the final sell-out of that territory by the South African Government for another decade, and it must also be borne in mind that subsequent electoral gains by the right-wing parties in South Africa itself caused hasty back-peddling on the part of the NP Government. If a vibrant and high profile pro-Rhodesian lobby had been in existence in South Africa in the late 1970's then for electoral reasons, if for none other, the South African Government could not have afforded to let Rhodesia fall, particularly if this support was coupled to a proven resolve amongst the Rhodesian people themselves. If such a state of affairs had come about, and if the "No" vote had won the Constitutional Referendum, then the RF administration would have been driven from power, a genuine and strong-willed Rhodesian government centred on the RAP would have taken over the reins of power, and, in all likelihood, the Rhodesian nation would therefore still have been in existence today. If such a situation had come about then the entire geo-political position of Southern Africa would now be vastly different, and South Africa's northern borders would thus have been infinitely more secure.

This scenario may at first appear to be incredible, but a few important points must be borne in mind. Firstly the Rhodesian Armed Forces never lost a battle in the terrorist war - a war, moreover, which could have been WON if it was not for the RF's apparent no-win-war policy. Secondly international sanctions had totally failed to destroy the Rhodesian economy, and indeed the nation had successfully built up its own self-sufficient economic infrastructure which was the envy, and indeed a potential signpost, for many vastly larger Western nations. Finally the only battle which Rhodesia did lose was the psycho-political will of her people to resist - which of course brings us back to the original raison d'ątre behind the foundation of the SRC, which somehow somewhere along the road became betrayed.

A decade later, with Rhodesia destroyed, the jackals of multi-racialism and international socialism again hovered over Southern Africa, this time with the prize of South Africa itself in their mind's eye. Once again, alas, we saw the self-appointed "saviours" of the White Man emerging from nowhere, with full publicity once more ominously given to them by the establishment press. This time, however, they were noted more for their loud mouths and neo-Nazi uniforms, rather than for the silver tongue and suave suits which typified Willmer, but their lack of any academic qualifications or of any popularly elected position remained the same - as also was their refusal to co-operate with anyone else. The Whites of South Africa unbelievably made exactly the same mistake. They chose to worship insects.


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