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Obituary: David Daniel ‘Dan’ Stannard



Ex-Rhodie spy chief who saved Mugabe’s life


WELL-KNOWN former policeman and intelligence chief, David Daniel “Dan” Stannard, passed away on 30 March 2023 at Ely, Cambridgeshire, in Britain. 

A former resident of Mildenhall Road, Fordham, near Ely, ill health took him to the Soham Lodge, a care home, where he passed away. 

He was 85 years of age and is survived by his six children, Alison, Jaqueline “Jackie”, Catherine, Jennifer, David and Mark. Dan’s wife, Pat, passed away recently in September 2021.

Dan Stannard was born on 28 November 1937, at Pershwar, Pakistan (Multan, Bengal, India before 1947 partition) where his father, William, had been serving in the British Army with a Gurkha Regiment that saw action in Malaya during World War II.  His mother was Rose (neé Lawrence) Stannard.  Dan was christened on 30 December 1937.  He had three brothers and three sisters.

The Stannard family left India in 1947, after the country gained independence from Britain.  They settled in Lichfield, Staffordshire, later moving to Liverpool.  Dan was partly schooled in the United Kingdom and towards the end of his schooling he attended Welbeck College, Worksop, Nottingham leaving 1956.  He did a short spell in national service before venturing out to Africa.

The young Stannard travelled to Africa aboard the Arundel Castle, and attested on 17 March 1957 into the British South Africa Police (force number 5668 – Squad 4/1957), where his older brother, Bernard W Peter Stannard PMM was already a serving officer.  Following his depot training, Dan was posted to Rusape district as a constable. 

Dan proved his mettle early in his career, being awarded the Commissioner’s Special Commendation for his courageous part in rescuing passengers from a stranded bus in the swollen Macheke River (Manicaland). 

One of the passengers lost his hold on an improvised lifeline being swept away to an almost certain death, were it not for Constable Stannard jumping into the fast-flowing river to save him.  He transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) early in his career.

As a young detective, Dan became acquainted with and later engaged to a local Penhalonga lady, Patricia Margaret Brown, in November 1959 and they were married in Umtali on 23 April 1960.

Dan spent many years in the eastern border town, then called Umtali (Mutare). Detective Stannard was promoted to Detective Sergeant in July 1962.   He spent a couple of years in the newly formed Rhodesian Special Branch (SB).

Dan’s role in the Special Branch was to monitor the growth of Zanu and in particular the activities of its president, the Reverend Ndabaninigi Sithole and the Zhanda groups.  Sithole was a prominent nationalist figure, originating from Mount Selinda Mission, who organised an internal insurrection in Manicaland and the start of the insurgency.   

The first incidents were the attempt to petrol bomb the Nyanyadzi Police Station and the murder of Petrus Oberholzer. Stannard was an integral part of the team that investigated these incidents.

The insurgent group being investigated were known as the “Crocodile Gang” – a member of which was Emmerson Mnangagwa, now President of Zimbabwe, who was eventually to become his political master. 

The gang, named “gentlemen with Molatov cocktails” by his colleagues, were arrested by Stannard; apparently in a cave which they were using as a hideout.  He, by then a Detective Section Officer, along with Detective Inspectors Michael Wiltshire and Dusty Binns, had their good work brought to the notice of the police Commissioner.

On 17 June 1963, Leopold Smith, the accountant at Premier Estates, went on the rampage at the estate killing four employees and wounding seven others, including policeman Sandy Coutts (who was later awarded for his bravery).

All the resources of the CID and SB were deployed to deal with the criminal at large. On the arrest of Smith, the Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer (PCIO) Manicaland, Ian McKay, delegated the recording of a warned and cautioned statement to the up-and-coming Stannard.

Dan continued to serve with the CID where he served in core serious crime sections, including the Fraud Squad and the Homicide section.  By October 1971, Dan Stannard had been promoted to Detective Inspector.

During March 1975, Dan had done a tour at the Rusape Special Branch offices.  With the release of detained nationalists (ostensibly for talks in Zambia) the previous year, there were ongoing surveillance operations being conducted on these lead nationalist figures.  These operations brought the now legendary escape of Robert Mugabe and Edgar Tekere (via Rusape and Inyanga) to Mozambique to Stannard’s doorstep.  To his chagrin, Dan was under strict orders from above not to intercept the two.

On 31 October 1975, by then a Superintendent (promoted August 1974), he was awarded a Police Long Service Medal (PLSM).  As a CID officer, Dan Stannard had spent much time during the Rhodesian Bush War as a representative on the Joint Operations Command (Joc).

One of his tasks during the late 1970s had been to investigate senior elements of Rhodesia’s most prestigious military unit, the Selous Scouts, concerning allegations of poaching and ivory trafficking in the Lowveld.  Nothing ever became of that, from a prosecution perspective, but it set off a spat between Ron Reid Daly and Major-General John Hickman (MC), leading to a humiliating court case and the resignation of both.

Dan retired from the Zimbabwe Republic Police with the rank of Chief Superintendent on 30 August 1981.  Before his retirement, Dan had been seconded to the Special Branch as Provincial Special Branch Officer, Salisbury and Mashonaland, on the footstep of the departing Gordon Waugh. 

Dan took transfer to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) where he was appointed Deputy Director Internal, Branch I.  He served with Mike Reeves who was designated Director Internal under the leadership of Ken Flower, the Director-General.

On the departure of Mike Reeves, Stannard took over and served as the Director Internal of CIO, Branch I, inclusive of police Special Branch, and oversaw internal intelligence-gathering. Stannard is credited with foiling an assassination attempt on Robert Mugabe, soon to become Prime Minister of the new Zimbabwe, by a South African fifth column in 1980, an event for which he was awarded the Gold Cross of Zimbabwe.

The CIO went through a political transition absorbing the police Special Branch, a move by Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s first security minister. 

This had been done to consolidate party influence within the intelligence community, but more specifically to obviate intelligence getting into the possession of rival Zapu faction member, Joshua Nkomo, who was then minister of Home Affairs.  It also served to enable seasoned Special Branch intelligence officers to train and mentor new entrant successors to the CIO.

As internal intelligence chief, Dan Stannard became haplessly embroiled with early, post-independence, internecine squabbles between staunch Rhodesian Front politicians and Mugabe’s government. 

Added to this, the old Zapu-Zanu rifts were rippling through the government. Controversially and indeed contentiously, Dan, by his admission, suffered intelligence exclusion in the affected areas where turbulent events arose in Matabeleland; resulting in the Gukurahundi genocide by the Korean-trained 5 Brigade, commanded by Perrance Shiri.

Dan retired from the CIO in 1994 and took up work as a lobbyist and security consultant in commerce and industry in association with former colleague and former cricket team mate, the late Bob Schonken.

During his life, Dan had been a great sportsman with a particular passion for cricket and tennis.  One anecdote suggests that Dan, not being the fastest runner and sometimes a handicap, could never run two runs, one was always enough. He preferred to stand in slips as Dan hated chasing after a ball.  Even when he missed a ball in slips he would look to another fielder to go and fetch it no matter how far away the fielder was. 

One could describe Dan as a warm and easy-going character and his sporting ability at cricket and tennis particularly the latter meant that he was liked by his contemporaries and this skill facilitated quite early in his police career relations with senior officers of the force.

He represented police in both sports, and later went on to become a member of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union where he was appointed director of tours and manager of the Zimbabwe “B” side and then manager of the national squad.  He took up the challenge of many young white cricketers whose families had been affected by Mugabe’s purge against white land owners.  Dan used his influence to lobby for land redesignation to avoid the Mugabe purge, but not always with success.

In 2003, Dan had become a security target of the regime, following a contrived smear scandal, and was forced to leave Zimbabwe under threat of intense political harassment and possible arrest. He settled in Fordham with his wife and continued with his security consultancy work.

Dan had been quite a private person pursuing his own path in the best interest of his family and had been determined to stay in Zimbabwe.  A man who was always in the right place at the right time, often for the good of others, and very influential at the highest levels of government and in foreign circles.  He shall be sadly missed by many.–

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