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British South Africa Police

British South Africa Police
Emblem of the British South Africa Police
Country Rhodesia
Branch Police
Type Police
Motto 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 It thereafter served as Rhodesia's regular police force, retaining its name, until 1980, when it was superseded by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, soon after the country's reconstitution into Zimbabwe in April that year.

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.

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.

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.


  • History 1
  • Notes 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Officer's cap badge of the BSAP, c. 1965, showing the "wounded lion" device.
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 Dublin. The unit played a central role in both the First Matabele War (1893) and the Second Matabele War (1896/97). Until 1896 the force was called the British South Africa Company's Police.[1]

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 Tanganyika during World War I, 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 World War II was Keppel Bagot Levett, born in 1919, who died in active service with the BSAP in March 1941.[2]

A Criminal Investigation Department 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 on 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 Royal Canadian Mounted Police 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, the crown was removed from the BSAP's badge.

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 amoung 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 One uprising , 2 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 SupportUnits primary task was to patrol the long distances in the Tribal Trust Lands, to maintain and reinstate order in the kraals (native villages).[4]

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.[5] Police Reservists and regular police officers organised in a similar way were called the Police Anti Terrorist Unit or PATU.

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 Caucasian 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.


  1. ^ Cramer 1964, p. 235
  2. ^ An Armorial of Zimbabwe and Rhodesia, Council of the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Zimbabwe, 2001
  3. ^
  4. ^ Brown, Robert K.: American mercenaries in Africa - How to be a Soldier of Fortune in Rhodesia, SOFMAG, 1976.
  5. ^ Jack Lott: "Run the bastards down!" C.A.T.U. tracks terrorists - Rhodesia's civilian tracking unit. - SOFMAG July 1979


  • Cramer, James (1964). The World's Police. London:  
  • Scouting on Two Continents, by Major Frederick Russell Burnham, D.S.O. LC call number: DT775 .B8 1926. (1926)
  • Radford, M., 1994. Service Before Self, privately published.
  • Gibbs, P., & Phillips, H., 2000. The History of the British South Africa Police, Something of Value Publications, Victoria, Australia.
  • Kent Rasmussen, R., & Rubert, S. C., 1990. Historical Dictionary of Zimbabwe, Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, N.J., US.
  • Brown, Robert K.: American mercenaries in Africa - How to be a Soldier of Fortune in Rhodesia, Soldier of Fortune Magazine, First ever issue 1976.
  • Lott, Jack: "'Run the bastards down!' C.A.T.U. tracks terrorists - Rhodesia's civilian tracking unit". Soldier of Fortune Magazine, July 1979

External links

  • The Regimental Association of the British South Africa Police
  • Blue & Old Gold - The History of the British South Africa Police 1889–1890
  • Leopard - Land Mine Resisting Vehicle (Used by the BSAP)
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