He was born in Selukwe and educated in Gwelo and at the Rhodes University in South Africa. He served with the RAF during WW II. He returned home to finish his degree and then bought a farm in Selukwe. He became active in politics from 1948, first with the Liberal Party, then the United Federal Party. In 1962 he was one of the founders of the Rhodesian Front Party. The party won a very slim majority in the 1962 elections and formed a government. In April 1964 Smith was appointed leader of the Rhodesian Front Party, replacing Winston Field[?], and thus became Premier of Southern Rhodesia.
A white supremacist, Smith was staunchy opposed to Britain's insistance that he prepare to transfer political control of the colony to the black majority. After repeated sanctions were imposed, Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965. The British colony of Southern Rhodesia became a sovereign republic, a move Smith believed would finally free the nation from Britain's constant meddling.
The numerous international sanctions proved too difficult for the new country to withstand however, and in 1979 Smith agreed to hold multi-racial elections. Following the elections, Rhodesia was re-named Zimbabwe and Bishop Abel Muzorewa[?] was elected as Rhodesia's first black Prime Minister.
Smith would continue to hold a variety of political jobs under the new administration until the 1980 election, in which Robert Mugabe defeated Muzorewa. Mugabe was as viciously anti-white as Smith had been anti-black, and happily expelled Smith from the government.