x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Peter Walls, a military man made career in Africa

Peter Walls was the last commander of white Rhodesian forces in Rhodesia and, having fought the two guerrilla armies for seven years.

Peter Walls was the last commander of white Rhodesian forces in Rhodesia and, having fought the two guerrilla armies for seven years, he remained - but briefly - in the post in the new Zimbabwe, under the regime of Robert Mugabe, charged with the all-but impossible task of reconciling old enemies. Educated at Sandhurst, he served with the Black Watch in World War Two, before joining the Southern Rhodesian army as a corporal. He served with Rhodesia's C Squadron in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.

Walls became General Officer Commanding in the Rhodesian Army in 1972, and five years later the Commander of Combined Operations - the head of the Rhodesian Army. Since 1971 the white-minority government of Ian Smith, the country's leader since 1964, had been waging war against black nationalists in the so-called Rhodesian Bush War. In April 1977, Walls announced his intention to win the "hearts and minds" of Zimbabwe's black population. At the same time Prime Minister Smith authorised Walls to destroy a Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) base in Mapai in neighbouring Mozambique. The resulting raid and casualties, and Walls's determination to remain in Mapai until ZANLA's presence was eliminated, brought condemnation from the United Nations, Russia, Britain and the United States.

In February 1979, Walls survived an assassination attempt when ZIPRA, the country's other guerrilla group, believing him to be on board, shot down a Vickers Viscount, killing 59 passengers. Walls and his wife were on another Viscount that had taken off shortly after the doomed plane. In March 1979, Prime Minister Smith and Walls were joined by three opposition figures in signing leaflets offering an amnesty to all militants. In December 1979, the governor, Winston Churchill's son-in-law, Christopher Soames, assumed control of the country, the Bush War ended, and international sanctions were lifted. On 4 March 1980, following elections, Robert Mugabe became prime minister.

To ease transition, Mugabe offered posts in his administration to some of Smith's MPs and senior officials, including Walls, whose task was to reconcile and assimilate the guerrillas with his Rhodesian force. Interviewed by Time magazine in March 1980, he acknowledged the difficulty of his task: "We are also looking into ways of making it attractive for some to go back to 'civvie street' because there is no way a country of this size can absorb all of its present security forces inside and outside the country ? that by some estimates could total 100,000 men."

In March 1980, after a number of botched assassination attempts, the prime minister asked his army chief: "Why are your men trying to kill me?" The general replied: "If they were my men you would be dead." Mugabe was angered by an interview Walls had given the BBC, in which he had been critical of the regime. In July 1980 he retired to the Eastern Cape in South Africa. While he lived there quietly for three decades, Walls's formidable presence in Zimbabwe was not forgotten; nor, apparently, forgiven. In Harare in February 2001, some veterans of the Bush War intercepted the car of his only son, George, demanding his father's whereabouts. One of his assailants slashed George Walls across the face with a jagged stick, while another kicked and punched him; but he survived.

General Walls died at George airport in Western Cape en route to joining his family at their time-share in Kruger National Park. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and their son. Lieutenant General Peter Walls was born in 1927 and died on 20 July 2010, aged 83. * The National