The Story of Rhodesia/Central African Federation & Return to “Rhodesia”

Central African Federation BackgroundEdit

Land apportionment in Rhodesia in 1965

In 1953, with calls for independence mounting in many of its African possessions, the United Kingdom created the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (or the Central African Federation, CAF), which consisted of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, respectively). The idea was to try to steer a middle road between the differing aspirations of the black nationalists, the colonial administration and the white settler population. The CAF sought to emulate the experience of Australia, Canada and South Africa – wherein groups of colonies had been federated together to form viable independent nations. Originally designed to be "an indissoluble federation", the CAF quickly started to unravel due to the low proportion of British and other white citizens in relation to the larger black populations.

Central African CouncilEdit

In 1929, the Hilton Young Commission (a commission seeking a closer union of British colonies in Eastern & Southern Africa) concluded that "in the present state of communications the main interests of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, economic and political, lie not in association with the Eastern African Territories, but rather one another and with the self-governing Colony of Southern Rhodesia". In 1938, the Bledisloe Commission concluded that the territories would become interdependent in all their activities, but stopped short of recommending federation. Instead, it advised the creation of an inter-territorial council to coordinate government services and survey the development needs of the region. The Second World War delayed the creation of this institution until 1945, when the Central African Council was established to promote coordination of policy and action between the territories. The Governor of Southern Rhodesia presided over the council and was joined by the leaders of the other two territories. The Council only had consultative, and not binding, powers.[1]:591


Coat of Arms of the Central African Federation

In November 1950, Jim Griffiths, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, informed the House of Commons that the government has decided that there should be another examination of the possibility of a closer union between the Central African territories, and that a conference of the respective governments and the Central African Council was being arranged for March 1951. The conference concluded that there was a need for closer association, pointing to the economic interdependence of the three territories. It was argued that individually the territories were vulnerable and would benefit from becoming a single unit with a more broadly based economy. It was also said that unification of certain public services would promote greater efficiency. It was decided to recommend a federation under which the central government would have certain specific powers, with the residual powers being left with the territorial governments. Another conference was held in September 1951 at Victoria Falls, also attended by Griffiths and Patrick Gordon Walker. Another two conferences would be held in London in 1952 and 1953 respectively, where the federal structure was prepared in detail.[1]:592

Flag of the Central African Federation

While many points of contention were worked out in the conferences that followed, several proved to be acute, and some, seemingly insurmountable. The negotiations and conferences were arduous. Southern Rhodesia and the Northern Territories had very different traditions for the 'Native Question' (black Africans) and the roles they were designed to play in civil society.[[2]

Stamp issued by the Central African Federation

An agreement would likely not have been reached without Sir Andrew Cohen, CO Assistant Undersecretary for African Affairs (and a later Governor of Uganda). He became one of the central architects and driving forces behind the creation of the Federation, often seemingly singlehandedly untangling deadlocks and outright walkouts on the part of the respective parties. Cohen, who was Jewish and traumatised by The Holocaust, was an anti-racialist and an advocate of African rights. But he compromised his ideals to avoid what he saw as an even greater risk than the continuation of the paternalistic white ascendancy system of Southern Rhodesia – its becoming an even less flexible, radical white supremacy, like the National Party government in South Africa. Lord Blake, the Oxford-based historian, wrote: "In that sense, Apartheid can be regarded as the father of Federation".[3] The House of Commons approved the conferences' proposals on 24 March 1953, and in April passed motions in favour of federating the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. A referendum was held in Southern Rhodesia on 9 April.[1]:592 Following the insistence and reassurances of the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister, Sir Godfrey Huggins, a little more than 25,000 white Southern Rhodesians voted in the referendum for a federal government, versus nearly 15,000 against.[4] A majority of Afrikaners and black Africans in all three territories were resolutely against it.[5][6] The Federation came into being when the Parliament of the United Kingdom enacted the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation Act, 1953. The Act authorised the Queen, by way of an Order in Council, to provide for the federation of the three constituent territories. This order was made on 1 August 1953, bringing certain provisions of the Constitution into operation. The first Governor-General, Lord Llewellin, assumed office on 4 September. On 23 October 1953, Llewellin issued a proclamation bringing the remainder of the provisions of the Constitution into operation.[1]:591


The semi-independent federation was finally established, with five branches of government: one Federal, three Territorial, and one British. This often translated into confusion and jurisdictional rivalry among various levels of government. According to Lord Blake, it proved to be "one of the most elaborately governed countries in the world."[7]

The Constitution provided for a federal government with enumerated powers, consisting of an executive government, a unicameral Federal Assembly (which included a standing committee known as the African Affairs Board), and a Supreme Court, among other authorities. Provision was made for the division of powers and duties between the federal and territorial governments. Article 97 of the Constitution empowered the Federal Assembly to amend the Constitution, which included a power to establish a second legislative chamber.[8] The Governor-General would be the representative of the Queen in the Federation. Federal authority extended only to those powers assigned to the federal government and to matters incidental to them. The enumerated federal powers were divided into a "Federal Legislative List" for which the federal legislature could make laws, and a "Concurrent Legislative List" for which both the federal and territorial legislatures could make law.[1]:593 Federal laws prevailed over territorial laws in all cases where the federal legislature was empowered to legislate, including the concurrent list.

The executive government consisted of the Governor-General, who would represent the Queen, an Executive Council consisting of the Prime Minister and nine other ministers appointed by the Governor-General on recommendation from the Prime Minister, and a Cabinet of ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. The judiciary consisted of a Supreme Court, later regulated by the Federal Supreme Court Act, 1955, which consisted of the Chief Justice, two federal justices, and the chief justices of each of the three constituent territories of the Federation. The court was inaugurated on 1 July 1955, when the Governor-General swore in the Chief Justice and the other judges. The ceremony was also attended by the Lord High Chancellor and the Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa.[1]:595 The Chief Justices were Sir Robert Tredgold, previously Chief Justice of Southern Rhodesia, who was Chief Justice of the Federation from 1953 to 1961, and Sir John Clayden, from 1961 to 1963. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction was limited chiefly to hearing appeals from the high courts of the constituent territories. The court, however, had original jurisdiction over the following:

  • Disputes between the federal government and territorial governments, or between territorial governments inter se, if such disputes involved questions (of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depended;
  • Matters affecting vacancies in the Federal Assembly and election petitions; and
  • Matters in which a writ or order of mandamus, or prohibition or an injunction, is sought against an officer or authority of the federal government.[1]:596

In 1958, the Prime Minister established an Office of Race Affairs which reviewed policies, practices and activities which may have hampered or adversely affected a climate favourable to the federal government's equal "partnership" policy. On 1 April 1959, the Prime Minister appointed the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, who held the status of a full minister, to assume responsibility for racial affairs.

A map of the Federation and its surrounding territories, with the Southern Rhodesian capital of Salisbury doubled as the federal capital. Click here to enlarge map

It was commonly understood that Southern Rhodesia would be the dominant territory in the federation - economically, electorally, and militarily. How much so defined much of the lengthy constitutional negotiations and modifications that followed. African political opposition and nationalist aspirations, for the time, were moot.[9]

Decisive factors in both the creation and dissolution of the Federation were the significant difference between the number of Africans and Europeans in the Federation, and the difference between the number of Europeans in Southern Rhodesia compared to the Northern Protectorates. Compounding this was the significant growth in Southern Rhodesia's European settler population (overwhelmingly British migrants), unlike in the Northern Protectorates. This was to greatly shape future developments in the Federation. In 1939, approximately 60,000 Europeans resided in Southern Rhodesia; shortly before the Federation was established there were 135,000; by the time the Federation was dissolved they had reached 223,000 (though newcomers could only vote after three years of residency). Nyasaland showed the least European and greatest African population growth.[[10] The dominant role played by the Southern Rhodesian European population within the CAF is reflected in that played by its first leader, Sir Godfrey Huggins (created Viscount Malvern in February 1955), Prime Minister of the Federation for its first three years and, before that, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia for an uninterrupted 23 years. Huggins resigned the premiership of Southern Rhodesia to take office as the federal Prime Minister, and was joined by most United Rhodesia Party cabinet members. There was a marked exodus to the more prestigious realm of federal politics. The position of Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia was once again, as under Britain's Ministerial Titles Act of 1933, reduced to a Premier and taken by The Rev. Garfield Todd, the soon-to-be controversial centre-left politician. It was considered that Todd's position and territorial politics in general had become relatively unimportant, a place for the less ambitious politician. In fact, it was to prove decisive both to the future demise of the CAF, and to the later rise of the Rhodesian Front.[[9]

Rather than a federation, Prime Minister Huggins favoured an amalgamation, creating a single state. However, after the Second World War, Britain opposed this because Southern Rhodesia would dominate the property and income franchise (which excluded the vast majority of Africans) owing to its much larger European population. A federation was intended to curtail this.[[11] Huggins was thus the first Prime Minister from 1953 to 1956, and was followed by Sir Roy Welensky, a prominent Northern Rhodesian politician, from 1956 to the Federation's dissolution in December 1963.

The fate of the Federation was contested within the British Government by two principal Ministries of the Crown in deep ideological, personal and professional rivalry – the Colonial Office (CO) and the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) (and previously with it the Dominion Office, abolished in 1947). The CO ruled the northern territories of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, while the CRO was formally but indirectly in charge of Southern Rhodesia. The Northern Territories opposed a Southern Rhodesian hegemony, one that the CRO promoted. Significantly, the CO tended to be more sympathetic to African rights than the CRO, which tended to promote the interests of the Southern Rhodesian (and to a lesser extent, Northern Rhodesian) European settler populations.[[12]

It was convenient to have all three territories colonised by Cecil Rhodes under one constitution. But, for Huggins and the Rhodesian establishment, the central economic motive behind the CAF (or amalgamation) was the abundant copper deposits of Northern Rhodesia. Unlike the Rhodesias, Nyasaland had no sizeable deposits of minerals and its tiny community of Europeans, largely Scottish, was relatively sympathetic to African aspirations. Its inclusion in the Federation was more a symbolic gesture than a practical necessity. This inclusion would eventually work against the CAF: Nyasaland and its African population was where the impetus for destabilisation of the CAF arose, leading to its dissolution.[[13]

Numbers of white and black inhabitants before and during the CAF[14]
Year Southern Rhodesia Northern Rhodesia Nyasaland Total
White Black White Black White Black White Black
1927 38,200 (3.98%) 922,000 (96.02%) 4,000 (0.4%) 1,000,000 (99.6%) 1,700 (0.13%) 1,350,000 (99.87%) 43,900 (1.32%) 3,272,000 (98.68%)
1946 80,500 (4.79%) 1,600,000 (95.21%) 21,919 (1.32%) 1,634,980 (97.68%) 2,300 (0.10%) 2,340,000 (99.90%) 104,719 (1.84%) 5,574,980 (98.16%)
1955 125,000 (4.95%) 2,400,000 (95.05%) 65,000 (3.02%) 2,085,000 (96.98%) 6,300 (0.25%) 2,550,000 (99.75%) 196,300 (2.71%) 7,035,000 (97.28%)
1960 223,000 (7.30%) 2,830,000 (92.70%) 76,000 (3.14%) 2,340,000 (96.85%) 9,300 (0.33%) 2,810,000 (99.66%) 308,300 (3.72%) 7,980,000 (96.28%)

Economic growth and political liberalismEdit

Despite its convoluted government structure, the CAF economy was a success. In the first year of the federation, its GDP was an impressive £350 million; two years later it was nearly £450 million.[15] Yet the average income of a European remained approximately ten times that of an African employed in the cash economy, representing only one third of local Africans.

In 1955, the creation of the Kariba hydro-electric power station was announced. It was a remarkable feat of engineering creating the largest man-made dam on the planet at the time and costing £78 million. Its location highlighted the rivalry among Southern and Northern Rhodesia, with the former attaining its favoured location for the dam.

The CAF brought a decade of liberalism with respect to African rights. There were African junior ministers in the Southern Rhodesia-dominated CAF, while a decade earlier only 70 Africans qualified to vote in the Southern Rhodesian elections.

The property and income-qualified franchise of the CAF was, therefore, now much looser. While this troubled many whites, they continued to follow Huggins with the CAF's current structure, largely owing to the economic growth. But to Africans, this increasingly proved unsatisfactory and their leaders began to voice demands for majority rule.


2nd Battalion, King's African Rifles - Federal Army.

The Minister of Defence was the President of the Defence Council, which consisted of military and civilian members, and considered all matters related to defense policy.

The Army, in 1960, consisted of three training formations:

  • The School of Infantry, based in Gwelo, was responsible for extra-regimental training. It was organized into tactical and regimental wings, with courses ranging from command and weapons training.[1]:667
  • The Regular Army Depot, based in Salisbury, handled all basic training for black recruits.
  • The Depot, The Royal Rhodesia Regiment, trained recruits for the Territorial Force battalions.

Corps training was handled by the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Corps of Engineers, Corps of Signals, and the Army Service Corps.

In May 1958, three installations were named after "three of the most famous soldiers in the military history of Central Africa". The RAR camp in Llewellin was named Methuen Camp after Colonel J.A. Methuen. The Zomba Cantonment was named Cobbe Barracks after Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Cobbe. The Lusaka military area was named Stephenson Barracks after Lieutenant-Colonel A. Stephenson.

Llewellin Barracks in Bulawayo commemorated the first Governor-General of the Federation. The Battle of Tug Argan was commemorated in the name of Tug Argan Barracks in Ndola.

The Army consisted of four African battalions: the 1st and 2nd Battalion, King's African Rifles; the Northern Rhodesia Regiment; and the Rhodesian African Rifles.[1]:6681961, the all-White 1st Battalion of the Rhodesian Light Infantry regiment was added.

The Rhodesia and Nyasaland Women's Military Air Service (known popularly as the "WAMS") was the Federation's women's auxiliary unit. In 1957 a policy change led to the unit being gradually scaled down until its work was taken over by civilian staff.[1]:671


Evolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

By the time Macmillan went on his famous 1960 African tour leading to his Wind of Change speech to Parliament in Cape Town, change was well underway. By 1960, French African colonies had already become independent. Belgium more hastily vacated its colony and thousands of European refugees fled the Belgian Congo from the brutalities of the civil war and into Southern Rhodesia.

During the Congolese crisis, Africans increasingly viewed CAF Prime Minister, Sir Roy Welensky, as an arch-reactionary and his support for Katanga separatism added to this. Welensky was disliked by both the right as well as the left, though: a few years later, in his by-election campaign against Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front, some RF supporters heckled the comparatively moderate Welensky as a 'Communist', 'traitor' and 'coward'.[16]

The new Commonwealth Secretary, Duncan Sandys, negotiated the '1961 Constitution', a new constitution for the CAF which greatly reduced Britain's powers over it. But by 1962, the British and the CAF cabinet had agreed that Nyasaland should be allowed to secede, though Southern Rhodesian Premier Sir Edgar Whitehead committed the British to keep this secret until after the 1962 election in the territory. A year later, the same status was given to Northern Rhodesia, decisively ending the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the immediate future.

In 1963, the Victoria Falls Conference was held, partly as a last effort to save the CAF, and partly as a forum to dissolve it. After nearly collapsing several times, it ended by 5 July 1963, and the state was virtually dissolved. Only the appropriation of its assets remained as a formality.

By 31 December, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formally dissolved and its assets distributed among the territorial governments. Southern Rhodesia obtained the vast majority of these including the assets of the Federal army, to which it had overwhelmingly contributed. In October 1964, Northern Rhodesia gained independence as the Republic of Zambia, obtaining majority rule and led by Kenneth Kaunda. Earlier in the same year, in July 1964, the Nyasaland Protectorate became independent as Malawi, led by Hastings Banda.

On 11 November 1965, Southern Rhodesia's government led by Prime Minister Ian Smith proclaimed a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom. This attracted the world's attention and created outrage in Britain. More about that in the next chapter.


  1. a b c d e f g h i j Brelsford, ed (1960). Handbook to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd.. 
  2. "Central Africa - Hansard". 
  3. "Identity and Decolonisation: the policy of partnership in Southern Rhodesia 1945-62". 
  4. Blake, 268
  5. Hodder-Williams, Richard (1983). White Farmers in Rhodesia, 1890–1965: A History of the Marandellas District. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press. pp. 219–220. ISBN 978-1349048977. 
  6. Shaw, Carolyn Martin (2015). Women and Power in Zimbabwe: Promises of Feminism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0252081132. 
  7. Blake, 284.
  8. Advisory Commission on the Review of the Constitution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, H.M. Stationery Office, 1960, page 288
  9. a b "Struggles for Freedom: Southern Africa". 
  10. Lawrence, Cecilia (2017-11-23) (in en). An Introduction to Malawi: Basic Facts. Intercontinental Books. ISBN 978-1-9799-7277-2.,+approximately+60,000+Europeans+resided+in+Southern+Rhodesia;+shortly+before+the+Federation+was+established+there+were+135,000;+by+the+time+the+Federation+was+dissolved+they+had+reached+223,000+(though+newcomers+could+only+vote+after+three+years+of+residency).+Nyasaland+showed+the+least+European+and+greatest+African+population+growth&pg=PA11. 
  11. Lowry, Donal (1997). "'White Woman's Country': Ethel Tawse Jollie and the Making of White Rhodesia". Journal of Southern African Studies 23 (2): 259–281. doi:10.1080/03057079708708536. ISSN 0305-7070. 
  12. Hyam, Ronald (1987). "The Geopolitical Origins of the Central African Federation: Britain, Rhodesia and South Africa, 1948-1953". The Historical Journal 30 (1): 145–172. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00021956. ISSN 0018-246X. 
  13. Blake, Robert (1978) (in en). A History of Rhodesia. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-48068-8.,+it+was+to+be+largely+Nyasaland+and+its+African+population+where+the+impetus+for+destabilization+of+the+CAF+arose,+leading+to+its+dissolution. 
  14. Wills, A.J. (1967). "Three Territories". An Introduction to the History of Central Africa (2nd ed.). Durban: Oxford University Press. p. Appendix IV. ISBN 0-620-06410-2. Retrieved 10 September 2012. 
  15. Blake, 288.
  16. The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia 1890–1979, Martin Meredith, A. Deutsch, 1979, p. 51