British South Africa Police

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British South Africa Police
BSAP Insignia.png
Emblem of the British South Africa Police - Also Called Vana Mudengu Muneyi
Country Rhodesia
Type Police
Motto(s)Pro rege, pro patria, pro lege, Latin for "For King, For Country, For Law"
March Kum-A-Kye

The British South Africa Police (BSAP) was, for most of its existence, the police force of Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe in 1980). It was formed as a paramilitary force of mounted infantrymen in 1889 by Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company, from which it took its original name, the British South Africa Company's Police. Initially run directly by the company, it began to operate independently in 1896, at which time it also dropped "Company's" from its name. It thereafter served as Rhodesia's regular police force, retaining its name, until 1980, when it was superseded by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, soon after the country's reconstitution into Zimbabwe in April that year.

Rhodesia former country in Africa

Rhodesia was a country in southern Africa from 1965 to 1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe. Rhodesia was the de facto successor state to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which had been self-governing since achieving responsible government in 1923. A landlocked nation, Rhodesia was bordered by South Africa to the south, Bechuanaland to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east.

Zimbabwe republic in southern Africa

Zimbabwe, officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Harare. A country of roughly 16 million people, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, with English, Shona, and Ndebele the most commonly used.

Cecil Rhodes British businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa

Cecil John Rhodes was a British businessman, mining magnate and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia, which the company named after him in 1895. South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after him. Rhodes set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate. He also put much effort towards his vision of a Cape to Cairo Railway through British territory.


While it was in the main a law enforcement organisation, the line between police and military was significantly blurred. BSAP officers trained both as policemen and regular soldiers until 1954. BSAP men served in the latter role during the First and Second World Wars, and also provided several support units to the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1960s and 1970s.

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Rhodesian Bush War civil conflict in Southern Africa from 1964 to 1979

The Rhodesian Bush War—also called the Second Chimurenga and the Zimbabwe War of Liberation—was a civil conflict from July 1964 to December 1979 in the unrecognised country of Rhodesia . The conflict pitted three forces against one another: the Rhodesian government, led by Ian Smith ; the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, the military wing of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union; and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army of Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union.

During the Bush War, the BSAP operated several anti-guerrilla units, most prominently the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit, which tracked and engaged Communist guerrillas; the Support Unit, which was a police field force, nicknamed the "Black Boots" because of the colour of their footwear; and the Civilian African Tracking Unit, composed mostly of black Rhodesian trackers utilising the traditional skills and techniques of the Shangaan people.

Tracking (hunting) science and art of observing animal tracks

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Tsonga people ethnic group

The Tsonga people are a Bantu ethnic group native mainly to South Africa and southern Mozambique. They speak Xitsonga, a Southern Bantu language which is closely related to neighbouring Nguni, Basotho, and Vhavenda. A very small number of Tsonga people are also found in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. The Tsonga people of South Africa share a common history with the Tsonga people of southern Mozambique; however they differ culturally and linguistically from the Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

By 1980, the BSAP comprised about 46,000 personnel; 11,000 professionals (about 60% black), and the remainder reservists (mostly white). The organisation's rank structure was unique, with different levels of seniority existing for black and white officers respectively. Until 1979, black officers could rise no further than sub-inspector, while the commissioned ranks were all-white. Limitations on black aspirations were removed in 1979. Under Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe Republic Police immediately adopted a policy whereby senior whites were forced into retirement at the earliest opportunity and replaced by black officers.

Robert Mugabe former President of Zimbabwe

Robert Gabriel Mugabe is a Zimbabwean revolutionary and politician who served as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017. He chaired the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) group from 1975 to 1980 and led its successor political party, the ZANU – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), from 1980 to 2017. Ideologically an African nationalist, during the 1970s and 1980s he identified as a Marxist–Leninist, although after the 1990s self-identified only as a socialist. His policies have been described as Mugabeism.


Officer's cap badge of the BSAP, c. 1965, showing the "wounded lion" device. BSAP-embroidered-cap-badge.jpg
Officer's cap badge of the BSAP, c. 1965, showing the "wounded lion" device.
Armoured cars of the BSAP Reserve. Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car Mk III (9685391849).jpg
Armoured cars of the BSAP Reserve.

The organisation was formed by the BSAC in 1889 as a paramilitary, mounted infantry force in order to provide protection for the Pioneer Column of settlers which moved into Mashonaland in 1890. In common with several colonial police forces such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), it was modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and its early officers were trained at the Police Depot in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.[ citation needed ] The unit played a central role in both the First Matabele War (1893) and the Second Matabele War (1896/97) with many troopers serving in the Jameson Raid. Until 1896 the force was called the British South Africa Company's Police. [1]

Pioneer Column military force of the British South Africa Company

The Pioneer Column was a force raised by Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company in 1890 and used in his efforts to annex the territory of Mashonaland, later part of Southern Rhodesia.

Mashonaland region in northern Zimbabwe and home of the Shona people

Mashonaland is a region in northern Zimbabwe. It is the native place of the Shona people.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police mounted police force in Canada

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the federal and national police force of Canada. The RCMP provides law enforcement at the federal level. It also provides provincial policing in eight of Canada's provinces and local policing on contract basis in the three territories and more than 150 municipalities, 600 aboriginal communities, and three international airports. The RCMP does not provide provincial or municipal policing in Ontario or Quebec.

The BSAP operated originally in conjunction with the Southern Rhodesia Constabulary (SRC), the town police force for Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo, but amalgamated with the SRC in 1909. As a paramilitary unit, the BSAP fought in the Second Boer War and in German East Africa during the First World War, while some members were seconded to the Rhodesia Native Regiment. From 1923, Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing colony of the British Empire, but the BSAP retained its title and its position as the senior regiment of the Southern Rhodesian armed forces. One of the first casualties of the BSAP in the Second World War was Keppel Bagot Levett, born in 1919, who died in active service with the BSAP in March 1941. [2]

Harare City and Province in Zimbabwe

Harare is the capital and most populous city of Zimbabwe. The city proper has an area of 960.6 km2 (371 mi2) and an estimated population of 1,606,000 in 2009, with 2,800,000 in its metropolitan area in 2006. Situated in north-eastern Zimbabwe in the country's Mashonaland region, Harare is a metropolitan province, which also incorporates the municipalities of Chitungwiza and Epworth. The city sits on a plateau at an elevation of 1,483 metres above sea level and its climate falls into the subtropical highland category.

Bulawayo Place in Zimbabwe

Bulawayo is the second largest city in Zimbabwe, and the largest city in the country's Matabeleland. The city's population is disputed; the 2012 census listed it at 653,337, while the Bulawayo City Council claimed it to be about 1.2 million. Bulawayo covers an area of about 1,707 square kilometres (659 sq mi) in the western part of the country, along the Matsheumhlope River. Along with the capital Harare, Bulawayo is one of two cities in Zimbabwe that are also a province.

Second Boer War war between South African Republic and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought them to terms.

A Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was founded in 1923; a Women's Section in 1941, and a Dog Unit in 1945. From 1957, the Police Reserve also had an airborne wing.

Between the World Wars, the Permanent Staff Corps of the Rhodesian Army consisted of only 47 men. The BSAP were trained as both policemen and soldiers until 1954. [3]

Prior to the use of motor vehicles, extended rural patrols were carried out on horseback, and right up until the Force was renamed all white male officers were taught equitation as part of their basic traíning. Selected officers were retained in Morris Depot after "passing out" and tasked with training remount horses for future use by recruits and on ceremonial duties. Mounted Escorts were provided for occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament. Generally speaking, the force was the 'Senior Service' and performed ceremonials such as those allocated to the RCMP today. As such, discipline, presentation, and parade drill were of a very high standard.

The BSAP's name remained unchanged by the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, although following the declaration of a republic by Ian Smith's government in 1970, [4] the St Edward's Crown was removed from the BSAP's badge, and the appointment of Her Majesty The Queen Mother as Honorary Commissioner was suspended. [5] In place of St. Edward's Crown, the Zimbabwe Bird was displayed on cap badges. [6]

During the period of the Rhodesian Bush War in the late 1960s and 1970s, the BSAP formed an important part of the white minority government's fight against black Communist guerrillas. The force formed a riot unit; a tracker combat team (later renamed the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit or PATU); a police field force Support Unit (who were distinguished by wearing black boots), an Urban Emergency Unit, a Police Reserve Air Wing or PRAW, and a Marine Division, and from 1973 offered places to white conscripts as part of Rhodesia's national service scheme. At independence, the force had a strength of approximately 11,000 regulars (about 60% black) and almost 35,000 reservists, of whom the overwhelming majority were white. A former BSAP officer, Daniel Carney, wrote a book titled Whispering Death about the BSAP in anti-terrorist operations which was later made into the film Albino .

The Support Unit (known as the "Black Boots" due to their footwear) was a Police field force staffed by about 50 white and 1700 ( 1980) black regular and national servicemen.From early 1978 to 1980 Support training and selection consisted of 3 phases culminating latterly in 6 months or 24 weeks training. The first phase lasting as long as 11 weeks (RLI first phase was 6 weeks). Emphasis in selection depended on extreme physical fitness and aggression (running excess of 120 kilometres per week), mental strength in decision making and problem solving under extreme duress. The selection course consisted of a junior leader assessment in all areas concerning leadership. All Counter Operations Insurgency (COIN) battle drills being held in Battle camps at Concession and Shamva. The pass rate among recruits amounted to only 30%. On passing out recruits were deployed to one of 13 and latterly 14 Troops (Troop company strength 120 men, Mantle Mounted and November troop being new additions in 1981). The Support Unit supported the Police in rural problem areas (latterly dissidents) as well as in urban emergencies. In November 1980 during the Entumbani I uprising, two sections of 60 men each from 5 Support Unit Troops, Mantle Echo, Mantle Charlie, Mantle Juliet, Mantle Hotel, Mantle Lima, 300 men in all, travelled from all over Zimbabwe to reach Bulawayo in 11 hours. Due to the Support Unit Troops being independent with their own vehicles, stores, ammunition, medical supplies, tents etc., they could deploy anywhere at a moments notice all over Zimbabwe. During the bush war the Support Unit's primary task was to patrol the long distances in the Tribal Trust Lands, to maintain and reinstate order in the kraals (native villages). [7]

In the late 1970s a Civilian African Tracking Unit (C.A.T.U.) was added, to relieve the professional trackers in the pursuing of the enemy infiltrators into Rhodesia. Their tracking methods were based on the traditional skills and techniques of the Rhodesian Shangaan tribe. Their formations were called 'sticks', and consisted of a couple of white Rhodesian 'Patrol Officers', or 'Section Officers', and six to eight black Rhodesian trackers. [8] Police Reservists and regular police officers organised in a similar way were called the Police Anti Terrorist Unit or PATU.

The BSAP also oversaw the intelligence collection function of the Selous Scouts. That function was performed by an embedded element of the BSAP's Special Branch (SB), commanded by Chief Superintendent Michael "Mac" McGuinness; the SB liaison team conducted interrogations of captured guerrillas, reviewed captured documents, and collated and disseminated intelligence. [9] The SB team also oversaw the production and insertion of poisoned clothing, food, beverages, and medicines into the guerrilla supply chain. [10] The use of contaminated supplies resulted in the reported deaths of over 800 guerrillas, and the likely death toll probably reached well over 1,000. [10]

Police of all ranks to chief inspector, were obliged to perform PATU secondment on a regular rotation basis, and deployed to operational areas. Riot standby units were also maintained to deal with urban civil disorder on the same basis. Counter insurgency and advanced weapons training were mandatory by the 1970s in anticipation of PATU and district duties.

A district (rural) police station with a strength of anything from a dozen to forty personnel was often required to 'fly the flag' over an area comprising several hundred sq. kilometres.

Until the late 1970s, black Rhodesians could not hold ranks higher than Sub-Inspector in the BSAP, and only white Rhodesians could gain commissioned rank. This changed after moderate black leader Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected in the 1979 elections. After Robert Mugabe took power, the force followed a racial policy "Africanisation", in which senior white officers were forcibly retired and their positions filled by black officers.

The rank structure was unique, black policemen (known colloquially as "Mapolisa") were Constables, Sergeants, Senior Sergeants, Sergeant Majors, and Sub Inspectors.

The white police (known colloquially as 'Majoni') ranks began at Patrol Officer (Single gold bar on each shoulder), proceeding to Senior patrol officer (Two gold bars), Section Officer (Three gold bars), and thereafter to Inspector, Chief Inspector and commissioned ranks etc., as per UK police rank structures. There was also a training depot rank designation of Staff Lance Section Officer (also denoted by Three gold bars).

White officers were assigned separate mess facilities to the black police, and were obliged to employ black 'batmen'. The batmen were skilled at the presentation and maintenance of several police uniform 'dress orders' worn throughout any given day, all of which were expected to be immaculate at all times.

The responsibilities of these Caucasian police officers, once trained, were broadly the same as those of UK police officers. Black officers engaged in operational police work worked alongside their white colleagues on investigations and patrols, necessarily acting as interpreters with the indigenous population, as well as patrolling alone and conducting their own crime investigations or as otherwise directed. Black "ground coverage" officers acted as undercover plain clothes intelligence gatherers in both rural and urban areas.

On December 18, 1978, Equitation Squad 14/78-the first multi-racial recruit squad-began training at Morris Depot in Salisbury, now Harare. Prior to this date, Black recruits were trained at Tomlinson Depot while White Officers were trained at Morris Depot. Included in this historic intake was Patrol Officer Sinclair Roberts, the first mixed race Police Officer accepted to the Force since its inception in 1889, a span of 89 years.

The British South Africa Police was renamed the Zimbabwe Republic Police in July 1980 following the installation of Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. [11]

Ranks [12]


  1. Cramer 1964 , p. 235
  2. "The Society of Heraldic Art" (PDF). Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 July 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-09.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. The impact of anti-communism on white Rhodesian political culture, Donal Lowry in Cold War in Southern Africa: White Power, Black Liberation, edited by Sue Onslow, Routledge, 2009, page 93
  5. Monarchy and the End of Empire: The House of Windsor, the British Government, and the Postwar Commonwealth, Philip Murphy, OUP Oxford, 2013, page 105-106
  6. "BADGE - Zimbabwe (when Rhodesia) - British South Africa Police senior officer cap badge". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  7. Brown, Robert K.: American mercenaries in Africa – How to be a Soldier of Fortune in Rhodesia, SOFMAG, 1976.
  8. Jack Lott: "Run the bastards down!" C.A.T.U. tracks terrorists – Rhodesia's civilian tracking unit. – SOFMAG July 1979
  9. Ron Reid-Daly as told to Peter Stiff. Selous Scouts: Top Secret War. Alberton, South Africa: Galago Publishing, 1982
  10. 1 2 Glenn Cross. Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare, 1975-1980. Solihill: Helion & Company, 2017
  11. Africa Research Bulletin, June 1–30, Blackwell, 1980, page 5719
  12. "BSAP Rank Structure and Badges of Rank". Retrieved 14 April 2018.

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Further reading