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Rhodesia (; ), officially the Republic of Rhodesia from 1970, was an unrecognised state located in southern Africa that existed between 1965 and 1979 following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. With its government based at the former colonial capital of Salisbury, its territory consisted of the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia. The state was named after Cecil John Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company acquired the land in the 19th century.

The landlocked country bordered South Africa to the south, Botswana (post-1966) to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest and Mozambique (a Portuguese territory until 1975) to the east. The state was governed by a predominantly white minority government until 1979, initially as a self-governing colony then, after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, as a self-proclaimed sovereign Dominion, and latterly a Republic.

Throughout its history, Rhodesia continued to be referred to by the British, who did not recognize the state, as "Southern Rhodesia". Before 1964, the name "Rhodesia" had referred to the territory consisting of Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia which formed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It consisted of modern Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi; however, when the former colony of Northern Rhodesia renamed itself Zambia on independence in 1964, Nyasaland renamed itself Malawi in 1964, and the colony of Southern Rhodesia changed its name to simply "Rhodesia". However, the change had not yet been officially ratified when Rhodesia declared itself independent, and as a result, the British Government continued to refer to the breakaway colony as "Southern Rhodesia" throughout its existence, a stance it maintained regarding the June December 1979 successor state of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Therefore, when Zimbabwe Rhodesia returned to colonial status from December 1979 to April 1980, it was as "Southern Rhodesia", which, according to Her Majesty's Government, it had never legally ceased to be called. Southern Rhodesia subsequently gained international recognition of its independence in April 1980, when it became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe.



Unilateral Declaration of Independence - UDI

The British government adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of white settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule. The European minority Rhodesian Front (RF) government, led by Ian Smith, opposed the policy. Britain ruled over the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia until negotiations between colonial government and the British government broke down in 1965.

Smith's government declared the country independent from British rule on November 11, 1965 in what became known as UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence). Smith sent a telegram notifying British Prime Minister Harold Wilson at precisely 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. in London) on 11 November, at the precise moment that the United Kingdom started its traditional two minutes of silence to mark the end of World War I and honour its war dead. The not-so-hidden message to "kith and kin", as Smith put it, recalled Southern Rhodesia's assistance and allegiance to the UK in its time of need in World Wars I and II. British High Commissioner John Baines Johnston, who disliked Smith, cleaned out the High Commission building of all official documents and left Rhodesia. Smith gave strict instructions to his government not to harm the High Commission building in any way, much to Johnston's surprise.

The international community condemned the UDI. The United Nations Security Council authorised the use of sanctions, targeting Rhodesia at the behest of Britain, beginning in 1965 and lasting until the restoration of British rule in December 1979. The terms of these sanctions forbade most forms of trade or financial exchange with Rhodesia. From 1966 to 1975, the Royal Navy enforced a naval blockade, known as the Beira Patrol, on oil shipments to Rhodesia in the Mozambique Channel. However, not all members of the international community adhered to the sanctions. South Africa, Portugal, Israel, Iran and some Arab nations helped Rhodesia in various ways. In the case of the U.S., the 1971 Byrd Amendment allowed the importation of chrome, ferrochrome and nickel from Rhodesia.[1] Rhodesia evaded sanctions in the short term but few outsiders invested in Rhodesia after the sanctions.[2]

Ian Smith signing the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 November 1965 with his cabinet watching
Ian Smith signing the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 November 1965 with his cabinet watching
The Rhodesian government struggled to obtain international recognition and the lifting of sanctions. In 1970 the U.S. government categorically stated that "under no circumstances" would it recognize Rhodesian independence.[3]

Initially, the state maintained its loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II as "Queen of Rhodesia" (a title to which she never consented) but not to her representative, the Governor Sir Humphrey Gibbs, whose constitutional duties were exercised by an "Officer Administering the Government", Clifford Dupont.

In September 1968, the Appellate Division of the Rhodesian High Court ruled that Ian Smith s administration had become the de jure government of the country, not just the de facto one.[4] In order to support that decision, the Rhodesian Chief Justice, Sir Hugh Beadle, quoted the 17th Century Dutch Jurist, Hugo Grotius (who is sometimes described as the Grandfather of International Law ). Grotius maintained that there was no way in which a State could rightly claim to be governing a particular territory - if it was waging a war against that territory. Thus, Beadle argued that because of Britain s economic war against Rhodesia, Britain could not at the same time be described as governing Rhodesia.

On 2 March 1970, Rhodesia's government formally severed links with the British Crown, declaring Rhodesia a republic with Dupont as President; (Dupont, a London solicitor, had immigrated to Rhodesia in 1953). The Rhodesian Government had hoped that the declaration of a Republic would finally prompt sympathetic states to grant recognition.[5][6] However, the result was that the UK government then pressured United States Secretary of State William P. Rogers into closing the U.S. consulate in Salisbury.

Impact of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence

In 2005 the 40th anniversary of UDI prompted memorial events of various kinds. Many individuals directly affected by, or who participated in, UDI still lived. The British Academy funded a two day conference on UDI ('UDI: 40 Years On') at the London School of Economics in January 2006. The conference portrayed UDI as a joint product of racial conflict and the Cold War.[7] UDI had an international dimension. Domestic events in Rhodesia alone did not produce Smith's declaration.

Critics of UDI sought to maintain that Smith intended only to defend the privileges of a small white elite at the expense of the black majority. In this view UDI created a vacuum which the Mugabe regime eventually filled.[8] Alternatively, many supporters of UDI said the majority was not yet in the modern world, and unfit to rule a modern state. Maintenance of civilized standards, in this view, enabled Rhodesia to avoid some of the economic and political problems suffered by many other newly independent African nations.[9]

Tobacco generated more than half of Rhodesia's foreign currency throughout the UDI era and a highly-organised cartel smuggled it out to world markets disguised as South African or Portuguese product. However, sanctions that followed UDI affected tobacco production badly. The volume sold quickly declined from 150m kg (US$75m) in 1964 to around 60m kg (US$30m) per year.

Ted Jeffreys, President of the Rhodesia Tobacco Association from 1962 to 1965, in 1991

During UDI, white tobacco farmers switched to the production of maize and beef for sale on the domestic market. This provided severe competition to black farmers, whose share of marketed home food production declined from 65% to 30% during the UDI period. The black peasant farming sector never recovered. At the same time, sanctions provided an artificial protection for domestic manufacturing, which allowed the development of industries. These businesses later faltered when exposed to international competition in 1980.

Nevertheless, up until the early-to-mid-1970s, Rhodesia remained relatively prosperous. The white population was slowly increasing due to modest immigration and British economic sanctions and the blockade did not force concessions from the Smith regime. Indeed, in 1971 a deal was reached between the British and Rhodesian Governments to recognize Rhodesia's independence and postpone majority rule into the distant future. However, when this arrangement proved to be completely unacceptable to Rhodesia's African population, the deal fell apart.

Start of the Bush War

A lengthy armed campaign by ZANLA, the military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and ZIPRA, the military wing of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), against the Rhodesian government followed UDI. This became known as the "Bush War" by White Rhodesians and as the "Second " (or rebellion in Shona) by supporters of the guerillas.[10] The war is generally considered to have started in 1972 with scattered attacks on isolated white-owned farms, though the guerillas already represented a minor threat to Rhodesia in the 1960s.

After unsuccessful appeals to Britain and the United States for military assistance to liberate Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who was based in Mozambique after that country's independence from Portugal in 1975, led ZANU to seek support from the People's Republic of China and countries of the Soviet Bloc. Joshua Nkomo, based in Zambia and also supported by the Soviet Union, led ZAPU.[11] ZANU and ZAPU together formed 'the Patriotic Front'. Broadly, ZANLA recruited mainly from Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces, whilst the ZIPRA recruited from Mashonaland West, Midlands and Matabeleland provinces of Zimbabwe.

After the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique in 1974-75, it was no longer viable for the Smith regime to sustain white minority rule indefintely. Even the South African Apartheid regime considered sustaining white minority rule in a nation in which blacks outnumbered whites by 22:1 as untenable.[11] In 1978 there were 270,000 Rhodesians of European descent and more than six million Africans.[12] International business groups involved in the country (e.g. Lonrho) transferred their support from the Rhodesian government to black nationalist parties. Business leaders and politicians feted Nkomo on his visits to Europe. ZANU also attracted business supporters who saw the course that future events were likely to take.[13] Funding and arms support provided by supporters, particularly from the Soviet Union and its allies in the latter 1970s, allowed both ZIPRA and the ZANLA to acquire more sophisticated weaponry thereby increasing the military pressure that the guerillas were able to place on Rhodesia.

Until 1972, containing the guerrillas was little more than a police action. Even as late as August 1975 when Rhodesian government and black nationalist leaders met at Victoria Falls for negotiations brokered by South Africa and Zambia, the talks never got beyond the procedural phase.[14] Rhodesian representatives made it clear they were prepared to fight an all out war to prevent majority rule.[15] However, the situation changed dramatically after the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique in 1975. Rhodesia now found itself almost entirely surrounded by hostile states and even South Africa, its only real ally, pressed for a settlement.

Rand Daily Mail editorial, May 1976[16]

At this point, ZANU's alliance with FRELIMO (the Liberation Front of Mozambique) and the porous border between Mozambique and eastern Rhodesia enabled large-scale training and infiltration of ZANU/ZANLA fighters. The governments of Zambia and Botswana were also emboldened sufficiently to allow resistance movement bases to be set up in their territories. Guerillas began to launch operations deep inside Rhodesia, attacking roads, railways, economic targets and isolated security force positions, in 1976.[17] 9mm semi-automatic]], from 1976 army recruitment poster

The government adopted a 'strategic hamlets' policy of the kind used in Malaya and Vietnam to restrict the influence of insurgents over the population of rural areas. Local people were forced to relocate to protected villages (PVs) which were strictly controlled and guarded by the government against rebel atrocities. The protected villages were compared by the guerillas to concentration camps. Some contemporary accounts claim that this interference in the lives of local residents induced many of them who had previously been neutral to support the guerillas.[18] Other accounts say that the guerillas lacked real support in the country and had to resort to terrorizing the population to force their support (the reason for the 'protected village' program). The war degenerated into rounds of increasing brutality from all three parties involved (ZANU and ZAPU, and the Rhodesian Army fighting off their attacks). Mike Subritzky, a former NZ Army ceasefire monitor in Rhodesia, in 1980 described the war as "both bloody and brutal and brought out the very worst in the opposing combatants on all three sides."[19]

The Rhodesian government faced a serious economic struggle during the 1970s as a result of increased military spending, sanctions, emigration, and the strain imposed on the economic system by conscription of all white males, from the age of sixteen upwards. At this time volunteers were recruited from overseas to help in the fight. One particular source of volunteers was Vietnam War veterans, mostly from the USA and Australia. Rhodesians began to take more serious casualties from 1977, leaving few white families untouched.[20]

End of the Bush War

Rhodesia began to lose vital economic and military support from South Africa, which, while sympathetic to the white minority government, never accorded it diplomatic recognition. The South African Apartheid regime placed limits on the fuel and munitions they supplied to the Rhodesian military. They also withdrew the personnel and equipment that they had previously provided to aid the war effort, though covert military support continued. In 1976 the South African Apartheid regime and United States governments worked together to place pressure on Smith to agree to a form of majority rule. In response to the initiative of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in September 1976 Ian Smith accepted the principle of black majority rule within two years.[21] The Rhodesians now offered more concessions, but those concessions, focused on reaching an "internal settlement" with moderate black leaders, were insufficient to end the war.

At the time, some Rhodesians said the still embittered history between the British-dominated Rhodesia and the Afrikaner-dominated South Africa partly led South African Apartheid regime to withdraw its aid to Rhodesia. Ian Smith said in his memoirs that even though many white South Africans supported Rhodesia, South African Prime Minister John Vorster's policy of d tente with the Black African states ended up with Rhodesia being offered as the "sacrificial lamb" in order to buy more time for South Africa. Other observers perceive South Africa's distancing itself from Rhodesia as being an early move in the process that led to majority rule in South Africa itself.[22]

Dr Sue Onslow, 'South Africa and UDI'[23]

The Umniati was downed by ZIPRA insurgents using a SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missile on the 12 February 1979. All 59 passengers and crew aboard were killed.
The Umniati was downed by ZIPRA insurgents using a SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missile on the 12 February 1979. All 59 passengers and crew aboard were killed.

In the latter 1970s, the militants had successfully put the economy of Rhodesia under significant pressure while the numbers of guerillas in the country were steadily increasing.[24][25] The government abandoned its early strategy of trying to defend the borders in favour of trying to defend key economic areas and lines of communication with South Africa, while the rest of the countryside became a patchwork of "no-go areas".

By the late 1970s, Rhodesia's front-line forces contained about 25,000 regular troops and police - backed up by relatively strong army and police reserves.[26] Its armoured vehicles largely consisted of light armoured cars, complemented by just eight tanks (Polish built T-55LD tanks), delivered in the last year of the war. The Rhodesian air force, in turn, operated an assortment of both Canberra light bombers, Hawker Hunter fighter bombers, older de Havilland Vampire jets as well as a somewhat antiquated, but still potent, helicopter arm. These forces, including highly trained special operations units, were capable of launching devastating raids on resistance movement camps outside the country, as in Operation Dingo in 1977 and other similar operations.

Nevertheless, guerillas pressure inside the country itself was steadily increasing in the latter 1970s. By 1978-79, the war had become a contest between the guerrilla warfare placing ever increasing pressure on the Rhodesian regime and civil population and the Rhodesian Government's strategy of trying to hold off the militants until external recognition for a compromise political settlement with moderate black leaders could be secured.

By this time the need to cut a deal was apparent to most Rhodesians, but not to all. Ian Smith had dismissed his intransigent Defence Minister, P. K. van der Byl as early as 1976.[27] "PK" had been a hard-line opponent of any form of compromise with domestic opposition or the international community since before UDI.

P. K. van der Byl in 1977, commenting on a British peace plan.[28]

Van der Byl eventually retired to his country estate outside Cape Town, but there were elements in Rhodesia, mainly embittered former security force personnel, who forcibly opposed majority rule up to and well beyond independence.[29] New white immigrants continued to arrive in Rhodesia right up to the eve of independence.[30]

When the number of reported anthrax cases soared following 1978, American physicist Meryl Nass developed a theory that the Rhodesian government might be using biological weapons. In a paper published in the United States in December 1992, she wrote that Rhodesian government agents deliberately contaminated several watercourses near the Mozambique border with cholera and warfarin, an anti-coagulant commonly used as the active ingredient in rat poison. Food stocks in areas of insurgent activity were contaminated with anthrax spores. These alleged biological attacks had little impact on the fighting capability of ZANLA, but caused considerable distress to the local population. While there were 459 confirmed cases of anthrax poisoning in Rhodesia over the period 1959 to 1978, over 10,000 people contracted anthrax between 1978 to 1980, with 200 cases proving fatal. South African scientists speaking to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission during the late 1990s gave credence to these claims, as well as some former officers of the Rhodesian Security Forces, who stated around the same time that anthrax was covertly used by Rhodesian psy-ops units during the late 1970s, though not produced in Rhodesia; they stressed that Rhodesia did not have the capacity to produce such weapons, and that the cholera and anthrax had came from the South African government's top-secret chemical and biological weapons programme, Project Coast, which was using Rhodesia as a "laboratory".[31]

The work of journalists such as Lord Richard Cecil, son of the Marquess of Salisbury, stiffened the morale of Rhodesians and their overseas supporters.[32] Lord Richard produced regular news reports such as the Thames TV 'Frontline Rhodesia' features. These reports typically contrasted the incompetent insurgents with the "superbly professional" government troops.[33] A group of ZANLA fighters killed Lord Richard on 20 April 1978 when he parachuted into enemy territory with a Rhodesian airborne unit and landed in the middle of a group of ZANLA fighters.

The shooting down on 3 September 1978 of the civilian Vickers Viscount airliner Hunyani, Air Rhodesia Flight RH825, in the Kariba area by ZIPRA fighters using a surface-to-air missile, with the subsequent massacre of its survivors, is widely considered to be the event that finally destroyed the Rhodesians' will to continue the war. Although militarily insignificant, the loss of this aircraft (and a second Viscount, the Umniati, in 1979) demonstrated the reach of resistance movements extended to Rhodesian civil society.[34]

The Rhodesians' means to continue the war were also eroding fast. In December 1978 a ZANLA unit penetrated the outskirts of Salisbury and fired a volley of rockets and incendiary device rounds into the main oil storage depot the most heavily defended economic asset in the country. The storage tanks burned for five days giving off a column of smoke that could be seen away. Half a million barrels of petroleum product (comprising Rhodesia s strategic oil reserve) were lost.[35]

The government's defence spending increased from R$30m, 8.5% of the national budget in 1971 to 1972, to R$400m in 1978 to 1979, 47% of the national budget. In 1980 the post-independence government of Zimbabwe inherited a US$500m national debt.[36]

The end of UDI

The Rhodesian army continued its "mobile counter-offensive" strategy of holding key positions ("vital asset ground") while carrying out raids into the no-go areas and into neighbouring countries. While often extraordinarily successful in inflicting heavy guerrilla casualties, such raids also on occasion failed to achieve their objectives. In April 1979 special forces carried out a raid on Joshua Nkomo's residence in Lusaka (Zambia) with the stated intention of assassinating him.[37] Nkomo and his family left hastily a few hours before the raid having clearly been warned that the raid was coming. Rumours of treachery circulated within Rhodesia. It was variously suggested that the army command had been penetrated by British MI6 or that people in the Rhodesian establishment were positioning themselves for life after independence. The loyalty of the country's Central Intelligence Organization became suspect.

In 1979, some special forces units were accused of using counterinsurgent operations as cover for ivory poaching and smuggling. Colonel Reid-Daly (commander of the Selous Scouts) discovered that his phone was bugged and after challenging a superior officer on this issue was court martialled for insubordination. He received the lightest sentence possible, a caution, but he continued to fight his conviction and eventually resigned his commission and left the Army.

By 1978-79, up to 70% of the regular army was composed of black soldiers (though both the army and police reserves remained overwhelmingly white). By 1979 there were also 30 black commissioned officers in the regular army. While there was never any suggestion of disloyalty among the soldiers from predominantly black units (in particular within the Selous Scouts or the Rhodesian African Rifles - RAR), some argue that, by the time of the 1980 election, many of the RAR soldiers voted for Robert Mugabe.[38]

As the result of an internal settlement between the Rhodesian government and some urban-based African nationalist parties, which were not in exile and not involved in the war, elections were held in April 1979. The UANC (United African National Council) party won a majority in this election, and its leader, Abel Muzorewa (a United Methodist Church bishop), became the country's prime minister on 1 June 1979. The country's name was changed to Zimbabwe Rhodesia. The internal settlement left control of the country's police, security forces, civil service and judiciary in white hands, for the moment. It assured whites of about one third of the seats in parliament. It was essentially a power-sharing arrangement between whites and blacks which, in the eyes of many, particularly the insurgents, did not amount to majority rule.[39] However, the United States Senate voted to end economic sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia on 12 June.[40]

While the 1979 election was described by the Rhodesian government as non-racial and democratic, it did not include the main nationalist parties ZANU and ZAPU. In spite of offers from Ian Smith, the latter parties declined to participate in an election in which their political position would be insecure and under a proposed constitution which they had played no part in drafting and which was perceived as retaining strong white minority privilege.

Bishop Muzorewa's government did not receive international recognition. The Bush War continued unabated and sanctions were not lifted. The international community refused to accept the validity of any agreement which did not incorporate the main nationalist parties. The British Government (then led by the recently elected Margaret Thatcher) issued invitations to all parties to attend a peace conference at Lancaster House. These negotiations took place in London in late 1979. The three-month-long conference almost failed to reach conclusion, due to disagreements on land reform, but resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. UDI ended, and Rhodesia reverted to the status of a British colony ('The British Dependency of Southern Rhodesia').

The outcome was an internationally supervised general election in early 1980. ZANU (PF) led by Robert Mugabe won this election, some alleged, by terrorizing opposition to ZANU, including supporters of ZAPU. The observers and the newly-installed governor Lord Soames were accused of looking the other way, and Mugabe's victory was certified. Nevertheless, few could doubt that Mugabe's support within his majority Shona tribal group was extremely strong. Be that as it may, elements in the Rhodesian armed forces toyed with the idea of mounting a coup against a perceived stolen election ("Operation Quartz")[41] to prevent ZANU taking over government of the country, but the coup was never realised.


Mugabe and the victorious black nationalists were rather less concerned by Operation Quartz than by the possibility that there might be a mass exodus of the white community of the kind that had caused chaos in Mozambique five years earlier. Such an exodus had been prepared for by the South African government. With the agreement of the British Governor of Rhodesia, South African troops had entered the country to secure the road approaches to the Beit Bridge border crossing point. Refugee camps had been prepared in the Transvaal. On the day the election results became known, most white families had prepared contingency plans for flight, including the packing of cars and suitcases.

However, after a meeting with Robert Mugabe and the central committee of ZANU (PF), Ian Smith was reassured that whites could, and should stay in the new Zimbabwe. Mugabe promised that he would abide strictly by the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement and that changes in Zimbabwe would be made gradually and by proper legal process.

On 18 April 1980 the country became independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe, and its capital, Salisbury, was renamed Harare two years later.


Presidential flag of Rhodesia
Presidential flag of Rhodesia
Although Southern Rhodesia never gained full Dominion status within the old Commonwealth, Southern Rhodesians ruled themselves from the attainment of 'Responsible Government' in 1923. Its electoral register had property and education qualifications. Over the years various electoral arrangements made at a national and municipal level upheld these standards. For example, the franchise for the first Legislative Council election in 1899 contained the following requirement:

voters to be British subjects, male, 21 years of age and older, able to write their address and occupation, and then to fulfil the following financial requirements: (a) ownership of a registered mining claim in Southern Rhodesia, or (b) occupying immovable property worth 75, or (c) receiving wages or salary of 50 per annum in Southern Rhodesia. Six months' continuous residence was also required for qualifications (b) and (c).

Following Cecil Rhodes' dictum of "equal rights for all civilized men", there was no overt racial component to the franchise. However, the requirement excluded a majority of native blacks from the electorate. Whites never comprised more than 5% of the country's total population, but up to 1979 they never had less than 95% of the total vote in national elections. Up until the 1950s, Southern Rhodesia had a vibrant political life with right and left wing parties competing for power. The Rhodesia Labour Party held seats in the Assembly and in municipal councils throughout the 1920s and 1930s. From 1953 to 1958, the prime minister was Garfield Todd, a liberal who did much to promote the development of the Black community through investment in education, housing and healthcare. However, the government forced Todd from office due to his inability to come to agreement with Britain over the terms of Rhodesia's independence.

From 1958 onwards, white settler politics consolidated and ossified around resistance to majority rule, setting the stage for UDI. The 1961 Constitution governed Southern Rhodesia and independent Rhodesia up until 1969, using the Westminster Parliamentary System modified by a system of separate voter rolls with differing property and education qualifications, without regard to race. Whites ended up with the majority of Assembly seats.

The 1969 republican constitution established a bicameral Parliament consisting of an indirectly-elected Senate and a directly-elected House of Assembly, effectively reserving the majority of seats for whites. The office of President had only ceremonial significance with the Prime Minister holding executive power.

The Constitution of the short-lived Zimbabwe Rhodesia, which saw a black-led government elected for the first time, reserved 28 of the 100 parliamentary seats for whites. The independence constitution agreed at Lancaster House watered those provisions down and reserved 20 out of 100 seats for whites in the House of Assembly and 8 out of 40 seats in the Senate. The constitution prohibited Zimbabwe authorities from altering the Constitution for seven years without unanimous consent and required a three quarters vote in Parliament for a further three years. The government amended the Constitution in 1987 to abolish the seats reserved for whites, and replace the office of Prime Minister with an executive President. In 1990 the government abolished the Senate.

Military and police

Rhodesian Security Forces consisted of the Rhodesian Army, Royal Rhodesian Air Force, British South Africa Police, Rhodesian Ministry of Internal Affairs (INTAF) and the Guard Force. Despite the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, Rhodesia was able to develop and maintain a potent and professional military capability.[42] Time magazine reported in June 1977 that "man for man, the Rhodesian army ranks among the world's finest fighting units."[43]

Foreign relations

Throughout the period of its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (1965 to 1979), Rhodesia pursued a foreign policy of attempting to secure recognition as an independent country, and insisting that its political system would include 'gradual steps to majority rule.' Ardently anti-communist, Rhodesia tried to present itself to the West as a front-line state against communist expansion in Africa, to little avail. Rhodesia received little international recognition during its existence; recognition only occurred after elections in 1980 and a transition to black African rule.

Rhodesia wished to retain its economic prosperity and also feared communist elements in the rebel forces, and thus felt their policy of a gradual progression to black majority rule was justified. However, the international community refused to accept this rationale, believing that their policies were perpetuating racism. This attitude was part of the larger decolonisation context, during which Western powers such as the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium hastened to grant independence to their colonies in Africa.

Britain and the UDI

Rhodesia was originally a British colony. Although decolonisation in Africa had commenced after World War II, it began accelerating in the early 1960s, causing Britain to negotiate independence rapidly with several of its colonies. During this period, it adopted a foreign policy called NIBMAR, or No Independence Before Majority African Rule, mandating democratic reforms that placed governance in the hands of the majority black Africans. The governing white minority of Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith, opposed the policy and its implications. On 11 November 1965, Rhodesia's minority white government made a unilateral declaration of independence (commonly referred to as "UDI") from the United Kingdom, as it became apparent that negotiations would not lead to independence under the white regime.

The United Kingdom government immediately brought in legislation (Southern Rhodesia Act 1965) which formally abolished all Rhodesian government institutions. This move made life difficult for Rhodesian citizens who wished to travel internationally as passports issued by Rhodesia's UDI administration were not recognised as valid;[44] in January 1966, the British issued a statement accepting as valid any passport issued before the declaration of independence and allowing six month United Kingdom passports to be granted when they expired - provided that the bearer declared they did not intend to aid the UDI Rhodesian government.[45]

Until late 1969, Rhodesia still recognised Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, even though it opposed the British government itself for hindering its goals of independence. The Queen, however, refused to accept the title Queen of Rhodesia. Eventually, the Smith government abandoned attempts to remain loyal to the Crown, and in 1969, a majority of the electorate voted in referendum to declare Rhodesia a republic. They hoped that this move would facilitate recognition as an independent state by the international community, but the issues of white minority control remained and hindered this effort, and like the UDI before it, the proclamation of a republic lacked international recognition.


After the declaration of independence, and indeed for the entire duration of its existence, Rhodesia did not receive official recognition from any state, although it did maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa, another white minority regime (but did not recognize Rhodesia due to its wish to preserve its fragile positions with other nations but frequently assisted the republic), and Portugal, which ceased relations with Rhodesia after its Carnation Revolution in 1974. The day following the declaration of independence, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (S/RES/216) calling upon all states to not accord Rhodesia recognition, and to refrain from any assistance. The Security Council also imposed selective mandatory economic sanctions, which were later made comprehensive.

International perspective

Rhodesia Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965 was promptly condemned by the international community. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 216 of the 12 November 1965 called "upon all States not to recognize this illegal racist minority regime in Southern Rhodesia."[46]

Rhodesia campaigned for international acceptance and invoked the doctrine of non-intervention in internal affairs as justification for rebuking external criticism of its internal policies. However, the emerging doctrine of self-determination in colonial situations meant that most nations regarded Rhodesia as illegitimate.

Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia, took a pragmatic approach towards Rhodesia. Kenneth Kaunda, heavily dependent on access through Rhodesia for his nation's copper ore exports, fuel, and power imports unofficially worked with the Rhodesian government. Rhodesia still allowed Zambia to export and import its goods through its territory to Mozambique ports, despite the Zambian government's official policy of hostility and non-recognition of the post-UDI Smith Administration.

The United States, like all other Western nations, refused to recognize Rhodesia, but unlike others allowed its Consulate-General to function as a communications conduit between the American government in Washington, D.C., and the Rhodesian government in Salisbury. When Rhodesia set up an information office in Washington, D.C., OAS nations loudly protested. The U.S. government responded by saying the Rhodesian mission and its staff had no official diplomatic status and violated no U.S. laws.

Portugal pursued a middle path with Rhodesia. While not officially recognizing Rhodesia under Ian Smith, the government of Antonio Salazar did permit Rhodesia to establish a diplomatic mission in Lisbon, and permitted Rhodesian exports and imports through their colony of Mozambique. The Portuguese government in power at that time, authoritarian and ardently anti-communist, gave active behind-the-scenes support in Rhodesia's fight against the guerrilla groups.

South Africa, itself under international pressure as a white minority government, pursued a policy of d tente with the black African states at the time. These states wanted South Africa to pressure Ian Smith to accept a faster transition to majority rule in Rhodesia, in return for pledges of non-interference in South Africa's internal affairs. Prime Minister John Vorster, believing majority rule in Rhodesia would lead to international acceptance for South Africa, used a number of tactics to pressure Smith. The South African government held up shipments of fuel and ammunition and pulled out friendly South African forces from Rhodesia. The combined loss of Mozambique and the loss of support from South Africa dealt critical blows to the Rhodesian government.


After the UDI, Rhodesia House in London, (the Rhodesian High Commission), now the Embassy of Zimbabwe in London, simply became a representative office with no official diplomatic status. Other locations which had Rhodesian representative offices were:

The most important representative offices for Rhodesia were Lisbon and Pretoria.


Continuing civil war and a lack of international support eventually led the Rhodesian government to submit to an agreement with the UK in 1979. This led to internationally supervised elections, won by ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe, establishing the internationally-recognised Zimbabwe.


After independence in April 1980, the history of Rhodesians became that of the whites in Zimbabwe. However, many of the issues associated with UDI and the Bush War were not resolved immediately. In the early 1980s, South Africa sought to secure its position in the region by various means including the destabilisation of neighbouring states through support for dissident groups such as UNITA (in Angola) and Renamo (in Mozambique).[47] In Zimbabwe, the South African intelligence service promoted ZIPRA dissidents in what became known as the super-ZAPU insurgency in Matabeleland.[48]

During the Bush War of the 1970s some white farmers were able to carry on operations by paying protection money to commanders.[49] The super-ZAPU insurgency of the early 1980s was much less manageable. Super-ZAPU targeted white farmers, missionaries and tourists on the grounds that their murders would make "international headlines."[50]

Ed Cumming, Matabeleland white farmer

The insurgency was equipped and coordinated by South African intelligence, working through white former members of the Rhodesian security services.[51] The super-ZAPU insurgency was eventually resolved at a military level by the Zimbabwe army Fifth Brigade's sweep through Matabeleland in 1983 (operation "Gukurahundi") and at a political level by the Unity Accord of 1987.[52] Operation Gukurahundi was associated with the massacre of between four and ten thousand civilians. Those last figures are estimated by sources ranging from the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace to Parade magazine.[53]

The Matabeleland police reserve, still a largely white force in 1983, provided a degree of support to operation Gukurahundi. White police officers manning roadblocks and checkpoints were a commonly observed feature in Matabeleland at the time of the operation.[54]

In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. Politically within Zimbabwe, the consolidation of power by Robert Mugabe continued through the 1980s. Parliamentary seats reserved for the white population were abolished in 1987 and a new constitution promulgated with Mugabe in the position of state president. Many expatriates and some of the whites who stayed in Zimbabwe became deeply nostalgic for Rhodesia. These individuals are known as "Rhodies." Native whites who are more accepting of the new order are known as "Zimbos."

Today, Zimbabwe, once considered the breadbasket of Africa, is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis.[55] Part of the issue is due to a marked decrease in agricultural production as fertile farmland once cultivated by trained white farmers has been forcibly relocated to black former combatants, who are untrained in agricultural land management, as compensation for military service. In such cases, production usually falls to less than half of its estimated capacity and fertile land lies fallow due to neglect. Not only is production reduced, but the jobs associated with operating a viable enterprise are lost. The Zimbabwe government blame the crippling sanctions imposed by the Western governments to force a regime change, for the failures in the economy. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.[56][57]

Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government's defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilize its own economy, and her inability to stem corruption and advance human rights.[55] In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswanan pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.[58]

In 2008 elections, Mugabe garnered 41%, Simba Makoni 10% and Morgan Tsvangirai 48% of the votes cast for president forcing a runoff election called by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). In the months leading to the run-off, instances of extreme violence between the two major parties (ZANU PF and MDC) led Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. In February, 2009, a power-sharing accord was reached with Mugabe retaining the title of President and Tsvangirai being named Prime Minister. The accord was, essentially, to create the position of "Prime Minister" for Tsvangirai, but the powers of the office remain unclear.

Rhodesian Media

Among the news magazines published in Rhodesia under UDI was the Rhodesia Herald and Illustrated Life Rhodesia. The Valiant Years by Beryl Salt, published in 1978, told the history of Rhodesia from 1890 to 1978 entirely through the medium of facsimile reproduction of articles and headlines from Rhodesian newspapers.


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