CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Ian Smith, the former prime minister of Rhodesia, has died in South Africa following a long illness. He was 88.
Smith and his white minority government declared independence from Britain in 1965. He led the government until 1979, during which time the country was wracked by violence. A settlement in 1979 paved the way for the creation of Zimbabwe in 1980 and the election of Robert Mugabe as prime minister.
Smith was a member of the Zimbabwe Parliament until 1987 when he retired.
In 1988, Smith told the BBC he had good reasons for declaring independence.
"Had we not resorted to this the country would have degenerated into chaos and confusion," he said in that BBC interview, denying the declaration led to years of civil war.
"The civil war was caused by people who left our country and were brainwashed in Russia, in China," he said.
"They were power hungry people who wanted to take their country over immediately and were not prepared to wait for the evolutionary process."
Smith was born in the small mining and farming town of Selukwe, the youngest of three children. His father was a butcher-turned-cattle-rancher who emigrated from Scotland in 1898.
Smith served in the Royal Rhodesian Air Force during World War II, suffering burn injuries in a 1943 crash. He later was shot down over Italy where partisan forces gave him refuge.
He married Janet Watt in 1948. They had one child, a son.