unilateral declaration of independence

Unilateral Declaration of Independence (Rhodesia)

The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of Rhodesia from the United Kingdom was signed on November 11, 1965 by the administration of Ian Smith, whose Rhodesian Front party opposed black majority rule in the then British colony. Although it declared independence from the United Kingdom it maintained allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II. The British government, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations condemned the move as illegal. Rhodesia reverted to de facto and de jure British control as "the British Dependency of Southern Rhodesia" for a brief period in 1979 to 1980, before regaining its independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.


In late 1965, with negotiations between the United Kingdom and Rhodesia at an impasse, Smith (according to his biography Bitter Harvest) had authorized a committee under Cabinet Secretary Gerald B. Clarke to look at historical independence declarations in order to come up with a suitable version for Rhodesia in the event of a UDI having to be declared. The committee decided to use the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence as its reference. Once the text was agreed upon, the Government Printer in Salisbury created the actual document (during the first week of November).

Clarke placed the document in storage in the Rhodesian Parliament building until the morning of November 11, when Smith and his cabinet colleagues — after a last-minute appeal by the British Government failed to convince them not to follow this course of action — voted unanimously to declare their independence. Clarke was then directed by Smith to prepare the signing ceremony. The document was placed in an adjoining conference room to where the cabinet had convened to take their vote. With a photographer to record the historic moment, Smith, Deputy Prime Minister Clifford Dupont, and the other cabinet members signed the declaration. Later that day, Smith read it out on national radio, along with a speech giving justification for the action, and giving warning about probable negative reactions by the international community.

The timing of Smith's telegram to the British Prime Minister (Harold Wilson) announcing the UDI was sent precisely at 1 pm local time (11 am in London) at the precise moment that the United Kingdom started its Remembrance Day tradition (two minutes of silence to mark the end of World War I and honour its war dead). The not-so-hidden message in this timing was to recall the fact that Rhodesia had helped the UK in its time of need in both World Wars and that the British should not forget that.


Twelve members of the Cabinet signed the Proclamation:

  1. Ian Smith (Prime Minister)
  2. Clifford Dupont (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs)
  3. John Wrathall (Minister of Finance and Posts)
  4. Des Lardner-Burke (Minister of Justice and Law and Order)
  5. Jack Howman (Minister of Tourism and Information)
  6. James Graham, 7th Duke of Montrose (Minister of Agriculture)
  7. George Rudland (Minister of Trade, Industry and Development).
  8. William Harper (Minister of Internal Affairs and Public Service)
  9. A. P. Smith (Minister of Education)
  10. Ian McLean (Minister of Health, Labour, and Social Welfare)
  11. Jack Mussett (Minister of Housing and Local Government)
  12. Phillip van Heerden (Minister of Mines, Lands, and Water Development).

The following junior members of the Cabinet were present, but did not sign:

  1. Ian Dillon (Chief Government Whip)
  2. Lance Smith (Minister without portfolio)
  3. Andrew Dunlop (Minister without portfolio)
  4. P. K. van der Byl (Deputy Minister of Information)

All the Cabinet members present at the signing of the Declaration were awarded the Independence Decoration in 1970 in honour of the event.


The day after the UDI the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 216 condemning it as a declaration of independence "made by a racist minority." The United Kingdom moved to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on what they now regarded as a rebel colony. In addition, the British High Commissioner in Salisbury — John Baines Johnston — was withdrawn and the Rhodesian High Commissioner — Brigadier Andrew Skeen — was declared persona non grata and ordered to leave Britain. Rhodesia House (Rhodesia's High Commission in the UK) lost its diplomatic status and simply became an information office for Smith's administration.

Under instructions from the British Government, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, formally dismissed Smith and his cabinet for what was deemed "an act of treason against the United Kingdom". This action, not the UDI, was the only internationally recognised action by an official in Rhodesia at the time. Smith's government however ignored the dismissal, stating that as Rhodesia was no longer a colony and governed under a new constitution that made Gibbs' office obsolete, the dismissal no longer had (in their view) any legality. Gibbs remained ensconced in Government House for the next four years, resigning his office only after the republic referendum passed in late 1969.

Even after the United Nations followed Britain's lead in imposing sanctions, the apartheid regime in South Africa continued to give economic support to Rhodesia, but did not extend official recognition to the new state, sending only an 'Accredited Diplomatic Representative' to Salisbury. Portugal, then the colonial power in neighbouring Mozambique, gave economic support, including access to Mozambique's sea ports; but following the change of regime in Lisbon, Mozambique became independent under the Marxist Frelimo regime of Samora Machel. This was a severe blow to the Smith regime, militarily as well as economically, as Machel was an ally of Robert Mugabe and allowed ZANU a base there to mount incursions into Rhodesia.

Declaration of a Republic

Smith had sought to make Rhodesia a Commonwealth Realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, with the title of Queen of Rhodesia, but Sir Humphrey Gibbs, still internationally recognised as the only legal authority in Rhodesia, refused to recognise Smith's authority. Smith responded by ignoring Sir Humphrey and appointing the Deputy Prime Minister Dupont, as the Officer Administering the Government (best described as an interim Governor).

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, which was declared in 1970, with Dupont as President. Sir Humphrey resigned at that point and left Government House.

As a result of the change, the 'Royal' prefix was dropped from the title of the Rhodesian Air Force and the Crown was removed from the badges of army regiments and the British South Africa Police.

The government hoped that severing constitutional links with the United Kingdom would end any ambiguity about Rhodesia's status, gain diplomatic recognition, and bring an end to economic sanctions. However, the issues of white minority control remained and hindered this effort, and like UDI before it, the republic was unrecognised internationally.

Government of Rhodesia

Under the first post-UDI constitution, political power remained with the Legislative Assembly, of which the majority of members were white. Unlike South Africa, Rhodesia's black African majority had representation in the Assembly, but the separate franchise (the 'B' roll) was restricted to those who owned property, and also tribal chiefs, many of whom were derided as puppets of the white regime. The Governor was effectively replaced by the Officer Administering the Government.

The 1969 republican constitution created a bicameral parliament, with a Senate and a House of Assembly, both of which had white majorities. The President was a ceremonial head of state, with executive power remaining with the Prime Minister as head of government.

Trappings of sovereignty


New banknotes were produced to replace British-made banknotes, which were no longer forthcoming after the UDI. Originally a German firm was commissioned to print the currency, but their newly printed batches of banknotes was destroyed after Britain successfully lobbied the German Government to halt the order. Rhodesia then decided to make their currency locally. Their locally made replacement Rhodesian pound compared well with the British-made predecessor (still retaining the Queen's portrait), then in 1970, the Rhodesian dollar came into use. The banknotes proved to be very well made, and the currency performed well on the international market, being stronger than the pound sterling and the South African rand.

Foreign relations

Although South Africa (and until 1975, Portugal) gave economic and tacit military support to Rhodesia, no country ever extended full diplomatic recognition to it, and most countries closed their consulates in Salisbury following the UDI, one exception being the United States, which maintained a Consul-General, though redesignated as 'U.S. Contacts Office' in order to show the USA's official attitude of non-recognition of the post-UDI government. South Africa and Portugal each maintained an Accredited Diplomatic Representative office in Salisbury (which were embassies in all but name), while Rhodesia did likewise in Pretoria, Lisbon, and Lourenço Marques.

After the UDI, Rhodesia House in London (the Rhodesian High Commission) simply became a representative office with no official diplomatic status. However, the most important Rhodesian representative offices were in Pretoria and Lisbon, although the latter closed in 1975, along with the office in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique. The other unofficial representative offices, in Washington DC, Bonn, and Tokyo, closed in 1979.

End of Rhodesia

In 1978 an Internal Settlement was signed between Smith's government, and two more moderate African nationalist parties, the United African National Council (UANC), led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, and ZANU (Ndonga), led by Ndabaningi Sithole. However, this did not involve the two main communist parties in exile — the remainder of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo — which respectively fielded both major armies in the Rhodesian Bush War. Consequently, it was rejected by the international community.

In April 1979 the first multiracial elections were held in Rhodesia, which saw Abel Muzorewa become the first black Prime Minister of what was now called Zimbabwe Rhodesia. However, under the Internal Settlement, whites retained control of the country's judiciary, civil service, police and armed forces, as well as having a quarter of the seats in parliament reserved for them.

In December 1979 following multi-party talks at Lancaster House in London, Britain resumed control of Rhodesia, and with the help of observers from other Commonwealth countries, saw the first full participatory elections. During the four month period that the country was restored to the status of a British colony it was known officially as "the British Dependency of Southern Rhodesia". The Republic of Zimbabwe came into being on April 18 1980.


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