Friday, November 7, 2008

[Interview] Group Captain Peter Petter-Bowyer

Peter Petter-Bowyer was born in 1936 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe).

He joined the Royal Rhodesian Air Force in 1957 and was a senior operational pilot during Zimbabwe's war of independence. He was also instrumental in designing and producing a range of aeronautical weapons systems that were used in the conflict. In 1980, with the advent of President Robert Mugabe’s rule, Petter-Bower retired as group captain.

His autobiography, Winds of Destruction (30° South Publishers, 2008) has been described as "a unique account" of service in the Rhodesian Air Force.

In this email interview, Group Captain Peter Petter-Bowyer talks about the concerns which informed his writing.

When did you start writing?

In 1984, I started recording the story of my life for my family. However, in 2000, friends read what I had written and persuaded me to expand the information as nobody had yet written an autobiography that covered the Rhodesian post-WW2 story of the Rhodesian forces and the political issues leading to the Zimbabwean era.

I ignored all the work I had previously recorded and, in January 2001, simply started from the beginning of my life in 1936 and kept going until the time I left Zimbabwe in 1983.

Why did you leave?

Having fought communism for 13 years, I had no desire to remain in a Marxist one-party state.

I moved to South Africa in early 1983 because my air weapons development work and operations knowledge were needed there. Settling in was not difficult because I was working and living amongst Rhodesians and English South Africans (i.e. not Apartheid Afrikaners).

What sets your book apart from the writings of others who grew up and lived in the same environment?

Mine was a unique situation. However, the big difference is that I made a record whereas others did not.

What were the biggest challenges that you faced?

All my diaries had been destroyed so I was almost wholly reliant upon my own memory.

I realized that some details may have been corrupted by time and that my own recall of any particular situation might differ from others. Nevertheless, I knew the essence of my story to be honest and correct — so I simply told of things the way I remembered them.

How and why were the diaries destroyed?

Upon gaining power, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF cohorts became paranoid about the security of their personal positions. This led to the implementation of laws that ensured white Zimbabweans were denuded of personal weapons, military paraphernalia and any Rhodesian documentation that might be used against ZANU.

Having handed in my own weapons in 1980, I took the precaution of destroying all my diaries. My book reveals some of the reasons why such hasty action was taken but I have lived to regret dumping 20 diaries into the septic tank of our Harare (then Salisbury) home. In hindsight, I realise that I should have buried them deep for later recovery. Nonetheless, the consequence of my error is that my book is, for the most part, written from memory.

Do you write everyday?

I wrote almost every day during working hours (my own business) and in the evening. Probably averaging six hours per day.

Which aspects of the work you put into Winds of Destruction was most difficult?

Memory was the most difficult aspect, particularly in remembering names and dates.

If it took too long to run through the alphabet to recall a name, I simply ran a dotted line … to be dealt with later. This worked fine.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the fact that I was able to remember my life in an amazingly ordered sequence. I also enjoyed sharing amusing stories along the way.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Receiving thanks and complements for the quality of my story from diverse individuals from all over the world (including Russia). This let me know that I was right to expose Rhodesia for what it really was.

Who is your target audience?

Primarily I wrote for Rhodesians. However, my book has attracted a great deal more interest from politicians and historians than I expected.

Given that Rhodesia no longer exists, who are the Rhodesians? Where are they? What are their hopes and dreams?

Believe me, Rhodesians are very much alive. I was born, raised and served as a Rhodesian. Like me, those who came from any place in the world and accepted that they were Rhodesians have continued to call themselves Rhodesians. The country’s name changed but not the fact of our nationality and patriotism.

Today Rhodesians are spread throughout the world and most who are able to work are doing well for themselves. Yet, almost without exception, their memories dwell on the joys of the life they experienced in Rhodesia.

Many black people who are old enough to remember also hanker for the days before Mugabe when jobs were plentiful, stomachs were full and their families were healthy and well provided for with proper schools and good medical services.

What are your views on what is happening in Zimbabwe at present? Do you think the situation will improve?

We fought a war to prevent precisely what is happening now. Admittedly, it took almost 20 years to occur whereas I thought it would take 10.

Mugabe was well-schooled in Marxism and has followed strictly the line “gain power then hold it forever by all means whether fair and foul”. He knows the world will not act against him and only fears that his armed forces may turn against him and his junta. Hence his militia thugs and Chinese Army forces sited north of Harare.

The [main opposition, Movement for Democratic Change] MDC can do absolutely nothing by following their democratic line. Only a disgruntled army can dislodge the present government. Rising levels of starvation and death have no effects on the fat cats in power. But the underpaid army is often hungry and soldiers hate the suffering of their families. I see this as the only hope of removing Mugabe and his junta, other than the death of Mugabe. But in that case the Junta may very well take over government in its present form.

How would you describe your writing?

Winds of Destruction is an autobiography which is the vehicle I used to tell of my involvement as an operational pilot with the Rhodesian Air Force, army, special forces and police and also to explain the political issues as they appeared to me.

I wanted to record the Rhodesian situation as I knew it. In so doing, I sought also to counter world-wide misconceptions of Rhodesia as created by British politicians and the media which, in turn, had been heavily influenced by world conditions arising from the Cold War.

What was the Rhodesia situation?

We wanted to retain government in responsible hands. Colour of the government was expected but at a sensible pace.

What were some of the misconceptions about the situtation? And, how did they come about?

Communist propaganda was amazingly effective during the Cold War. Added to communist propaganda were the socialist leanings of the British Labour party and its liberal media.

The world was persuaded that Rhodesians were racist supremacists dedicated to the retention of power in white hands. This was induced communist and socialist propaganda. Anyone who knows that we were governed by the 1961 Rhodesian Constitution will know that we desired to abide by the entrenched clauses that bound us to ‘unimpeded progress to majority rule’.

We knew that it was essential to retain government in responsible hands as we moved cautiously and sensibly to an eventual government majority of educated and experienced black people. The failure of African governments to our north was all too obvious. But our whole outlook was totally different to South Africa’s Apartheid system which we detested.

Yet, the USSR persuaded the west and its media to think otherwise. They did this to induce forced majority rule rather than allow a progressive move towards black government because that would destroy their need for broken down governments quickly. Their solution was to induce in their surrogates the need for ‘Immediate majority rule’. The British government extended this in Rhodesia’s case by demanding NIBMAR (No Independence Before Majority Rule)

As in all its actions to gain world power, the communists used other people to fight and bleed for them. In all situations, they knew that they were promoting unsuitable people to take power by force so as to destroy western and Islamic influence (in our case to destroy Britain’s colonies). In particular, they recognised that those countries overrun by their surrogate allies would ruin their countries through greed, inefficiency and corruption. This the communists welcomed because it would facilitate a bloodless take over when things got out of hand.

Well, Africa moved in the direction the USSR had hoped, but their form of communism failed and broke up even what they had achieved. In the meanwhile, the patient Chinese communist style continues in working slowly and quietly to bring about Chinese control of Africa. By 2050, they need to have found space for over 300 million Chinese people. This will be achieved by the surreptitious and progressive assumption of power from useless black politicians.

I have been saying, for over 40 years, that all of Africa will become a major component of the Chinese Empire. This can be seen already and will have full effect before 2050. Already the Chinese have gained control of some of Zambia’s copper mines and imported Chinese workers rather than use black workers. They ignore protests of the blacks who have lost their jobs and only pay the Chinese workers half of what the blacks would expect. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe has already given away mines and land which the Chinese will man with their own people at low cost. Similar things are occurring in Zaire and other African countries. The writing is on the wall but the blacks cannot see what is coming. Real racist oppression is on its way to the poor ordinary black folk.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.

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