Why I wrote ‘The Blockade Runners’ by Peter Vollmer
I always thought the UN embargo and the civil war in Rhodesia an excellent background for a novel. The fact that I’d actually been on the sidelines as a banker working for a bank that was assisting the Rhodesian government (this with the blessings of the South African government) gave me insight in how the Rhodesians circumvented the UN embargo at the time. While South Africa did assist Rhodesia in many ways, particularly when it came to the Rhodesian civil war, international trade and assisting Rhodesian importers masquerading as South Africans, the country finally dug its heels in, ever aware of what the UN could do in retaliation.
Using South African shipping and confirming houses, the Rhodesian surreptitiously imported goods from all over the world using bills of exchange and import letters of credit, these drawn on South African banks to make this seem as normal South African trading.
In the bank, I handled both Rhodesia’s imports and exports, the documents containing forged certificates of origin, i.e., Rhodesian chrome, platinum and other minerals shipped from South African ports and imports with c.i.f for a ports of destination in South Africa from where these goods would be sent onward by road or rail to Rhodesia.
The UN oil embargo proved to be Rhodesia’s biggest problem, as South Africa was an importer herself. If she sent her own imported oil products to Rhodesia, she could well find herself a victim of a UN oil embargo as well – although oil and petrol were eventually sent from South Africa.
It was internationally customary to trade oil on the high seas, meaning that ownership of a ship’s cargo could, and often did, change ownership while underway, and the ship suddenly being diverted to a new destination nominated by the purchaser. To that end, I was involved in the purchase of two tankers on behalf of Rhodesia which bought and loaded oil for some legitimate destination, but once at sea, the ships were redirected to Beira where they would attempt to run the British blockade.
I had visited Rhodesia on a number of occasions, and you have to have seen the country to appreciate why the Whites refused to accept the manner in which Great Britain proposed to relinquish her authority and responsibility and grant the country full independence.
It was God’s country, the breadbasket of Africa. You need only look at Zimbabwe today to realise that Ian Smith and his supporters had a point. The Whites believed outright independence would result in economic chaos.
Many Rhodesians, both Black and White, lost their lives in the civil war that followed. It was a tragedy for all — there were no winners, only losers. The country now a mere husk of what it was.
In the book I tried to convey the feelings and beliefs of persons on both sides. However, no two persons shared exactly the same ideals and beliefs — there were doubts everywhere…
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