Book review: Assignment Selous Scouts

Assignment Selous Scouts attracted some media attention at the time of its publication in late 2006 because of claims that South African operatives were planning to assassinate Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe on the day of his inauguration in a roadside bomb attack that was also likely to kill British Crown Prince Charles. Jim Parker, the author, was a reservist British South African Police Special Branch NCO assigned to the Selous Scouts Regiment during the latter years of the Rhodesian Bush War.
It is an eminently readable book and adds much to the understanding of that conflict. However, an acquaintance of the reviewer – who features several times in the book – remarked with some disappointment that only 5% of the narrative was based on the authors` personal knowledge. The rest seemed to be based on research or previously published works. The acquaintance commented further that a number of controversial comments or actions were attributed to the departed who could not defend themselves. That apart, the acquaintance also found the book an exiting read. (The reviewer is encouraging the acquaintance to put finger to keyboard/pen to paper, so far with limited success.)    
The most interesting aspect of this book is found in the 95% my acquaintance despaired of and does not involve scheming South Africans or traitorous Zimbabweans. It is the reproduction of a secret July 20, 1977 quarterly threat report signed by Rhodesia`s security chiefs and presumably addressed to Prime Minister Ian Smith. Its conclusions read: “12. Of over-riding concern is the present inadequate and diminishing force level with the resultant urgent need for additional manpower to even contain the situation, let alone prevent its inevitable deterioration. 13. No successful result can be attained by purely military means. It is now more vital than ever to arrive at an early political settlement before the point of no return beyond which it will be impossible to achieve any viable political or military/political solution.”
Parker says of this: “It was evident from this report that Rhodesia`s bush war with nationalist insurgents had reached a ‘no win situation` by July 1977, yet Prime Minister Smith refused to heed the advice of his security chiefs and seek a political settlement with the nationalists. Instead he stubbornly pursued his already discredited plan for an internal settlement with Bishop Muzorewa and the others. Worse still, the general public was continually being fed propaganda that palpably gave the false impression that Rhodesia was winning the war with ease.
Sadly, thousands of Rhodesian patriots – myself included – who knew nothing about the negative views of the security chiefs, had only just begun to fight the escalating war with earnest. Even more sadly, many of them would die or be maimed in the next two-and-a-half years of war. It is ironic that that when I was increasing my own personal commitment to the Security Forces and fighting the war – to the detriment of my family and my farming life – the top Security Force commanders were advising the politicians to throw in the towel. One must ask why they didn`t have the courage of their convictions. Why didn`t they resign and have the guts to tell the Rhodesian public their reasons why?”                  
At last glance Smith as well as the security chiefs concerned (John Hickman, Frank Mussell, Peter Sherren and Peter Walls) were still with us. Ken Flower has since passed on. It is now 30 years since they told Smith to quit while the going was good. Perhaps it is time for them to come clean. A bit of guts, even if belated, can stand them in good stead with history`s final reckoning for this book is a certain indictment.
In this regard this work is more honest than many other books published on the Rhodesian bush war in stating the obvious – that Rhodesia lost the war militarily and that its leaders knew this would be the case. Instead of doing what was honourable they chose make hay while the sun shone: when the end came most flitted to South Africa or back to Blighty, mumbling about British betrayal. Even allowing for the widely-held assumption that Flower, the CIO director general, was a British double agent, who were the traitors here? Were they the British who forced a settlement in 1980 or were they Smith and his cronies who were partying while Rome burned?               
Jim Parker
Assignment Selous Scouts – Inside story of a Rhodesian Special Branch Officer
April 2006