The British Empire Library

Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

by Susan Williams

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Tim Wright (Northern Rhodesia/Zambia Police 1957 - 1966)
Dag Hammarskold, United Nations Secretary-General, died on the night of 17/18 September 1961 when his DC6 aircraft crashed in the forest some nine miles short of the runway of Ndola Airport, Northern Rhodesia, then part of the Central African Federation. Was the plane shot or otherwise forced down? Was there a bomb or even an assassin on board? Not only two Federal Inquiries and the Northern Rhodesia inquest, but the UN inquiry too, were unable to find reliable evidence to show other than that the aircraft was making a normal approach ready to land but too low. Colin Rawlins DFC, senior District Officer at Ndola at the time, an experienced aviator who visited the scene in 1961, wrote in 2002 that the only possible explanation was pilot error. To those on the ground only aircraft lights would have been visible in the black night and those who gave evidence of seeing a second smaller aircraft approach were, he judged, probably confused by the size of the DC6 with its tail and other lights flashing into thinking there were two rather than only one aircraft.

On page 7 Susan Williams writes of the Federation: '...the franchise was confined to the white minority'. On page 53 she describes the Federal Parliament as 'whites-only'. Neither statement is accurate. There were enough inequalities in the Rhodesias without the need to exaggerate them but the author seems determined to do so at every opportunity and regardless of relevance to the fate of the Secretary-General. Basically as far as she is concerned, UN, Asians and Africans, good; non-UN whites, whether Rhodesian, British or American, suspect. She cannot conceive that anyone could have honestly believed that immediate majority rule would not be in the best interests of any section of the population. She either does not know or does not want to know that the Government of Northern Rhodesia, its civil servants and police were not under the control of the Federal Government. Nevertheless despite extensive research she cannot say precisely who did it and how.

The fact is that uncertainty as to Hammarskold's intentions led to failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation by the Airport Manager when junior police officers reported seeing a strange light in the sky. Police patrols found nothing that night. In the morning the Federal Civil Aviation Department, the responsible authority, instigated an air search.

At the Aviation Department inquiry in 1961, the evidence of Timothy 1100 hrs and 1200 hrs on 18 September he had told a District Officer, Mr Garfitt, that during the night he had heard two aircraft and seen a bright light in the sky. In 1979 Kankasa told a Swedish TV researcher that between 0900 and 0930 hrs on 18 September 1961, having heard of the crash from charcoal burners and visited the scene, he had informed the police officer commanding Western Division. No police action resulted. He said he had related this to the inquiry in 1961 but it had been ignored. He does not appear to have been asked about his evidence actually recorded at the inquiry. Unlike Susan Williams I don't regard Kankasa's 1979 statement as reliable.

In fact at about 1400 hrs on 18 September Detective Constable Sicimo reported to D/lnsp Ray Lowes at Ndola Central Police Station with three Africans he had arrested at the beer hall trying to sell a cypher machine they had found at the crashsite. Assistant Superintendent M T Cary, guided by the arrested persons, led a police party to the scene and Investigations commenced. This was the first police party on the scene and as far as can be ascertained, no-one apart from local Africans got there before them. The three who were arrested were not 'framed', whatever Susan Williams may believe, and D/Const Sicimo appears to have been the first police officer to learn of the tragedy.

No OSPA member with high blood pressure should read this book.

British Empire Book
Susan Williams
C Hurst and Co Publishers Ltd


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