The Story of Rhodesia/1922 Southern Rhodesian government referendum & End of Company Rule

A referendum on the status of Southern Rhodesia was held in the colony on 27 October 1922. Voters were given the options of establishing responsible government or joining the Union of South Africa.[1] After 59% voted in favour of responsible government, it was officially granted on 1 October 1923.


The referendum arose after the 1920 Legislative Council elections resulted in a majority which favoured immediate moves towards establishing responsible government within the colony. Immediately after the election, the Legislative Council passed a resolution requesting the British Government to inaugurate responsible government, and the United Kingdom's response was establishing a Commission under Earl Buxton, a former Liberal minister.

The Commission reported in 1921 that the Colony was ready for responsible government and that a referendum should be held to confirm it. A delegation was sent from the Legislative Council to negotiate with the Colonial Office on the form of the constitution. The delegation comprised Sir Charles Coghlan, W. M. Leggate, John McChlery, R. A. Fletcher, and Sir Francis Newton. At the 1920 election there had been three schools of opinion in Southern Rhodesia, one favouring responsible government inside Southern Rhodesia, one favouring a continuation of rule through the British South Africa Company, and the third believing that the best solution would be to seek membership of the Union of South Africa. The British South Africa Company option dropped out of consideration, but the Buxton Commission had said that its recommendations should not preclude consideration of joining South Africa if this was favoured by voters.

The Southern Rhodesians did petition the Colonial Office to inquire what circumstances the Union of South Africa would admit them, as this option had received some support (especially in Matabeleland) at the election. Representatives of the Southern Rhodesian administration visited Cape Town to confer with Jan Smuts who after some delay was willing to offer terms he considered reasonable and which were also acceptable to the United Kingdom government. In accordance with the wishes of Winston Churchill (the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London), the Southern Rhodesians decided to invite the electorate to make the decision. Although they did not try to interfere in the referendum, opinion among the United Kingdom government, the South African government and the British South Africa Company favoured the union option.


The election used the existing Legislative Council electoral roll and votes were counted in the electoral districts used for the Legislative Council elections. However, there was one minor change, with voters entitled to cast their votes in whichever district they wanted, regardless of where they were registered.


All but one of the electoral districts supported responsible government and rejected Union with South Africa. The one district to support a Union with South Africa was Marandellas, and this was by a slim margin.

Choice Votes %
Responsible government 8,774 59.43
Union with South Africa 5,989 40.57
Invalid/blank votes
Total 14,763 100
Registered voters/turnout 18,810 78.50

Results by district districtEdit

District Responsible government Union with South Africa
Votes % Votes %
Bulawayo District 551 65.0 297 35.0
Bulawayo North 826 67.9 390 32.1
Bulawayo South 955 64.0 538 36.0
Eastern 711 57.5 526 42.5
Gwelo 582 57.3 433 42.7
Hartley 449 66.5 226 33.5
Marandellas 433 49.4 443 50.6
Midlands 550 51.9 509 48.1
Northern 741 60.3 487 39.7
Salisbury District 845 57.3 629 42.7
Salisbury Town 894 63.8 507 36.2
Victoria 626 51.7 585 48.3
Western 611 59.3 419 40.7
Total 8,774 59.4 5,989 40.6

End of Company ruleEdit

Southern Rhodesia was duly annexed by the Empire on 12 September 1923, and granted full self-government on 1 October the same year.[2] The new Southern Rhodesian government immediately purchased the land from the British Treasury for £2 million.[3] The Company retained mineral rights in the country until 1933, when they were bought by the colonial government, also for £2 million.[4]

The future administration of Northern Rhodesia, a proposition of little economic viability without its southern counterpart, was a burden the company now endeavoured to rid itself of. Negotiations between the Company and the British government produced a settlement whereby the territory would become a protectorate under Whitehall, with government transferred to the Colonial Office in London, which would henceforth appoint a local governor. The company would concurrently keep the country's mineral rights, extensive tracts of freehold property, and half the proceeds from future sales of land in what had been North-Western Rhodesia. Northern Rhodesia duly became an Imperial protectorate on 1 April 1924, with Sir Herbert Stanley installed as the inaugural governor. British South Africa Company rule in Rhodesia was thereby ended.[5]