Rhodesia was the name adopted when the formerly British colony of Southern Rhodesia declared itself independent (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) on 11 November 1965. The name was also used with the establishment of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in 1979. After a brief return to colonial status as Southern Rhodesia from 1979 to 1980, the country became the independent nation of Zimbabwe in April 1980.
The country is landlocked and located in southern Africa. Predominantly white Settler Governments governed the country 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. The colony was named after Cecil John Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company acquired the land in the nineteenth century. The colony gained international recognition of its independence in 1980 as the Republic of Zimbabwe. Before 1964 the name "Rhodesia" referred to the territory of modern Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Smith's government declared the country independent from British rule on 11 November 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 UK 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 War 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 UDI. The United Nations Security Council authorised the first 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. 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. Rhodesia evaded sanctions in the short term but few outsiders invested in Rhodesia after the sanctions.
The Rhodesian government struggled to obtain international recognition and the lifting of sanctions. No significant state ever granted recognition to Rhodesia and in 1970 the U.S. government categorically stated that "under no circumstances" would it recognise Rhodesian independence.
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. 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 emigrated to Rhodesia in 1953. The Rhodesians hoped that the declaration of a Republic would finally prompt sympathetic states to grant recognition. The UK government pressured Secretary of State William P. Rogers into closing the U.S. consulate in Salisbury.
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. Alternatively, many Rhodesians sought to justify UDI on the ground that the British government had delayed independence by 15 years. They said the delay contained the spread of communism in Africa and enabled Zimbabwe to avoid some of the economic and political problems suffered by many other newly independent African nations.
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.
From the industry's point of view, UDI was the worst setback it ever faced. Zimbabwe would be producing 400m kg of tobacco a year (double actual 1990 output) if it were not for UDI
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.
After unsuccessful appeals to Britain and the US for military assistance to liberate Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, latterly based in Mozambique, led ZANU with support from the People's Republic of China. Joshua Nkomo, based in Zambia and supported by the Soviet Union, led ZAPU. ZANU and ZAPU together formed 'the Patriotic Front'. Broadly, ZANU represented the 80% of the Black population who spoke Shona and ZAPU represented the 20% who spoke Ndebele.
An impression quickly took root during the war that the Rhodesians were going to lose. Even the South Africans considered sustaining white minority rule in a nation in which blacks outnumbered whites by 22:1 as untenable. In 1978 there were 270,000 Rhodesians of European descent and more than six million of African descent. 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, funding his ZAPU party and associated ZIPRA military operations. This funding allowed ZIPRA to purchase sophisticated weaponry on the international arms market, which ultimately helped lead to the demise of the Rhodesian state. ZANU also attracted business supporters who saw the course that future events were likely to take.
Initially, the Rhodesian government's overwhelming superiority in manpower, fire-power and mobility led the government to several victories. Containing the insurgency required little more than a police action. But 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.
The Rhodesian government and the black nationalists met at Victoria Falls in August 1975 for negotiations brokered by South Africa and Zambia, but the talks never got beyond the procedural phase. Rhodesian representatives made it clear they were prepared to fight an all out war to prevent majority rule.
Having let slip one chance after another of reaching an accommodation with more moderate black leaders, Rhodesia's whites seem to have made the tragic choice of facing black nationalism over the barrel of a gun rather than the conference table. The downhill road toward a race war in Rhodesia is becoming increasingly slippery with blood.
At this point, ZANU's alliance with FRELIMO and the porous border between Mozambique and eastern Rhodesia enabled large-scale training and infiltration of ZANU/ZANLA guerrillas. The governments of Zambia and Botswana were also emboldened sufficiently to allow guerrilla bases to be set up in their territories. Guerrillas began to launch operations deep inside Rhodesia, attacking roads, railways, economic targets and isolated security force positions, in 1976.
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. The protected villages were compared by some observers to concentration camps. Contemporary accounts indicate that this interference in the lives of local residents induced many of them who had previously been neutral to support the insurgents. The war degenerated into rounds of increasing brutality from all three parties involved (Rhodesian army, ZANU and ZAPU). 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.
The Rhodesian government faced a serious economic struggle during the 1970s as a result of sanctions, emigration, and the strain imposed on the economic system by conscription of all white men. At this time volunteers were recruited from overseas to help in the fight. One particular source of volunteers, Vietnam War veterans mostly from the USA and Australia, who had found it difficult to adjust to civilian life in their home countries. Rhodesians began to take serious casualties in 1977, leaving few white families untouched.
At the time, some Rhodesians said the still embittered history between the British-dominated Rhodesia and the Afrikaner-dominated South Africa partly led South Africa 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 détente 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.
In 1976 South Africa saw settlement of the Rhodesian question as vital on several fronts: to cauterize the wound of the psychological blow … caused by her defeat in the Angolan conflict; to pre-empt possible Cuban intervention in Rhodesia and the possibility of South Africa being sucked into another Cold War regional conflict without the support and endorsement of the western powers
By early 1978 militant victories put the Rhodesian armed forces on the defensive. 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." Rhodesia's front-line forces never contained more than 25,000 troops, eight tanks (Polish build T-55LD tanks) and nine old Hawker Hunter jets. Those forces could still launch raids on enemy bases, but Rhodesia faced diplomatic isolation, economic collapse and military defeat.
Some have accused that the Rhodesian government resorted to biological warfare, although there is no conclusive proof that the regime engaged in such behavior. It was reported that watercourses at several sites close to the Mozambique border were deliberately contaminated with cholera and the toxin Sodium Coumadin, an anti-coagulant commonly used as the active ingredient in rat poison. Food stocks in the area were reportedly contaminated with anthrax spores. These biological attacks had little impact on the fighting capability of ZANLA, but caused considerable distress to the local population. Over 10,000 people contracted anthrax in the period 1978 to 1980 of whom 200 died. The facts about this episode became known during the hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission during the late 1990s, but upon close inspection, not one reliable source was found to substantiate the claim. Also, since Anthrax is so easily made, it is just as easy to conclude that either ZANLA or ZIRPA were behind the biological attacks, as it would have helped their cause considerably to instate such a policy, and then try to reap the political benefits associated with framing the Rhodesian Government for the crime. Either way, the Zimbabwean Government was very ept at keeping the whole ordeal a secret until many years after the fall of Rhodesia. The bottom line is, no one will ever truly know who did it, or if it was man-made at all. While Anthrax is rare in this area of the world, under war-time conditions, it is somewhat reasonable to think that this could have been a natural outbreak, spread by unsanitary conditions that were the result of life inside of an active war zone. As to why whites were not as affected; one only need to remember the different living standards, and accompanying sanitary practices between the majority population, and those of the minority whites.
The work of journalists such as Lord Richard Cecil, son of the Marquess of Salisbury, stiffened the morale of Rhodesians and their overseas supporters. 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. A group of ZANLA insurgents 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 insurgents using a surface-to-air missile, and 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 insurgents extended to Rhodesian civil society.
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. At a stroke, the country’s annual budget deficit was increased by 20%.
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.
In 1979, some special forces units were accused of using counter terrorist operations as cover for ivory poaching and smuggling. Colonel Reid-Daly (commander of the Selous Scouts) was court martialled and dismissed for insubordination. Meanwhile, support for ZANU-PF was growing amongst the black soldiers who made up 70% of the Rhodesian army.
By the end of 1978, 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. "PK" had been a hard-line opponent of any form of compromise with domestic opposition or the international community since before UDI.
...it is better to fight to the last man and the last cartridge and die with some honour. Because, what is being presented to us here is a degree of humiliation...
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. New white immigrants continued to arrive in Rhodesia right up to the eve of independence.
As the result of an "internal settlement" between the Rhodesian government and some fringe 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 nominal prime minister on June 1 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. It assured whites of about one third of the seats in parliament. It was essentially a power-sharing arrangement which did not amount to majority rule. However, the United States Senate voted to end economic sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia on June 12.
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 leading to anything less than full and immediate majority rule.
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. Elements in the Rhodesian armed forces toyed with the idea of mounting a coup ("Operation Quartz") to prevent ZANU taking over government of the country, but the coup was never realised.
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.
Although Southern Rhodesia never gained full Dominion status within the old Commonwealth, Southern Rhodesians ruled themselves until 1923. Its electoral register had property and education qualifications, unexceptional for the early twentieth century, which allowed white settlers to dominate the government. Over the years various electoral arrangements made at a national and municipal level allowed whites to remain dominant. 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).
Innocuous by the standards of the time, the requirement effectively excluded 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 (by white settler standards) competing for power. The Rhodesia Labour Party held seats in the Assembly and in municipal councils throughout the 1920s and 30s. 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 when he attempted to widen the franchise in order to allow Blacks up to 20% of the total votes. See also: Elections in Rhodesia
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. The system ensured that whites had 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 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.
Rhodesia wished to retain its economic prosperity and also feared communist elements in the rebel forces, and thus felt their policy of white minority 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 United Kingdom, France, and Belgium hastened to grant independence to their colonies in Africa.
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 whites 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 government lacked international recognition.
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 recognise Rhodesia, but unlike others allowed its Consulate-General to function as a communications conduit between the American government in Washington, DC, and the Rhodesian government in Salisbury. When Rhodesia set up an information office in Washington, DC, OAU 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 recognising 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 regime, pursued a policy of détente 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.
The most important representative offices for Rhodesia were Lisbon and Pretoria.
During the Bush War of the 1970s some white farmers were able to carry on operations due to the tolerance of guerrilla commanders (who did not want to damage vital economic assets) and/or by paying protection money to those commanders. 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.
...then the super-ZAPU element came in and this really unseated us – South Africa targeting white farmers. I mean it changed a few perspectives, I can tell you...
The insurgency was equipped and coordinated by South African intelligence, working through white former members of the Rhodesian security services. 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. 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.
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.
In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated. Most emigrated to South Africa and mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. 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."