Once upon a time there was a beautiful African nation called Southern Rhodesia, then the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, then later Rhodesia. From its very beginning, the nation created a Native Affairs Department to look after its indigenous population. Rather than prepare them for a life of being factory or farm workers who would migrate to large cities or farms, the white and black Africans of the Native Affairs Department maintained the traditional authority of the African chiefs and their tribal authority and customs. In 1962 the Department was renamed the Ministry of Internal Affairs, or 'Intaf' for short.
Two of the former Ministry's Officers have told the story of Intaf from their predecessors in the 1890s until the beginning of Zimbabwe where the Ministry was renamed Home Affairs. The main thrust of their masterful work is from 1972 to 1980 when Rhodesia, who had sent its population to fight for Great Britain in two World Wars and the Malayan Emergency found itself engaged in savage warfare in its own territory. The once civilian Ministry dedicated to improving the lives and welfare of its tribal areas found itself becoming a branch of the Security Forces involved in creating and defending Protected Villages or 'keeps', running reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, combat and ambush patrols as well as collecting revenue, providing cattle dips to protect tribal livestock from harmful ticks and creating and maintaining critical infrastructure. In addition to having its African chiefs and its black and white members murdered by terrorists, Intaf faced onslaughts from well equipped guerrilla armies based in external nations who were armed with mortars and long range rockets.
How the Ministry went from peaceful developers to lightly armed but highly respected soldiers with the radio code name of LIGHTHOUSE is told with a variety of first hand experiences and anecdotes ranging from District Officer Cadets to Provincial Commissioners. The uniforms, weapons and training of Intaf is covered as well as accounts of 'contacts' or battles with the terrorists, with some stories not for the squeamish. The men and later women of Intaf also faced a variety of tropical diseases as well as rivalries with the Army and Police ranging from bureaucratic obstruction to actually having their installations fired on by the famed Selous Scouts masquerading as guerrillas proving their credentials to other terrorists.
Van Tonder and Wall's well written account not only stands as a factual account of the dedicated white and black Africans of the Ministry but can be taken as a history of Rhodesia itself. Their book is well illustrated and documented concluding with appendixes of the Roll of Honour of those who were killed and the citations for the limited amount of decorations 'the Men from the Ministry' earned, often at the cost of their own lives. The authors provide a glossary of terms, a wide variety of photographs in colour and black and white and an easy to read text. My only quibble is that an index would have been appreciated by this reviewer.
OPERATION LIGHTHOUSE is a must for not only any student of African and other wars, but anyone interested in the problems facing administrators who find themselves in deadly situations who adapt with a mixture of initiative, courage and a never say die mindset.
At last the book we have all been waiting for. Many have already been published about the Bush War in Rhodesia but have all been about military strategy and tactics. Operation Lighthouse is about the effects the insurgency had on the lives of the tribespeople and the civilian members of the Department of District Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The book of 513 pages commences with a brief history of this department, beginning with the occupation of Rhodesia in the late 1890s. There are detailed accounts of their experiences by district commissioners, district officers, the field staff and of the young national servicemen who had been called up upon leaving school. Their personal accounts show how they, together with their African district assistants, continued to administer their districts from their homes in the tribal lands until they withdrew into protected bases, facing death from landmines, ambushes, and attacks with increasing heavier weaponry. Their stories describe their work under such difficult and dangerous conditions, the murder of tribespeople and the acts of brutality these defenseless people suffered.
The protected village program is described together with the training and use of the personnel for protection. The creation of the Administrative Reinforcement Unit for deployment in districts where back up was needed is described, as is also the Air Wing of 12 Cessna light aircraft used to transport personnel and goods within most districts using bush landing strips.
A full display of the badges and insignia worn is shown together with a large collection of photographs of members of the department, the protected villages and their inhabitants. A list of citations and decorations will be found, and finally and very sadly, a Roll of Honour of those who died protecting the tribespeople.