Rhodesia - Intaf

Callsign - Lighthouse

The end of Rhodesia and the beginning of Zimbabwe

Gerry van Tonder continued to serve in Mount Darwin during these turbulent times of the country's history.  He wrote a series of letters to his future wife who was living in Salisbury at the time describing the situation he found himself in.  The synopsis below has been kindly supplied by him and sums up those uncertain days.

13 December 1979


            “As things are at present, I think I shall be on duty over Christmas. Disappointing I know, but the war does not stop because of Christmas – in fact, normally the opposite!”


16 December 1979


            “I’m sitting on the veranda looking at Mt Pfura (Darwin), and it is so quiet and peaceful – the only noise is that emanating from a host of birds… and the ever present aircraft and helicopters of course.”


19 December 1979


            “The DC (‘Flash’ Williams) and I flew to Mukumbura yesterday, and today I flew to a meeting in Bindura on the cease-fire.  It was quite a high-level meeting, complete with a British representative – all pale and sickly looking!”


25 December 1979


“A crowd of us had Christmas lunch with Stan Russel, the ESC bloke – turkey, Christmas pudding, crackers, wine, booze, the whole works. So Darwin is not so uncivilised.”


“There was a nasty accident here at 1:30 this morning, when a troubled helicopter pilot thought it a fine time to take his chopper for a flight. There was no moon, so visibility was extremely poor. However, he did manage to take off, but got snared on some wire and crashed his aircraft in an upside down position. The pilot was killed almost instantly and the helicopter a total mess. A sorry Christmas for some poor parents.”  (Note: The Air Force RoH lists Flt Lt A J Senekal as KOAS Air Accident on 25 December 1979. RIP)


13 January 1980


            “Please send us $10-00 as soon as you can.”


            “Things here are extremely quiet – we even have buses running in the TTLs again.”


            “We are getting into full swing with election preparations now. A Commonwealth monitor will be here at the end of the month, and will stay until it is all over. No doubt I will be a Presiding Officer, which will involve an extra bit of money.”



15 January 1980


            “Tomorrow I’m flying again – to the border. This time, to meet with a Mozambican delegation from Maputo. Not to worry, I can tell you this as it is going on at other border posts as well. Perhaps I can get some prawns – I’ll have to ask, diplomatically of course.”

(The meeting was at Mukumbura)


16 January 1980


            “The meeting with “Freddy” went off well, although he didn’t have any shrimps for us. They were all very cordial – much hand-shaking, etc. The one bloke suffers badly from verbal diarrhoea, though. He went to great pains to repeat himself. The irony of it all is that here Capitalist meets Marxist in a friendly atmosphere.”

(Everyone referred to Frelimo as Freddy)


17 February 1980


            “…and across from the house the army are making big bangs again – practising mortars. Work at the office is starting to pick up now as preparations get into full swing for the elections.”


19 February 1980


            “Anyway, we shall have to wait and see – the elections are only one and a half weeks away.”


21 February 1980


            “We are having another hairy thunderstorm – the lightning just crackled above my head. Our 12 London Bobbies are arriving – the lights have just gone, so Stan will be along soon now – this Sunday. I think we may have a very wet election period.”


22 February 1980


            “The DC and I went to Bindura today for another meeting – these are endless at the moment. We’ll be working the whole of this weekend as well.”


            “I received the $10-00 today – I actually wanted $15-00, but not to worry, it will in fact just prevent me from spending too much.”


            “Please look after yourselves during the election period and immediately afterwards. At home, make sure you people don’t go out unnecessarily, and make sure the house is secured properly at night. I’m not suggesting something is going to happen, but just be on the safe side.”


 25 February 1980


            “I had to get to the office before the rain, as my “air-conditioned” Land Rover (no doors) would have meant me getting wet.”


            “Our Bobbies pitched up (no brollies) – they are almost all from Manchester. They seem to be enjoying themselves.”


            “Have a look back at today’s newspaper; you’ll see a picture of a helicopter (Gazelle) coming out of a DC10. Well, I’ll be flying around in one of those this Wednesday, together with a team of international observers and pressmen. All our staff for the polls has arrived and we held a three hour briefing for them yesterday (Sunday!). So we are not even resting over weekends.”


26 February 1980


            “Later on I’ll be going out with our British Election Supervisor to see an election station being set up. Afterwards, we will be going in three helicopters escorting a group of observers around the whole district.”


19 March 1980


            “I got back to Darwin all right at 1030 – someone had cancelled the flight but had failed to inform me. From Bindura to Darwin I sat in the back of a military vehicle with three ZANLA guerrillas – all very interesting.”


            “At the moment we are getting ready to move out of the PVs. We are only retaining three, so thirty seven are being dismantled!  In addition, we will be discharging about 590 of our staff (DAs and DSAs) who have been running the PVs. Not very nice, but they knew when they joined that theirs would be a temporary job.”


            “I’m busy getting the house sorted out a bit. I’m taking away all those sandbags, and I’m also going to remove the horrible grenade screens so that all the windows can be cleaned properly.”


24 March 1980


            “I didn’t have a chance to write to you this weekend, as I spent most of it with some ZANU(PF) blokes, going around to various places – it all went off very well.”


            “Today has been absolutely hectic, as we had our new Minister of Home Affairs visit – Mr Zvobgo, complete with his armed body-guards.  Our big bosses at both the national and provincial level were here also.  The minister revealed that over the last three years his party has been sending people to Italy for training in technical skills. He seemed a reasonable person.” 

One of cartoonist, Leydens famous drawings!