September 3, 1978: Aircraft shootdown and massacre in Rhodesia

On September 3, 1978 members of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army shot down an Air Rhodesia flight killing 38 passengers and crew.

NEAR SALISBURY, RHODESIA – Anti-colonial sentiment is understandable but what about killing innocent civilians in the process?

We here in Canada are living through what can be described as ‘interesting times’ (NB this phrase, in full ‘May you live in interesting times’, is neither Chinese nor ancient as some think, but originated in the UK in the 20th century with the brother of then Prime Minister Chamberlain, at least according to one source, although the word ‘age’ was used instead of ‘times’).

Over the past few years Canada has come to terms – to an extent – with our history of treatment of what we call First Nations (we prefer this to the term ‘Indians’). Our past is a sorry one of residential schools and broken treaties and there is a lot of attention paid to the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. This process is an ongoing one.

For some advocates and supporters of First Nations, everyone else is a ‘colonial‘. I have no intention of entering that debate except to agree that the history of ‘colonialism‘ has been a mixed one. At the end of the day, most (?) people would rather not be invaded and occupied by others, preferring to be the masters of their own houses.

It should seem pretty clear we don’t want your type here (Photo: PJMixer on flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As a consequence the world has seen many attempts at getting the ‘colonials‘ to leave: some of those attempts involved the use of serious violence, some of which we would most definitely call terrorist in nature. To the US scholar David Rapaport the so-called second wave of terrorism in the 20th century was indeed the ‘anti-colonial‘ period.

On this day in 1978

Members of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) shot down Air Rhodesia flight 825 using a Russian-made SAM7 missile. Despite the loss of two of the four engines, the pilot miraculously managed to crash land the plane and 18 of the 56 passengers and crew survived. What happened next was barbaric.

While some of the survivors moved off to seek help the rest, including the injured, remained near the plane when ZIPRA terrorists machine gunned 10 of the survivors before looting the plane wreckage. ZIPRA leader Joshua Nkomo later claimed responsibility for the attack, laughing as he did so, to the horror of most Rhodesians. Nkomo became Vice-President of Zimbabwe (what Rhodesia was renamed in 1980).

Nobody who holds sacred the dignity of human life can be anything but sickened at the events attending (flight 825).

John Da Costa, Anglican Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Salisbury

Rhodesia was a lot like South Africa, a black majority state run by white Europeans. It would be hard to argue that the majority had no right to fight for independence. But shoot down a civilian airliner and massacre the survivors? Was THAT ok?

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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