South Africa -Rhodesia mercenary court case opens can of worms

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.

Carton-Barber has told Review & Mail that as a member of a Rhodesian headquarters, that he was present at briefings where it was disclosed that several so called “terrorist atrocities” actually were the work of the Selous Scouts.

Again there was an underlying theory. It being that because the Selous Scouts were posing as members of the guerrilla movements, that victims would develop antipathy toward those movements.

A parallel was that international perception also should sway sympathy from the liberation forces toward the Smith government

As it turned out though, tribespeople were not the only ones to suffer cold blooded murder by Rhodesian troops. Whilst at Gweru, Carton-Barber was tasked to investigate why no guerrillas were being captured in RLI “Fire Force” actions.

The concern hinged on the fact that Rhodesian intelligence harvesting was being starved. His conclusion was that the “enemy” wounded and those willing to surrender were being shot out of hand in violation of international law.

His report was rejected by Headquarters Midlands District, but after the war “The Saints,” a Rhodesian history book was to throw light on what was afoot. There is a bald admission that a sort of policy not to take prisoners existed.

Feeble excuses are tendered, but there is a reference to the anger that greeted the well known downing of a Viscount airliner on 12 February 1979.

What stands out though, in Carton-Barber’s view, is that such a policy was self defeating because it did rob the Rhodesian Army of information that might have been obtained from prisoners. “It was a blood lust attitude that ironically contributed to the Rhodesian defeat,” he tells Review & Mail


His discomfort at the take no prisoners approach is moulded by a personal experience. Whilst with the South African Army in Angola he witnessed allied UNITA soldiers cut the throat of a surrendered Cuban soldier.

The episode left an emotional mark, because Carton-Barber thought that if he’d been taken prisoner that he’d have expected to be treated in accordance with the decency of international norms. Neither the RLI nor it’s officer hierarchy had any qualm about disregarding the “civilized” values they pretended to be upholding.

Of course it’s impossible to determine the statistics of these war crimes, but Carton-Barber can’t be far off his estimate of “hundreds” of dead. Neither can he be wrong when he says that, “The RLI’s reputation for proper and acceptable military effectiveness is nonsense. I don’t deny that there were times when they were highly efficient, but they often behaved like a collection of thugs given free rein by leaders of doubtful professional and human quality. In the final analysis wanton murder cannot be portrayed as legitimate battle success. It’s a falsehood, one being perpetrated to this day”

What passed for Rhodesian “strategy” was borrowed in part from Americans in the Vietnam War. There it was called the “body count,” a notion that battlefield success could be measured in the amount of casualties inflicted.

During the Second Chimurenga, the Smith regime and its generals like Peter Walls referred to what came to be known as the “kill rate.” Here too was a theory, it being that the sustaining of disproportionate fatalities indicated that the war was being “won.”

Gen Peter Walls

So long as this rate was favourable to the Rhodesian Army, so could the regime claim that it was in control and that the liberation armies were being defeated. Walls alluded to this in public statements made in South Africa where later he settled.

What he chose not to say was what grounded this propaganda. The reality was that the propaganda was relayed to the world via a secret policy of not taking prisoners. It was aimed at fooling everyone into the false belief that the “kill rate” goal actually was being achieved in security force “effectiveness” and liberation army “incompetence”.

“Effectiveness” was an outright lie, but Walls can be measured by his dirty hands that were to drip blood elsewhere.

It involved the downed Viscount of 12 February 1979 that partly “justified” the take no prisoners policy. To this day whites regard the Viscount incident with angered distaste, but remain ignorant of the background and especially the direct role of Walls in the tragedy.

The truth finally has emerged in the Pretoria High Court documents.

In August of 1978 and on order of Walls the Rhodesians attacked a ZANLA base with paratroopers.

Some of these paratroopers were airlifted in DC7 aircraft, a four engined aeroplane not used by the Rhodesian Air Force but on charter for what was codenamed as Operation Mascot.

The DC7 has a resemblance to a Viscount, and this led to a liberation army mistake that although tragic is understandable. The error lies in the conclusion that Viscounts had been used for the paratroop assault, and the fist Viscount downing (on 3 September 1978) was viewed by liberation fighters as legitimate retaliation for Mascot that took place shortly beforehand.

See also Part 1 & 2

No one disputes that the loss of the Viscount was a tragedy, but no one from the Smith regime has answered the question of why civilian aircraft that resemble Viscounts were chartered for military attack purpose to begin with. This brings us to the second Viscount that was shot down

On the evening of 12 February 1979 there were two Viscount flights from Kariba to Harare (then Salisbury). Liberation force intelligence had learned that Walls was scheduled to fly on the fist aeroplane to take off and despite what whites think, he was the target.

Shortly before boarding however, Walls was tipped off by his own intelligence sources who had learned of the liberation army plan to kill him. He then betook himself to the safety of the second flight, and true to the war criminal that he was, took no action to prevent the first flight and the deaths that followed. His motive, apart from saving his own skin, was to protect his intelligence source.

He might even have gotten away with his cowardly deed, but he made a mistake

One of his daughters, a sister to Pat Armstrong’s wife, was Second Lieutenant Valerie Walls of the Rhodesian Women Service.

Still resident in Harare, she then was stationed at a military barracks called KG6. Realizing that news of the Viscount downing was going to break, Walls phoned the barracks and ordered that his daughter be informed that no matter what she heard, that he was alive and safe.

Walls’ mistake was twofold. First was that his message passed through a relay of soldiers, some of whom since have spoken, and second was that he used an open and therefore insecure telephone line. Intelligence operatives from various international agencies tape recorded the message

“Whether one speaks of Rhodesia or Zimbabwe,” Carton-Barber carries on, “or of the Rhodesian War or Chimurenga, what stands out is that it utterly disproves the superiority of the white man over the black.

“There is this hidden record of mutiny in an elite unit, of anthrax and of shooting wounded men unable to defend themselves. There’s the Walls’ culpability for the shooting down of a Viscount. This is the true legacy of whites in Zimbabwe. I distance myself”

On question as to why he didn’t disclose what he knew sooner, he replies that he did. He spoke with journalists from two Johannesburg newspapers, The Star and Rapport. Both wouldn’t touch the story, describing it as too sensitive.

It appeared as if matters would lie there, but then a former RLI officer wrote a book called “The Search For Puma 164.” Lieutenant Rick van Malsen, later a captain the new Zimbabwe Army, was part of Operation Uric, an attack into Mozambique conducted by the most powerful force ever assembled in Rhodesian history.

This was in September of 1979, but by then uncomfortable reality had dawned on the Smith regime. It was losing the war despite all nefarious criminal effort.

The Lancaster House Conference was underway. Uric reflected yet another stillborn theory, in this case that a massive battle victory would strengthen the Muzorewa puppet hand in London.

What happened instead was that this mighty force limped back after being well and truly licked. Van Malsen, the book’s author who now lives in Botswana, exposed what Walls called “the official lie.”

It was that this mighty force had seen two helicopters shot down and seventeen white servicemen killed, but the “lie” was that the bodies had not been incinerated as claimed, but abandoned to rot.

This was of particular interest to Carton-Barber and was what enabled him to take Bate and Armstrong to court, but he mentions an official RLI response to the deaths of it’s own.

Armstrong was acting as the battalion commander, and although he made a regimental show at memorial services in places like Harare, he didn’t even bother to have a representative at Gweru and Kwekwe. Armstrong was one of those who made no proper effect to recover the Uric bodies, and was one of those who propagated “the official lie” about recovery being impossible

Nonetheless there was a Pretoria High Court link with the Operation Uric deaths and the earlier Operation Inhibit fiasco at Chicualacuala.

Two soldiers became separated from Carton-Barber’s column. This was due to thick bush, and although Carton-Barber initiated and participated in the successful return of the men, the mere fact of the separation resulted in accusation that he had betrayed a “sacred ethos” of not leaving men behind. He never took anyone to court in Rhodesia as he believed that this “sacred ethos” existed.

Then on reading the van Malsen truth behind “the official lie,” he realized that there really was no such ethos and never had been. Bate and Armstrong found themselves defending a court action for defamation and associated emotional distress

Both men were represented by Mr Ron Wheeldon, another former Rhodesian serviceman. The matter was heard by Mr Justice Avoukimedes on 24 October 2018.

He dismissed it on the purely technical ground of a South African court having no jurisdiction over anything that occurred beyond the country’s borders.

It appeared as if the war crimes that contextualized Carton-Barber’s treatment after Inhibit were about to slide forever into the dark depths of convenient forgetfulness . But then Bate made a huge slip

The case was a subject of some discussion amongst certain members of the “ex Rhodie” community, and Bate couldn’t resist to crow about the Avoukimedes judgement.

He made a public statement in which he accused Carton-Barber of perjury and ulterior motive. His false comments also were to the effect that Avoukimedes had ruled that Carton-Barber’s departure from the RLI was legitimate.

The statement was made in Johannesburg, and this time there is no question at all about a South African court’s jurisdiction.

Bate is one of those former Rhodesians living in the plush comfort of a Johannesburg suburb. He is one of that same ilk of men pretending to be war heroes despite a hiccup he is back in court.

Even though he stands there alone in the physical sense, he stands sharing in the overdue correction of misrepresented facts that shall help Zimbabweans better to gauge their tortured path to nationhood.

The war crimes that are part of Zimbabwe’s national heritage at long last are subject to the attentions of cold and clinical judicial scrutiny. The matter of Carton-Barber v Bate is much more than a defamation hearing in South Africa.

The Registrar of the Pretoria High Court is about to set a court date.-Reviewandmail