The Story of Rhodesia/Colony of Southern Rhodesia before WWII


The flag of Southern Rhodesia was a blue ensign, later changed to a sky-blue ensign, with the coat of arms of Southern Rhodesia on it. The flag was in use in Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) from 1923 to 1953 and from 1964 to 1965. It was also used by the unrecognised Rhodesia from 1965 to 1968. The flag was initially used unofficially internally before being approved for use outside of the colony by the Colonial Office in 1937. The colour was changed to sky blue in 1964 to protest the treatment of Southern Rhodesia after its inclusion in the failed Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The flag of Southern Rhodesia was adopted in 1923 by the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly, owing to Southern Rhodesia's status after voting for responsible government separate from the British South Africa Company instead of joining the Union of South Africa. This could have created a situation that would have made it the "Ulster of South Africa" as termed by Sir Charles Coghlan.[1] As a result, it was governed by the Dominion Office and not the Colonial Office as a Crown colony. In 1925, the organisers of the British Empire Exhibition asked the Southern Rhodesian High Commission which flag to use to represent them. The Southern Rhodesian government suggested the flag of Southern Rhodesia. However in 1928, the Colonial Office stated that Southern Rhodesia did not have consent to use the flag of Southern Rhodesia officially and instead claimed that the Union Jack was the only official flag for Southern Rhodesia despite the government approving it as a flag badge.[2] The confusion over the flag was resolved in 1937 after it was agreed that for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Southern Rhodesia should have its own flag to represent it. The Colonial Office agreed it would be the most appropriate to use the flag designed by the Southern Rhodesian High Commission and made it official however the Southern Rhodesian High Commissioner stated that this only approved the flag of Southern Rhodesia for official use outside the colony and the Union Jack was the official flag internally.[2]

1924 General Elections - First Elections since the grant of responsible governmentEdit

Flag of Southern Rhodesia used form 1924 to 1964.

The Southern Rhodesia general election of 29 April 1924 was the first election to the Legislative Assembly of Southern Rhodesia following the grant of responsible government to the colony. It saw a comprehensive victory for the Rhodesia Party, which had been formed by the supporters of responsible government, who won 26 out of the 30 seats.

The Letters Patent granting the colony the right to self-government in 1923 made no change to the pre-existing franchise. The law provided that voters must have been resident in Southern Rhodesia for at least six months, and have the ability to complete the claim form for the electoral register in their own handwriting if the registrar required, and to write from dictation 50 words in the English language. In addition, voters had to meet one of three criteria for their financial means: either occupy property worth £150 in their Electoral District, or own a registered mining claim within the colony (for which residence was not required), or receive annual salary of £100 in the colony.

Since the previous election, and the grant of responsible government, the Responsible Government Association had organised itself under the leadership of Sir Charles Coghlan into the Rhodesia Party and been appointed as the new government. In addition the Rhodesia Labour Party, which had been formed some years before, entered into the election. However a substantial number of candidates fought as Independents on their own record. In general these candidates represented small farmers, small businesses and mining interests.

The Labour Party had supported the Responsible Government Association in its campaign for a separate government for the colony, and in opposition to union with South Africa, and members of both parties hoped to reach agreement on an allocation of seats between them so that they did not oppose each other. Negotiations were unsuccessful and where candidates of the parties were fighting for seats, the fight between them became bitter. The independent candidates were also in opposition to the 'establishment' party and many stressed the need for a strong opposition in the new Assembly.

Coat of ArmsEdit

The coat of arms of Rhodesia was used from 1924–1981, for the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923–1964 and 1979–1980, known simply as Rhodesia from 1964–1979, Zimbabwe–Rhodesia in 1979, and Zimbabwe from 1980.

Official authorisation by Royal Warrant for the coat of arms was granted on 11 August 1924.[3]

The shield features a red lion passant and two thistles, taken from the family arms of Cecil Rhodes,[3] after whom the colony was named, and the Latin motto Sit Nomine Digna (May She Be Worthy of the Name) is a reference to Rhodes. The pick, in gold on a green field, represents mining, the economic mainstay of the colony.[3] Also featured above the shield is the soapstone statuette of the Zimbabwe Bird found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.[3]

The shield of the arms was used on the flag of the colony by being placed in the fly of a British Blue Ensign, in the tradition of most other British colonies. This design changed in 1964 when the field of the flag was changed to light blue. In November 1968, the full coat of arms was placed in the centre of a new Rhodesian flag which was a green, white, green triband. After Rhodesia was declared a republic in 1970, the arms also featured on the President's flag.

The arms remained unchanged following the renaming of the country as Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, and were initially used by the government of Zimbabwe from 18 April 1980 to 21 September 1981, following which the present coat of arms of Zimbabwe were introduced.

1928 ElectionsEdit

The Southern Rhodesia general election of 19 September 1928 was the second election to the Legislative Assembly of Southern Rhodesia. The Rhodesia Party, who had won an overwhelming victory at the previous election, were re-elected with a slightly smaller majority.

At this election the franchise was codified for the first time by the Electoral Act, 1928. The basis for the act was a consolidation of the previous regulations created by Order in Council, but the opportunity was taken by the Legislative Assembly to change some of the regulations which they had come to dislike. The principal change in the franchise was to restrict registration to British subjects only, whether by birth or naturalisation; previously, resident aliens could take an oath of allegiance to qualify themselves.

A change was also made to the literacy requirements for voters, where the test of writing fifty words of English at the dictation of the registering officer was dropped and the would-be voter merely had to be able to fill in the form in their own handwriting. The financial means qualification was the subject of a minor wording change, whereby the word "income" was added as an alternative to salary or wages.

The development of political parties had advanced since the colony was granted self-government. The Progressive Party, an opposition group opposed to monopolies and advocating more development of Matabeleland, had been formed in June 1927 from a group of independent members, and was able to nominate 22 candidates for the 30 seats. The Rhodesia Labour Party had increased its strength in the towns.

Also in 1927 the Country Party had been formed by dissident farmers in the Rhodesian Agricultural Union.

1933 ElectionsEdit

The Southern Rhodesia general election of 6 September 1933 was the third election since the colony of Southern Rhodesia was granted self-government. It is notable as one of only two general elections in Southern Rhodesia which led to a defeat for the sitting government, as the Reform Party won a narrow majority of two seats in the Legislative Assembly. Their victory was to be short-lived.

The Progressive Party, which had won four seats to become the official opposition in 1928, merged with the County Party and reorganised itself as the Reform Party in October 1929.

1934 ElectionsEdit

The Southern Rhodesia general election of 7 November 1934 was the fourth election since the colony of Southern Rhodesia was granted self-government. The election was called only a year after the previous election when the Prime Minister, Godfrey Huggins, formed the United Party as a merger of the conservative section of his Reform Party and the former governing Rhodesia Party. Huggins succeeded in winning a landslide, defeating all but one of his Reform Party opponents.

The Reform Party was believed by many in Rhodesia to be a left-wing party but Huggins had presented a cautiously conservative Cabinet after winning power in 1933. In particular, Finance Minister Jacob Smit was a strong believer in conventional economics and opponent of Keynesianism. The course of government led eventually to a confrontration in August 1934 with the left-wing of the party over reform to the Rhodesian railways. Huggins decided to approach Sir Percy Fynn, leader of the Rhodesian Party, who pledged support for a National Government under Huggins.

However, the Acting Governor refused a dissolution on the grounds that the Assembly had many years left, and the government had not been defeated. Huggins persuaded the majority of the Executive of the Reform Party to suspend the party's constitution to allow a National Government on 17 September, and then formed the United Party with Fynn, asking a second time for a dissolution on the basis of a changed party alignment. This time the Acting Governor acceded.

1937 Electoral ActEdit

In 1937, a new Electoral Act was passed. The franchise was extended slightly to those who were not British subjects but who had been in active wartime service in the armed forces. Electors were also required to have lived for three months in their electoral districts. The requirement for qualifying for the vote on the basis of receiving salary or wages of £100 ''per annum'' was extended also to people with income of £100 ''per annum'', a change which principally benefited those who had investment income but few assets. Voters were also no longer required to demonstrate proficiency in English through a dictation test. The postal vote, which had been introduced in 1928, was extended in 1937 to all voters living more than 25 miles away from the nearest polling station. Finally, those who had drawn government rations were disenfranchised.

1939 Elections - Last Elections before WWIIEdit

Southern Rhodesia in red; other Commonwealth territories in pink

The Southern Rhodesia general election of 14 April 1939 was the fifth election since the colony of Southern Rhodesia was granted internal self-government. Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins' United Party government were re-elected in a landslide. The election was called slightly earlier than the deadline as Huggins feared a European War.

The occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany in March 1939 convinced Huggins that war was imminent. Seeking to renew his government's mandate to pass emergency measures, he called an early election in which his United Party won an increased majority. Huggins rearranged his Cabinet on a war footing, making the Minister of Justice Robert Tredgold Minister of Defence as well. The territory proposed forces not only for internal security but also for the defence of British interests overseas.[4] Self-contained Rhodesian formations were planned, including a mechanised reconnaissance unit, but Tredgold opposed this. Remembering the catastrophic casualties suffered by units such as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the 1st South African Infantry Brigade on the Western Front in World War I, he argued that one or two heavy defeats for a white Southern Rhodesian brigade might cause crippling losses and have irrevocable effects on the country as a whole. He proposed to instead concentrate on training white Rhodesians for leadership roles and specialist units, and to disperse the colony's men across the forces in small groups. These ideas met with approval in both Salisbury and London and were adopted.[5]

Southern Rhodesia would be automatically included in any British declaration of war due to its lack of diplomatic powers, but that did not stop the colonial government from attempting to demonstrate its loyalty and legislative independence through supportive parliamentary motions and gestures. The Southern Rhodesian parliament unanimously moved to support Britain in the event of war during a special sitting on 28 August 1939.[6]


  1. Jeffrey, Keith (1996). An Irish Empire?: Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire. Manchester University Press. p. 196. ISBN 0719038731. 
  2. a b Burgers, A.P. (2008). The South African flag book: the history of South African flags from Dias to Mandela. Protea Book House. p. 346. ISBN 978-1869191122. 
  3. a b c d Briggs, Geoffrey (1974). National Heraldry of the World. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 9780670504527. 
  4. MacDonald 1947, pp. 10–11.
  5. Blake 1977, p. 233.
  6. Wood 2005, p. 9.