P. K. van der Byl

P. K. van der Byl

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Pieter Kenyon Fleming-Voltelyn van der Byl, ID
Independence Decoration (Rhodesia)
The Independence Decoration was a Rhodesian civil decoration awarded to persons who played a notable and significant part in the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965.- Institution :...

 (11 November 1923 – 15 November 1999) was a South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

n-born Rhodesia
Rhodesia , officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965...

n politician who served as the country's Foreign Minister
Foreign minister
A Minister of Foreign Affairs, or foreign minister, is a cabinet minister who helps form the foreign policy of a sovereign state. The foreign minister is often regarded as the most senior ministerial position below that of the head of government . It is often granted to the deputy prime minister in...

 from 1974 to 1979 as a member of the Rhodesian Front
Rhodesian Front
The Rhodesian Front was a political party in Southern Rhodesia when the country was under white minority rule. Led first by Winston Field, and, from 1964, by Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Front was the successor to the Dominion Party, which was the main opposition party in Southern Rhodesia during the...

. A close associate of Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Rhodesia
The Prime Minister of Rhodesia was the head of government in the colony of Rhodesia. Rhodesia's political system was modelled on the Westminster system and the Prime Minister's role was similar to that of the same position in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New...

 Ian Smith
Ian Smith
Ian Douglas Smith GCLM ID was a politician active in the government of Southern Rhodesia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Zimbabwe from 1948 to 1987, most notably serving as Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 13 April 1964 to 1 June 1979...

, van der Byl opposed attempts to compromise with the British authorities and domestic opposition on the issue of majority rule throughout most his time in government. However, in the late 1970s he supported the moves which led to majority rule and internationally recognised independence for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...


After a high-flying international education, van der Byl moved to the colony of Southern Rhodesia
Southern Rhodesia
Southern Rhodesia was the name of the British colony situated north of the Limpopo River and the Union of South Africa. From its independence in 1965 until its extinction in 1980, it was known as Rhodesia...

 in 1950 to manage family farms. He went into politics in the early 1960s through his involvement with farming trade bodies, and became a government minister responsible for propaganda. One of the leading agitators for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, van der Byl was afterwards responsible for introducing press censorship. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade international opinion to recognise Rhodesia as a new nation, but was popular among the members of his own party.

Promoted to the cabinet in 1968, van der Byl became a spokesman for the Rhodesian government and crafted a public image as a die-hard supporter of continued white minority rule. In 1974 he was made Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence at a time when Rhodesia's one ally, South Africa, was supplying military aid. His extreme views and brusque manner made him a surprising choice for a diplomat (a Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

profile in November 1976 described him as "a man calculated to give offence"). After offending the South African government, van der Byl was removed from the Defence Ministry.

In the late 1970s van der Byl was willing to endorse the Smith government's negotiations with moderate African nationalist leaders and rejected attempts by international missions to broker an agreement. He served in the internal settlement government in 1979. After the creation of Zimbabwe, van der Byl remained involved in politics and close to Ian Smith, and he loudly attacked former Smith supporters who had gone over to support Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe
Robert Gabriel Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe. As one of the leaders of the liberation movement against white-minority rule, he was elected into power in 1980...

. He retired to South Africa when the Mugabe government abolished seats reserved for whites in Parliament.

Family and early life

Van der Byl was born in Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

, Western Cape
Western Cape
The Western Cape is a province in the south west of South Africa. The capital is Cape Town. Prior to 1994, the region that now forms the Western Cape was part of the much larger Cape Province...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, the son of Major Pieter Voltelyn Graeme van der Byl, a member of Jan Smuts
Jan Smuts
Jan Christiaan Smuts, OM, CH, ED, KC, FRS, PC was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948...

' South African cabinet during the Second World War, and wife Joy Fleming. Like his father, van der Byl was educated at the Diocesan College
Diocesan College
The Diocesan College, or Bishops as it is more commonly known, is an independent, all-boys school situated in the suburb of Rondebosch in Cape Town, South Africa...

 in Rondebosch but his studies were interrupted by war in 1941. He served with the South African Army during the Second World War and was briefly attached to the British 7th Queen's Own Hussars; he saw active service in the Middle East, Italy and Austria.

After being demobilised, van der Byl studied law at Pembroke College, Cambridge
Pembroke College, Cambridge
Pembroke College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.The college has over seven hundred students and fellows, and is the third oldest college of the university. Physically, it is one of the university's larger colleges, with buildings from almost every century since its...

 where his aristocratic manner stood out. "P. K." was always elegantly dressed and coiffured, and acquired the nickname "the Piccadilly
Piccadilly is a major street in central London, running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east. It is completely within the city of Westminster. The street is part of the A4 road, London's second most important western artery. St...

 Dutchman". He obtained a Third-class degree in his Part II Law examinations in 1947, and went on from Cambridge to study at the Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 Graduate School of Business Administration from 1947 to 1948 (although he did not obtain a degree at the latter). He also studied at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

One of the most conspicuous features of van der Byl was his manner of speech: although his ancestry was Cape Dutch and his early life was in Cape Town, South Africa, he had what were described (by the pro-Rhodesian Chris Whitehead) as "what he thought was an aristocratic English nasal drawl and imperial English mannerisms". Whitehead was of the opinion that van der Byl had "adopted" this accent, in common with others who heard him. This personal characteristic was intensely irritating to many people including South African government ministers, but van der Byl's aristocratic mannerisms appeared uncontentious to many Rhodesian whites. They believed that his "nasal drawl" was the product of his time as an officer in the Hussars and his Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 education: William Higham described him as "a popular Minister of Defence who, despite his British upper crust accent – undoubtedly honed during his swashbuckling career as an officer in the hussars – hailed from a noble Cape family."

Move to Rhodesia

Van der Byl moved to Southern Rhodesia
Southern Rhodesia
Southern Rhodesia was the name of the British colony situated north of the Limpopo River and the Union of South Africa. From its independence in 1965 until its extinction in 1980, it was known as Rhodesia...

 in 1950 in order to manage some of his family's tobacco farming interests, hoping to make his own fortune. He welcomed the move as it allowed him to indulge his hobby of big game hunting
Big game hunting
Big game hunting is the hunting of large game. The term is historically associated with the hunting of Africa's Big Five game , and with tigers and rhinos on the Indian subcontinent. In North America, animals such as bears and bison were hunted...

: in that year in Angola
Angola, officially the Republic of Angola , is a country in south-central Africa bordered by Namibia on the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the north, and Zambia on the east; its west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean with Luanda as its capital city...

 he set a world record for the biggest elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

 shot which stood until 1955.

In 1957 van der Byl was made a Director of the United Dominions Corporation (Rhodesia) Ltd, having already become an active member of the Rhodesia Tobacco Association. In 1956, he was elected by the members of the Selous
Selous, Zimbabwe
Selous is a village in Mashonaland West province in Zimbabwe. It lies not far from Harare on the main Harare to Bulawayo road.It is named after the British explorer and hunter Frederick Selous....

Gadzema is a village in the province of Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe. It is located about 110 km south-west of Harare on the main Harare-Bulawayo railway line. The village grew up around the a railway station that was built on the line. It was named after a nearby hill, Ganidzima Hill, which...

 district to represent them on the Tobacco Association council. He was also Deputy Chair of the Selous Farmers' Association in 1957. His first involvement in government was in 1960 when the Rhodesia Tobacco Association made him one of their representatives on the National Native Labour Commission, on which he served for two years. In 1961, he also represented the Rhodesia Tobacco Association on the council of the Rhodesian National Farmers Union. He was recognised as a leading spokesman for Rhodesian tobacco farmers.

Dominion Party politician Winston Field
Winston Field
Winston Joseph Field MBE was a Rhodesian politician. Field was a former Dominion Party MP who founded the Rhodesian Front political party with Ian Douglas Smith. Field was born and brought up in Bromsgrove in the United Kingdom, and moved to Southern Rhodesia in 1921...

 had also led the Rhodesia Tobacco Association, and van der Byl agreed with him on politics in general. He joined the Rhodesian Front
Rhodesian Front
The Rhodesian Front was a political party in Southern Rhodesia when the country was under white minority rule. Led first by Winston Field, and, from 1964, by Ian Smith, the Rhodesian Front was the successor to the Dominion Party, which was the main opposition party in Southern Rhodesia during the...

 when it was set up under Field's leadership. At the 1962 general election, van der Byl was elected comfortably to the Rhodesia House of Assembly for the Hartley constituency, a rural area to the south-west of Salisbury
Harare before 1982 known as Salisbury) is the largest city and capital of Zimbabwe. It has an estimated population of 1,600,000, with 2,800,000 in its metropolitan area . Administratively, Harare is an independent city equivalent to a province. It is Zimbabwe's largest city and its...


Ministerial office

In 1963, Winston Field
Winston Field
Winston Joseph Field MBE was a Rhodesian politician. Field was a former Dominion Party MP who founded the Rhodesian Front political party with Ian Douglas Smith. Field was born and brought up in Bromsgrove in the United Kingdom, and moved to Southern Rhodesia in 1921...

 appointed van der Byl as a junior government whip
Whip (politics)
A whip is an official in a political party whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. Whips are a party's "enforcers", who typically offer inducements and threaten punishments for party members to ensure that they vote according to the official party policy...

, and on 16 March 1964 he was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Justice with responsibility for the Information Service. Although the van der Byl family were identified as strongly Liberal in South African politics, he became identified with the right wing of the party and helped to depose Field from the premiership in early April 1964, when Field failed to persuade the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 government to grant Southern Rhodesia its independence. The new Prime Minister, Ian Smith
Ian Smith
Ian Douglas Smith GCLM ID was a politician active in the government of Southern Rhodesia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Zimbabwe from 1948 to 1987, most notably serving as Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 13 April 1964 to 1 June 1979...

, appointed him Deputy Minister for Information. At this time, van der Byl's chief adviser was a South African called Ivor Benson, who strongly believed in an international communist conspiracy which was plotting to overthrow white rule in Rhodesia.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly on 12 August 1964 he attacked proposals for greater independence for broadcasters by referring to what he perceived to be the social effect in Britain:
To suggest that the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, forming opinion in the minds of the people of England, has been an influence for good in any way, when you consider the criminality of large areas of London; when you consider the Mods and Rockers
Mods and Rockers
The Mods and Rockers were two conflicting British youth subcultures of the early-mid 1960s. Mods and rockers fighting in 1964 sparked a moral panic about British youths, and the two groups were seen as folk devils. The rockers were motorcyclists, wearing clothes such as black leather jackets. The...

, and all those other things; when you consider the total moral underminings which have been taking place in England, much to all our distress, in the last fifteen to twenty years, the Hon. Member can hardly bring that up as an argument in favour of the freedom of broadcasting.

By the end of 1964, van der Byl and his Ministry had control of broadcasting in Rhodesia. Speaking in Parliament he described the aims of his Department as "not merely to disseminate information from an interesting point of view but to play its part in fighting the propaganda battle on behalf of the country". He defined propaganda as "simply the propagation of the faith and the belief in any particular ideology or thing", and also stated that the Department would seek the "resuscitation of the determination of the European to survive and fight for his rights".

1965 election

In May 1965 the Rhodesian Front government went to the country in a general election
Rhodesian general election, 1965
General elections were held in Rhodesia on 7 May 1965. The election was held using two rolls, an "A" roll, which was largely white and elected 50 seats, and a "B" roll, which was largely black and elected 15 seats. Only 10,544 voters were registered on the B roll...

 with van der Byl one of the leading campaigners. Discussion of unilaterally declaring independence had already begun. Van der Byl argued that only a small fraction of Rhodesian business opposed it; however, his campaign speeches typically included an argument against business involvement in politics. He cited Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

 mining interests' support for the Progressive Party in South Africa, big business support for the Nazi Party
National Socialist German Workers Party
The National Socialist German Workers' Party , commonly known in English as the Nazi Party, was a political party in Germany between 1920 and 1945. Its predecessor, the German Workers' Party , existed from 1919 to 1920...

 in Germany, and the Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

 revolution in Russia being financed by United States big business.

The Rhodesian Front won a landslide victory, winning every single one of the 50 constituencies which had predominantly European voters. At the Rhodesian Front Congress of August 1965, party members strongly attacked the press for failing to support the government. A demand for it to be made compulsory for all political articles to be signed by the author met with van der Byl's approval.


Within the government, van der Byl was one of the loudest voices urging Ian Smith to proceed to a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. He angrily denounced the threat of sanctions from Britain, saying on 4 May 1965 that economic destruction of Rhodesia would mean total economic destruction of Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

, formerly Northern Rhodesia. This statement was interpreted as a military threat by David Butler, the Leader of the Opposition. Van der Byl was given the task of selling the UDI to Rhodesian whites and to world opinion. In September 1965, it was announced that he would tour the United Kingdom to promote Rhodesian independence. According to David Steel
David Steel
David Martin Scott Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood, KT, KBE, PC is a British Liberal Democrat politician who served as the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1976 until its merger with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the Liberal Democrats...

, he claimed then that France and the United States would lead the international recognition of the UDI government. He was appointed Deputy Minister of Information on 22 October and so was present at, but did not sign, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence Document
Unilateral Declaration of Independence (Rhodesia)
The Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Rhodesia from the United Kingdom was signed on November 11, 1965, by the administration of Ian Smith, whose Rhodesian Front party opposed black majority rule in the then British colony. Although it declared independence from the United Kingdom it...

 on 11 November 1965.

Van der Byl was greeted by a speech strongly critical of the Rhodesian government from the Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, Michael Ramsey
Michael Ramsey
Arthur Michael Ramsey, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury PC was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He was appointed on 31 May 1961 and was in office from June 1961 to 1974.-Career:...

, who supported the use of armed force to bring the Rhodesians in line with United Kingdom policy on decolonization. He responded by comparing the speech to "the tragic connivance at the destruction of Czechoslovakia in exchange for the useless appeasement at Munich in 1938". Van der Byl's response used the phrase "kith and kin" to refer to the ethnic links between the white Rhodesians and the people of the United Kingdom. He saw no contradiction between signing a letter declaring "constant loyalty" to the Queen and declaring independence a few days later; the Rhodesian Government was careful at the time of UDI to state its continued loyalty to the British Crown, though it later declared a Republic.

Despite his enthusiasm for propaganda, van der Byl was outraged when the BBC subsequently set up a radio station at Francistown
Francistown or Nyangabgwe is the second largest city in Botswana, with a population of about 85,363, and often described as the "Capital of the North". It is located in eastern Botswana, about north-northeast from the capital, Gaborone...

 in Botswana
Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana , is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens are referred to as "Batswana" . Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966...

 which broadcast for 27 months, criticising UDI and urging Rhodesians to revoke it. He was later to claim the station was inciting violence, although this was denied by those who had been regular listeners. On 26 January 1966, two months after the UDI, van der Byl was willing to be quoted as saying that Rhodesian Army troops would follow a "scorched earth" policy should the United Kingdom send in troops, comparing their position to that of the Red Army when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 in 1941. He was highly critical of Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

, describing him as a "highly dangerous, uninformed and conceited little man."


Internally, his policy was enforced through Ministry control of TV and radio and through censorship of newspapers. From 31 December 1965, the Ministry of Information expanded its brief and was renamed the Ministry of Information, Immigration and Tourism, which meant that it was also responsible for deciding whether to grant or revoke permits to visit Rhodesia. Several foreign journalists were expelled: John Worrall, correspondent for The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

, went in January 1969. The Rhodesia Herald
The Herald (Zimbabwe)
The Herald is a government owned daily newspaper published in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.-Origins:The newspaper's origins date back to the 19th century. Its forerunner was launched on June 27 1891 by W E Fairbridge for the Argus group of South Africa...

, then in opposition to both the Rhodesian Front and UDI, frequently appeared with large white spaces on its news pages where censored stories had been placed. Stories and editorials personally critical of van der Byl were immediately removed.

Censorship was tightened still further on 8 February 1966 when it was made illegal to indicate where material had been removed. The censor was also given the power to alter existing material or to move it around the newspaper. Dr Ahrn Palley
Ahrn Palley
Dr. Ahrn Palley was an independent politician in Rhodesia who criticized the Smith administration and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence...

, the lone white opposition MP, described the powers as "censorship gone mad", and insisted that there would no longer be any guarantee that anything published in the newspapers was authentic. Van der Byl responded by saying that the new measures were a reflection on the newspapers which had made such powers necessary. In 1967 van der Byl was reported by Malcolm Smith, the former editor of the Herald, as remarking that a high degree of self-censorship
Self-censorship is the act of censoring or classifying one's own work , out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities of others, without overt pressure from any specific party or institution of authority...

 was required, and support for the government was essential.

The Herald (and the Bulawayo Chronicle) defied the restrictions, boldly printing blank spaces which identified removed material. Van der Byl personally visited the newspaper offices on the day the new regulations came in to warn the staff that if the paper was printed as proposed, they would "publish at your peril." However the papers continued to appear with identifiable censorship in defiance of the government, and in 1968 the regulations were scrapped.


Shortly after UDI, 46 academics working at University College, a racially non-segregated institution, in Rhodesia wrote to The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

in London, denouncing the move. Officers of the British South Africa Police visited many of those who had signed to search their houses. Shortly afterwards, the residence permit of one of the academics came up for renewal, which would normally be automatic. In fact, it was revoked and the academic was deported. Van der Byl was the responsible minister and all but admitted that the reason was his opposition to UDI.

Van der Byl's strategy seemed to work at home, with many Rhodesians remaining unaware until the end just how much was their country's vulnerability and isolation. The Times was later to describe him as a "skilled propagandist who believed his own propaganda." When sanctions on Rhodesia were confirmed in January 1967, van der Byl compared their situation with Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 following World War II, saying that the isolation of Spain had not stopped it from becoming one of the most advanced and economically successful countries in Europe. However, the reality of the situation must have been brought home to van der Byl in April 1966 when he made informal approaches to see if he might visit Britain "for social reasons" during a tour of Europe. The Commonwealth Relations Office replied that he would not be recognised as enjoying any form of recognition or immunity. Other European governments refused to recognise his passport and expelled him from the country.

Wider role in politics

On 13 September 1968 he was promoted to be the full Minister of Information, Immigration and Tourism. Van der Byl's aristocratic background, military experience and academic credentials combined to give him an almost iconic status within the Rhodesian Front. Many were impressed by his exploits as a big-game hunter, which began when he shot his first lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

 in a garden in Northern Rhodesia at the age of 15. He was also known to be a patron of the arts in public and a womaniser in private. Many in the Rhodesian Front believed him to be "a 19th century-style connoisseur, a man of culture and an aristocrat-statesman" in the words of Michael Hartnack, a South African journalist. Hartnack went on to observe "Poseurs are an incipient hazard in any unsophisticated society." Within the somewhat claustrophobic confines of white Rhodesian society outside the RF, van der Byl was achieving some degree of respect.

In politics he assumed the position of hard-line opponent of any form of compromise with domestic opponents or the international community. He made little secret of his willingness to succeed Ian Smith as Prime Minister if Smith showed even "the least whiff of surrender," and did his best to discourage attempts to get the Rhodesians to compromise. When Abel Muzorewa
Abel Muzorewa
Bishop Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Rhodesia from the Internal Settlement to the Lancaster House Agreement in 1979...

 had his passport withdrawn in September 1972 after returning from a successful visit to London, the government did not attempt to counter the rumour that it action was taken following van der Byl's personal order.

In April 1972 van der Byl sparked a row over the agreement which Rhodesia and the United Kingdom had made in November 1971. Under this agreement, Rhodesia had agreed to certain concessions to African nationalism in return for the prospect of recognition of its independence; however, implementation of the agreement was to be delayed until the Pearce Commission reported on whether the settlement proposals would be approved by the people of Rhodesia. Van der Byl insisted that Rhodesia would not implement any part of the agreement unless Rhodesia's independence was first acknowledged, regardless of the answer from the Pearce Commission. When the Pearce Commission reported that the European population of Rhodesia were in support but the African population were opposed, the agreement was ditched. Many outside and inside Rhodesia had hoped that the government would implement some of the agreement even if Pearce reported against it.

His derision of working class British Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 politicians also caused problems. When, in January 1966, three visiting Labour MPs were manhandled, kicked and punched while attempting to address 400 supporters of the Rhodesian Front, van der Byl blamed the three for refusing an offer from his Ministry to coordinate the visit, and pointed out that they were breaking the law which required government permission for any political meeting of more than 12 people.
The propaganda circulated by his Ministry (typically including references to "happy, smiling natives") was considered laughable. Visiting British journalist Peregrine Worsthorne
Peregrine Worsthorne
Sir Peregrine Gerard Worsthorne is a British journalist, writer and broadcaster. He was educated at Stowe School, Peterhouse, Cambridge and Magdalen College, Oxford. Worsthorne spent the largest part of his career at the Telegraph newspaper titles, eventually becoming editor of The Sunday Telegraph...

, who knew van der Byl socially, reported seeing a copy of Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf
Mein Kampf is a book written by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. It combines elements of autobiography with an exposition of Hitler's political ideology. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926...

on his coffee table. His propaganda strategy became increasingly unsuccessful abroad, where van der Byl alienated many of the foreign journalists and politicians that he came into contact with. Max Hastings
Max Hastings
Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, FRSL is a British journalist, editor, historian and author. He is the son of Macdonald Hastings, the noted British journalist and war correspondent and Anne Scott-James, sometime editor of Harper's Bazaar.-Life and career:Hastings was educated at Charterhouse...

, then reporting for the Evening Standard
Evening Standard
The Evening Standard, now styled the London Evening Standard, is a free local daily newspaper, published Monday–Friday in tabloid format in London. It is the dominant regional evening paper for London and the surrounding area, with coverage of national and international news and City of London...

, described him as "appalling" and said that he and Smith "would have seemed ludicrous figures, had they not possessed the power of life and death over millions of people"; van der Byl had him deported.

While still popular with the Rhodesian Front members, he was criticised at the 1972 Party Congress for his lack of success in improving Rhodesia's image around the world; however, he retained the confidence of Ian Smith and was kept on in a government reshuffle on 24 May 1973. That winter saw him promote a new Broadcasting Bill to transfer control of the monopoly Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation is the state-controlled broadcaster in Zimbabwe. It succeeded the Voice of Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1980, which in turn had succeeded the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation in 1979...

. Allan Savory
Allan Savory
Allan Redin Savory is a Zimbabwean biologist, farmer, soldier, exile, environmentalist and winner of the Banksia International Award 2003. and winner of the Buckminster Fuller Award 2010...

, then the lone white opposition MP, criticised the Bill for the composition of the proposed board, which was dominated by strong supporters of the Rhodesian Front. Van der Byl insisted, somewhat unsuccessfully to foreign observers, that the government was not trying to take over broadcasting.

Minister of Defence

Van der Byl was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence on 2 August 1974. These were two distinct portfolios, the first of which (Foreign Affairs) did not amount to much in a state which lacked any form of international recognition. The Defence portfolio, at a time when Rhodesia was drifting into civil war, was an important post; although his previous political experience had been largely in the area of public relations, he was now charged with responsibilities which were central to the survival of Rhodesia.
He promoted aggressive measures against the insurgents, and in so doing, he also sought to raise his own political profile. Clad in immaculately tailored battledress, he would fly by helicopter to a beleaguered army outpost; wearing dark glasses and sporting a swagger stick, deliver a rousing speech for the benefit of the troops and the TV cameras – then return to Salisbury in time for dinner. He drew heavily on Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

's oratory style for some of his inspiring speeches. As Minister of Defence, van der Byl was known to join army counter-insurgency operations while armed with a hunting rifle (with the words "I'd like to bag one of these chaps ..."), and would regularly visit army positions and entertain the troops with his own generous supply of "scotch whisky and fine wines." Such behaviour endeared him to many in Rhodesia: he was far more popular with the troops than his predecessor as Minister of Defence, Jack Howman
Jack Howman
John Hartley "Jack" Howman ID served as a Rhodesian Front MP in Salisbury and the Minister of Tourism and Information in the cabinet of Prime Minister Ian Smith. He was one of the signatories to the declaration of independence on November 11, 1965...

. However, this popularity did not extend to senior members of the South African and Rhodesian governments.

Rhodesia's strategic position underwent a fundamental change in June 1975 when the Portuguese
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 government suddenly withdrew from Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

 which bordered Rhodesia on the east. Mozambique now came under the control of a Soviet-allied government which was supportive of black nationalist forces in both South Africa and Rhodesia. This created a delicate situation since Rhodesia's main road and rail links to the outside world were via the Mozambican ports of Beira and Maputo. Initially, the new Mozambican government allowed the Rhodesians continued use of these links. This was so even while ZANU guerrillas were allowed to base themselves in Tete province adjoining north eastern Rhodesia.

There were rumours in February 1976 that Soviet tanks were being unloaded in Mozambique to help in the war. Unluckily for van der Byl, the British Foreign Office minister was David Ennals, one of those who had received rough treatment in 1966. Ennals announced that in the event of a racial war breaking out in Rhodesia, there would be no British help. Van der Byl responded by claiming this indicated Britain accepting Rhodesia's independence. He attacked Abel Muzorewa for supporting President Machel, saying that "being a good churchman and a Bishop there is a very strong possibility he might be a communist".

Following the example of Mozambique, the Zambian and Botswana governments permitted guerrillas to establish bases from which they could threaten and infiltrate Rhodesia. Van der Byl told a newspaper reporter that this had to be expected. As infiltration grew, he declared at the beginning of July that the Rhodesian Army would not hesitate to bomb and destroy villages that harboured guerillas.

In 1975 and 1976, the South African government conducted delicate negotiations with neighbouring states: the South Africans wanted to encourage those states to maintain economic relations with South Africa and Rhodesia while limiting the activities of the ANC, ZANU and ZAPU. However, increasingly aggressive actions by the Rhodesian army outside its own borders resulted in the failure of this conciliatory approach.

A cross-border Selous Scouts
Selous Scouts
The Selous Scouts was a special forces regiment of the Rhodesian Army, which operated from 1973 until the introduction of majority rule in 1980. It was named after British explorer Frederick Courteney Selous , and their motto was pamwe chete, which, in the Shona language, roughly means "all...

 raid into Mozambique on 9 August 1976 (dubbed "the Nyadzonya Raid") killed over 1,000 people without Rhodesian fatalities, with van der Byl insisting that the government had irrefutable proof that the raid had targeted a guerrilla training camp. He was unwilling to disclose the nature of the proof. The raid produced a high body count and a major haul of intelligence and captured arms. But many of the people killed appeared to be camp followers or innocent civilians. International opinion generally condemned the raid as a massacre. Although cross-border raids into Mozambique had been approved by the Rhodesian cabinet, the depth and severity of the August incursion was greater than had been intended. Van der Byl had sanctioned the incursion largely on his own initiative. Although a tactical success, the incursion caused a final break with Zambia and Mozambique. The South African government was greatly displeased that its earlier diplomatic efforts were compromised and made this clear to Ian Smith. Smith appeared to consider this "the final straw" as far as van der Byl's defence portfolio was concerned.

Foreign affairs

Van der Byl took over at a time when South Africa was putting increasing pressure on the Rhodesians to make an agreement on majority rule. In March 1975, he had to fly urgently to Cape Town to explain why the Rhodesian government had detained Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole
Ndabaningi Sithole
Ndabaningi Sithole founded the Zimbabwe African National Union, a militant organization that opposed the government of Rhodesia, in July 1963. A member of the Ndau ethnic group, he also worked as a Methodist minister. He spent 10 years in prison after the government banned ZANU...

 of the Zimbabwe African National Union
Zimbabwe African National Union
The Zimbabwe African National Union was a militant organization that fought against the standing government in Rhodesia, formed as a split from the Zimbabwe African People's Union...

, who was improbably accused of plotting to murder his colleagues. The South Africans were extremely displeased with this action and suspected that the real reason was that the Rhodesians objected to Sithole and preferred to negotiate with Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Mqabuko Nyongolo Nkomo was the leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African People's Union and a member of the Kalanga tribe...

. Van der Byl was unsuccessful in reassuring the South Africans and Ian Smith was forced to follow him.

Gradually the South Africans grew unwilling to help Rhodesia. The remaining 200 South African policemen transferred to help in the guerilla war were removed suddenly in August 1975, a move which appeared to precede even more disengagement. Van der Byl responded in a speech on 8 August which asserted that "The terrorists who are trained and equipped outside our border and who invade our country with the willing help of other governments are here for a much wider purpose than the overthrow of Rhodesia. They are here to represent a force which sees Rhodesia as just one more stepping stone to victory over South Africa because they see South Africa as a vital key to the security of America, Europe and the rest of the western world."

When the Rhodesian government held talks
Victoria Falls Conference (1975)
The Victoria Falls Conference took place on 26 August 1975 aboard a South African Railways train halfway across the Victoria Falls Bridge on the border between the unrecognised state of Rhodesia and Zambia. It was the culmination of the "détente" policy introduced and championed by B. J...

 with the African National Council on the railway bridge across the Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
The Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya is a waterfall located in southern Africa on the Zambezi River between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe.-Introduction:...

 in August 1975 (the train in which the talks took place was strategically in the middle of the bridge so that the ANC were in Zambia while the Rhodesians remained in Rhodesia), van der Byl was not a member of the Rhodesian delegation. This was a curious omission given his position. He did however participate in talks with Joshua Nkomo that December.

Van der Byl's habit of referring to the African population as "munts" (he asserted that "Rhodesia is able to handle the munts") led to extreme unpopularity with the South African government, and he did not attend talks with South African Prime Minister John Vorster in October 1975. This was interpreted as being connected to a personal dislike. When, on 26 August 1976, the South African government announced the withdrawal of all its military helicopter crews from Rhodesia, van der Byl was outspoken in his criticism and Vorster was reported to have refused to have anything to do with "that dreadful man van der Byl." Smith decided that he "clearly ... had no option" and on 9 September 1976 executed a sudden cabinet reshuffle that ended van der Byl's tenure as Defence Minister. Smith claimed the South African dislike of van der Byl was partly motivated by the memory of his father, who had been in opposition to the National Party.

Contribution to diplomacy

As the prominence of the issue of Rhodesia increased in the late 1970s, attention on van der Byl increased. Reporters noted his impressively quotable lines at press conferences (such as his explanation for why the Rhodesian government did not usually give the names of guerrillas which it had hanged: "It's an academic question, because they are normally dead"). While negotiating with the Patriotic Front put together by ZANU and ZAPU at the Rhodesia conference in November 1976, he described ZANU leader Robert Mugabe as "this bloodthirsty Marxist puppet" and the Patriotic Front proposals as "almost a parody, a music hall caricature of communist invective".
At this conference, which was jointly organized by the United Kingdom and United States, van der Byl rejected the idea of an interim British presence in Rhodesia during a transition to majority rule, which was identified as one of the few ways of persuading the Patriotic Front to endorse a settlement. Ultimately, on 7 January 1977 he announced the rejection of any agreement that the conference might come to.

Later that month, van der Byl was finding pressure put on him by more moderate voices within Rhodesia and hinted that the government might amend the Land Tenure Act which restricted the amount of land which Africans could own. He also remarked that Bishop Abel Muzorewa "can be said to represent the African in this country", which indicated the direction in which the Smith government was hoping to travel: an accommodation with moderate voices within Rhodesia was likely to be a better end than a capitulation to the Patriotic Front. Van der Byl was prepared to support this strategy and did not go along with the 12 Rhodesian Front MPs who formed the Rhodesian Action Party
Rhodesian Action Party
The Rhodesian Action Party was a political party in Rhodesia formed in 1977 by a group of Rhodesian Front MPs who were dissatisfied by the leadership of Ian Smith and his attempts to negotiate an 'internal settlement' with African nationalists...

 in early 1977 claiming that the Front had not adhered to party principles.

Although van der Byl was now prepared to say that he supported the transition to majority rule, he was quick to put restrictions on it when interviewed in April 1977. He insisted that majority rule would only be possible on a "very qualified franchise--that's what the whole thing is about", and also said that any settlement must be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of the existing Legislative Assembly (which was largely elected by white Rhodesians). Over the summer of 1977 he continued to warn that insistence on capitulation to the Patriotic Front would produce a white backlash and put negotiations back.

However, the Rhodesian government was forced to put its internal settlement negotiations on hold during a joint US-UK initiative in late 1977. Van der Byl's public comments seemed to be aimed at ensuring this mission did not succeed, as he insisted that it had no chance of negotiating a ceasefire, described the Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

 administration as "mindless", and the joint mission as being "Anglo-American-Russian". When a plan was published, he described it as "totally outrageous" and involving "the imposition of unconditional surrender on an undefeated people who are not enemies".

Internal settlement

The mission did fail and the internal settlement talks were resurrected, resulting in a deal on 4 March 1978. A transitional joint Council of Ministers was set up, with van der Byl having to work with Dr Elliott Gabellah as his co-Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Patriotic Front took no notice of this accord and the guerrilla war continued; Lord Richard Cecil
Lord Richard Cecil
Lord Richard Valentine Gascoyne-Cecil was the son of Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 6th Marquess of Salisbury. Lord Richard's mother was Marjorie Olein Wyndham-Quin, who had married his father in 1945....

, a close family friend working as a photo-journalist, was killed by guerrillas on 20 April 1978 after van der Byl had ensured he had full access to military areas denied to other reporters.

In May van der Byl greeted news of massacres in Zaire
The Republic of Zaire was the name of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo between 27 October 1971 and 17 May 1997. The name of Zaire derives from the , itself an adaptation of the Kongo word nzere or nzadi, or "the river that swallows all rivers".-Self-proclaimed Father of the Nation:In...

 as "a blessing in disguise" because they might ensure that warnings about Soviet penetration in Africa were heeded. He denounced the British government the following month for refusing to recognise that a massacre of Elim missionaries was perpetrated by the Patriotic Front. As the date for the full implementation of the internal settlement grew nearer, van der Byl's profile decreased, but he remained active in politics: he was elected unopposed for the whites-only Gatooma/Hartley seat to the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia House of Assembly. He handed over power to his African successor on 1 June 1979, and became instead Minister of Transport and Power and Minister of Posts in the new government.

Lancaster House

When "the wheels came off the wagon" (as he put it) at Lancaster House
Lancaster House Agreement
The negotiations which led to the Lancaster House Agreement brought independence to Rhodesia following Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965. The Agreement covered the Independence Constitution, pre-independence arrangements, and a ceasefire...

 in 1979, van der Byl greeted the event with amused detachment. He was not a member of any delegation at the conference and did not attend. The weekend after the agreement, he called on the Rhodesian Front to revitalise itself as the only true representative of Europeans in Rhodesia, and he ascribed the result of the conference to "a succession of perfidious British governments".

According to Ian Smith's memoirs, van der Byl organised a meeting between Ian Smith and Lieutenant-General Peter Walls
Peter Walls
Lieutenant General George Peter Walls MBE GLM served as the Commander of the Combined Operations Headquarters of the Military of Rhodesia, and later Zimbabwe, from 1977 until his retirement on 29 July 1980 during the Rhodesian Bush War...

, Commander of the Rhodesian Army, shortly before the first Zimbabwean elections in February 1980, where they agreed a strategy to prevent Robert Mugabe winning. They met again on 26 February the day before polling began in the Common Roll election. The consensus at this meeting was that Abel Muzorewa's interim government would win enough seats, when put together with the 20 seats reserved for whites which were all Rhodesian Front, to deny Mugabe victory. However, the early election results in March dented this confidence.

Smith asked Walls for details of his plan ("Operation Quartz") for using force to prevent ZANU-PF taking power by force if it lost the election. Walls insisted that ZANU-PF would not win the election. When it did happen, both Smith and van der Byl believed that the Army should step in to prevent Mugabe taking over. Walls took the view that it was already too late, and while the others wished for some move, they were forced to concede to this view.

In Zimbabwe

Van der Byl had been elected unopposed to the new House of Assembly
House of Assembly of Zimbabwe
The House of Assembly of Zimbabwe is the lower chamber of the country's bicameral Parliament. It was the unicameral legislative body from 1989 until late November 2005, when the Senate was re-introduced....

 for Gatooma
Kadoma, Zimbabwe
Kadoma is a city in Zimbabwe in the Mashonaland West province, 140 km south-west of Harare on the main road to Bulawayo. It was known as Gatooma until 1982....

Chegutu is a town in the Mashonaland West province, northern Zimbabwe and is 110km southwest of Harare on the main Harare-Bulawayo road . According to the 1992 Population Census, the town had a population of 30,191...

 and remained a close associate of Smith, becoming Vice President of the 'Republican Front' (later renamed the Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe
Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe
The Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe was the final incarnation of a party formerly called the Republican Front and prior to that the Rhodesian Front...

). At the 1985 general election
Zimbabwe parliamentary election, 1985
The Zimbabwe parliamentary election of 1985 saw the re-election, with an increased majority, of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front government under Robert Mugabe which had first been elected five years previously prior to the country achieving independence...

 the boundaries for the White Roll seats were altered and van der Byl fought in Mount Pleasant, opposing Chris Andersen. Andersen had broken with the Rhodesian Front to sit as an Independent and became Minister of State for the Public Service in Robert Mugabe's government. Van der Byl lost the election heavily, polling only 544 votes to 1,017 for Andersen and 466 for a third candidate. The Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe still controlled the election of ten white Senators and Smith agreed to elect van der Byl to one of the Senate
Senate of Zimbabwe
The Senate of Zimbabwe is the upper chamber of the country's bicameral Parliament. It existed from 1980 to 1989, and was re-introduced in November 2005....


Parliamentary seats reserved for whites were abolished in 1987. Van der Byl made his last speech in Parliament on 10 September, in which he praised Robert Mugabe for the "absolute courtesy" he had shown since independence. He noted that he was the last surviving member of the 1965 government remaining in Parliament, and declared he hoped "I would have been cherished .. as a sort of national monument, and not flung into the political wilderness". His speech loudly denounced the former Republican Front and Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe members who had gone over to the government, describing them as "dreadful souls screaming in agony". The government minister Dr Edson Zvobgo
Edson Zvobgo
Edson Jonasi Zvobgo was a founder of Zimbabwe's ruling party Zanu-PF, was the Patriotic Front's spokesman at the Lancaster House in late 1979, a Harvard-trained lawyer, and a poet....

 responded with a poorly-written poem referring to the number of rebels killed fighting troops under van der Byl's command.

Marriage, issue and retirement

Van der Byl was married on 31 August 1979 to HSH
Serene Highness
His/Her Serene Highness is a style used today by the reigning families of Liechtenstein and Monaco. It also preceded the princely titles of members of some German ruling and mediatised dynasties as well as some non-ruling but princely German noble families until 1918...

 Charlotte Maria Benedikte Eleonore Adelheid et omnes sancti Prinzessin von und zu Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

, a woman thirty years his junior. The couple had three sons: Pieter Vincenz (born 31 December 1980); Valerian (born 7 July 1982); and Casimir (born 27 July 1990).

In 1983 van der Byl had inherited from his mother a property described as "the magnificent estate .. near Caledon in the Western Cape," and following the end of his political career had no need to keep a home in Zimbabwe. He left as a rich man, with an attractive young wife, and enjoyed his retirement. He frequently visited London where he was a good friend of Viscount Cranborne
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Michael James Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, PC, DL , is a British Conservative politician. During the 1990s, he was Leader of the House of Lords under his courtesy title of Viscount Cranborne...

, who put him up for membership of the Turf Club. Both were members of White's Club and were often seen there when van der Byl was in town.

Four days after his 76th birthday, van der Byl died at Fairfield, in Caledon, Western Cape
Caledon, Western Cape
Caledon is a town in the Overberg region in the Western Cape province of South Africa, located about east of Cape Town. it had a population of 10,650. It is located in, and the seat of, the Theewaterskloof Local Municipality....

. In his obituary, Dan van der Vat
Dan van der Vat
Daniel Francis Jeroen van der Vat is a journalist, writer and military historian, with a focus on naval history. Van der Vat grew up in Nazi-German occupied Holland...

 wrote "The arrival of majority rule in South Africa made no difference, and he died a very wealthy man."

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