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A memorial has been unveiled at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria to commemorate the shooting down of two Air Rhodesia passenger aircraft 34 years ago.
The granite and concrete structure, remembering the planes shot down near Kariba airport by Zipra guerrillas loyal to nationalist leader, Joshua Nkomo, was unveiled on Saturday.
Major-General Gert Opperman (retired), the managing director of the Heritage Fund, which caretakes Afrikaner heritage, said the memorial was erected by the Viscount memorial committee.
“There is no place where the people of the old (Rhodesian) dispensation can get closure. This is just a memorial and nothing more. There is no political intentions at all. It just affords people the opportunity to get closure,” he said on Monday.
After downing the first plane in September 1978, Nkomo’s Zapu guerrillas slaughtered 10 survivors from the crash, while eight were able to run away.
Reports of the first Air Rhodesia Viscount downed by a SAM 7 missile, and the killing of survivors, made headlines around the world.
Five months later, Nkomo’s forces shot down another Air Rhodesia Viscount near Kariba. There were no survivors.
Months after the second Viscount crash, Ian Smith’s Rhodesians, and Nkomo and his partner in the war, Robert Mugabe, began negotiating a ceasefire in London.
At the memorial service in dappled shade under acacia trees in the gardens near the monument, the old green and white Rhodesian flag flew, raised by Patrick Viljoen, a member of Rhodesia’s Special Air Service.
Former Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation announcer, Mike Westcott chaired the service, saying: “At last we have a memorial. The families of those who died had holes in their hearts. Now they will not be forgotten.”
Meanwhile, a row has broken out in London over a motion by some politicians there on the Viscounts. Six MPs signed an “Early Day Motion” recalling what they said was “moral cowardice” by the then British government which failed to “officially condemn these atrocities”.
Reverend Qobo Mayisa, the UK-based co-ordinator of the Council of Zimbabwean Christian Leaders, reacted to the MPs’ statement with fury.
“I was in Lusaka recently and stayed with survivors of the Rhodesian bombings of the refugee camps in Zambia…
“This is so ill-advised and ill-timed and opens up a lot of old wounds at a time when we are working hard to promote national healing.”
The Herald in Harare reported that former Zipra commander, Dumiso Dabengwa, described the MPs’ motion as a provocation that would “open old wounds”.
Anglican Archbishop-Emeritus Desmond Tutu sent a message to the memorial service, in which he said he prayed for the “balm of God’s comfort… on your wounded souls…”
The Department of Arts and Culture said the Voortrekker Monument grounds were available to different organisations and the general public to establish memorials.