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Missing the Mark:
The Shangani Patrol (1970)

RhodesianArmyPoster [1]2,567 words

The mechanics of the end of white rule in southern Africa is instructional for people on the “alt-right” who sense that the cannon pointed at Africa’s Portuguese, Afrikaner, and British white tribes is also pointed at the Portuguese, Anglos, and Dutch in their own homelands. Indeed, the same moral scorn piled on the southern African whites is already transferred and one can look up the anti-white statements of various Western politicians on the internet.

Rhodesia is one such nation where British whites created a colony and nation that lasted from 1890 to 1980. With the exception of its bloody beginnings, Rhodesia was a tidy, peaceful nation, with a bright future until the British Empire and the rest of the world decided the Rhodesian whites needed to be replaced by blacks. A Brush War ensued where Rhodesians went from victory to victory, until the compounding effects of global sanctions and global condemnation led to Rhodesian capitulation.

When the last white Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith died in 2007, his obituary in The Economist started out with a cultural examination of Rhodesian society. “Rhodesians stood out for their ordinariness. This was often a nakedly snobbish observation, accompanied by the comment that the British colonists who went to Kenya tended to be officers, whereas those settling in Southern Rhodesia were NCOs.”[1]

There is some truth in this. The history of Rhodesia’s white settler population started with the Pioneer Column of 1890.[2] The Pioneer Column’s members were came from the cultural subgroup of the orders-taking loyalists of the Empire. They were ordinary men from an extraordinary society. In their loyal ordinariness, the Rhodesians followed along with the British Empire’s many adventures during the 20th century with no critical thought. Unlike their cousins in the colonies which became the United States, the Rhodesians never really questioned the policies of the British Empire. For example, Rhodesians wholeheartedly participated in the Boer War (1899–1902).[3] Their small white population fielded two regiments in that useless war between two similar white people surrounded by increasingly hostile blacks. During the First and Second World Wars, the Rhodesians contributed heavily to the British War effort.[4][5]

Despite being on the frontlines of a great racial frontier, the Rhodesians didn’t really see the crisis coming. Indeed, in 1922, the Rhodesians were so proudly British that they chose to continue as a British colony instead of join together with the Afrikaners in an expanded Union of South Africa. Had they joined with the Union of South Africa, history could have been considerably different. Militarily, the Rhodesians misdirected resources for many critical decades. As late as the 1950s, when African agitation was increasing in intensity in the United States and colonies in Africa were granted their independence to become a collection of failed states, the Rhodesian Air Force was still serving as an auxiliary wing of the British RAF to support high intensity Cold War operations.[6]

They did switch their military to deal with the Brush War and moved from victory to victory until the whole thing came crashing down. The reason for the loss is that the entire cultural context which the Rhodesians existed in was changing. First, due to their bad choices that helped create World War II, the British were either forced to, or decided to, walk away from their Empire. Second, the British and European overarching cultural, religious, and political attitudes had changed so much that the loyal British Rhodesians didn’t realize that Metropolitan British society was prepared to abandon them. Those same overarching cultural, religious, and political attitudes made targets of the white southern Africans, i.e., Portuguese colonists, Rhodesians, as well as the Anglo and Afrikaner South Africans. This overarching cultural, religious, and political set of attitudes is an example of metapolitics.

The metapolics were so powerful that Britain’s Conservative Party was really forced to abandon Rhodesia despite campaigning to support Rhodesia as part few remaining civilized societies south of the Sahara at the time. Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington,[7] explained the limits he was faced with in a BBC program, “In my judgement,” he said, “[supporting Rhodesia] would have been really disastrous . . . what would have happened would be that the war would have intensified. I think you’d have found that the Soviet Union would have become infinitely more involved, I think the Commonwealth would have broken up. I think there might well have been sanctions against Britain in the United Nations. We shouldn’t have had a friend in Europe. It is idle to deny that there were differences in the Conservative Party.”[8]

A perfect example of the changing metapolitics in Britain towards white rule in Rhodesia and all of southern Africa can be seen in the three paneled picture below. Anti-white protestors in London were able to stage big protests and carry out a simplistic pantomime of the Sharpeville Affair. The event at Sharpeville occurred when outnumbered South African Police fired on thousands of protesting Bantus killing dozens. Just prior to the Sharpeville affair, South African police had been slaughtered in a similar protest at Cato Manor.[9]

Well meaning, silly, and naïve white people virtue signal against the Sharpeville Affair in a safe white city.[10] [2]

Well meaning, silly, and naïve white people virtue signal against the Sharpeville Affair in a safe white city.[10]

The Rhodesians were thus faced with a worldwide cultural climate that was wholly hostile. All safe, orderly, and just governments must be able to use deadly force to restore order. Should the metapolitical environment make the use of force to restore order assumed-to-be-immoral, then the foundation underpinning safe, orderly, and just government is shaken so badly that just government itself is in jeopardy. In this case, any criticism of South Africa, automatically meant criticism of Rhodesia.

Metapolitics is formed by many things, but most importantly it is formed by the myth creation power of stories. In ancient times, these myths were told by campfire, but today, books, radio shows, and most importantly, movies take the role.

One attempt by the Rhodesians to create a myth is the move The Shangani Patrol (1970). This movie is one of the few cultural works coming from Rhodesia that were produced during the Rhodesian Brush War. Therefore it is important to look at the movie from a viewpoint that assumes that cultural products are weapons.

The Shangani Patrol is about a “last stand” battle where a platoon of soldiers under the command of Major Wilson in the service of the British South Africa Company are killed to the last man, excepting several survivors who managed to escape, by Matabele tribesmen. The men of the Shangani Patrol thus have a place in history alongside the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Texans at the Alamo, the Americans at Little Big Horn, etc. Indeed the last stand battle is a common theme in Indo-European mythology, epic poetry, and history.

The movie has most of the standard tropes of a war movie. The senior commander of the expedition, Major Forbes (Adrian Steed), is portrayed as the cold taskmaster who may not have thought things through — such as providing enough ammunition. The hero is Major Wilson (Brian O’Shaughnessy) who portrays the popular, dashing commander of the smaller, elite outfit that is sacrificed.[11] There is a partially developed romance. Additionally, the movie portrays the rough-and-tumble of the soldiers prior to going into action-Major Wilson knocks out a soldier for some “disrespect.”

The movie starts in a curious way. It shows, in Sepia Tone pictures with a voice-over, the trial of two soldiers who were alleged to have taken gold from a peace offering from the Matabele King Lobengula and not passed on the message of peace. Then the movie goes on to show the escalating tension between the whites and the Matabele blacks, but the context as to why there is tension leading to a war is not explained. The column moves out in search of King Lebengula, but the purpose of the column is not fully explained. Instead the storyline plays up alpha-male tension between Majors Forbes and Wilson. Tension which may not have existed in real-life. In between the scenes of black and white conflict, the characters are developed to a point. We learn that one man had an affair, others have peculiar ways of sleeping. There is a game of leapfrog. Finally, the patrol goes out, after some touch-and-go interactions with the Matabele, there is the final battle between the Africans and Wilson’s Patrol. The final scene is Sepia Tone pictures with a statement by the Matabele that the bodies of Wilson’s Patrol should not be mutilated, as they were “men above men.”

The quality of the film, that is to say the celluloid upon which the images of the actors and set exist, is poor. The film itself has deteriorated so the vivid colors have drained leaving a brownish tint. The plot/screenplay, film quality, etc. give the feel of a B-Grade Saturday Morning Western. However, the movie’s main failing is metapolitical. This is especially serious in that Rhodesia was desperately seeking to gain world approval for its existence, and world approval for its war effort. The movie does nothing to support Rhodesia’s military and political aims.

With a view from the “alt-right” the problems are the following:

The Shangani Patrol is a B-Grade Western which misses the mark. It is a bit of a cheap shot to say that the Rhodesians should have, or even could have produced an epic of artistic truth and beauty that altered the entire metapolitical structure of the entire world, especially the West. It is also a great conceit to imply that the Rhodesians could have won such a lop-sided war against an enemy with nearly limitless manpower resources that was supplied by both Western and Communist nations by better movies. However, the Rhodesians did need to engage in serious culture creation to promote their cause. Other Rhodesian propaganda was a mix of pro-Christian, pro-Capitalist and anti-Communist ideology. The Rhodesians carried on this propaganda although Christian churches were what we call today “cucked,” and the anti-Communist propaganda clearly made no headway-not even with Britain’s Conservative Party.

Rhodesian soldiers with captured Black Nationalist supplies. Notice that they are supplies from the Netherlands. The forces of Robert Mugabe were subsidized by both the Communist and Western blocs. Metapolitcs made Rhodesia the entire world’s enemy. [3]

Rhodesian soldiers with captured Black Nationalist supplies. Notice that they are supplies from the Netherlands. The forces of Robert Mugabe were subsidized by both the Communist and Western blocs. Metapolitcs made Rhodesia the entire world’s enemy.

The Rhodesians were a modest people with much to be modest about, excepting, of course, the fact that they ruled far more justly over a large number of Africans than their successors and created in less than a century an advanced technological society from what was once African wilderness. Within their ordinariness, the Rhodesians had a difficult time making their place in Africa a fashionable cause célèbre.

If The Shangani Patrol was one of many movies produced by Rhodesia during the Bush War like B-Grade Westerns produced in the US during WWII the movie would be good enough fare for a lazy Saturday Afternoon in front of the TV, and nothing more would be written about it. However, it is one of the few movies produced by Rhodesians about their own situation. And Rhodesia’s situation in the 1970s is quickly being reproduced by Europe and America today. If one could spin the Time Turner to bring us back to a meeting of Rhodesian film-makers, I offer the following suggestions. First, Rhodesian cultural products needed to be produced as uniquely Rhodesian, not just as part of the British Empire. Then, Rhodesians need to focus on movies that emphasize the morality of their rule in Africa as well as their expansion. These needed to be done prior to 1950. Then Rhodesians needed to make a movie that explained the genocide that they were facing and how it applied to the wider white world. Artistic works that detailed the post “civil rights” race riots in across America in 1967 and 1968s and showing Rhodesia as a part of a greater white society whose success could be transferred from Africa to Detroit is one example. The reader is invited to imagine for themselves what cultural products could adjust metapolitics.

Of course, Rhodesia existed in a time when distribution of movies, books, and other items was tightly controlled, and whose controllers were hostile to Rhodesia. We, who can look back at Rhodesia with an eye towards learning from past failures have the internet and cheap computer programs that can produce quality, cultural works. We will not miss the mark.


1. http://www.economist.com/node/10171149 [4]

2. On the other hand, founders of Plymouth Colony, had only the slimmest loyalties to Britain. Before they arrived in New England, they’d already lived in Holland for many years and many of the Mayflower’s passengers had spent time in English jails.

3. http://www.angloboerwar.com/unit-information/south-african-units/462-rhodesian-volunteers [5]

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Rhodesia_in_World_War_I [6]

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Rhodesia_in_World_War_II [7]

6. http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-pride-of-eagles-supplement.html [8]

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Carington,_6th_Baron_Carrington [9]

8. Transcribed from the BBC program The End of Empire (1985) Rhodesia 21:29 to 22:02 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DuNhsLR9y0 [10]

9. http://www.radiofreesouthafrica.com/1960-01-24-massacre-police-cato-manor-subjective-view/ [11]

10. The three panel picture is taken from the film South Africa in the Seventies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npM6-o0ZUE4 [12] One can see the scene from 2:36 to 2:51.

11. A similar trope in literature is the relationship between the character of Pappy Boynton of the Black Sheep Squadron and his wing commander Colonel Lard in the Black Sheep Squadron TV Show of the 1970s.

12. http://www.truewestmagazine.com/10-myths-on-the-dakota-uprising/ [13] Another excellent account is the book 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End by Scott W. Berg.