Was General Walls the target on Flight RH827?

From Joshua Nkomo’s book – the story of my life

This is what Nkomo had to say about shooting down the Umniati on 12 February 1979.

“Later we again brought down one of Air Rhodesia’s Viscounts, with serious loss of life. This time too, civilians died because the Rhodesians used the same aircraft for civilian and for military purposes. Our intelligence people in Salisbury had identified the Rhodesian army commander, General Walls, getting into a Viscount plane. The same aircraft was landing at Wankie, at Victoria Falls and at Kariba: General Walls was reported to be still on board. After takeoff from Kariba, the plane passed our Sam emplacement on the hill: the missile team identified the plane by its number fired and brought it down. Shortly afterwards another Viscount took off and flew past our missile crew, who did not fire because spies had not identified it as carrying a military target. (incorrect – it took a different flight path altogether – with General Walls on board!) 

Walls had changed planes, and was aboard the second. Walls and his staff officers were clearly a legitimate target. A few years later, when I was a minister and he was commanding our post-independence army, I asked him why he had swapped planes. He just laughed. We talked about when his troops raided my home in Lusaka and killed four people in the house, while I eluded them. We had tried to kill the other, and in both attempts innocent people had been killed by mistake. It was that kind of war.

I still wonder whether Walls had switched aircraft because they had intercepted our radio talk and knew it was a likely target. We, of course, could not say publicly that Walls was our target; we could not admit either that we had a sophisticated radio link, or that we had spies in all the civil airports of Rhodesia“.

(It was a known fact that Nkomo’s ZIPRA gang that brought down the Viscount Umniati on flight RH 827 had no means of radio communication to be informed whether Gen.Walls was on any particular aircraft.  Furthermore, the missile gang on the ground could not possibly have read the aircraft’s registration number while it was in flight. When all the facts are put together, it becomes clear that Nkomo’s version was a sheer fabrication – in an attempt to legitimise what was a blatant terrorist attack on a civilian aircraft carrying holidaymakers between Kariba and Salisbury for the second time. Furthermore, the flight path and departure times of Air Rhodesia’s Viscounts were common knowledge. All things considered, was the attack routine or not? What do you think?

Keith Nell

Memorial Service 2014

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