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The Story of Rhodesia

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Kingdom of Mapungubwe



The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (or Maphungubgwe) (c.1075–1220) was a medieval state in Southern Africa located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, south of Great Zimbabwe. The name is derived from either TjiKalanga and Tshivenda. The name might mean "Hill of Jackals".[1] It is nicknamed “Southern Africa’s first state”.[2]

Mapungubwe Plateau


There is little evidence of any state beyond the wealth of the capital. This would suggest a centralised authority which monopolised trade and wealth. It could also command labour to build large stone structures.[2]


The kingdom of Mapungubwe was formed by Bantu-speaking peoples. The heart of the area controlled by the Mapungubwe has at its heart a large sandstone plateau. It was easily defended due to its inaccessibility. Just like other kingdoms in Southern Africa, agriculture brought plenty of food that could be traded for goods.[2]

Government & Society


The chief or king was probably the wealthiest individual. He owned more cattle and precious material than anyone else. There was also a religious association between the king and rainmaking. The king and his court dwelt in a stone building on the highest level of the tribe’s territory. Royal wives likely dwelt separately from the king. The common people lived in mud and thatch houses. The king was buried at the top of the hill, while the commoners were buried at the surrounding valley. The population of Mapungubwe was at peaks at peak in the mid 13th century A.D. At that time, the population was around 5,000 people.[2]



Archeologists have found a high number of carnivore remains and ivory in the area of the Mapungubwe plateau. This suggests that animal hides and elephant tusks were probably sold to coastal areas. The presence of glass beads from India and fragments of Chinese celadon vessels indicates that there was trade with other states on the coast who traded with merchants traveling from China and Arabia by sea.[2]

Golden Rhinoceros of Mapungubwe

Pottery was produced on a large scale in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. This suggests the presence of professional potters. It’s another indicator of a prosperous society. Forms of pottery include spherical vessels with short necks, beakers, and hemispherical bowls while many are decorated with incisions and comb stamps. There are also ceramic figures, whistles, and one giraffe figurine. In addition, cattle, sheep, and goat figurines, and small figures of people with elongated bodies and short limbs have been often found in a domestic setting. These figures were probably used as offerings for ancestors or gods. However, their precise function is unknown. Other finds include small jewellery items made from copper or ivory.[2]

A particular type of decoration was only found in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe. It was to beat gold into small rectangular sheets which were then decorated with geometrical patterns. The patterns were made by incision and used to cover wooden objects using small tacks, also made of gold. Evidence for local gold-working is a rhinoceros figurine made from small hammered sheets, fragments of gold bangles, and thousands of small gold beads. These objects were found at the royal burial site. These are the first known indicators that gold had a value of its own (as opposed to just a currency) in Southern Africa.



The kingdom of Mapungubwe was already in decline by the late 13th century A.D.. This was probably due to overpopulation putting too much stress on local resources. This situation has been brought to a crisis point by a series of droughts. Trade routes may also have shifted northwards and local resources run out. The kingdoms that now prospered were to the North, such as Great Zimbabwe and then the Kingdom of Mutapa.[2]



Kingdom of Zimbabwe



The Kingdom of Zimbabwe was a medieval kingdom that existed from 1220-1450. Archeologists suggest it was first established by settlers from the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. They brought with them artistic traditions,[1] some of the only found in Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe.[2]

Great Zimbabwe


The centre of the Kingdom was its capital - Great Zimbabwe. It was located near Lake Mutirikwe. The capital was constructed in the 11th century, and continued to be expanded until the 15th century. At its peak, it spanned an area of 1780 acres (7.2 square kilometres or 2.78 square mile) and housed 18,000 people.


Great Zimbabwe’s most famous structure, commonly referred to as “The Great Enclosure” (picture above), has walls the 11 m (36 ft) in height, extending approximately 250 m (820 ft), making it the largest ancient structures in Sub-Saharan Africa.[1]



The Kingdom of Zimbabwe controlled the gold & ivory trade from the interior to the southeastern coast of Africa. They used a network that linked to Kilwa in present-day Tanzania. Archeologists have found Glass Beads from Persia, porcelain from China, and coins from Arabia. Artefacts like these are evidence of wider international trade of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe.[1]



At around 1430 AD, Prince Nyatsimba Mutota of Great Zimbabwe founded the Kingdom of Mutapa and established a new royal dynasty. Mutapa started overshadowing The Kingdom of Zimbabwe. This was due to political instability in Zimbabwe, famine, and the exhaustion of Zimbabwe’s mines. By 1450, most of the kingdom had been abandoned. The Shona people were divided into kingdoms - the Kingdom of Mutapa ruling the north, and the Kingdom of Butua ruling the south.[2]



Kingdom of Mutapa



The Kingdom of Mutapa was a kingdom located between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers in areas which are today part of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.[1] It flourished between the mid-15th and mid-17th. It is sometimes described as an empire, however there is little evidence that Mutapa ever established such control over the region. Mutapa prospered due to local resources of gold and ivory. It traded with Muslim merchants and the Portuguese merchants. The kingdom went into decline when it was weakened by civil wars, and then the Portuguese conquered it around 1633.[2] The meaning of the word Mutapa is “the conquered lands”.[1]

Decline of Great Zimbabwe


In the 15th century, the kingdom of Great Zimbabwe was in decline (see Kingdom of Zimbabwe). By the second half of the 15th century, the Bantu-speaking people migrated north to lands inhabited by smaller tribes who fled to the forests and deserts. The relationship between the Kingdom of Mutapa and the Kingdom of Zimbabwe is unknown, but it is known that both kingdoms had very similar pottery, weapons, tools, and jewellery.[2]



The kings of Mutapa held the title Mwene Mutapa meaning “lord of metals” or “master pillager”. They were also the religious head of the kingdom. The king, who ruled as absolute monarch, was assisted by ariosos officials such as the head of the army and chief of medicine. The ministers had their own estates and also some judicial powers: for example, they had the ability to impose death sentences on those found guilty of serious crimes.[2]

Art and Architecture


Unlike other kingdoms in Southern Africa, there were no local stone deposits in Mutapa, so they were unable to build impressive structures. The capital was enclosed by a wooden fence, and buildings were made with mud and wooden poles. At its peak, around 4,000 people lived in Mupangubwe (Mutapu’s capital).[2]

Mutapu produces local pottery that was burnished using graphite and red ochre. Mutapu’s jewellery included necklaces and anklets made from long coils of iron, bronze, copper, or gold wiring. It was described by European explorers and found in local burial sites.[2]



Following the voyage of Vasco De Gama around the Cape of Good Hopes, and up the East Coast of Africa in 1488-1489, the Portuguese started establishing a presence in the lucrative Swahili coast trade cites. Attempts were made to establish trade with Mutapa, interfere with its rules, and even convert its king to Christianity, but they all failed. Another contact came from Muslim Swahili merchants but the people of Mutapa never converted to Islam and held onto their Bantu beliefs.[2]

Around 1633, the Portuguese decided to attack and conquer the Kingdom of Mutapa to control the regions' resources and cut out their great rivals - the Swahili merchants. The Portuguese created the first written records about the Southern African people. However, due to tropical disease and the fact there was far less gold in the area than in other places such as West Africa and Peru, the Portuguese presence was only a temporary one. What remained of the Mutapa was later taken over by the Batua (a rival Shona kingdom) in 1693.[2]



Kingdom of Batua



The Kingdom of Butua (also spelled Butwa) was a kingdom in what is today South Western Zimbabwe. It emerged after the collapse of Great Zimbabwe[1] and was governed by the Togwa Dynasty until 1683, when it was conquered by the Rozwi Kingdom. It was first mentioned in Portuguese records as Butua in 1512.[2]

Great Zimbabwe and Khami


Khami was the capital of Butua, and its ruins are located 22 km west of Bulawayo. It is suggested that the Torwa were rebels of the Kingdom of Mutapa. Archeologists pointed out the Khami’s architecture was based on the architecture of Great Zimbabwe. However, there are some notable differences, for example: the type of stone used in Khami was harder to quarry than the type of stone used in Great Zimbabwe and formed shapeless stones, making it impossible to build dry walls, a feature of Great Zimbabwe.[3]

Trade with Portugal


Apart from the architecture, Butua was also notable for its trade, and the 15th century was the age of discovery, and while Khami was being built the Portuguese succeeded in destroying the existing Arab-Swahili trade system and seizing the port of Sofala. Then, they started trading with kingdoms further inland, including Butua. Archeologists found a diverse range of objects in Khami from many different places like China and India.[3]

The fall of Khami


In the 1640s, there was a political dispute among the Torwa rulers that escalated to a Civil War. The Portuguese seized this opportunity and sent an army. This resulted in the fall of Khami; however the Torwa stayed in power until the 1680s in their new capital, 150 km east of Khami.[3]



Rozwi Empire



The Rozwi Empire (also spelled Rozvi) is a former empire in Southern Africa. It was probably founded by Changamire Dombo I, who conquered fertile and mineral-rich areas near the Zambezi. The Rozwi empire was located in areas that are currently parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa.[1]



In 1693, Portugal tried to take control over gold trade in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Rozwi was formed of several Shona states that dominated present day Zimbabwe. They were able to stop any attacks by the Portuguese and maintain control over their gold mines.



The Rozwi revived the tradition of building cities from stone and constructed impressive cities throughout the southwest. The economy of Rozwi was based on cattle and farming, with significant gold mining. They established trade with Arabs, in which gold, copper, and ivory were exchanged for luxury goods.



The Rozvi empire crumbled in Zimbabwe in the early 19th century. The movement of the Rozvi from present-day Matabeleland predates the Mfecane period. The BaLobedu of South Africa seem to be the only remaining Rozvi Kingdom.



Matabeleland (Ndebele Kingdom)



The Matabele (Ndebele) are an offshoot of the Nguni people of Natal who migrated northward in 1823 as a result of conflicts with the King of Zulu, and later the Boers in Transvaal,[1] that resulted in them settling in Matabeleland (Southwestern Zimbabwe) in 1840. Their capital was Bulawayo.[2]

Mzilikazi was a Nguni military commander in Zululand. In 1823, he came into conflict with Shaka, the king of Zulu. He was forced to flee with his followers. First, he settled in Basutoland (now Lesotho), then north to Marino Valley. In 1837, he was defeated again by the Boer settlers in Transvaal (South African Republic) and moved northward to Matabeleland.[2]

Mzilikazi’s successor, Lobengula extended the tribe’s power and conquered neighbouring tribes. However, he was the last king of Matabele because the establishment of the British South Africa Company led to further conflicts with colonists, and Lobengula was eventually defeated.[2]


Mzilikazi led his Zulu followers on two northerly migrations during the 1820s and 1830s. They became the Matabele, and the area they settled in 1838 became Matabeleland.

During the 1810s, the Zulu Kingdom was established in southern Africa by the warrior king Shaka, who united a number of rival clans into a centralised monarchy. Among the Zulu Kingdom's main leaders and military commanders was Mzilikazi, who enjoyed high royal favour for a time, but ultimately provoked the king's wrath by repeatedly offending him. When Shaka forced Mzilikazi and his followers to leave the country in 1823, they moved north-west to the Transvaal, where they became known as the Ndebele or "Matabele"—both names mean "men of the long shields".[3] Amid the period of war and chaos locally called mfecane ("the crushing"), the Matabele quickly became the region's dominant tribe.[4] In 1836, they negotiated a peace treaty with Sir Benjamin d'Urban, Governor of the British Cape Colony,[5] but the same year Boer Voortrekkers moved to the area, during their Great Trek away from British rule in the Cape. These new arrivals soon toppled Mzilikazi's domination of the Transvaal, compelling him to lead another migration north in 1838. Crossing the Limpopo River, the Matabele settled in the Zambezi–Limpopo watershed's south-west; this area has since been called Matabeleland.[4]

Matabele culture mirrored that of the Zulus in many aspects. The Matabele language, Sindebele, was largely based on Zulu—and just like Zululand, Matabeleland had a strong martial tradition. Matabele men went through a Spartan upbringing, designed to produce disciplined warriors, and military organisation largely dictated the distribution of administrative responsibilities. The inkosi (king) appointed a number of izinDuna (or indunas), who acted as tribal leaders in both military and civilian matters. Like the Zulus, the Matabele referred to a regiment of warriors as an impi. The Mashona people, who had inhabited the north-east of the region for centuries, greatly outnumbered the Matabele, but were weaker militarily, and so to a large degree entered a state of tributary submission to them.[6] Mzilikazi agreed to two treaties with the Transvaal Boers in 1853, first with Hendrik Potgieter (who died shortly before negotiations ended), then with Andries Pretorius; the first of these, which did not bear Mzilikazi's own mark, purported to make Matabeleland a virtual Transvaal protectorate, while the second, which was more properly enacted, comprised a more equal peace agreement.[7]


King Lobengula; a posthumous depiction, based on a contemporary sketch

After Mzilikazi died in 1868, his son Lobengula replaced him in 1870, following a brief succession struggle.[8] Tall and well built, Lobengula was generally considered thoughtful and sensible, even by contemporary Western accounts; according to the South African big-game hunter Frederick Hugh Barber, who met him in 1875, he was witty, mentally sharp and authoritative—"every inch a king".[9] Based at his royal kraal at Bulawayo, Lobengula was at first open to Western enterprises in his country, adopting Western-style clothing and granting mining concessions and hunting licences to white visitors in return for pounds sterling, weapons and ammunition. Because of the king's illiteracy, these documents were prepared in English or Dutch by whites who took up residence at his kraal; to ascertain that what was written genuinely reflected what he had said, Lobengula would have his words translated and transcribed by one of the whites, then later translated back by another. Once the king was satisfied of the written translation's veracity, he would sign his mark, affix the royal seal (which depicted an elephant), and then have the document signed and witnessed by a number of white men, at least one of whom would also write an endorsement of the proclamation.[10]

For unclear reasons, Lobengula's attitude towards foreigners reversed sharply during the late 1870s. He discarded his Western clothes in favour of more traditional animal-skin garments, stopped supporting trading enterprises,[10] and began to restrict the movement of whites into and around his country. However, the whites kept coming, particularly after the discovery in 1886 of gold deposits in the South African Republic (or Transvaal), which prompted the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the founding of Johannesburg. After rumours spread among the Witwatersrand (or Rand) prospectors of even richer tracts, "a second Rand", north of the Limpopo, the miners began to trek north to seek concessions from Lobengula that would allow them to search for gold in Matabeleland and Mashonaland.[11] These efforts were mostly in vain. Apart from the Tati Concession, which covered a small strip of land on the border with the Bechuanaland Protectorate where miners had operated since 1868,[12] mining operations in the watershed remained few and far between.[11]

The foremost business and political figure in southern Africa at this time was Cecil Rhodes, a vicar's son who had arrived from England in 1870, aged 17.[13] Since entering the diamond trade at Kimberley in 1871, Rhodes had gained near-complete domination of the world diamond market with the help of Charles Rudd, Alfred Beit and other business associates, as well as the generous financial backing of Nathan Mayer Rothschild.[14] Rhodes was also a member of the Cape Parliament, having been elected in 1881.[15] Amid the European Scramble for Africa, he envisioned the annexation to the British Empire of territories that would connect the Cape, at Africa's southern tip, with Cairo, the Egyptian city at the northern end of the continent, and allow for the construction of a railway linking the two. This ambition was directly challenged in the south by the presence of the Boer republics and, just to the north of them, Lobengula's domains.[16] The fact that the Zambezi–Limpopo region did not fall into any of the "spheres of influence" defined at the Berlin Conference further complicated matters; the Transvaalers, Germans and Portuguese were all also showing interest in the area, much to the annoyance of both Lobengula and Rhodes.


  1. Ndebele - Britannica archived from original:
  2. a b c Matabeleland - Britannica archived from original
  3. Sibanda, Moyana & Gumbo 1992, p. 88
  4. a b Davidson 1988, pp. 112–113
  5. Chanaiwa 2000, p. 204
  6. Davidson 1988, pp. 113–115
  7. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 10
  8. Davidson 1988, p. 101
  9. Davidson 1988, p. 97
  10. a b Davidson 1988, p. 102
  11. a b Davidson 1988, pp. 107–108
  12. Galbraith 1974, p. 32
  13. Davidson 1988, p. 37
  14. Rotberg 1988, pp. 212–213
  15. Rotberg 1988, p. 128
  16. Berlyn 1978, p. 99

Rhodes’s Dream

Rhodes’s childhood




Rhodes was born in 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England, the fifth son of the Reverend Francis William Rhodes (1807–1878) and his wife Louisa Peacock.[1] Francis was a Church of England clergyman who served as perpetual curate of Brentwood, Essex (1834–1843) and then as vicar of nearby Bishops Stortford (1849–1876). He was proud of never having preached a sermon longer than 10 minutes. Francis was the eldest son of William Rhodes (1774–1843), a brick manufacturer of Hackney, Middlesex. The earliest traceable direct ancestor of Cecil Rhodes is James Rhodes (fl 1660) of Snape Green, Whitmore, Staffordshire.[2] Cecil's siblings included Frank Rhodes, an army officer.

England and Jersey

Rhodes as a boy
Rhodes' birthplace, now part of Bishop's Stortford Museum; the bedroom in which he was born is marked by a plaque.

Rhodes attended the Bishop's Stortford Grammar School from the age of nine, but, as a sickly, asthmatic adolescent, he was taken out of grammar school in 1869 and, according to Basil Williams,[3] "continued his studies under his father's eye (...)."

At age seven, he was recorded in the 1861 census as boarding with his aunt, Sophia Peacock, at a boarding house in Jersey, where the climate was perceived to provide a respite for those with conditions such as asthma.[4] His health was weak and there were fears that he might be consumptive (have tuberculosis), a disease of which several of the family showed symptoms. His father decided to send him abroad for what were believed to be the good effects of a sea voyage and a better climate in South Africa.



When he arrived in Africa, Rhodes lived on money lent by his aunt Sophia.[5] After a brief stay with the Surveyor-General of Natal, Dr. P.C. Sutherland, in Pietermaritzburg, Rhodes took an interest in agriculture. He joined his brother Herbert on his cotton farm in the Umkomazi valley in Natal. The land was unsuitable for cotton, and the venture failed.

In October 1871, 18-year-old Rhodes and his 26-year-old brother Herbert left the colony for the diamond fields of Kimberley in Northern Cape Province. Financed by N M Rothschild & Sons, Rhodes succeeded over the next 17 years in buying up all the smaller diamond mining operations in the Kimberley area.

His monopoly of the world's diamond supply was sealed in 1890 through a strategic partnership with the London-based Diamond Syndicate. They agreed to control world supply to maintain high prices.[6][7] Rhodes supervised the working of his brother's claim and speculated on his behalf. Among his associates in the early days were John X. Merriman and Charles Rudd, who later became his partner in the De Beers Mining Company and the Niger Oil Company.

During the 1880s, Cape vineyards had been devastated by a phylloxera epidemic. The diseased vineyards were dug up and replanted, and farmers were looking for alternatives to wine. In 1892, Rhodes financed The Pioneer Fruit Growing Company at Nooitgedacht, a venture created by Harry Pickstone, an Englishman who had experience with fruit-growing in California.[8] The shipping magnate Percy Molteno had just undertaken the first successful refrigerated export to Europe. In 1896, after consulting with Molteno, Rhodes began to pay more attention to export fruit farming and bought farms in Groot Drakenstein, Wellington and Stellenbosch. A year later, he bought Rhone and Boschendal and commissioned Sir Herbert Baker to build him a cottage there.[8][9] The successful operation soon expanded into Rhodes Fruit Farms, and formed a cornerstone of the modern-day Cape fruit industry.[10]


A portrait bust of Rhodes on the first floor of No. 6 King Edward Street marks the place of his residence whilst in Oxford.

In 1873, Rhodes left his farm field in the care of his business partner, Rudd, and sailed for England to study at university. He was admitted to Oriel College, Oxford, but stayed for only one term in 1873. He returned to South Africa and did not return for his second term at Oxford until 1876. He was greatly influenced by John Ruskin's inaugural lecture at Oxford, which reinforced his own attachment to the cause of British imperialism.

Among his Oxford associates were James Rochfort Maguire, later a fellow of All Souls College and a director of the British South Africa Company, and Charles Metcalfe [citation needed]. Due to his university career, Rhodes admired the Oxford "system". Eventually, he was inspired to develop his scholarship scheme: "Wherever you turn your eye—except in science—an Oxford man is at the top of the tree".[11]

While attending Oriel College, Rhodes became a Freemason in the Apollo University Lodge.[12] Although initially he did not approve of the organisation, he continued to be a South African Freemason until his death in 1902. The shortcomings of the Freemasons, in his opinion, later caused him to envisage his own secret society with the goal of bringing the entire world under British rule.[13]

Establishment of De Beers

Preference Share of the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd., issued 1. March 1902
Sketch of Rhodes by Violet Manners

During his years at Oxford, Rhodes continued to prosper in Kimberley. Before his departure for Oxford, he and C.D. Rudd had moved from the Kimberley Mine to invest in the more costly claims of what was known as old De Beers (Vooruitzicht). It was named after Johannes Nicolaas de Beer and his brother, Diederik Arnoldus, who occupied the farm.[14]

After purchasing the land in 1839 from David Danser, a Koranna chief in the area, David Stephanus Fourie, forebearer for Claudine Fourie-Grosvenor, had allowed the de Beers and various other Afrikaner families to cultivate the land. The region extended from the Modder River via the Vet River up to the Vaal River.[15]

In 1874 and 1875, the diamond fields were in the grip of depression, but Rhodes and Rudd were among those who stayed to consolidate their interests. They believed that diamonds would be numerous in the hard blue ground that had been exposed after the softer, yellow layer near the surface had been worked out. During this time, the technical problem of clearing out the water that was flooding the mines became serious. Rhodes and Rudd obtained the contract for pumping water out of the three main mines. After Rhodes returned from his first term at Oxford, he lived with Robert Dundas Graham, who later became a mining partner with Rudd and Rhodes.[16]

On 13 March 1888, Rhodes and Rudd launched De Beers Consolidated Mines after the amalgamation of a number of individual claims. With £200,000 of capital, the company, of which Rhodes was secretary, owned the largest interest in the mine (£200,000 in 1880 = £22.5m in 2020 = $28.5m USD).[17] Rhodes was named the chairman of De Beers at the company's founding in 1888. De Beers was established with funding from N.M. Rothschild & Sons in 1887.[note 1]

Cape Parliament

Cecil Rhodes (Sketch by Mortimer Menpes)

In 1880, Rhodes prepared to enter public life at the Cape. With the earlier incorporation of Griqualand West into the Cape Colony under the Molteno Ministry in 1877, the area had obtained six seats in the Cape House of Assembly. Rhodes chose the rural and predominately Boer constituency of Barkly West, which would remain loyal to Rhodes until his death.[19]

When Rhodes became a member of the Cape Parliament, the chief goal of the assembly was to help decide the future of Basutoland.[1] The ministry of Sir Gordon Sprigg was trying to restore order after the 1880 rebellion known as the Gun War. The Sprigg ministry had precipitated the revolt by applying its policy of disarming all native Africans to those of the Basotho nation, who resisted.

The Imperial Factor

"The Rhodes Colossus" – cartoon by Edward Linley Sambourne, published in Punch after Rhodes announced plans for a telegraph line from Cape Town to Cairo in 1892.

Rhodes used his wealth and that of his business partner Alfred Beit and other investors to pursue his dream of creating a British Empire in new territories to the north by obtaining mineral concessions from the most powerful indigenous chiefs. Rhodes' competitive advantage over other mineral prospecting companies was his combination of wealth and astute political instincts, also called the "imperial factor", as he often collaborated with the British Government. He befriended its local representatives, the British Commissioners, and through them organized British protectorates over the mineral concession areas via separate but related treaties. In this way he obtained both legality and security for mining operations. He could then attract more investors. Imperial expansion and capital investment went hand in hand.[20][21]

The imperial factor was a double-edged sword: Rhodes did not want the bureaucrats of the Colonial Office in London to interfere in the Empire in Africa. He wanted British settlers and local politicians and governors to run it. This put him on a collision course with many in Britain, as well as with British missionaries, who favoured what they saw as the more ethical direct rule from London. Rhodes prevailed because he would pay the cost of administering the territories to the north of South Africa against his future mining profits. The Colonial Office did not have enough funding for this. Rhodes promoted his business interests as in the strategic interest of Britain: preventing the Portuguese, the Germans or the Boers from moving into south-central Africa. Rhodes's companies and agents cemented these advantages by obtaining many mining concessions, as exemplified by the Rudd and Lochner Concessions.[20]



Rudd Concession & Royal Charter



Rhodes began advocating the annexation by Britain of Matabeleland and Mashonaland in 1887 by applying pressure to a number of senior colonial officials, most prominently the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Sir Hercules Robinson, and Sidney Shippard, Britain's administrator in the Bechuanaland Crown colony (comprising that country's southern part). Shippard, an old friend of Rhodes,[1] was soon won over to the idea, and in May 1887 the administrator wrote to Robinson strongly endorsing annexation of the territories, particularly Mashonaland, which he described as "beyond comparison the most valuable country south of the Zambezi".[2] It was the Boers, however, who were first to achieve diplomatic successes with Lobengula. Pieter Grobler secured a treaty of "renewal of friendship" between Matabeleland and the South African Republic in July 1887.[n 1] The same month, Robinson organised the appointment of John Smith Moffat, a locally born missionary, as assistant commissioner in Bechuanaland.[4] Moffat, well-known to Lobengula, was given this position in the hope that he might make the king less cordial with the Boers and more pro-British.[5][n 2]

Sir Hercules Robinson, the British High Commissioner for Southern Africa

In September 1887, Robinson wrote to Lobengula, through Moffat, urging the king not to grant concessions of any kind to Transvaal, German or Portuguese agents without first consulting the missionary.[5] Moffat reached Bulawayo on 29 November to find Grobler still there. Because the exact text of the Grobler treaty had not been released publicly, it was unclear to outside observers precisely what had been agreed with Lobengula in July; in the uncertainty, newspapers in South Africa were reporting that the treaty had made Matabeleland a protectorate of the South African Republic. Moffat made enquiries in Bulawayo. Grobler denied the newspaper reports of a Transvaal protectorate over Lobengula's country, while the king said that an agreement did exist, but that it was a renewal of the Pretorius peace treaty and nothing more.[5]

In Pretoria, in early December, another British agent met Paul Kruger, the President of the South African Republic, who reportedly said that his government now regarded Matabeleland as under Transvaal "protection and sovereignty", and that one of the clauses of the Grobler treaty had been that Lobengula could not "grant any concessions or make any contact with anybody whatsoever" without Pretoria's approval.[7] Meeting at Grahamstown on Christmas Day, Rhodes, Shippard and Robinson agreed to instruct Moffat to investigate the matter with Lobengula and to secure a copy of the Grobler treaty for further clarification, as well as to arrange a formal Anglo-Matabele treaty, which would have provisions included to prevent Lobengula from making any more agreements with foreign powers other than Britain.[7]

Lobengula was alarmed by how some were perceiving his dealings with Grobler, and so was reluctant to sign any more agreements with foreigners. Despite his familiarity with Moffat, the king did not consider him above suspicion, and he was dubious about placing himself firmly in the British camp; as Moffat said of the Matabele leadership in general, "they may like us better, but they fear the Boers more".[7] Moffat's negotiations with the king and izinDuna were therefore very long and uneasy. The missionary presented the proposed British treaty as an offer to renew that enacted by d'Urban and Mzilikazi in 1836. He told the Matabele that the Boers were misleading them, that Pretoria's interpretation of the Grobler treaty differed greatly from their own, and that the British proposal served Matabele interests better in any case.[8] On 11 February 1888, Lobengula agreed and placed his mark and seal at the foot of the agreement.[8] The document proclaimed that the Matabele and British were now at peace, that Lobengula would not enter any kind of diplomatic correspondence with any country apart from Britain, and that the king would not "sell, alienate or cede" any part of Matabeleland or Mashonaland to anybody.[9]

Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister

The document was unilateral in form, describing only what Lobengula would do to prevent any of these conditions being broken. Shippard was dubious about this and the fact that none of the izinDuna had signed the proclamation, and asked Robinson if it would be advisable to negotiate another treaty. Robinson replied in the negative, reasoning that reopening talks with Lobengula so soon would only make him suspicious. Britain's ministers at Whitehall perceived the unilateral character of the treaty as advantageous for Britain, as it did not commit Her Majesty's Government to any particular course of action. Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister, ruled that Moffat's treaty trumped Grobler's, despite being signed at a later date, because the London Convention of 1884 precluded the South African Republic from making treaties with any state apart from the Orange Free State; treaties with native tribes north of the Limpopo were permitted, but the Prime Minister claimed that Matabeleland was too cohesively organised to be regarded as a mere tribe, and should instead be considered a nation. He concluded from this reasoning that the Grobler treaty was ultra vires and legally meaningless. Whitehall soon gave Robinson permission to ratify the Moffat agreement, which was announced to the public in Cape Town on 25 April 1888.[9]

For Rhodes, the agreement Moffat had made with Lobengula was crucial as it bought time that allowed him to devote the necessary attention to the final amalgamation of the South African diamond interests. A possible way out of the situation for Lobengula was to lead another Matabele migration across the Zambezi, but Rhodes hoped to keep the king where he was for the moment as a buffer against Boer expansion.[10] In March 1888, Rhodes bought out the company of his last competitor, the circus showman turned diamond millionaire Barney Barnato, to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, a sprawling national monopoly that controlled 90% of world diamond production.[11] Barnato wanted to limit De Beers to mining diamonds, but Rhodes insisted that he was going to use the company to "win the north": to this end, he ensured that the De Beers trust deed enabled activities far removed from mining, including banking and railway-building, the ability to annex and govern land, and the raising of armed forces.[12] All this gave the immensely wealthy company powers not unlike those of the East India Company, which had governed India on Britain's behalf from 1757 to 1857.[13] Through De Beers and Gold Fields of South Africa, the gold-mining firm he had recently started with Charles Rudd, Rhodes had both the capacity and the financial means to make his dream of an African empire a reality, but to make such ambitions practicable,[12] he would first have to acquire a royal charter empowering him to take personal control of the relevant territories on Britain's behalf.[14] To secure this royal charter, he would need to present Whitehall with a concession, signed by a native ruler, granting to Rhodes the exclusive mining rights in the lands he hoped to annex.[12]

Race to Bulawayo

Lord Knutsford, the British Colonial Secretary

Rhodes faced competition for the Matabeleland mining concession from George Cawston and Lord Gifford, two London financiers. They appointed as their agent Edward Arthur Maund, who had served with Sir Charles Warren in Bechuanaland between 1884 and 1885, towards the end of this time visiting Lobengula as an official British envoy. Cawston and Gifford's base in England gave them the advantage of better connections with Whitehall, while Rhodes's location in the Cape allowed him to see the situation with his own eyes. He also possessed formidable financial capital and closer links with the relevant colonial administrators. In May 1888, Cawston and Gifford wrote to Lord Knutsford, the British Colonial Secretary, seeking his approval for their designs.[15]

The urgency of negotiating a concession was made clear to Rhodes during a visit to London in June 1888, when he learned of the London syndicate's letter to Knutsford, and of their appointment of Maund. Rhodes now understood that the Matabeleland concession could still go elsewhere if he did not secure the document quickly.[16][n 3] "Someone has to get the country, and I think we should have the best chance," Rhodes told Rothschild; "I have always been afraid of the difficulty of dealing with the Matabele king. He is the only block to central Africa, as, once we have his territory, the rest is easy ... the rest is simply a village system with separate headmen ... I have faith in the country, and Africa is on the move. I think it is a second Cinderella."[18]

Charles Rudd was chosen to lead Rhodes's negotiators because of his prior bargaining experience with Boer farmers.

Rhodes and Beit put Rudd at the head of their new negotiating team because of his extensive experience negotiating the purchase of Boers' farms for gold prospecting. Because Rudd knew little of indigenous African customs and languages, Rhodes added Francis "Matabele" Thompson, an employee of his who had for years run the reserves and compounds that housed the black labourers at the diamond fields. Thompson was fluent in Setswana, the language of the Tswana people to Lobengula's south-west, and therefore could communicate directly and articulately with the king, who also knew the language. James Rochfort Maguire, an Irish barrister Rhodes had known at Oxford, was recruited as a third member.[19]

Many analysts find the inclusion of the cultured, metropolitan Maguire puzzling—it is often suggested that he was brought along so he could couch the document in the elaborate legal language of the English bar, and thus make it unchallengeable,[18] but as the historian John Semple Galbraith comments, the kind of agreement that was required was hardly complicated enough to merit the considerable expense and inconvenience of bringing Maguire along.[19] In his biography of Rhodes, Robert I. Rotberg suggests that he may have intended Maguire to lend Rudd's expedition "a touch of culture and class",[18] in the hope that this might impress Lobengula and rival would-be concessionaires. One of the advantages held by the London syndicate was the societal prestige of Gifford in particular, and Rhodes hoped to counter this through Maguire.[18] Rudd's party ultimately comprised himself, Thompson, Maguire, J G Dreyer (their Dutch wagon driver), a fifth white man, a Cape Coloured, an African American and two black servants.[20]

Maund arrived in Cape Town in late June 1888 and attempted to gain Robinson's approval for the Cawston–Gifford bid. Robinson was reserved in his answers, saying that he supported the development of Matabeleland by a company with this kind of backing, but did not feel he could commit to endorsing Cawston and Gifford exclusively while there remained other potential concessionaires, most prominently Rhodes—certainly not without unequivocal instructions from Whitehall. While Rudd's party gathered and prepared in Kimberley, Maund travelled north, and reached the diamond mines at the start of July.[21] On 14 July, in Bulawayo, agents representing a consortium headed by the South African-based entrepreneur Thomas Leask received a mining concession from Lobengula,[22] covering all of his country, and pledging half of the proceeds to the king. When he learned of this latter condition Leask was distraught, saying the concession was "commercially valueless".[23] Moffat pointed out to Leask that his group did not have the resources to act on the concession anyway, and that both Rhodes and the London syndicate did; at Moffat's suggestion, Leask decided to wait and sell his concession to whichever big business group gained a new agreement from Lobengula. Neither Rhodes's group, the Cawston–Gifford consortium nor the British colonial officials immediately learned of the Leask concession.[23]

In early July 1888, Rhodes returned from London and met with Robinson, proposing the establishment of a chartered company to govern and develop south-central Africa, with himself at its head, and similar powers to the British North Borneo, Imperial British East Africa and Royal Niger Companies. Rhodes said that this company would take control of those parts of Matabeleland and Mashonaland "not in use" by the local people, demarcate reserved areas for the indigenous population, and thereafter defend both, while developing the lands not reserved for natives. In this way, he concluded, Matabele and Mashona interests would be protected, and south-central Africa would be developed, all without a penny from Her Majesty's Treasury. Robinson wrote to Knutsford on 21 July that he thought Whitehall should back this idea; he surmised that the Boers would receive British expansion into the Zambezi–Limpopo watershed better if it came in the form of a chartered company than if it occurred with the creation of a new Crown colony.[24] He furthermore wrote a letter for Rudd's party to carry to Bulawayo, recommending Rudd and his companions to Lobengula.[25]

A Matabele kraal, as depicted by William Cornwallis Harris, 1836

Maund left Kimberley in July, well ahead of the Rudd party.[24] Rudd's negotiating team, armed with Robinson's endorsement, was still far from ready—they left Kimberley only on 15 August—but Moffat, travelling from Shoshong in Bechuanaland, was ahead of both expeditions. He reached Bulawayo in late August to find the kraal filled with white concession-hunters.[18] The various bidders attempted to woo the king with a series of gifts and favours, but won little to show for it.[26]

Between Kimberley and Mafeking, Maund learned from Shippard that Grobler had been killed by a group of Ngwato warriors while returning to the Transvaal, and that the Boers were threatening to attack the British-protected Ngwato chief, Khama III, in response. Maund volunteered to help defend Khama, writing a letter to his employers explaining that doing so might lay the foundations for a concession from Khama covering territory that the Matabele and Ngwato disputed. Cawston tersely wrote back with orders to make for Bulawayo without delay, but over a month had passed in the time this written exchange required, and Maund had squandered his head start on Rudd.[27] After ignoring a notice Lobengula had posted at Tati, barring entry to white big-game hunters and concession-seekers,[28] the Rudd party arrived at the king's kraal on 21 September 1888, three weeks ahead of Maund.[26]



Rudd, Thompson and Maguire immediately went to present themselves to Lobengula, who came out from his private quarters without hesitation and politely greeted the visitors.[29] Through a Sindebele interpreter, Rudd introduced himself and the others, explained on whose behalf they acted, said they had come for an amiable sojourn, and presented the king with a gift of £100.[30]

After the subject of business was eschewed for a few days, Thompson explained to the king in Setswana what he and his confederates had come to talk about. He said that his backers, unlike the Transvaalers, were not seeking land, but only wanted to mine gold in the Zambezi–Limpopo watershed.[30] During the following weeks, talks took place sporadically. Moffat, who had remained in Bulawayo, was occasionally called upon by the king for advice, prompting the missionary to subtly assist Rudd's team through his counsel. He urged Lobengula to work alongside one large entity rather than many small concerns, telling him that this would make the issue easier for him to manage.[31] He then informed the king that Shippard was going to pay an official visit during October, and advised him not to make a decision until after this was over.[31]

Accompanied by Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams and 16 policemen, Shippard arrived in mid-October 1888. The king suspended concession negotiations in favour of meetings with him.[n 4] The colonial official told the king that the Boers were hungry for more land and intended to overrun his country before too long; he also championed Rudd's cause, telling Lobengula that Rudd's team acted on behalf of a powerful, financially formidable organisation supported by Queen Victoria.[31] Meanwhile, Rhodes sent a number of letters to Rudd, warning him that Maund was his main rival, and that because the London syndicate's goals overlapped so closely with their own, it was essential that Cawston and Gifford be defeated or else brought into the Rhodes camp.[32] Regarding Lobengula, Rhodes advised Rudd to make the king think that the concession would work for him. "Offer a steamboat on the Zambezi same as [Henry Morton] Stanley put on the Upper Congo ... Stick to Home Rule and Matabeleland for the Matabele[,] I am sure it is the ticket."[32]

As October passed without major headway, Rudd grew anxious to return to the Witswatersrand gold mines, but Rhodes insisted that he could not leave Bulawayo without the concession. "You must not leave a vacuum," Rhodes instructed. "Leave Thompson and Maguire if necessary or wait until I can join ... if we get anything we must always have someone resident".[32] Thus prevented from leaving, Rudd vigorously tried to persuade Lobengula to enter direct negotiations with him over a concession, but was repeatedly rebuffed. The king only agreed to look at the draft document, mostly written by Rudd, just before Shippard was due to leave in late October. At this meeting, Lobengula discussed the terms with Rudd for over an hour.[33] Charles Helm, a missionary based in the vicinity, was summoned by the king to act as an interpreter. According to Helm, Rudd made a number of oral promises to Lobengula that were not in the written document, including "that they would not bring more than 10 white men to work in his country, that they would not dig anywhere near towns, etc., and that they and their people would abide by the laws of his country and in fact be his people."[34]

After these talks with Rudd, Lobengula called an indaba (conference) of over 100 izinDuna to present the proposed concession terms to them and gauge their sympathies. It soon became clear that opinion was split: most of the younger izinDuna were opposed to the idea of any concession whatsoever, while the king himself and many of his older izinDuna were open to considering Rudd's bid. The idea of a mining monopoly in the hands of Rudd's powerful backers was attractive to the Matabele in some ways, as it would end the incessant propositioning for concessions by small-time prospectors, but there was also a case for allowing competition to continue, so that the rival miners would have to compete for Lobengula's favour.[35]

Martini–Henry rifles. Rudd's offer of 1,000 of these weapons, along with appropriate ammunition, proved key in persuading Lobengula to grant the concession.[33]

For many at the indaba, the most pressing motivator was Matabeleland's security. While Lobengula considered the Transvaalers more formidable battlefield adversaries than the British, he understood that Britain was more prominent on the world stage, and while the Boers wanted land, Rudd's party claimed to be interested only in mining and trading. Lobengula reasoned that if he accepted Rudd's proposals, he would keep his land, and the British would be obliged to protect him from incursions by the Boers.[35]

Rudd was offering generous terms that few competitors could hope to even come close to. If Lobengula agreed, Rudd's backers would furnish the king with 1,000 Martini–Henry breech-loading rifles, 100,000 rounds of matching ammunition, a steamboat on the Zambezi (or, if Lobengula preferred, a lump sum of £500), and £100 a month in perpetuity. More impressive to the king than the financial aspects of this offer were the weapons: he had at the time between 600 and 800 rifles and carbines, but almost no ammunition for them. The proposed arrangement would lavishly stock his arsenal with both firearms and bullets, which might prove decisive in the event of conflict with the South African Republic.[35] The weapons might also help him keep control of the more rambunctious factions amid his own impis.[33] Lobengula had Helm go over the document with him several times, in great detail, to ensure that he properly understood what was written.[34] None of Rudd's alleged oral conditions were in the concession document, making them legally unenforceable (presuming they indeed existed), but the king apparently regarded them as part of the proposed agreement nonetheless.[36]

The final round of negotiations started at the royal kraal on the morning of 30 October. The talks took place at an indaba between the izinDuna and Rudd's party; the king himself did not attend, but was nearby. The izinDuna pressed Rudd and his companions as to where exactly they planned to mine, to which they replied that they wanted rights covering "the whole country".[34] When the izinDuna demurred, Thompson insisted, "No, we must have Mashonaland, and right up to the Zambezi as well—in fact, the whole country".[34] According to Thompson's account, this provoked confusion among the izinDuna, who did not seem to know where these places were. "The Zambezi must be there", said one, incorrectly pointing south (rather than north).[34] The Matabele representatives then prolonged the talks through "procrastination and displays of geographical ignorance", in the phrase of the historian Arthur Keppel-Jones,[34] until Rudd and Thompson announced that they were done talking and rose to leave. The izinDuna were somewhat alarmed by this and asked the visitors to please stay and continue, which they did. It was then agreed that inDuna Lotshe and Thompson would together report the day's progress to the king.[34]



After speaking with Lotshe and Thompson, the king was still hesitant to make a decision. Thompson appealed to Lobengula with a rhetorical question: "Who gives a man an assegai [spear] if he expects to be attacked by him afterwards?"[37] Seeing the allusion to the offered Martini–Henry rifles, Lobengula was swayed by this logic, and made up his mind to grant the concession. "Bring me the fly-blown paper and I will sign it," he said.[37] Thompson briefly left the room to call Rudd, Maguire, Helm and Dreyer in,[37] and they sat in a semi-circle around the king.[33] Lobengula then put his mark to the concession,[37] which read:[38]

Know all men by these presents, that whereas Charles Dunell Rudd, of Kimberley; Rochfort Maguire, of London; and Francis Robert Thompson, of Kimberley, hereinafter called the grantees, have covenanted and agreed, and do hereby covenant and agree, to pay to me, my heirs and successors, the sum of one hundred pounds sterling, British currency, on the first day of every lunar month; and further, to deliver at my royal kraal one thousand Martini–Henry breech-loading rifles, together with one hundred thousand rounds of suitable ball cartridge, five hundred of the said rifles and fifty thousand of the said cartridges to be ordered from England forthwith and delivered with reasonable despatch, and the remainder of the said rifles and cartridges to be delivered as soon as the said grantees shall have commenced to work mining machinery within my territory; and further, to deliver on the Zambesi River a steamboat with guns suitable for defensive purposes upon the said river, or in lieu of the said steamboat, should I so elect, to pay to me the sum of five hundred pounds sterling, British currency. On the execution of these presents, I, Lobengula, King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland, and other adjoining territories, in exercise of my sovereign powers, and in the presence and with the consent of my council of indunas, do hereby grant and assign unto the said grantees, their heirs, representatives, and assigns, jointly and severally, the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated and contained in my kingdoms, principalities, and dominions, together with full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure the same, and to hold, collect, and enjoy the profits and revenues, if any, derivable from the said metals and minerals, subject to the aforesaid payment; and whereas I have been much molested of late by divers persons seeking and desiring to obtain grants and concessions of land and mining rights in my territories, I do hereby authorise the said grantees, their heirs, representatives and assigns, to take all necessary and lawful steps to exclude from my kingdom, principalities, and dominions all persons seeking land, metals, minerals, or mining rights therein, and I do hereby undertake to render them all such needful assistance as they may from time to time require for the exclusion of such persons, and to grant no concessions of land or mining rights from and after this date without their consent and concurrence; provided that, if at any time the said monthly payment of one hundred pounds shall be in arrear for a period of three months, then this grant shall cease and determine from the date of the last-made payment; and further provided that nothing contained in these presents shall extend to or affect a grant made by me of certain mining rights in a portion of my territory south of the Ramaquaban River, which grant is commonly known as the Tati Concession.

As Lobengula inscribed his mark at the foot of the paper, Maguire turned to Thompson and said "Thompson, this is the epoch of our lives."[37] Once Rudd, Maguire and Thompson had signed the concession, Helm and Dreyer added their signatures as witnesses, and Helm wrote an endorsement beside the terms:[37]

I hereby certify that the accompanying document has been fully interpreted and explained by me to the Chief Lobengula and his full Council of Indunas and that all the Constitutional usages of the Matabele Nation had been complied with prior to his executing the same.
  Charles Daniel Helm

Lobengula refused to allow any of the izinDuna to sign the document. Exactly why he did this is not clear. Rudd's interpretation was that the king considered them to have already been consulted at the day's indaba, and so did not think it necessary for them to also sign. Keppel-Jones comments that Lobengula might have felt that it would be harder to repudiate the document later if it bore the marks of his izinDuna alongside his own.[37]

Validity Disputes


Announcement and reception


Within hours, Rudd and Dreyer were hurrying south to present the document to Rhodes, travelling by mule cart, the fastest mode of transport available.[n 5] Thompson and Maguire stayed in Bulawayo to defend the concession against potential challenges. Rudd reached Kimberley and Rhodes on 19 November 1888, a mere 20 days after the document's signing, and commented with great satisfaction that this marked a record that would surely not be broken until the railway was laid into the interior.[39] Rhodes was elated by Rudd's results, describing the concession as "so gigantic it is like giving a man the whole of Australia".[40] Both in high spirits, the pair travelled to Cape Town by train, and presented themselves to Robinson on 21 November.[39]

Robinson was pleased to learn of Rudd's success. The High Commissioner wanted to gazette the concession immediately, but Rhodes knew that the promise to arm Lobengula with 1,000 Martini–Henrys would be received with apprehension elsewhere in South Africa, especially among Boers; he suggested that this aspect of the concession should be kept quiet until the guns were already in Bechuanaland. Rudd therefore prepared a version of the document omitting mention of the Martini–Henrys, which was approved by Rhodes and Robinson, and published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus newspapers on 24 November 1888. The altered version described the agreed price for the Zambezi–Limpopo mining monopoly as "the valuable consideration of a large monthly payment in cash, a gunboat for defensive purposes on the Zambesi, and other services."[39] Two days later, the Cape Times printed a notice from Lobengula:[41]

All the mining rights in Matabeleland, Mashonaland and adjoining territories of the Matabele Chief have been already disposed of, and all concession-seekers and speculators are hereby warned that their presence in Matabeleland is obnoxious to the chief and people.

But the king was already beginning to receive reports telling him that he had been hoodwinked into "selling his country".[42] Word abounded in Bulawayo that with the Rudd Concession (as the document became called), Lobengula had signed away far more impressive rights than he had thought. Some of the Matabele began to question the king's judgement. While the izinDuna looked on anxiously, Moffat questioned whether Lobengula would be able to keep control.[42] Thompson was summoned by the izinDuna and interrogated for over 10 hours before being released; according to Thompson, they were "prepared to suspect even the king himself".[43] Rumours spread among the kraal's white residents of a freebooter force in the South African Republic that allegedly intended to invade and support Gambo, a prominent inDuna, in overthrowing and killing Lobengula.[42] Horrified by these developments, Lobengula attempted to secure his position by deflecting blame.[43] InDuna Lotshe, who had supported granting the concession, was condemned for having misled his king and executed, along with his extended family and followers—over 300 men, women and children in all.[44] Meanwhile, Rhodes and Rudd returned to Kimberley, and Robinson wrote to the Colonial Office at Whitehall on 5 December 1888 to inform them of Rudd's concession.[41]

Lobengula's embassy

Queen Victoria was referred to by the Matabele as the "White Queen".[45] Lobengula sent emissaries to meet her with the hope of, among other things, ascertaining her existence.

While reassuring Thompson and Maguire that he was only repudiating the idea that he had given his country away, and not the concession itself (which he told them would be respected), Lobengula asked Maund to accompany two of his izinDuna, Babayane and Mshete, to England, so they could meet Queen Victoria herself, officially to present to her a letter bemoaning Portuguese incursions on eastern Mashonaland, but also unofficially to seek counsel regarding the crisis at Bulawayo.[42] The mission was furthermore motivated by the simple desire of Lobengula and his izinDuna to see if this white queen, whose name the British swore by, really existed. The king's letter concluded with a request for the Queen to send a representative of her own to Bulawayo.[45] Maund, who saw a second chance to secure his own concession, perhaps even at Rudd's expense, said he was more than happy to assist, but Lobengula remained cautious with him: when Maund raised the subject of a new concession covering the Mazoe valley, the king replied "Take my men to England for me; and when you return, then I will talk about that."[42] Johannes Colenbrander, a frontiersman from Natal, was recruited to accompany the Matabele emissaries as an interpreter. They left in mid-December 1888.[46]

Around this time, a group of Austral Africa Company prospectors, led by Alfred Haggard, approached Lobengula's south-western border, hoping to gain their own Matabeleland mining concession; on learning of this, the king honoured one of the terms of the Rudd Concession by allowing Maguire to go at the head of a Matabele impi to turn Haggard away.[47] While Robinson's letter to Knutsford made its way to England by sea, the Colonial Secretary learned of the Rudd Concession from Cawston and Gifford. Knutsford wired Robinson on 17 December to ask if there was any truth in what the London syndicate had told him about the agreed transfer of 1,000 Martini–Henrys: "If rifles part of consideration, as reported, do you think there will be danger of complications arising from this?"[41] Robinson replied, again in writing; he enclosed a minute from Shippard in which the Bechuanaland official explained how the concession had come about, and expressed the view that the Matabele were less experienced with rifles than with assegais, so their receipt of such weapons did not in itself make them lethally dangerous.[n 6] He then argued that it would not be diplomatic to give Khama and other chiefs firearms while withholding them from Lobengula, and that a suitably armed Matabeleland might act as a deterrent against Boer interference.[48]

Surprised by the news of a Matabele mission to London, Rhodes attempted to publicly downplay the credentials of the izinDuna and to stop them from leaving Africa. When the envoys reached Kimberley Rhodes told his close friend, associate and housemate Dr Leander Starr Jameson—who himself held the rank of inDuna, having been so honoured by Lobengula years before as thanks for medical treatment—to invite Maund to their cottage. Maund was suspicious, but came anyway. At the cottage, Rhodes offered Maund financial and professional incentives to defect from the London syndicate. Maund refused, prompting Rhodes to declare furiously that he would have Robinson stop his progress at Cape Town. The izinDuna reached Cape Town in mid-January 1889 to find that it was as Rhodes had said; to delay their departure, Robinson discredited them, Maund and Colenbrander in cables to the Colonial Office in London, saying that Shippard had described Maund as "mendacious" and "dangerous", Colenbrander as "hopelessly unreliable", and Babayane and Mshete as not actually izinDuna or even headmen.[49] Cawston forlornly telegraphed Maund that it was pointless to try to go on while Robinson continued in this vein.[49]

Rhodes and the London syndicate join forces


Rhodes then arrived in Cape Town to talk again with Maund. His mood was markedly different: after looking over Lobengula's message to Queen Victoria, he said that he believed the Matabele expedition to England could actually buttress the concession and associated development plans if the London syndicate would agree to merge its interests with his own and form an amalgamated company alongside him. He told Maund to wire this pitch to his employers. Maund presumed that Rhodes's shift in attitude had come about because of his own influence, coupled with the threat to Rhodes's concession posed by the Matabele mission, but in fact the idea for uniting the two rival bids had come from Knutsford, who the previous month had suggested to Cawston and Gifford that they were likelier to gain a royal charter covering south-central Africa if they joined forces with Rhodes. They had wired Rhodes, who had in turn come back to Maund. The unification, which extricated Rhodes and his London rivals from their long-standing stalemate, was happily received by both sides; Cawston and Gifford could now tap Rhodes's considerable financial and political resources, and Rhodes's Rudd Concession had greater value now the London consortium no longer challenged it.[50]

There still remained the question of Leask's concession, the existence of which Rudd's negotiating team had learned in Bulawayo towards the end of October.[23] Rhodes resolved that it must be acquired: "I quite see that worthless as [Leask's] concession is, it logically destroys yours," he told Rudd.[51] This loose end was tied up in late January 1889, when Rhodes met and settled with Leask and his associates, James Fairbairn and George Phillips, in Johannesburg. Leask was given £2,000 in cash and a 10% interest in the Rudd Concession, and allowed to retain a 10% share in his own agreement with Lobengula. Fairbairn and Phillips were granted an annual allowance of £300 each.[52] In Cape Town, with Rhodes's opposition removed, Robinson altered his stance regarding the Matabele mission, cabling Whitehall that further investigation had shown Babayane and Mshete to be headmen after all, so they should be allowed to board ship for England.[53]

Lobengula's enquiry


Meanwhile, in Bulawayo, South African newspaper reports of the concession started to arrive in the middle of January 1889. William Tainton, one of the local white residents, translated a press cutting for Lobengula, adding a few embellishments of his own: he told the king that he had sold his country, that the grantees could dig for minerals anywhere they liked, including in and around kraals, and that they could bring an army into Matabeleland to depose Lobengula in favour of a new chief. The king told Helm to read back and translate the copy of the concession that had remained in Bulawayo; Helm did so, and pointed out that none of the allegations Tainton had made were actually reflected in the text. Lobengula then said he wished to dictate an announcement. After Helm refused, Tainton translated and transcribed the king's words:[54]

I hear it is published in all the newspapers that I have granted a Concession of the Minerals in all my country to CHARLES DUNELL RUDD, ROCHFORD MAGUIRE [sic], and FRANCIS ROBERT THOMPSON.

As there is a great misunderstanding about this, all action in respect of said Concession is hereby suspended pending an investigation to be made by me in my country.

This notice was published in the Bechuanaland News and Malmani Chronicle on 2 February 1889.[55] A grand indaba of the izinDuna and the whites of Bulawayo was soon convened, but because Helm and Thompson were not present, the start of the investigation was delayed until 11 March. As in the negotiations with Rudd and Thompson in October, Lobengula did not himself attend, remaining close by but not interfering. The izinDuna questioned Helm and Thompson at great length, and various white men gave their opinions on the concession. A group of missionaries acted as mediators. Condemnation of the concession was led not by the izinDuna, but by the other whites, particularly Tainton.[55]

Tainton and the other white opponents of the concession contended that the document conferred upon the grantees all of the watershed's minerals, lands, wood and water, and was therefore tantamount to a purchase receipt for the whole country. Thompson, backed by the missionaries, insisted that the agreement only involved the extraction of metals and minerals, and that anything else the concessionaires might do was covered by the concession's granting of "full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure" the mining yield. William Mzisi, a Fengu from the Cape, who had been to the diamond fields at Kimberley, pointed out that the mining would take thousands of men rather than the handful Lobengula had imagined, and argued that digging into the land amounted to taking possession of it: "You say you do not want any land, how can you dig for gold without it, is it not in the land?"[47] Thompson was then questioned as to where exactly it had been agreed that the concessionaires could mine; he affirmed that the document licensed them to prospect and dig anywhere in the country.[47]

Helm was painted as a suspicious figure by some of the izinDuna because all white visitors to Bulawayo met with him before seeing the king. This feeling was compounded by the fact that Helm had for some time acted as Lobengula's postmaster, and so handled all mail coming into Bulawayo. He was accused of having hidden the concession's true meaning from the king and of having knowingly sabotaged the prices being paid by traders for cattle, but neither of these charges could be proven either way. On the fourth day of the enquiry, Elliot and Rees, two missionaries based at Inyati, were asked if exclusive mining rights in other countries could be bought for similar sums, as Helm was claiming; they replied in the negative. The izinDuna concluded that either Helm or the missionaries must be lying. Elliot and Rees attempted to convince Lobengula that honest men did not necessarily always hold the same opinions, but had little success.[47]

Amid the enquiry, Thompson and Maguire received a number of threats and had to tolerate other more minor vexations. Maguire, unaccustomed to the African bush as he was, brought a number of accusations on himself through his personal habits. One day he happened to clean his false teeth in what the Matabele considered a sacred spring and accidentally dropped some eau de Cologne into it; the angry locals interpreted this as him deliberately poisoning the spring. They also alleged that Maguire partook of witchcraft and spent his nights riding around the bush on a hyena.[47]

Rhodes sent the first shipments of rifles up to Bechuanaland in January and February 1889, sending 250 each month, and instructed Jameson, Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris and a Shoshong trader, George Musson, to convey them to Bulawayo.[56] Lobengula had so far accepted the financial payments described in the Rudd Concession (and continued to do so for years afterwards), but when the guns arrived in early April, he refused to take them. Jameson placed the weapons under a canvas cover in Maguire's camp, stayed at the kraal for ten days, and then went back south with Maguire in tow, leaving the rifles behind. A few weeks later, Lobengula dictated a letter for Fairbairn to write to the Queen—he said he had never intended to sign away mineral rights and that he and his izinDuna revoked their recognition of the document.[57]

Babayane and Mshete in England

Windsor Castle, where Queen Victoria received the Matabele emissaries in March 1889

Following their long delay, Babayane, Mshete, Maund and Colenbrander journeyed to England aboard the Moor. They disembarked at Southampton in early March 1889, and travelled by train to London, where they checked into the Berners Hotel on Oxford Street. They were invited to Windsor Castle after two days in the capital.[58] The audience was originally meant only for the two izinDuna and their interpreter—Maund could not attend such a meeting as he was a British subject—but Knutsford arranged an exception for Maund when Babayane and Mshete refused to go without him; the Colonial Secretary said that it would be regrettable for all concerned if the embassy were derailed by such a technicality.[53] The emissaries duly met the Queen and delivered the letter from Lobengula, as well as an oral message they had been told to pass on.[58]

The izinDuna stayed in London throughout the month of March, attending a number of dinners in their honour,[58] including one hosted by the Aborigines' Protection Society. The Society sent a letter to Lobengula, advising him to be "wary and firm in resisting proposals that will not bring good to you and your people".[59] The diplomats saw many of the British capital's sights, including London Zoo, the Alhambra Theatre and the Bank of England. Their hosts showed them the spear of the Zulu king Cetshwayo, which now hung on a wall at Windsor Castle, and took them to Aldershot to observe military manoeuvres conducted by Major-General Evelyn Wood, the man who had given this spear to the Queen after routing the Zulus in 1879. Knutsford held two more meetings with the izinDuna, and during the second of these gave them the Queen's reply to Lobengula's letter, which mostly comprised vague assurances of goodwill. Satisfied with this, the emissaries sailed for home.[58]

Royal Charter


In late March 1889, just as the izinDuna were about to leave London, Rhodes arrived to make the amalgamation with Cawston and Gifford official. To the amalgamators' dismay, the Colonial Office had received protests against the Rudd Concession from a number of London businessmen and humanitarian societies, and had resolved that it could not sanction the concession because of its equivocal nature, as well as the fact that Lobengula had announced its suspension. Rhodes was originally angry with Maund, accusing him of responsibility for this, but eventually accepted that it was not Maund's fault. Rhodes told Maund to go back to Bulawayo, to pose as an impartial adviser, and to try to sway the king back in favour of the concession; as an added contingency, he told Maund to secure as many new subconcessions as he could.

In London, as the amalgamation was formalised, Rhodes and Cawston sought public members to sit on the board of their prospective chartered company. They recruited the Duke of Abercorn, an affluent Irish peer and landowner with estates in Donegal and Scotland, to chair the firm, and the Earl of Fife—soon to become the Duke of Fife, following his marriage to the daughter of the Prince of Wales—to act as his deputy. The third and final public member added to the board was the nephew and heir apparent of the erstwhile Cabinet minister Earl Grey, Albert Grey, who was a staunch imperialist, already associated with southern Africa. Attempting to ingratiate himself with Lord Salisbury, Rhodes then gave the position of standing counsel in the proposed company to the Prime Minister's son, Lord Robert Cecil.[60] Horace Farquhar, a prominent London financier and friend of the Prince of Wales, was added to the board at Fife's suggestion later in the year.[61]

Rhodes spent the next few months in London, seeking out supporters for his cause in the West End, the City and, occasionally, the rural estates of the landed gentry. These efforts yielded the public backing of the prominent imperialist Harry Johnston, Alexander Livingstone Bruce (who sat on the board of the East Africa Company), and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, among others. Along with Grey's active involvement and Lord Salisbury's continuing favour, the weight of this opinion seemed to be reaping dividends for Rhodes by June 1889.[62] The amalgamation with the London syndicate was complete, and Whitehall appeared to have dropped its reservations regarding the Rudd Concession's validity. Opposition to the charter in parliament and elsewhere had been for the most part silenced, and, with the help of Rhodes's press contacts, prominently William Thomas Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, opinion in the media was starting to back the idea of a chartered company for south-central Africa. But in June 1889, just as the Colonial Office looked poised to grant the royal charter, Lobengula's letter repudiating the Rudd Concession, written two months previously, arrived in London.[62]

Maguire, in London, promptly wrote to the Colonial Office, casting doubt on the letter's character on the grounds that it lacked the witnessing signature of an unbiased missionary. He concurrently wrote to Thompson, who was still in Bulawayo, to ask if there was any sign that the king had been misled during the repudiation letter's drafting. Around the same time, Robinson's strident attacks on parliamentary opponents of the Rudd Concession led to Lord Salisbury replacing him with Sir Henry Brougham Loch. Rhodes claimed not to be worried, telling Shippard in a letter that "the policy will not be altered".[63] Indeed, by the end of June 1889, despite the removal of Robinson and the sensation caused by Lobengula's letter rejecting the concession, Rhodes had got his way: Lord Salisbury's concerns of Portuguese and German expansionism in Africa, coupled with Rhodes's personal exertions in London, prompted the Prime Minister to approve the granting of a royal charter. Rhodes returned victorious to the Cape in August 1889, while back in London Cawston oversaw the final preparations for the chartered company's establishment.[63]

Flag of the British South Africa Company

"My part is done," Rhodes wrote to Maund, soon after reaching Cape Town; "the charter is granted supporting Rudd Concession and granting us the interior ... We have the whole thing recognised by the Queen and even if eventually we had any difficulty with king [Lobengula] the Home people would now always recognise us in possession of the minerals[;] they quite understand that savage potentates frequently repudiate."[63] A few weeks later, he wrote to Maund again: with the royal charter in place, "whatever [Lobengula] does now will not affect the fact that when there is a white occupation of the country our concession will come into force provided the English and not Boers get the country".[63] On 29 October 1889, nearly a year to the day after the signing of the Rudd Concession, Rhodes's chartered company, the British South Africa Company, was officially granted its royal charter by Queen Victoria.[63] The concession's legitimacy was now safeguarded by the charter and, by extension, the British Crown, making it practically unassailable.[14]

Wording of The Concessions

A photograph of the Rudd Concession

Know all men by these presents, that whereas Charles Dunell Rudd, of Kimberley; Rochfort Maguire, of London; and Francis Robert Thompson, of Kimberley, hereinafter called the grantees, have covenanted and agreed, and do hereby covenant and agree, to pay to me, my heirs and successors, the sum of one hundred pounds sterling, British currency, on the first day of every lunar month; and further, to deliver at my royal kraal one thousand Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles, together with one hundred thousand rounds of suitable ball cartridge, five hundred of the said rifles and fifty thousand of the said cartridges to be ordered from England forthwith and delivered with reasonable despatch, and the remainder of the said rifles and cartridges to be delivered as soon as the said grantees shall have commenced to work mining machinery within my territory; and further, to deliver on the Zambesi River a steamboat with guns suitable for defensive purposes upon the said river, or in lieu of the said steamboat, should I so elect, to pay to me the sum of five hundred pounds sterling, British currency. On the execution of these presents, I, Lobengula, King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland, and other adjoining territories, in exercise of my sovereign powers, and in the presence and with the consent of my council of indunas, do hereby grant and assign unto the said grantees, their heirs, representatives, and assigns, jointly and severally, the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated and contained in my kingdoms, principalities, and dominions, together with full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure the same, and to hold, collect, and enjoy the profits and revenues, if any, derivable from the said metals and minerals, subject to the aforesaid payment; and whereas I have been much molested of late by divers persons seeking and desiring to obtain grants and concessions of land and mining rights in my territories, I do hereby authorise the said grantees, their heirs, representatives and assigns, to take all necessary and lawful steps to exclude from my kingdom, principalities, and dominions all persons seeking land, metals, minerals, or mining rights therein, and I do hereby undertake to render them all such needful assistance as they may from time to time require for the exclusion of such persons, and to grant no concessions of land or mining rights from and after this date without their consent and concurrence; provided that, if at any time the said monthy payment of one hundred pounds shall be in arrear for a period of three months, then this grant shall cease and determine from the date of the last-made payment; and further provided that nothing contained in these presents shall extend to or affect a grant made by me of certain mining rights in a portion of my territory south of the Ramaquaban River, which grant is commonly known as the Tati Concession.

(signed by Lobengula, Rudd, Maguire, Thompson, Helm and Dreyer)

I hereby certify that the accompanying document has been fully interpreted and explained by me to the Chief Lobengula and his full Council of Indunas and that all the Constitutional usages of the Matabele Nation had been complied with prior to his executing the same.

(signed by Helm)


  1. Davidson 1988, pp. 120–124
  2. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 33
  3. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 60
  4. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 34
  5. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 41
  6. Davidson 1988, p. 125
  7. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 42–43
  8. a b Davidson 1988, pp. 125–127
  9. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 44–45
  10. Rotberg 1988, p. 251
  11. Rotberg 1988, p. 207
  12. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 58–59
  13. Walker 1963, pp. 525–526
  14. a b Galbraith 1974, p. 86
  15. Davidson 1988, pp. 128–129
  16. Rotberg 1988, p. 252
  17. Galbraith 1974, p. 61
  18. a b c d e Rotberg 1988, pp. 257–258
  19. a b Galbraith 1974, pp. 61–62
  20. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 63
  21. Galbraith 1974, p. 63
  22. Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 56–57
  23. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 71
  24. a b Galbraith 1974, pp. 63–64
  25. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 64
  26. a b Galbraith 1974, p. 66
  27. Galbraith 1974, pp. 64–65
  28. Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 65–66
  29. Rotberg 1988, pp. 132–133
  30. a b Rotberg 1988, p. 259
  31. a b c d Rotberg 1988, p. 260
  32. a b c Rotberg 1988, p. 261
  33. a b c d Rotberg 1988, p. 262
  34. a b c d e f g Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 77
  35. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 76
  36. Chanaiwa 2000, p. 206
  37. a b c d e f g Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 78
  38. Worger, Clark & Alpers 2010, p. 241
  39. a b c d Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 79–80
  40. Rotberg 1988, p. 264
  41. a b c Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 81
  42. a b c d e Galbraith 1974, pp. 72–76
  43. a b Davidson 1988, p. 140
  44. Galbraith 1974, pp. 72–76; Strage 1973, p. 70
  45. a b Davidson 1988, pp. 145–146
  46. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 85
  47. a b c d e Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 86–88
  48. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 81–82
  49. a b Galbraith 1974, pp. 77–78
  50. Galbraith 1974, pp. 78–80
  51. Rotberg 1988, p. 267
  52. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 91
  53. a b Galbraith 1974, p. 79
  54. Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 85–86
  55. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 86
  56. Rotberg 1988, p. 266
  57. Rotberg 1988, p. 269
  58. a b c d Davidson 1988, pp. 150–152
  59. Rotberg 1988, p. 271
  60. Rotberg 1988, p. 279
  61. Galbraith 1974, pp. 116–117
  62. a b Rotberg 1988, p. 283
  63. a b c d e Rotberg 1988, pp. 284–285

Territorial Expansion

North to the Zambezi, rivalry with Portugal


The projected Company sphere was initially Matabeleland and its immediate neighbours between the Limpopo River and the Zambezi. Portugal's colonies in Angola and Mozambique, coastal territories respectively to the west and east of this general area, were over three centuries old, and Lisbon's alliance with Britain formally dated back to the 1386 Treaty of Windsor. However, the exceedingly lethargic pace of local Portuguese colonisation and development was such that even in the 1880s, Portugal's dominions in Mozambique comprised only a few scattered ports, harbours and plantations, all of which were administered from the island of Mozambique, just north of the Mozambique Channel.[1] Angola differed little, with gigantic tracts of hinterland coming under the largely nominal purview of Portugal's modest colony on the coast.[2]

Rhodes quietly planned to annex some of Mozambique into the Company domain so he could establish a major port at the mouth of the Pungwe River. He thought this might make an ideal sea outlet for his proposed settlement in Mashonaland, the area directly to Matabeleland's north-east where Lobengula held dominion over many Mashona chiefs. Rhodes believed that the Portuguese claim to Mozambique was tenuous enough that he could win much of it without provoking major ire: "the occupation of the Portuguese even along the coast line is in most places merely a paper one," he wrote to Whitehall in late 1889, "and if this has not been recognised by international agreement I think it might be left open."[1] But contrary to Rhodes's opinion, general consensus at the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 had made Portugal's hold over the Mozambican coastline very secure.[1] The Portuguese had expanded inland during the late 1880s, creating Manicaland in the eastern Mashona country. They founded Beira, a port on Rhodes's proposed Pungwe site, in 1890.[1] Portugal issued the so-called "Pink Map" around this time, laying claim to the very corridor of land between Angola and Mozambique that Rhodes desired. The British government issued a firm ultimatum against the Portuguese claims in January 1890; Lisbon swiftly acquiesced and left the area open for the Company's drive north.[2]

Pioneer Column

Officers of the Pioneer Column. The column was mostly South African and spanned almost all corners of society.[3]

The Pioneer Column, initially comprising about 100 volunteers referred to as pioneers, was raised by the Company during 1890. Led by Major Frank Johnson, a 23-year-old adventurer, the column was designed by the Company to be the instrument by which it would not only acquire Mashonaland, but also begin its development. Men from a wide variety of backgrounds therefore filled its ranks; according to one member, "prospectors predominate, but nearly every trade and profession under the sun is represented ... one troop is called the gentlemanly troop because the majority in it are brokers".[3] Most of the pioneers self-identified as South African rather than British, and many of them were Afrikaners. At Rhodes's insistence, several sons of the Cape Colony's leading families were also included. Each pioneer was promised 3,000 acres (12 km2) of land and 15 mining claims in return for his service.[3]

Lobengula gave his approval to the ostensibly non-military expedition, but many of his izinDuna (advisors) were fiercely against it, seeing it as an appropriation of Matabele territory. Wary that one or more of these izinDuna might turn rogue and attack the pioneers, the Company gradually enlarged the escorting detachment of British South Africa Company's Police until it numbered 500 men, headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Pennefather, an officer seconded from the British Army. To Johnson's chagrin, the Imperial officer was also given ultimate command of the column.[3]

The column was to move roughly east from Macloutsie, a small camp near the border of Matabeleland and Bechuanaland, and then march north to its destination. It would build a road as it went, founding minor forts along the way, and establish a major town in Mashonaland, whereupon the pioneers would be released to farm, prospect and trade.[4][5] Frederick Courteney Selous, a famed hunter with intimate knowledge of Mashonaland, was made the column's "intelligence officer". He chose as its intended destination an open patch of veld he had discovered during his travels, which he called Mount Hampden. The proposed site was about 650 kilometers (400 mi) to the north-east of Macloutsie. The column departed on 28 June 1890, and on 11 July crossed the Tuli River into Matabeleland. Its first settlement, Fort Tuli, was inaugurated near the riverbank. Though Johnson was nominally in command of the pioneers, he was generally seen as untried and green when contrasted with the experienced, respected authority of Selous. According to most contemporary accounts, Selous was effectively in control.[4] The officers were outwardly harmonious, but Johnson was privately troubled by pangs of jealousy.[4]

The Union Jack was raised over Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890.

The column was initially accompanied by about 200 Ngwato provided by the Tswana chief Khama, who had firmly aligned his country with Britain. The Ngwato provided much assistance in building the new road, but animosity soon developed between them and the whites, principally because the latter were not used to treating blacks as equals. By mutual consent, the Ngwato returned home.[3] As the column continued its march north, Selous split off with a small section and headed east to challenge the Portuguese in Manicaland.[6] Pennefather and Johnson continued at the head of the main force and founded Fort Victoria, Fort Charter, and, on 12 September, Fort Salisbury.[4]

The site of Salisbury was a naturally flat and marshy meadow, bounded by a rough kopje. The pioneers were about 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) short of Mount Hampden, but Pennefather climbed the kopje, surveyed the open veld and insisted that it was "magnificent", so they need go no further.[7] He reported back to Rhodes in triumphant tones: "Site selected ... All well. Magnificent country. Natives pleased to see us".[7] On the morning of 13 September 1890, about 10:00, the officers and men of the Pioneer Column paraded atop the kopje before an improvised flagstaff. With the column standing to attention, Lieutenant Edward Tyndale-Biscoe hoisted the Union Jack, a 21-gun salute was fired, and three cheers were given for the Queen. Work then began on the fort, which was completed by the end of September. The Pioneer Column was then disbanded.[4]

Eastern skirmishes with Portugal


Instructed by Rhodes to hurry east, Selous met with the Manica chief, Mtassa, on 14 September 1890, and agreed with him a concession whereby Mtassa promised not to ally with any other foreign power, and granted the Company exclusive rights to mine within his territory, as well as to build railways, bridges, canals and other projects typical of colonial settlement. In return, the Company gave Mtassa rifles and other equipment (worth £100 in total), and a promise of protection against attacks by the Portuguese or the neighbouring Shangaan (or Tsonga) people. Portugal despatched a small force to militarily overwhelm Mtassa and reclaim the area in early November 1890.[6]

Captain Patrick Forbes rode to Mtassa's aid from Salisbury, quickly routed the Portuguese, and thereupon advanced all the way to Beira, securing further concessions from local chiefs along the way to build a railroad. Tense negotiations between Britain and Portugal followed, finally concluding with a treaty signed in Lisbon on 11 June 1891: prominent among the numerous territorial revisions was the integration of Manicaland into the Company domain as part of Mashonaland. Britain concurrently recognised Portugal's authority over the entire Mozambican coast, putting an end to Rhodes's designs for a Company port on the Mozambique Channel.[6][8]

North to Katanga


Representatives of the Company crossed the Zambezi to venture even further north. The Shire Highlands of Nyasaland, far to the north-east on the banks of Lake Nyasa, had been settled by a modest number of British missionaries for about a decade, and in Barotseland, to the north-west, King Lewanika hosted François Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society. Rhodes sent Elliot Lochner north to negotiate with Lewanika in late 1889, and in June 1890 the king signed the Lochner Concession, which gave the Company rights to mine, trade and build railways in Barotseland in return for British protection over his domain from external threats, and a British resident in Lewandika's court at Lealui. The British government thereupon chartered the Company to defend Barotseland,[9] as well as all country to the east as far as Nyasaland, and to the north as far as Lake Tanganyika and Katanga.[10]

A country where resources were scarce and tropical disease was rampant, Barotseland offered comparatively few economic opportunities for the Company and little incentive for white immigration. The main objective of Lochner's expedition was all along to clear a path towards Katanga, a mineral-rich area further north, where Msiri ruled the Yeke Kingdom.[9] Katanga was also coveted by the owner of the Congo Free State, King Leopold II of the Belgians, whose representatives Rhodes hoped to beat there.[10] "I want you to get Msiri's," Rhodes told one of his agents, Joseph Thomson; "I mean Katanga ... You must go and get Katanga."[11]

The efforts of Thomson and Alfred Sharpe to secure a Company concession over the area were furiously rebuffed by Msiri in late 1890, and ultimately foiled by the 1891–92 Stairs Expedition—a multinational force in Leopold's service, led by a Canadian British Army officer, Captain William Grant Stairs—which violently clashed with the obstreperous Msiri, and eventually shot him dead when an attempt to arrest him turned into a firefight. Msiri had been in the habit of displaying the heads of his enemies atop poles outside his boma (enclosure), and the expedition's men hoisted his own head alongside them in an attempt to strike fear into the locals. The country promptly capitulated to the Free State, ending the Company's expansion north.[11]

The Company did little to fulfil Britain's obligations to Lewandika; having failed in Katanga, its hierarchy saw Barotseland as an unworkable inconvenience that might later be exchanged with Portugal. Whitehall, by contrast, regarded Lewandika's domain as an important buffer against further Portuguese claims inland. Neither the Company nor the British government proved eager to take practical responsibility for the Barotse; in 1894, while informing Britain of his willingness to administer on Whitehall's behalf north of the Zambezi, Rhodes stressed that he would not take Barotseland. The promised British resident at Lealui remained conspicuously absent, despite Lewandika's repeated enquiries, until the appointment by Rhodes of Robert Thorne Coryndon in 1897.[9]


  1. a b c d Rotberg 1988, pp. 304–312
  2. a b Duignan & Gann 1975, p. 258
  3. a b c d e Galbraith 1974, pp. 143–153
  4. a b c d e Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 163–172
  5. Tawse-Jollie 1936, pp. 11–12
  6. a b c Rotberg 1988, pp. 312–319
  7. a b Rotberg 1988, p. 300
  8. Teresa Pinto Coelho, (2006). Lord Salisbury´s 1890 Ultimatum to Portugal and Anglo-Portuguese Relations, pp. 6-7. archived from original:
  9. a b c Okoth 2006, p. 234; Youé 1986, pp. 20–24
  10. a b Okoth 2006, p. 243
  11. a b Moloney 2007, pp. ix–x

Matabele Wars

Events leading to the first Matabele War


Before the first Matabele War, Cecil Rhodes and King Lobengula had good relationships. Lobengula knew that the Zulu’s attempt to rebel failed miserably so he initially decided to peacefully negotiate. However, this did not last long. In 1893, a band of 400 cattle thieves went to Fort Victoria to run away from the Matabele. The European settlers watched the Matabele slaughter the robbers. This gave Rhodes a reason to attack Matabeleland.[1]

Start of the first Matabele War


Rhodes employed Leander Jameson to layout the battle plan. Major Patrick Forbes, the officer commanding, led a column from Salisbury, and met Major Allan Wilson, leading the column from Fort Victoria. They advanced towards Bulawayo, however a small pox outbreak prevented any action by the Matabele until October 25th. By then, the column had crossed the Shangani River, and set up a laager. Then, 6000 Matabele attacked, but the battle didn’t last long and the Matabele were forced to retreat due to the Maxim Guns and combined fire from Martini-Henrys.[1]

Destruction of Bulawayo


The Battle of Bembezi happened on November 1st, 1893. The Matabele decided to show how fearless they are by conducting frontal attacks on the maxim guns. There were 700 British South Africa Compmay (BSAC) soldiers in the battle and 7000 Matabele, however Forbes and his men still won because of their superior weapons.[1] John Edmond sings about this battle in his song, “The Battle of Bembezi”:

We fought them at the Bonko, 'twas just the other day
They laid an ambush in our path - we went another way
To capture Bulawayo and stop a fearful war
The Sal’sbry Horse, Victoria Rangers and the old Cape Corps

On the first day of November of eighteen ninety-three
We fought the Matabele at the Battle of Bembezi

We formed a laager on the hill at mid-day for to rest
We saw an Insukamini regiment towards the west
We swung the seven-pounder 'round; let a big one fly
And from the east the Amaveni gave their battle cry

On the first day of November of eighteen ninety-three
We fought the Matabele at the Battle of Bembezi

The wild Ingubu with the fierce Imbezu on the right
Came charging from the northern bush, they were a fearful sight
And near 6000 warriors - we stopped them on the run
The bravest of the brave could never match the Maxim gun

On the first day of November of eighteen ninety-three
We fought the Matabele at the Battle of Bembezi[2]

Because of Lobengula’s pride, he didn’t want that BSAC to capture Bulawayo, so he decided to burn it instead. Then he fled in order to not be captured. On November 4th, Bulawayo was captured. On November 13th, Major Forbes organisée his column and started in pursuit of Lobengula.[1]

Shangani Patrol

Drawing dated 1900, based on "There Were No Survivors: To the memory of brave men: The last stand of Major Allan Wilson at the Shangani, 4 December, 1893", by Allan Stewart, which was first exhibited in 1896.

The pursuing party was delayed by difficult routes and heavy rains, and did not catch up with Lobengula until December 3. Major Allan Wilson, in command of thirty-four troopers known as the Shangani Patrol, crossed the Shangani river and bivouacked close to Lobengula's quarters. In the night the river rose, and early the next morning the Matabele surrounded the Shangani Patrol, overwhelming Wilson and his followers. 31 men of the Shangani Patrol perished in the encounter, while the remaining three (American scouts Frederick Russell Burnham and Pearl "Pete" Ingram, and an Australian named Gooding) crossed the swollen river under orders from Wilson, and returned to Forbes to request reinforcements. However, Forbes' forces were unable to cross the river in time.

Defeat of Matabele

Matabeleland, 1887

Lobengula died from smallpox on January 22 or 23 1894.[3] Meanwhile, the Ndebele warriors gradually succumbed to the company's superior firepower. Soon after the king’s death, the Ndebele izinDuna submitted to the British South Africa Company. Charges were later made in the British House of Commons against the company, accusing them of having provoked the Ndebele in order to secure their territory. However, after enquiry the company was exonerated from the charge by Lord Ripon, the Colonial Secretary.

Following the end of the war, one of Lobengula's izinDuna said that just before Forbes' column had reached the Shangani on 3 December 1893, the king had attempted to buy the pioneers off. According to this story, two Matabele messengers, Petchan and Sehuloholu, had been given a box of gold sovereigns, and instructed to intercept the column before it reached the river. They were to tell the whites that the king admitted defeat, and offered this money in tribute if the BSAP would turn back.[4] "Gold is the only thing that will stop the white men," Lobengula reportedly said.[5] Petchan and Sehuloholu reportedly reached the column on 2 December 1893, and gave the money and the message to two men in the rear guard. No man who had been attached to the column confirmed this, but company authorities thought it unlikely that the Matabele would simply invent such a story.[4] Two officers' batmen were accused of accepting the gold, then keeping it for themselves and not passing on the message. The evidence against them was inconclusive, but they were found guilty and sentenced to 14 years' hard labour by the Resident Magistrate.[4] They were released after two years, however, because the maximum term the Magistrate could give was three months; the convictions were ultimately quashed altogether on a re-assessment of the evidence by the High Commissioner's legal team.[6] The truth of the matter has never been conclusively resolved.[4]

Aftermath of the the First Matabele War


Within nine months the rebuilt town of Bulawayo had a population of 1,900 colonials with over 2,000 more prospectors in the various goldfields. A new company, the African Transcontinental Company, was founded under the auspices of Col. Frank Rhodes, brother of Cecil, with the ultimate purpose of connecting the Cape with Cairo. The railway from Cape Town passed Mafeking, and approached the Rhodesian frontier, reaching Bulawayo in 1897. The east coast line to connect Salisbury (now Harare) with Beira, Mozambique (then Portuguese East Africa Colony) was completed in 1899.

Maxim gun


The First Matabele War was the first wartime use of a Maxim gun by Britain and it proved to have a decisive impact. In less than optimal situations, such as hilly or mountainous terrain or dense vegetation with poor lines of sight, the Maxim gun resulted in little direct impact on enemy deaths. But as a psychological weapon, the Maxim gun was truly phenomenal. It generated a sense of fear in the Ndebele and made the British South Africa Police seem invincible. In one engagement, for example, 50 company soldiers with just four Maxim guns fought off 5,000 Ndebele warriors.

Introduction to the Second Matabele War


In March 1896, the Mlimo (Matabele spiritual leader) convinced the Matabele and the Shona that the drought, locust, plagues, and the cattle disease. She also predicted the end of white people in Africa. At the time, there were only 48 BSAP men to protect Rhodesia because the rest were in Transvaal after the failed Jameson Raid.[1]

Second Matabele War in Matabeleland




The Mlimo planned to wait until the night of 29 March, the first full moon, to take Bulawayo by surprise immediately after a ceremony called the Big Dance. He promised, through his priests, that if the Matabele went to war, the bullets of the settlers would change to water and their cannon shells would become eggs. His plan was to kill all of the settlers in Bulawayo first, but not to destroy the town itself as it would serve again as the royal kraal for the newly reincarnated King Lobengula. The Mlimo decreed that the settlers should be attacked and driven from the country through the Mangwe Pass on the Western edge of the Matobo Hills, which was to be left open and unguarded for this reason. Once the settlers were purged from Bulawayo, the Matabele and Shona warriors would head out into the countryside and continue the slaughter until all the settlers were either killed or had fled.

However, several young Matabele were overly anxious to go to war, and the rebellion started prematurely. On 20 March, Matabele rebels shot and stabbed a native policeman. Over the next few days, other outlying settlers and prospectors were killed. Frederick Selous, the famous big-game hunter, had heard rumours of settlers in the countryside being killed, but he thought it was a localised problem. When news of the policeman's murder reached Selous on 23 March, he knew the Matabele had started a massive uprising.

Nearly 2,000 Matabele warriors began the rebellion in earnest on 24 March. Many, although not all, of the young native police quickly deserted and joined the rebels. The Matabele headed into the countryside armed with a variety of weapons, including: Martini-Henry rifles, Winchester repeaters, Lee-Metfords, assegais, knobkerries and battle-axes. As news of the massive rebellion spread, the Shona joined in the fighting, and the settlers headed towards Bulawayo. Within a week, 141 settlers were slain in Matabeleland, another 103 killed in Mashonaland, and hundreds of homes, ranches and mines were burned. A particularly tragic case occurred at the Insiza River where Mrs. Fourie and her 6 small children were found mutilated beyond recognition on their farmstead. Two young women of the Ross family living nearby were similarly killed in their newly built home.[7]

Siege of Bulawayo

Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell of a Ndebele warrior

With few troops to support them, the settlers quickly built a laager of sandbagged wagons in the centre of Bulawayo on their own. Barbed wire was added to Bulawayo's defences. Oil-soaked fagots were arranged in strategic locations in case of attack at night. Blasting gelatin was secreted in outlying buildings that were beyond the defence perimeter, to be exploded in the event the enemy occupied them. Smashed glass bottles were spread around the front of the wagons. Except for hunting rifles, there were few weapons to be found in Bulawayo. Fortunately for settlers, there were a few working artillery pieces and a small assortment of machine guns.

Rather than wait passively, the settlers immediately mounted patrols, called the Bulawayo Field Force, under such figures as Selous and Frederick Russell Burnham; these rode out to rescue any surviving settlers in the countryside and went on attack against the Matabele. Selous raised a mounted troop of forty men to scout southward into the Matobo Hills. Maurice Gifford, along with 40 men, rode east along the Iniza River. Whenever settlers were found, they were quickly loaded into their wagons and closely guarded on their way to Bulawayo. Within the first week of fighting, 20 men of the Bulawayo Field Force were killed and another 50 were wounded.[8]

Map of Bulawayo-Matobo Hills, drawn by Baden-Powell

In the First Matabele War, the Matabele had experienced the effectiveness of the settlers' Maxim guns, so they never mounted a significant attack against Bulawayo even though over 10,000 Matabele warriors could be seen near the town. Conditions inside Bulawayo, however, quickly became unbearable. During the day, settlers could go to homes and buildings within the town, but at night they were forced to seek shelter in the much smaller laager. Nearly 1,000 women and children were crowded into the city, and false alarms of attacks were common. Although they kept up their siege, the Matabele made one critical error: they neglected to cut the telegraph lines connecting Bulawayo to Mafeking. This gave both the relief forces and the besieged Bulawayo Field Force far more information than they would otherwise have had.

Several relief columns were organised to break the siege, but the long trek through hostile countryside took several months. Late in May, the first two relief columns appeared near Bulawayo on almost the same day but from opposite directions – Cecil Rhodes and Col. Beal arriving from Salisbury and Fort Victoria in Mashonaland 300 miles to the north; and Lord Grey and Col. Plumer (of the York and Lancaster Regiment) from Kimberley and Mafeking, 600 miles to the south. The southern relief forces were nearly ambushed on their approach to Bulawayo, but Selous discovered the whereabouts of the Matabele and the Maxim guns of the relief forces drove back the attackers. Not long after relief forces began arriving in Bulawayo, General Frederick Carrington arrived to take overall command along with his Chief of Staff, Colonel Baden-Powell.

With the siege broken, an estimated 50,000 Matabele retreated into their stronghold of the Matobo Hills near Bulawayo. This region became the scene of the fiercest fighting between the settler patrols and the Matabele. By June, the Shona kept their promise and joined the fighting on the side of the Matabele. But lacking a clear leader similar to Mlimo, the Shonas mostly stayed behind their fortifications and conducted few raids.[citation needed]

Assassination of Mlimo

Rhodes makes peace with the Ndebele in Matobo Hills, 1896; sketch by Baden-Powell

Military intelligence at the time thought that capturing the Mlimo would be the speediest way to end the war.[9] The location of the Mlimo's cave had been disclosed to the native commissioner at Mangwe, Bonar Armstrong, by an unnamed Zulu informant.[10] Armstrong immediately brought this information to the Chief of Scouts, Burnham, and the two men presented it to the Administrator of Southern Rhodesia, Earl Grey.[11] The Administrator instructed them to present this information to the military commander, General Carrington, who called in his Chief of Staff, Baden-Powell.[11] Carrington instructed Burnham, Armstrong, and Baden-Powell to leave that very night to "Capture the Mlimo if you can. Kill him if you must. Do not let him escape.".[10] Intervening news of enemy movements near Bembezi forced Baden-Powell to go there instead, so Burnham and Armstrong proceeded on their own to the Matopos.[12][13]

Burnham and Armstrong travelled by night through the Matobo Hills and approached the sacred cave. Not far from the cave was a village of about 100 huts filled with many warriors. The two scouts tethered their horses to a thicket and crawled on their bellies, screening their slow and cautious movements with branches held before them. Once inside the cave, they waited until Mlimo entered.[14]

Burnham and Armstrong after the assassination of Mlimo

Once Mlimo started his dance of immunity, Burnham shot him just below the heart, killing him.[15][16] The two men then leapt over the dead Mlimo and ran down a trail towards their horses. Hundreds of warriors, encamped nearby, picked up their arms and started in pursuit. Burnham set fire to the village as a distraction. The two men hurried back to Bulawayo, with warriors in pursuit[14]

After the assassination, overseas press hailed Burnham and Armstrong as "heroes of the British Empire."[17] But in Rhodesia, sections of the press were sceptical about the assassination of the Mlimo.[18] It had been a mistake on the part of British military intelligence to think of the Mlimo and the high priest, or prophet, in the Matopos as one and the same.[9][19] Based on British Army reports, Carrington believed that the Mlimo was a central authority and that "his orders fly about from one end of the country to another with great rapidity".[20] Historian Terence Ranger writes that "Carrington was almost certainly over-estimating the centralization (of the Mlimo)", and that "Baden-Powell and other reporters tended to run the various shrines in the Matopos into one".[20] Frederick Selous believed that the head priest of the Mlimo lived in the Matopos, but that "there are other priests, or so-called Umlimos, in other parts of the country through whom they believe that the commands of the Almighty can be conveyed to them."[21] Burnham had carried out his instructions from Carrington and, like Carrington, he relied heavily on Armstrong and military intelligence for his information.[20][22] Armstrong, the instigator and active participant in the operation, "was an authority on the Native, his language, customs and mentality", according to fellow native commissioner E.C. Harley.[23] Armstrong was also a Major in the Mangwe Field Force, and Selous describes him as young, but "shrewd and capable".[24][25] Selous and Harley say that Armstrong was in command at the Mangwe laager, although Baden-Powell and other sources name van Rooyen and Lee as the commanders.[24][25][26] Some writers also describe Armstrong as young and moody and claim that he too expressed doubts about the identity of the man killed, but only after the assassination.[27]

Initially the Company declined to review the matter and Burnham left Rhodesia on 11 July 1896, a week after the Bulawayo Field Force disbanded, to return to the United States and later joined the Klondike Gold Rush.[28][29] However, at Armstrong's insistence a court of inquiry was later appointed to investigate the assassination.[29] Although several writers have commented on the outcome, the official report itself has been lost.[23][30] Referring to the court's report, Harley writes, "The finding of the Judge (Watermeyer) was that the native killed was the Chief Priest of the M'limo. Whether there was another occult personage associated with the M'limo deception is problematical, for with the death of the Chief Priest, the M'limo deception also died."[31] But historian Hugh Marshall Hole writes, "On their return they were greatly applauded for having achieved their dangerous errand, but some time later, when it was found that Mlimo was still at work, an official inquiry was held, with the result that the whole affair was exposed as an elaborate hoax."[32] In contrast to Hole, historians Mary and Richard Bradford, Mary Clarke, Peter Emmerson, and Jack Lott all agree with Harley that the court of inquiry favoured Armstrong.[30][33][34][35] Emmerson cites an 1899 report from chief native commissioner H.J. Taylor as evidence that Watermeyer ruled in favour of Armstrong.[34] Mary and Richard Bradford studied Taylor's 1899 report, and Hole's correspondence, and they suggest specific errors made by Hole in his interpretation of Taylor's report.[36] Clarke and Lott both point out that Armstrong was given a gold watch and a letter of appreciation from the Board of the British South Africa Company after the verdict was rendered.[35][37]

As to the identity of the man assassinated and his role, there is much confusion. In June 1896, Father Prestage, captain van Rooyen, Hans Lee, and Armstrong met at Mangwe with "Several hundred natives assembled to hear the statement made by witnesses that Gotani the man shot by Burnham was the M'limo of the Matabele."[38] Harley states that "At (the Watermeyer) enquiry, Father Prestage from his knowledge of the Umlimo and the power he exercised was able to supply authoritative information which greatly assisted the enquiry."[39] But chief native commissioner Taylor's 1899 report, written three years after the event and after Armstrong resigned from the Company over unrelated grievances, says that "Armstrong by threats and bribes caused certain natives to perjure themselves and to swear to what was not true".[34][35] Taylor includes in his report an affidavit by "one Jonas, head messenger at the A.N.C's office at Mangwe," who says, "I swore on oath that Jobane was the M'limo, I knew I was lying at the time, I have never received any cattle from Mr. Armstrong but he paid me the five shillings."[34] Taylor also states in his report that "Dshobane, (was) the supposed Mlimo" assassinated, however, he does not make it clear if "Jobane" and "Dshobane" are different spellings for the same person.[34]

Over the years, historians have postulated several more names for the man assassinated and his role. In 1966, Ranger hypothesized that the man assassinated was not from the Matopos at all, but rather a "loyal" priest of the Kalanga tribe from the Southwest of Matabeleland, and Ranger quotes an 1879 report from a missionary, Joseph Cockin, that states that the priest from the Southwest was named Umkombo.[40] But in 1967, Ranger states that Jobani (or Tshobani) had been the high priest in the Southwest and that "They obtained from the indunas of the Mangwe area affidavits that the dead man, Jobani or Habangana, had been the High Priest of the Mwari and the chief instigator of the rebellion."[41] In 1976, Lott said that Ranger relied on "the American scholar Richard Werbner" for his assessments, and that "recent research has confirmed that Burnham killed the rainmaker (Iwosana) of the tribe (Makalanga) who was Hobani or Tshobani (Sindebele), fourth son of Banko's family."[35] In 1994, Mary and Richard Bradford state that "Burnham may have shot an innocent man, but if so, there was no premeditated plan. He was acting under orders."[30] The Bradfords further remark, "If Jobani was innocent, he was a victim not of Burnham but of white misconception of the M'limo cult and of the difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe that marks irregular warfare."[42]

While there appears to be no clear consensus about either the identity of man assassinated in the Matopos or his role, historian Howard Hensman states "With the downfall of Wedza and shooting of the M'Limo in a cave in the Matoppos by the American scout, Burnham, the Matabele rebellion may be said to have come to an end."[43] Upon learning of the death of Mlimo, Cecil Rhodes walked unarmed into the Matabele stronghold and persuaded the Matabele warriors to lay down their arms.[44] With the war in Matabeland effectively over, the Bulawayo Field Force disbanded on 4 July 1896.[45] With regard to the regular forces under Carrington, Hensman writes "As the rainy season approached and peace was arranged in Matabeleland, the forces, or a considerable portion of them, were moved up into Mashonaland".[46]

Second Matabele War in Mashonland


War broke out on 17 June 1896 at Mazowe with an attack by the Hwata dynasty on Alice Mine. This was followed by the medium Nehanda Nyakasikana capturing and executing Mazowe Native Commissioner Pollard.

Other religious figures who led the rebellion included Kaguvi Gumboreshumba, who was active in the Goromonzi area and Mukwati, a priest of the Mwari shrine[47] who was active throughout Mashonaland.[48]

In addition to the mediums, traditional leaders played a major role in the rebellion, notably Chief Mashayamombe, who led resistance in his chieftaincy in Mhondoro, south of the colonial settlement of Salisbury barracks (now Harare). He was amongst the first chiefs to rebel and the last to be defeated.[49] He was supplied by many of the surrounding districts, such as Chikomba (then Charter).[50] Other chiefs who played an important role included Gwabayana, Makoni, Mapondera, Mangwende and Seke.[51]

With the war in Matabeleland ending, Gen. Carrington was able to concentrate his forces on Mashonaland and the rebels retreated into granite kopjes. With no central command to oppose him, Carrington was able to bring Maxim guns against each stronghold in turn, until resistance ended. Nehanda Nyakasikana and Kaguvi Gumboreshumba were captured and executed in 1898, but Mukwati was never captured and died in Mutoko.[48]

Legacy of the Second Matabele War


The rebellion failed completely and did not result in any major changes in BSAC policy. For example, the hut tax which remained in place. The territories of Matabeleland and Mashonaland had become known as South Zambesia, and both the Matabele and Shona became subjects of the Rhodes administration. It was only 25 years later in 1924 that the entire region became officially named a British Crown Colony. Until 1924, the region was owned by a private company which had purchased it from various chieftains and Lobengula; facts often neglected in 21st century history lessons.


  1. a b c d e The Matabele War - The Truth About Rhodesia archived from original:
  2. John Edmond, “The Battle of Bembezi” - Genius archived from original:
  3. Hopkins 2002, p. 191
  4. a b c d Gale 1958, pp. 156–157
  5. Cary 1968, p. 153
  6. Marshall Hole 1926, p. 320
  7. One Man's Vision by W.D.Gale 1935 p240
  8. Mario, Prince (2009). Zimbabwe, Land and the Dictator.
  9. a b Selous 1896, pp. 15–17.
  10. a b Burnham 1926, p. 249.
  11. a b Burnham 1926, p. 250.
  12. Burnham 1926, p. 251.
  13. Baden-Powell 1896, pp. 80–82.
  14. a b Burnham 1926, pp. 249–258.
  15. New York Times 1896.
  16. van Wyk 2003, pp. 242–243.
  17. Clarke 1983, p. 42.
  18. Clarke 1983, pp. 40–51.
  19. Ranger 1966, p. 105.
  20. a b c Ranger 1966, pp. 105–106.
  21. Selous 1896, pp. 15.
  22. Lott 1976, pp. 43–47.
  23. a b Clarke 1983, p. 43.
  24. a b Selous 1896, p. 114.
  25. a b Clarke 1983, pp. 39.
  26. Baden-Powell 1896, p. 11.
  27. Clarke 1983, pp. 40–46.
  28. Bradford 1994, p. xxiv.
  29. a b Clarke 1983, pp. 44, 46.
  30. a b c Bradford 1994, p. xxiii.
  31. Clarke 1983, p. 45.
  32. Hole 1926, p. 367.
  33. Clarke 1983, pp. 46.
  34. a b c d e Emmerson & 1975 Forward.
  35. a b c d Lott 1976, pp. 46.
  36. Bradford 1994, pp. xxii-xxiii.
  37. Clarke 1983, pp. 43-45.
  38. Clarke 1983, p. 47.
  39. Clarke 1983, p. 48.
  40. Ranger 1966, p. 106-107.
  41. Ranger 1967, pp. 185, 397.
  42. Bradford 1994, pp. xxiii-xxiv.
  43. Hensman 1900, p. 232.
  44. Farwell 2001, p. 539.
  45. Selous 1896, pp. 239.
  46. Hensman 1900, p. 242.
  47. Pena, L. 2000. The Revolt of the Zimbabwean Masses: Part 1: How Did it Begin? [1]
  48. a b M. Sibanda, H. Moyana et al. 1992. The African Heritage. History for Junior Secondary Schools. Book 1. Zimbabwe Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-908300-00-6
  49. Keppel-Jones, A. 1983. Rhodes and Rhodesia: The White Conquest of Zimbabwe, 1884–1902. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-0534-6
  50. Beach, D.N. 1970. Afrikaner and Shona Settlement in the Enkeldoorn Area, 1890–1900. Zambezia, 1, 5–34. [2]
  51. Adu Boahen, A. 1990. Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880–1935. James Currey. ISBN 978-0-85255-097-7

Administration & the Name Rhodesia

The name “Rhodesia”


The Company initially referred to each territory it acquired by its respective name—Mashonaland, Matabeleland and so on—but there was no official term for them collectively. Rhodes preferred the name "Zambesia" while Leander Starr Jameson proposed "Charterland". Many of the first settlers instead called their new home "Rhodesia", after Rhodes; this was common enough usage by 1891 for it to be used in newspapers. In 1892 it was used in the name of Salisbury's first newspaper, The Rhodesia Herald. The Company officially adopted the name Rhodesia in 1895, and three years later the UK government followed suit. "It is not clear why the name should have been pronounced with the emphasis on the second rather than the first syllable," the historian Robert Blake comments, "but this appears to have been the custom from the beginning and it never changed."[1]

Administrative divisions & centers


Matabeleland and Mashonaland, both of which lay south of the Zambezi, were officially referred to collectively as "Southern Rhodesia" from 1898,[1] and formally united under that name in 1901. Meanwhile, the areas to the river's north became North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia, which were governed separately, and amalgamated in 1911 to form Northern Rhodesia.[2]

The overall centre of Company administration was Salisbury, which was also the Southern Rhodesian capital. The administrative centre in North-Eastern Rhodesia was Fort Jameson, while in North-Western Rhodesia the capital was Kalomo initially, and Livingstone from 1907. Livingstone became the capital of Northern Rhodesia when the two northern territories joined in 1911, and remained so at the end of Company rule.[3]

Administrative posts, politics and legislature


The head of government in each territory under Company rule was in effect a regional administrator appointed by the Company. In Southern Rhodesia, a ten-man Legislative Council first sat in 1899, originally made up of the administrator himself, five other members nominated by the Company, and four elected by registered voters.[4] The number of elected members rose gradually under Company rule until they numbered 13 in 1920, sitting alongside the administrator and six other Company officials in the 20-member Legislative Council.[5] The Company's Royal Charter was originally due to run out in October 1914,[6] but it was renewed for a further ten years in 1915.

In Northern Rhodesia, administration was entirely undertaken by the Company until 1917, when an Advisory Council was introduced, comprising five elected members. This council did little to lighten the Company's administrative burden north of the river, but endured until the end of Company rule.


  1. a b Blake 1977, p. 144
  2. Brelsford 1960, p. 619
  3. Hunt 1959, pp. 9, 12, 17
  4. Willson 1963, p. 101
  5. Willson 1963, pp. 111–114
  6. Wessels 2010, p. 18


Railway and telegraph

The railroad from Salisbury to Umtali—ultimately bound for Beira on the Mozambican coast—opened in 1899.

Chief among the endeavours pursued by the Company during its early years were the construction of railroads and telegraph wires across the territory it governed. These respective arteries of transport and communication, vital both for the successful development of the new country and for the realisation of Rhodes's Cape to Cairo dream, were laid across the previously bare Rhodesian landscape with great speed. Strategically planned, the railways were not intended or expected to turn a profit during their early years; their construction was largely subsidised by the Company. The telegraph line from Mafeking in South Africa reached Salisbury—one third of the way from Cape Town to Cairo—in February 1892. Just under six years later, in December 1897, the Bechuanaland railway from Vryburg reached Bulawayo, making it possible to travel between the Cape and Rhodesia by train.[1]

A narrow gauge railway towards Salisbury from the Mozambican port of Beira was begun by the Portuguese in 1892, and reached the Rhodesian border at Umtali after six years. Umtali and Salisbury were linked in 1899, on a different track gauge; the gauges between Beira and Salisbury were regularised the following year. The Second Boer War then restricted the further extension of the line from Vryburg, but the completion of the Beira–Salisbury railway allowed the importation of materials. Salisbury was connected to Bulawayo and the Cape in 1902.[1] The Vryburg–Bulawayo railway was meanwhile extended up to the Zambezi, and across when the Victoria Falls Bridge opened in 1905. Continuing through North-Western Rhodesia, the railway reached Élisabethville in Katanga—by this time part of the Belgian Congo—in 1910.[2]

The rise of Rhodesian tobacco

White farming on the Pioneer Citrus Estate, near Umtali, in the 1910s

The Company originally hoped that gold prospecting between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers would reveal mineral deposits comparable to those of the South African Rand, and indeed acquired its charter in part because its founders convinced Whitehall that a "second Rand" would be found and exploited in what would become Southern Rhodesia, thereby providing more than enough capital to develop the territory without help from London. Though much gold was discovered during the 1890s, these grand expectations were not met. The Company resolved after about a decade that it could not financially sustain its domain through gold mining alone, and therefore shifted its priority to the development of white agriculture.[3]

To maximise the potential of new, white-run farms, the Company launched a wide-scale land settlement programme for white settlers. As part of this drive it reorganised the geographical distribution of native reserve areas, moving the reserves and often reducing them in size where the land was of particularly high quality. To ensure that the white farmers would retain the reliable access to markets that the nascent railway network provided, tribal reserve boundaries in various relevant places were redrawn by the Company to place the railway lines outside. The new hut taxes concurrently compelled black peasants to find paid work, which could be found in the new agricultural industry,[3] though most tribesmen were reluctant to abandon their traditional lifestyles in favour of the capitalist labour market. Managers at farms and mines often had great trouble sourcing sufficient manpower.[4]

Tobacco, initially just one of several crops earmarked for wholesale production, soon emerged as Southern Rhodesia's most prominent agricultural product, though its early development was far from stable: aside from the climactic uncertainties of the unfamiliar country and the mercurial quality of the product, the early industry was cursed by a debilitating boom and bust cycle that continued well into the 1920s. All the same, tobacco endured as the territory's staple crop, while the growers came to dominate Southern Rhodesian politics, holding a majority in the Legislative Council from 1911. Holding considerable political and economic power up to the end of Company rule in 1923, the Southern Rhodesian tobacco industry retained its prominent position for decades afterwards.[3]

Immigration and economic performance

Statue of Rhodes in Bulawayo, 1920s

White immigration to the Company realm was initially modest, but intensified during the 1900s and early-1910s, particularly south of the Zambezi. The economic slump in the Cape following the Second Boer War motivated many White South Africans to move to Southern Rhodesia, and from about 1907 the Company's land settlement programme encouraged more immigrants to stay for good.[5] The Southern Rhodesian mining and farming industries advanced considerably during this period;[6] Southern Rhodesia's annual gold output grew in worth from £610,389 in 1901 to £2,526,007 in 1908.[7] The territory first balanced revenue and expenditure in 1912.[6] There were 12,586 Whites in Southern Rhodesia in 1904, and 23,606 in 1911;[6] in 1927, four years after the end of Company rule, the Black and White populations in Southern Rhodesia were respectively 922,000 and 38,200.[8]

The White population north of the river was far smaller, with only about 3,000 settlers spread across the 300,000 square miles (780,000 km2) of Northern Rhodesia. In the same area, there were roughly 1,000,000 Black people. The Whites in Northern Rhodesia were primarily concentrated in the far west, along the railway line between Bulawayo and Élisabethville in the Belgian Congo. A community of about 250 lived in the vicinity of Fort Jameson near the eastern border. In between were vast swathes of largely uninhabited bush, which lacked roads, railways and telegraph lines, making communication between the two White communities very difficult. The amalgamation of North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia in 1911 did little to improve the situation. Northern Rhodesia suffered as the result of its artificial nature—the country was not homogeneous in terms of population, history or geography—and unlike Southern Rhodesia, it never turned a profit or became self-supporting. During 1921 alone, the Company's administration of Northern Rhodesia lost it more than £1,250,000.[9]


  1. a b Walker 1963, pp. 538, 788–789
  2. Weinthal 1923, p. 726
  3. a b c Rowe 2001, pp. 65–69
  4. McLaughlin 1980, p. 74
  5. Gann 1958, p. 134
  6. a b c Walker 1963, p. 664
  7. Gann 1958, p. 133
  8. Wills 1967, p. 371
  9. Walker 1963, p. 669

Military & Involvement in the second Boers War, WWI

Policing south of the Zambezi

H Troop of the Bulawayo Field Force, commanded by Frederick Courteney Selous (front, seated), c. 1893

In line with the terms of its royal charter, the Company formed the British South Africa Company's Police (BSACP) in late 1889. A paramilitary, mounted infantry force, the BSACP initially boasted 650 men, but it proved so expensive to maintain that it was reduced to only 40 in 1892. This rump force was renamed the Mashonaland Mounted Police. With its size regularly fluctuating, it and other more irregular units—prominently the Bulawayo Field Force, including figures such as Selous and Burnham as commanders—proceeded to play a central role in the two Matabele Wars of the 1890s.[1]

Following the formation of the Matabeleland Mounted Police in 1895 with 150 members, it and the Mashonaland force were collectively referred to as the Rhodesia Mounted Police.[1] This was run directly by the Company until 1896, when it was reorganised into an independent entity called the British South Africa Police (BSAP). The word "Rhodesia" was omitted at the insistence of the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, because Britain did not yet formally consider that the country's name, despite the Company's official adoption of it the year before.[2] This anomaly was resolved in 1898 but the BSAP name remained.[3]

Police forces in Southern Rhodesia were initially all-white, but this changed over time: the Native Police Force, first raised in May 1895, was made up entirely of Matabele non-commissioned officers and men, many of whom were veterans of Lobengula's impis. Its 200 members, of whom 50 were posted to Mashonaland,[4] were trained in the Western manner, drilling and learning marksmanship. They were held in high regard by their white officers for their formidable soldiering ability, but they became hugely unpopular among the black civilian population for their perceived arrogance and abuse of the law they were supposed to uphold.[5] At the 1896 indaba with Rhodes in the Matopos Hills, the Matabele chief Somabhulana complained at length about the native police, saying they did not respect the traditional tribal structure and generally oppressed the populace, reportedly raping women on a regular basis. The parties agreed to abolish the native police in Matabeleland, and Rhodes promised not to reintroduce it.[4]

On its reconstitution in 1896, the BSAP was authorised to recruit 600 officers and men in Matabeleland—all of whom were white because of Rhodes's promise at the indaba—and 680 in Mashonaland, of whom 100 should be black. In practice, the "Native Contingent" in Mashonaland numbered 120.[2] The BSAP thereafter operated alongside the Southern Rhodesian Constabulary (SRC), a town police force covering Salisbury, Bulawayo, Fort Victoria, Gwelo and Umtali. The constabulary was far smaller than the BSAP—in 1898 it included only 156 officers and men, black and white—and it was run by local magistrates, as opposed to the paramilitary BSAP, which had a military-style structure.[6]

The commissioned ranks in the BSAP were entirely white, but the number of black constables in its ranks gradually rose, with many being recruited abroad. This kind of recruitment was not uncommon in colonial Africa, as many white officials of the day believed that blacks who policed their own communities were easily corruptible, and often not inclined to properly ensure the payment of colonial institutions such as hut tax. In Southern Rhodesia, many constables came from Barotseland, Zululand and Zanzibar. Locally sourced black policemen were officially reintroduced to Matabeleland in 1904; that year the force nominally contained 550 whites and 500 blacks. The SRC was merged into the BSAP in 1909, putting law enforcement in Southern Rhodesia into the hands of a single authority for the first time.[5] Following the end of Company rule in 1923, the BSAP endured as Southern Rhodesia's police force.[n 7]

Policing North of the Zambezi


North-Eastern Rhodesia was initially policed by locally recruited rank-and-filers, led by white officers from south of the river; the first force was raised in 1896. During its early years it busied itself eliminating the slave trade, in which foreign traders, mostly Arabs, captured villagers for sale as slaves overseas.[7] A more regular police force was then introduced by the Company in each of the northern territories. Because there were so few white immigrants to North-Eastern Rhodesia—and because most of them were men of the church or of business rather than potential recruits—the North-Eastern Rhodesia Constabulary was almost exclusively black, including all of its non-commissioned officers.[8]

North-Western Rhodesia attracted more white immigrants than its north-eastern counterpart, and its police force initially comprised an all-white detachment of Company police seconded from Southern Rhodesia. The unit proved expensive to maintain, however, and many of its constables fell victim to the unfamiliar tropical diseases of Barotseland.[8] Local black constables were introduced in 1900 after the Company unsuccessfully attempted to recruit more whites.[7] In 1902, the Barotse Native Police was formed, with Bemba, Ngoni and Ila recruits making up most of the ranks. Minor forces of white policemen were formed in the towns north of the Zambezi.[8]

After North-Western and North-Eastern Rhodesia merged into Northern Rhodesia in 1911, the police forces were amalgamated as the Northern Rhodesia Police (NRP). Like the BSAP, the NRP was effectively a paramilitary rather than civil organisation, with its armed constables receiving martial training under military command. Because they were not trained in the civil manner considered normal in a more developed country, most of them were illiterate. The main purpose of the force during the early 1910s was not to police Northern Rhodesia's towns, but rather to prevent and combat potential uprisings. The constables were also considered suitable for use as soldiers in the bush. It was not a large force; just before the outbreak of the World War I in 1914, it had only 800 personnel.[9]

Second Boer war


The BSAP served in the Second Boer War of 1899–1902 in its paramilitary capacity, with the newly formed Rhodesia Regiment also taking part, drawing most of its men from the Southern Rhodesia Volunteers. Rhodesia contributed approximately 1,000 men in all,[10] about 20% of the white male population at the time.[11] Rhodesia contributed part of the British garrison at the Battle of the Elands River in August 1900, during which a 500-man force made up principally of Australians and Rhodesians held off attacks from a far larger Boer army under General Koos de la Rey, and repeatedly refused offers of safe passage in return for surrender. Captain "Sandy" Butters, the Rhodesian commanding officer, encouraged his men with shouts towards the Boers that "Rhodesians never surrender!"[12] The Rhodesia Regiment was disbanded later that year, shortly after the relief of Mafeking.[10]

World War I

The original King's Royal Rifle Corps Rhodesian Platoon, pictured at Sheerness, England in November 1914. In the centre of the second row sit Captain J B Brady and the Marquess of Winchester.

With its fledgling White population largely characterised by youth, hardiness and Imperial patriotism, Southern Rhodesia proved a bountiful source of volunteers during World War I, in which about 40% of Southern Rhodesian White males of service age fought.[13] The majority of Southern Rhodesian personnel served with British, South African and other regiments on the Western Front (in Belgium and France). The Company raised exclusively Rhodesian units for African service.[14]

Following the start of the war in August 1914, the Rhodesia Regiment was reformed in October, initially comprising 20 officers and 500 men, mostly Southern Rhodesians. This force, which became called the 1st Rhodesia Regiment, was sent to the Cape to fight alongside the South Africans in South-West Africa. The 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, raised a month later, was sent to the East African Front.[15] Following the end of the South-West African Campaign in 1915, the 1st Rhodesia Regiment was dissolved; most of its men travelled to England to volunteer for the Western Front,[16] while others joined the 2nd in East Africa.[15] Boasting an effective strength of about 800 for the rest of its tour of duty,[17] the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment returned home in April 1917, and disbanded in October.[18]

Influenced by South Africa's reluctance to use Black soldiers in what was widely considered a "White man's war", Southern Rhodesia did not recruit Blacks in large numbers until 1916, when the number of potential White volunteers not already in uniform became too small to merit further drafts. The Rhodesia Native Regiment (RNR) was formed in that year to join the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment in East Africa, and included 2,507 men by 1918. Organisers expected that most Black volunteers would come from the Matabele people, famous for its martial tradition, and therefore originally named the unit the "Matabele Regiment";[19] however, when the ranks proved to be ethnically diverse, the name was changed.[20] Led by White officers, the Black soldiers served with distinction in East Africa, soon becoming regarded as formidable bush fighters. Pitted against the German Generalmajor Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck—who was mounting a successful guerrilla campaign against the far larger Allied forces—they remained in East Africa for the rest of the war, returning home only in December 1918, soon after von Lettow-Vorbeck surrendered at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia on 25 November. The RNR was thereupon dissolved.[21]


  1. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 428–429
  2. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 512
  3. a b Gibbs, Phillips & Russell 2009, p. 3
  4. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 408–410
  5. a b Stapleton 2011, p. 4
  6. Keppel-Jones 1983, p. 578
  7. a b Gann 1958, p. 69
  8. a b c Gann 1958, p. 74
  9. Gann 1958, p. 75
  10. a b Keppel-Jones 1983, pp. 590–599
  11. Walker 1963, p. 663
  12. Davitt 1902, p. 443
  13. Strachan 2003, p. 498
  14. McLaughlin 1980, p. 49
  15. a b Cox 1982, p. 134
  16. McLaughlin 1980, pp. 15–18
  17. Strachan 2003, p. 501
  18. Stapleton 2006, p. 19
  19. Stapleton 2006, pp. 20–22
  20. Stapleton 2006, pp. 31–40
  21. Binda 2007, pp. 17–25

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 district

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 rule


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]


  1. Southern Rhodesia rejects joining the Union of South Africa South African History
  2. Willson 1963, p. 46
  3. Berlyn 1978, p. 103
  4. Blake 1977, p. 213
  5. Gann 1969, pp. 191–192

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 government

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 Arms


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 Elections


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 Elections


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 Elections


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 Act


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 WWII

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.

Involvement in WWII

Outbreak of War


When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 following the invasion of Poland, Southern Rhodesia issued its own declaration of war almost immediately, before any of the dominions did.[1] Huggins backed full military mobilisation and "a war to the finish", telling parliament that the conflict was one of national survival for Southern Rhodesia as well as for Britain; the mother country's defeat would leave little hope for the colony in the post-war world, he said.[2] This stand was almost unanimously supported by the white populace, as well as most of the coloured community, though with World War I a recent memory this was more out of a sense of patriotic duty than enthusiasm for war in itself.[3][4] The majority of the black population paid little attention to the outbreak of war.[5]

The British had expected Italy—with its African possessions—to join the war on Germany's side as soon as it began, but fortunately for the Allies this did not immediately occur.[6] No. 1 Squadron SRAF was already in northern Kenya, having been posted to the Italian East African frontier at Britain's request in late August.[7] The first Southern Rhodesian ground forces to be deployed abroad during World War II were 50 Territorial troops under Captain T G Standing, who were posted to Nyasaland in September at the request of the colonial authorities there to guard against a possible uprising by German expatriates. They returned home after a month, having seen little action.[8] White Rhodesian officers and non-commissioned officers left the colony in September and October 1939 to command units of black Africans in the west and east of the continent, with most joining the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) in Colony of Nigeria, the Gold Coast and neighbouring colonies.[8] The deployment of white Rhodesian officers and NCOs to command black troops from elsewhere in Africa met with favour from the military leadership and became very prevalent.[9]

"All I wish to say to you is this: we know that you will carry on the traditions that this young colony established in the last war."[10]

Huggins to a draft of 700 Rhodesians bound for the Middle East, 14 April 1940

As in World War I, white Rhodesians volunteered for the forces readily and in large numbers. Over 2,700 had come forward before the war was three weeks old.[11] Somewhat ironically, the Southern Rhodesian recruiters' main problem was not sourcing manpower but rather persuading men in strategically important occupations such as mining to stay home. Manpower controls were introduced to keep certain men in their civilian jobs.[12] The SRAF accepted 500 recruits in the days following the outbreak of war, prompting its commander Group Captain Charles Meredith to contact the Air Ministry in London with an offer to run a flying school and train three squadrons.[11] This was accepted. In January 1940 the Southern Rhodesian government announced the establishment of an independent Air Ministry to oversee the Rhodesian Air Training Group, Southern Rhodesia's contribution to the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS).[13]

Huggins set up a Defence Committee within the Cabinet to co-ordinate the colony's war effort in early 1940. This body comprised the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Jacob Smit, Tredgold and Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Lucas Guest, the Minister of Mines and Public Works, who was put in charge of the new Air Ministry. About 1,600 of the colony's whites were serving overseas by May 1940 when, during the Battle of France, Salisbury passed legislation allowing the authorities to call up any male British subject of European ancestry aged between 19 and a half and 25 who had lived in the colony for at least six months. The minimum age was reduced to 18 in 1942.[12] Part-time training was compulsory for all white males between 18 and 55, with a small number of exceptions for those in reserved occupations.[14] On 25 May 1940 Southern Rhodesia, the last country to join the EATS, became the first to start operating an air school under it, beating Canada by a week.[15][16] The SRAF was absorbed into the British Royal Air Force in April 1940, with No. 1 Squadron becoming No. 237 Squadron.[17] The RAF subsequently designated two more Rhodesian squadrons, namely No. 266 Squadron in 1940 and No. 44 Squadron in 1941, in a manner similar to the Article XV squadrons from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.[18]

Early Deployments

Coloured and Indian-Rhodesian drivers parading in Salisbury before going to East Africa, 1940

No. 237 Squadron, based in Kenya since before the start of the war, had expanded to 28 officers and 209 other ranks by March 1940.[19] By mid-1940, most of the officers and men Southern Rhodesia had sent overseas were in Kenya, attached to various East African formations, the King's African Rifles (KAR), the RWAFF, or to the colony's own Medical Corps or Survey Unit. The Southern Rhodesian surveyors charted the previously unmapped area bordering Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland between March and June 1940, and the Medical Corps operated No. 2 General Hospital in Nairobi from July.[20] A company of coloured and Indian-Rhodesian transport drivers was also in the country, having arrived in January.[19]

The first Southern Rhodesian contingent despatched to North Africa and the Middle East was a draft of 700 from the Rhodesia Regiment who left in April 1940. No white Rhodesian force of this size had ever left the territory before.[21] They were posted to a variety of British units across Egypt and Palestine.[22] The largest concentration of Rhodesian soldiers in North Africa belonged to the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), whose connections with the colony dated back to World War I. Several Rhodesian platoons were formed in the KRRC's 1st Battalion in the Western Desert.[23] A company of men from the Southern Rhodesian Signal Corps was also present, operating in tandem with the British Royal Corps of Signals.[24]

East Africa


Italy joined the war on Germany's side on 10 June 1940, opening the East African Campaign and the Desert War in North Africa.[25] A Rhodesian-led force of irregulars from the Somaliland Camel Corps—based in British Somaliland, on the Horn of Africa's north coast—took part in one of the first clashes between British and Italian forces when it exchanged fire with an Italian banda (irregular company) around dawn on 11 June.[26] Two days later three Caproni bombers of the Regia Aeronautica attacked Wajir, one of No. 237 Squadron's forward airstrips, damaging two Rhodesian aircraft.[25]

Italian East Africa was bordered by Kenya to the south, British Somaliland to the north-east, and the Sudan to the west

Italian forces entered British Somaliland from Abyssinia on 4 August 1940, overcame the garrison at Hargeisa, and advanced north-east towards the capital Berbera. The British force, including a platoon of 43 Rhodesians in the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch, took up positions on six hills overlooking the only road towards Berbera and engaged the Italians at the Battle of Tug Argan. Amid heavy fighting, the Italians gradually made gains and by 14 August had almost pocketed the Commonwealth forces. The British retreated to Berbera between 15 and 17 August, the Rhodesians making up the left flank of the rearguard, and by 18 August had evacuated by sea. The Italians took the city and completed their conquest of British Somaliland a day later.[27]

No. 237 Squadron embarked on reconnaissance flights and supported ground assaults on Italian desert outposts during July and August 1940. Two British brigades from West Africa arrived to reinforce Kenya's northern frontier in early July—the partly Rhodesian-officered Nigeria Regiment joined the front at Malindi and Garissa, while a battalion of the Gold Coast Regiment, also with Rhodesian commanders attached, relieved the KAR at Wajir. The British forces in East Africa adopted the doctrine of "mobile defence" that was already being used in the Western Desert in North Africa—units embarked on long, constant patrols to guard wells and deny water supplies to the Italians. The British evacuated their north forward position at Buna in September 1940, and expected an attack on Wajir soon after, but the Italians never attempted an assault. Boosted considerably by the arrival of three South African brigades during the last months of 1940, the Commonwealth forces in Kenya had expanded to three divisions by the end of the year. No. 237 Squadron was relieved by South African airmen and redeployed to the Sudan in September.[28]

Rebasing at Khartoum, No. 237 Squadron undertook regular reconnaissance, dive-bombing and strafing sorties during October and November 1940.[29] Meanwhile, the Southern Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery arrived in Kenya in October and, following a period of training, received 2-pounder guns and joined the front at Garissa around the turn of the new year.[30] No. 237 Squadron was partially re-equipped during January 1941, receiving some Westland Lysander Mk IIs, but most of the squadron continued operating Hardys.[31]

The British forces in Kenya under General Alan Cunningham, including Rhodesian officers and NCOs in the King's African Rifles and the Nigeria and Gold Coast Regiments, as well as the South African 1st South African Infantry Division, advanced into Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland during late January and February 1941, starting with the occupation of the ports of Kismayo and Mogadishu. The Italians retreated to the interior.[32] No. 237 Squadron meanwhile provided air support to the 4th Indian Infantry Division and 5th Indian Infantry Division during Lieutenant-General William Platt's offensive into Eritrea from the Sudan, attacking ground targets and engaging Italian fighters. One of the Rhodesian Hardys was shot down near Keren on 7 February with the loss of both occupants. Two days later, five Italian fighters attacked a group of grounded Rhodesian aircraft at Agordat in western Eritrea, and wrecked two Hardys and two Lysanders.[31]

Platt's advance into Eritrea was checked during the seven-week Battle of Keren (February–April 1941), during which No. 237 Squadron observed Italian positions and took part in bombing raids. After the Italians retreated and surrendered, the Rhodesian squadron moved forward to Asmara on 6 April, whence it embarked on bombing sorties on the port of Massawa.[33] The same day, the Italian garrison in the Abyssinian capital Addis Ababa surrendered to the 11th (East Africa) Division, including many Rhodesians.[34] During the Battle of Amba Alagi, Platt and Cunningham's forces converged and surrounded the remainder of the Italians, who were commanded by the Duke of Aosta at the mountainous stronghold of Amba Alagi. The viceroy surrendered on 18 May 1941, effectively ending the war in East Africa.[35] No. 237 Squadron and the Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery thereupon moved up to Egypt to join the war in the Western Desert.[36] Some Italian garrisons continued to fight—the last surrendered only following the Battle of Gondar in November 1941.[37] Until this time the partly Rhodesian-commanded Nigeria and Gold Coast Regiments remained in Abyssinia, patrolling and rounding up scattered Italian units.[38] Around 250 officers and 1,000 other ranks from Southern Rhodesia remained in Kenya until mid-1943.[39]

North Africa

The progress of Operation Compass and strategic locations. Benghazi is to the north-west, Tobruk is on the coast near the map's centre, and El Alamein is to the east.

In North Africa, Rhodesians in the 11th Hussars, 2nd Leicesters, 1st Cheshires and other regiments contributed to Operation Compass between December 1940 and February 1941 as part of the Western Desert Force under Major-General Richard O'Connor, fighting at Sidi Barrani, Bardia, Beda Fomm and elsewhere.[40] This offensive was extremely successful, with the Allies suffering very few casualties—around 700 killed and 2,300 wounded and missing—while capturing the strategic port Tobruk, over 100,000 Italian soldiers and most of Cyrenaica.[41] The Germans reacted by despatching the Afrika Korps under Erwin Rommel to shore up the Italian forces. Rommel led a strong counter-offensive in March–April 1941 that forced a general Allied withdrawal towards Egypt. German and Italian forces surrounded Tobruk but failed to take the largely Australian-garrisoned city, leading to the lengthy Siege of Tobruk.[42]

The Rhodesian contingents in the 11th Hussars, Leicesters, Buffs, Argylls, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry and Sherwood Foresters were transferred en masse to Kenya in February 1941 to join the new Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment, which served in East Africa over the following year.[43] The Rhodesians in the 1st Cheshires moved with that regiment to Malta the same month.[44] The Rhodesian Signallers were withdrawn to Cairo to form a section handling high-speed communications between Middle East Command and General Headquarters in England.[45] The 2nd Black Watch, with its Rhodesian contingent, took part in the unsuccessful Allied defence of Crete in May–June 1941, then joined the garrison at Tobruk in August 1941.[46] No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron was re-equipped with Hawker Hurricanes the following month.[47]

Southern Rhodesians with the King's Royal Rifle Corps in North Africa, 1942

Rhodesians made up an integral component of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), a mechanised reconnaissance and raiding unit formed in North Africa in 1940 to operate behind enemy lines. Initially made up of New Zealanders, the unit's first British and Rhodesian members joined in November 1940.[48] It was reorganised several times over the next year as it expanded and by the end of 1941 there were two Rhodesian patrols: S1 and S2 Patrols, B Squadron. Each vehicle bore a Rhodesian place-name starting with "S" on the bonnet, such as "Salisbury" or "Sabi".[49] From April 1941 the LRDG was based at Kufra in south-eastern Libya. The Rhodesians were posted to Bir Harash, about 160 kilometers (99 mi) to the north-east of Kufra, to patrol, hold the Zighen Gap and guard against a possible Axis attack from the north. For the next four months they lived in near-total isolation from the outside world, an exception coming in July 1941 when they and a group of airmen from No. 237 Squadron celebrated Rhodes Day together in the middle of the Cyrenaican desert.[50]

In November 1941 the British Eighth Army, commanded by General Cunningham, launched Operation Crusader in an attempt to relieve Tobruk. The British XXX Corps, led by the 7th Armoured Division ("the Desert Rats") with its Rhodesian platoons, would form the main body of attack, advancing west from Mersa Matruh, then sweeping around in a north-westerly direction towards Tobruk. The XIII Corps would concurrently advance north-west and cut off Axis forces on the coast at Sollum and Bardia. When signalled the Tobruk garrison would break out and move south-east towards the advancing Allied forces.[51] The operation was largely successful for the Allies, and the siege was broken. The Rhodesians of the LRDG took part in raids on Axis rear areas during the operation, ambushing Axis convoys, destroying Axis aircraft and pulling down telegraph poles and wires.[50]

My bloody Rhodesians were often scruffy—but clean—and they were sometimes late for briefings, but they were always swift into action and their gunnery was without equal.[52]

Brigadier C.E. Lucas-Phillips, reflecting on Rhodesians he commanded in the Western Desert

From late 1941 the LRDG co-operated closely with the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS), which also included some Rhodesians. The Rhodesian LRDG patrols transported and supported SAS troops during operations behind Axis lines. The LRDG also maintained a constant "Road Watch" along the Via Balbia on the north coast of Libya, along which almost all Axis road traffic from Tripoli, the main Libyan port, had to travel east. The LRDG set up a watch post about 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) east of the Italian Marble Arch monument, and teams of two men each recorded Axis vehicle and troop movements in shifts throughout the day and night. This information was relayed back to the British commanders in Cairo.[50]

Rommel advanced east from January 1942, and won a major victory over the Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie, at the Battle of Gazala in May–June 1942. The Axis soon thereafter captured Tobruk.[53] During the Axis victory at the "Retma Box"—part of the British-devised system whereby isolated, strongly fortified "boxes", each manned by a brigade group, formed the front line—and the subsequent Allied retreat, the Southern Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery lost five men killed, nine wounded and two missing; 37 were captured.[54] Rommel's advance was stalled in July by the Eighth Army, now headed by General Claude Auchinleck, at the First Battle of El Alamein in western Egypt. Two months later the Rhodesians of the LRDG took part in Operation Bigamy (aka Operation Snowdrop), an unsuccessful attempt by the SAS and LRDG to raid Benghazi harbour.[55] The SAS raiding force, headed by Lieutenant-Colonel David Stirling, was discovered by an Italian reconnaissance unit, prompting Stirling to turn back to Kufra.[56] The Rhodesians, meanwhile, were led into impassable country by a local guide, and swiftly retreated after being attacked by German bombers.[55]

Southern Rhodesian pilots played a part in the siege of Malta during 1942. John Plagis, a Rhodesian airman of Greek ancestry, joined the multinational group of Allied airmen defending the strategically important island in late March and on 1 April achieved four aerial victories in an afternoon, thereby becoming the siege's first Spitfire flying ace. By the time of his withdrawal in July he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice.[57] The British finally delivered vital supplies to Malta on 15 August with Operation Pedestal.[58]

Back in Salisbury, the Southern Rhodesian government was coming under pressure from Britain to put its armed forces under the purview of a regional command. Huggins decided in late October 1942 to join a unified Southern African Command headed by South Africa's Jan Smuts. This choice was motivated by a combination of strategic concerns and geopolitical manoeuvring. Apart from considering South Africa a more appropriate partner in geographical, logistical and cultural terms, Huggins feared that the alternative—joining the British East Africa Command—might detract from the autonomous nature of Southern Rhodesia's war effort, with possible constitutional implications. A shift in the deployment of the colony's troops duly occurred. For the rest of the war the majority of Rhodesian servicemen went into the field integrated into South African formations, prominently the 6th Armoured Division.[59]

El Alamein

A Rhodesian Bren light machine gun team with the King's Royal Rifle Corps in the Western Desert, 1942

The decisive victory of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army over the Germans and Italians at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October–November 1942 turned the tide of the North African war strongly in favour of the Allies, and did much to revive Allied morale. The Rhodesians of the KRRC took part in the battle as part of the 7th Armoured Division under the XIII Corps, forming part of the initial thrust in the southern sector.[60]

The Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery under Major Guy Savory also fought at El Alamein, supporting the Australian 9th Division as part of the XXX Corps. The fighting around "Thompson's Post" between 1 and 3 November was some of the fiercest Rhodesians took part in during the war. Hoping to knock out the Allied anti-tank guns before counter-attacking, the Germans concentrated intense artillery fire on the Australian and Rhodesian guns before advancing 12 Panzer IV tanks towards the weakest point of the Australian line. The Australian six-pounders had been largely disabled by the bombardment but most of the Rhodesian guns remained operational. The Rhodesian gunners disabled two Panzers and seriously damaged two more, compelling an Axis retreat, and held their position until being relieved on 3 November. One Rhodesian officer and seven other ranks were killed and more than double that number were wounded. For his actions at Thompson's Post, Sergeant J A Hotchin received the Distinguished Conduct Medal; Lieutenants R J Bawden and H R C Callon won the Military Cross and Trooper P Vorster the Military Medal.[61]

The KRRC Rhodesians were in the forefront of the Allied column pursuing the retreating Axis forces after El Alamein, advancing through Tobruk, Gazala and Benghazi before reaching El Agheila on 24 November 1942. They patrolled around the Axis right flank until being withdrawn to Timimi in December.[62] Tripoli fell to the Eighth Army on 23 January 1943, and six days later Allied forces reached Tunisia's south-eastern frontier, where Italian and German forces manned the Mareth Line, a series of fortifications built by the French in the 1930s.[63]


Strategic locations in Tunisia and Algeria

The Mareth Line constituted one of two fronts in the Tunisia Campaign, the second being to the north-west, where the British First Army and American II Corps, firmly established in formerly Vichy-held Morocco and Algeria following Operation Torch in November 1942, were gradually pushing the Axis forces under Hans-Jürgen von Arnim back towards Tunis. After von Arnim won a decisive victory over the Americans at the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid in mid-February 1943, destroying over 100 US tanks, the Eighteenth Army Group was formed under the British General Harold Alexander to co-ordinate the actions of the Allied forces on both Tunisian fronts.[64]

The Eighth Army under Montgomery spent February at Medinine in south-eastern Tunisia. Expecting an imminent attack by the Axis, the Eighth Army mustered every anti-tank gun it could from Egypt and Libya. The 102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, including the Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery under Major Savory, duly advanced west from Benghazi and reached the front on 5 March 1943. The Germans and Italians assaulted Medinine the next day, but failed to make much progress and abandoned their attack by the evening. The Rhodesian gunners, held in reserve, did not take part in the engagement but were attacked from the air. The Rhodesians of the KRRC, now under the 7th Motor Brigade, moved up from Libya during early March.[65] No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, which had spent 1942 and the first months of 1943 in Iran and Iraq, returned to North Africa the same month, with the future Prime Minister Ian Smith in its ranks as a Hurricane pilot.[66]

Montgomery launched his major assault on the Mareth Line, Operation Pugilist, on 16 March. The Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery, operating with the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, took part. The Allies advanced at first but the weather and terrain prevented the tanks and guns from moving forward, allowing the 15th Panzer Division to counter-attack successfully. A flanking movement by the 2nd New Zealand Division around the right of the German forces, through the Tebaga Gap, compelled an Axis withdrawal on 27 March. The Rhodesian anti-tank gunners fought their last action in Africa at Enfidaville, 50 kilometers (31 mi) south of Tunis, on 20 April. The KRRC Rhodesians meanwhile took part in a long outflanking march which brought them to El Arousse, 65 kilometers (40 mi) south-west of Tunis, the next day. British armour entered Tunis on 7 May 1943. The Axis forces in North Africa—over 220,000 Germans and Italians, including 26 generals—surrendered a week later.[67]

By time Tunis had fallen, few Rhodesians remained with the First or Eighth Armies; most were transferring to the South African 6th Armoured Division, then in Egypt, or making their way home on leave. Out of the 300 Southern Rhodesians who had joined the KRRC in Egypt, only three officers and 109 other ranks remained at the end of the Tunisian Campaign. The Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery retraced many of the movements it had taken during the campaign as it returned to Egypt. "Left for Matruh at 0830 hours today," one Rhodesian gunner wrote. "Camped at night on the identical spot where we camped in June 1941. It gave me a queer feeling to look back and think how many of us are missing."[68]


Dodecanese islands in red

Southern Rhodesia was represented in the Dodecanese Campaign of September–November 1943 by the Long Range Desert Group, which was withdrawn from the North African front in March 1943. After retraining for mountain operations in Lebanon, the LRDG moved in late September to the Dodecanese island of Kalymnos, north-west of Kos and south-east of Leros, off the coast of south-west Turkey. In the fall-out from the Armistice of Cassibile between Italy and the Allies, which had been concluded in the first week of September, the Allies were attempting to capture the Dodecanese so the islands could be used as bases against the German-occupied Balkans. Most of the Italian forces had changed sides; the LRDG found itself in an infantry role, acting as a mobile reserve for Italian troops.[69]

The Germans swiftly mobilised to expel the Allied forces and launched heavy air assaults on Kos and Leros. Without fighter support, the islands' defence was soon precarious; the LRDG and the rest of the troops on Kalymnos were withdrawn to Leros on 4 October after the Germans won the Battle of Kos. German air assaults on Leros intensified during late October, and at dawn on 12 November 1943 the Germans attacked Leros by sea and air. During the ensuing Battle of Leros, the LRDG Rhodesians at Point 320, commanded by Rhodesian Captain J R Olivey, their position's guns and withdrew before counter-attacking and retaking the point the next day. They held that position for three more days, during which they learned that the Germans were winning the battle. On 16 November, Olivey decided that holding the point any longer was pointless and ordered his men to split up, escape by any means possible and re-assemble in Cairo. Over half of the unit reached Egypt.[70]


A Rhodesian Sherman tank on the River Tiber in Rome, June 1944

The largest concentration of Southern Rhodesian troops in the Italian Campaign of 1943–45 was the group of about 1,400, mainly from the Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment, spread across the South African 6th Armoured Division. The 11th South African Armoured Brigade, one of the 6th Division's two main components, was made up of Prince Alfred's Guard, the Pretoria Regiment (Princess Alice's Own) and the Special Service Battalion, each of which had a Rhodesian squadron of Sherman tanks. The other, the 12th South African Motorised Brigade, comprised infantry—the Witwatersrand Rifles, the Natal Carbineers and the Cape Town Highlanders, the last of which had a large Rhodesian contingent. There were also two Rhodesian artillery batteries—the original Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery and a newer unit of Rhodesian field gunners.[71] After a year's training in Egypt, the division sailed to Italy in April 1944, landing towards the end of the month at Taranto.[71] No. 237 Squadron, now flying Spitfires, rebased to Corsica the same month to operate over Italy and southern France.[72]

The 6th Division moved north-west from Taranto to take its place as part of the Eighth Army alongside the US Fifth Army. It took part in the fourth and final Allied assault of the Battle of Monte Cassino in the second and third weeks of May 1944, helping to force the Germans out, and thereafter advanced north-west up the Liri valley to join the Allied forces at Anzio and advance onwards to Rome.[73] After wiping out a small German force about 50 km (31 mi) east of the Italian capital on 3 June, the 6th Division advanced north and captured the town of Paliano, then doubled back to the south-west and moved on Rome, which was reached on the morning of 6 June.[74] A Squadron, Pretoria Regiment—that unit's squadron of Rhodesian tanks—entered the city as part of the division's vanguard.[75]

The German commander Albert Kesselring fought a stubborn delaying action, gradually withdrawing his armies north with three Allied columns in pursuit, the 6th Armoured Division leading the most westerly spearhead of the Eighth Army in the centre. The mountainous terrain and the effective use of anti-tank weapons by the retreating Germans made the Allies' superiority in armour less decisive and slowed the Allied advance north to the banks of the Arno between June and August 1944, during which time the Rhodesian tank squadrons took part in Allied victories at Castellana, Bagnoregio and Chiusi.[76]

A Rhodesian 25-pounder gun in action at Ripoli, late 1944

By the end of August 1944 the German forces in Italy had formed the Gothic Line along the Apennine Mountains, and the 6th Division had come under the command of the US Fifth Army. The difficulty of using tanks in the mountains led to the Rhodesians of Prince Alfred's Guard temporarily adopting an infantry role, using dismounted tank machine-guns to support the Natal Carabineers during the fighting for Pistoia during early September. The Southern Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery meanwhile converted partially from guns to 4.2-inch mortars. The South Africans and Rhodesians met with fierce resistance from the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, but helped push the Germans northwards towards the Reno river.[77]

Hoping to repel Allied advances towards Bologna, the Germans took up positions on Monte Stanco overlooking the main roads towards the city. Two Allied assaults on the mountain—one by an Indian battalion, the other by the Royal Natal Carabineers—were repulsed. A third, larger attack at dawn on 13 October provided the Rhodesian Company of the Cape Town Highlanders with some of the fiercest combat they encountered in Italy. Advancing up the slope on the Allied right flank while being fired on from two directions, they suffered heavy casualties but achieved their objective and held it. Both Rhodesian artillery batteries provided support during the assault.[78]

When the line stabilised in November 1944, the portion occupied by the 6th Armoured Division extended for 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) along the heights over the Reno River. The Rhodesians of the Cape Town Highlanders patrolled nightly around the village of Casigno for the next three months.[79] Some of the tank crews, including the Rhodesians of the Special Service Battalion, were temporarily reassigned to infantry duties to assist in these patrols.[80] Many of the Rhodesians had never seen snow before, but on the whole they adapted well, taking up winter sports such as skiing during time off duty.[81] The Rhodesians of the Special Service Battalion received new, more heavily armed tanks in November–December 1944. In February 1945 the 6th Division was relieved by the American 1st Armoured Division and moved to Lucca, 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) north of Pisa, for rest and reorganisation.[82] The Rhodesian Anti-Tank Battery was refitted with M10 tank destroyers.[83] The Spitfires of No. 237 Squadron, meanwhile, took part in assaults on German transport in the Po Valley around Parma and Modena.[84]

Balkans & Greece


After the Battle of Leros, New Zealand withdrew its squadron from the Long Range Desert Group, compelling the LRDG to reorganise itself into two squadrons of eight patrols each. A Squadron was composed of Rhodesians and B Squadron comprised British troops and a squadron of signallers; around 80 of the officers and men were from Southern Rhodesia. The group was reassigned from the Middle East Command to the Central Mediterranean Force in early 1944, and deployed to the Gargano peninsula in south-eastern Italy, where a new LRDG headquarters was set up near the seaside town of Rodi. Britain hoped to compel the Germans to commit as many divisions as possible to south-eastern Europe so they could not be used on the more important fronts closer to Germany. In June 1944 the LRDG was assigned to operate on the western coast of Yugoslavia, with orders to set up observation posts, report the movements of German ships and undertake minor raids.[85]

Yugoslavia partitioned under Axis occupation, 1943–44

The successes of Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Dalmatia led the Allies to despatch small patrols into Yugoslavia and Albania to contact partisan leaders and arrange co-operation with the Allied air forces. Several Rhodesian patrols from the LRDG were selected to undertake such missions during August and September 1944. Yugoslav partisans subsequently indicated targets for Allied bombing missions, with some success.[86] From September, members of the LRDG's Rhodesian squadron under Captain Olivey undertook advanced reconnaissance in the Peloponnese peninsula of southern Greece. Landing at Katakolo, they made their way inland to Corinth and, along with the British 4th Parachute Battalion, entered Athens as the Germans departed in November. The Rhodesians of the LRDG spent November and December helping Greek forces to garrison an Athens orphanage against supporters of the communist Greek People's Liberation Army. Four Rhodesians were killed.[87]

The LRDG returned to Yugoslavia in February 1945, operating around Istria and Dalmatia, where Germany still held portions of the mainland and certain strategic islands. The Germans had heavily mined the southern Adriatic and were attempting to cover their shipping by moving only by night, close to shore, and heaving to during the day under camouflage nets. The LRDG was tasked to patrol the coast, find the ships and report their locations to the air force for bombing. This it did with success. It remained in Yugoslavia for the rest of the war.[88]

The heightened vigilance of the German garrison as the war entered its final phase made these operations especially hazardous, particularly as they were often attempted at extremely close quarters. On several occasions Rhodesian patrols only narrowly escaped discovery. During one action, two Rhodesian patrols catered for the possibility that Germans might be listening to their transmissions by communicating in Shona, an African language.[89] The LRDG's last actions of the war, in April and May 1945, were to help Tito's partisans capture German-held islands off Dalmatia.[90]

Spring 1945 Offensive in Italy


Kesselring's forces in Italy retained their formidable defensive positions in the northern Apennines in March 1945. The 6th Division rejoined the line in early April, shortly before the Allies launched their spring 1945 offensive, Operation Grapeshot. The units including Rhodesians took up positions opposite Monte Sole, Monte Abelle and Monte Caprara. The Rhodesian 25-pounder guns were posted slightly forward of their former positions, and B (Rhodesia) Squadron, Prince Alfred's Guard, moved to Grizzana. The Special Service Battalion provided armoured support to the 13th South African Motorised Brigade.[83]

The South Africans and Rhodesians launched a two-pronged assault on the German positions over the road to Bologna at 22:30 on 15 April 1945. The Cape Town Highlanders' advance up the steep cliffs of Monte Sole was obstructed by a German minefield that guarded the peak. The Rhodesian officer commanding the leading platoon, Second Lieutenant G B Mollett, took a section of men and dashed through the minefield to the summit; for this he later received the Distinguished Service Order. Hand-to-hand fighting on Monte Sole continued until dawn, when the Germans withdrew. The Witwatersrand Rifles meanwhile took Monte Caprara. The Cape Town Highlanders took Monte Abelle late on 16 April, advancing under heavy artillery fire to the summit before clearing it of Germans. The regiment lost 31 killed and 76 wounded during these actions, including three Rhodesians killed and three wounded.[91]

This victory contributed to a general Allied breakthrough in the area, and by 19 April, the 6th Division's armour was moving towards Lombardy and Venetia as part of the Fifth Army's vanguard. American and Polish troops entered Bologna on 21 April. The South Africans and Rhodesians advanced north-west towards the Panaro river. The Special Service Battalion's Rhodesian squadron, moving forward alongside the Cape Town Highlanders, and the Rhodesians of Prince Alfred's Guard took part in numerous engagements with the retreating German rearguard, and suffered several fatalities.[92]

The 6th Division crossed the Po near Ostiglia on 25 April and, after resupplying for a week, began a speedy advance towards Venice, aiming to cut off the retreat of elements of the German Fourteenth Army. The South Africans and Rhodesians advanced through Nogara and Cerea, crossed the Adige early on 29 April, and then made for Treviso, 19 kilometers (12 mi) north of Venice. The retreating German forces were by this time in such disarray that, during its advance from the Po, the 11th South African Armoured Brigade took prisoners from eight German divisions. On 30 April, the 6th Division joined up with British and American forces south of Treviso, and cut off the Germans' last escape route from Italy.[93]

The German forces in Italy surrendered unconditionally on 2 May 1945, while the 6th Division was moving north-west; at the time of the announcement it was near Milan. Twelve days later the 6th Division held a victory parade of its 1,200 guns, tanks and other vehicles at Monza racetrack, 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) north of Milan. The Rhodesians separated from their vehicles after the parade, then spent May and June 1945 as occupation troops in Lombardy before returning home.[94][95]

Britain, Norway, and Western Europe

Lancaster bombers of No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, based on the east coast of England, September 1942

Southern Rhodesia's fighting contributions in Britain and western Europe were primarily in the air, as part of the much larger Allied forces. Rhodesian pilots and Allied airmen trained in the colony's flying schools participated in the defence of Britain throughout the war, as well as in the strategic bombing of Germany and other operations. Rhodesia provided the only RAF flying ace of the Norwegian Campaign of April–June 1940, Squadron Leader Caesar Hull.[96] Later that year "The Few", the Allied airmen of the Battle of Britain, included three pilots of Southern Rhodesian birth—Hull, Pilot Officer John Chomley and Flight Lieutenant John Holderness[97]—of whom two, Hull and Chomley, lost their lives.[note 2]

Two of the RAF's three Rhodesian squadrons, Nos. 44 and 266, operated from England during the war. No. 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron, a fighter squadron based in Cambridgeshire for most of the duration, was initially only nominally Rhodesian, being manned by a mixture of British and Commonwealth personnel, but it received more airmen from the colony gradually and was virtually all Rhodesian by August 1941.[100] Initially flying Spitfires, it switched to Typhoons in early 1942.[101] It took as its motto the Sindebele word Hlabezulu ("Stabber of Skies") and first went into action over Dunkirk on 2 June 1940,[102] after which it fought in the Battle of Britain. The squadron's duties thereafter included patrolling, protecting convoys, sweeping around northern France and the Belgian and Dutch coasts, and escorting bombing raids over France and the Rhine.[101]

No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, based in Lincolnshire on the east coast, was a heavy bomber unit, and part of No. 5 Group in RAF Bomber Command's front line.[103] Unlike the other two squadrons designated as "Rhodesian", No. 44 Squadron never had a Rhodesian majority, despite efforts to so populate it.[104] Initially equipped with Hampdens, it became the first RAF squadron to convert to Lancasters at the end of 1941. It played a prominent part in the attack on the MAN diesel factory at Augsburg in April 1942.[104] In March 1943 No. 44 Squadron took part in the Allied bombing of cities in northern Italy, including Genoa and Milan, as well as targets in Germany such as Wilhelmshaven, Cologne and Berlin.[105]

Huggins (right) inspecting a Typhoon of No. 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron in England, 1944

From early 1944, No. 266 Squadron took part in ground attack operations over the Channel and northern France, operating from RAF Harrowbeer in Devon. The squadron also escorted Allied bombers embarking on or returning from raids, protecting them from German fighters. Larger petrol tanks were fitted to the Typhoons to increase their range. In May 1944 the squadron was visited by the Prime Minister, who had been knighted and was now Sir Godfrey Huggins.[106] Over the next month, in preparation for the imminent Allied invasion of Normandy, the Rhodesian aircraft took on a fighter-bomber role, flying sorties across the channel twice a day and participating in the bombing of bridges, roads, railways and the like.[107]

Apart from the Southern Rhodesian airmen serving with the RAF in Britain, the colony was sparsely represented in the Normandy landings of 6 June 1944 ("D-Day"). Several men from the colony served aboard cruisers and destroyers that engaged the German shore batteries. A small number of Southern Rhodesians parachuted into Normandy with the 6th Airborne Division during Operation Tonga, and some took part in the amphibious landings. No. 266 Squadron was part of the Allied force that flew over the beaches during the first landings, supporting the infantry. Later that day it took part in sorties to assist the paratroopers holding the bridgeheads north of Caen.[108]

No. 266 Squadron, which remained 95% Rhodesian at the start of 1945,[109] thereafter provided air support to the advancing Allied armies through France, the Low Countries and finally Germany. Through most of the European winter months it was based in Antwerp. In late March 1945 the Rhodesian fighters formed part of the force tasked with protecting the descending Allied paratroopers during Field-Marshal Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine. During April the squadron operated over Hanover and the northern Netherlands.[110] No. 44 Squadron, meanwhile, embarked on bombing raids on targets as far away as Gdynia and Königsberg in East Prussia, as well as towns and cities closer to Berlin such as Dresden, Emden and Leipzig. Its last bombing operation was a raid on the Berghof, Hitler's residence, near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria on 25 April 1945. After Germany surrendered on 7 May, ending the war in Europe, No. 44 Squadron was one of many units selected to evacuate British prisoners of war home from the continent.[111]


A Rhodesian African Rifles river patrol in Burma, 1945

Southern Rhodesia's main contribution to the Burma Campaign in terms of manpower was made by the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR), a regiment of black troops led by white officers that joined the front at the end of 1944. The colony also made a significant contribution to the Commonwealth forces' command element in Burma, providing white officers and NCOs to the 81st (West Africa), 82nd (West Africa) and 11th (East Africa) Divisions, made up of units from Nigeria, the Gold Coast, the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and the Congo.[112] Almost every African battalion in Burma had white Rhodesian officers and NCOs attached; some were over 70% Rhodesian-led.[9]

Modelled on the Rhodesia Native Regiment of World War I, the RAR was formed in May 1940 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel F J Wane, who the black soldiers nicknamed msoro-we-gomo ("top of the mountain"). Most volunteers for the regiment came from Mashonaland, much to the surprise of the white recruiters, who had expected Matabeleland, with stronger martial traditions, to provide more men.[113][note 3] Originally comprising one battalion, the RAR expanded to two battalions in late 1943 to accommodate a rush of new recruits following the news that the 1st Battalion was being deployed overseas.[115] Steps to organise two further battalions of black Southern Rhodesians were abandoned because of the conviction of the colony's overall military commander, Brigadier E R Day, that it was important "to preserve a fair balance" between black and white troops, and that raising the men would take too long in any case.[116][note 4]

1RAR troops in Burma, resting in a dugout

1RAR trained in Kenya from December 1943 to September 1944, when it transferred to Ceylon and became part of the 22nd (East Africa) Infantry Brigade alongside the 1st KAR and the 3rd Northern Rhodesia Regiment. In December 1944, after three months' training for jungle warfare, 1RAR and the other two components of the brigade joined the Burma Campaign at Chittagong under the command of the 15th Indian Corps.[118] The brigade spent about three months supporting the 25th Indian Division in north-western Burma, advancing through the Mayu peninsula during January 1945 and taking part in the latter stages of the Battle of Ramree Island, landing on the island on 14 February. 1RAR fortified positions at Myinbin, Kyaukkale and Mayin but did not contact Japanese forces.[119]

A widespread belief developed among Japanese troops in Burma that the British Army's African soldiers were cannibals,[120] partly because of deliberate disinformation spread by the black troops themselves as they travelled around the country.[121] While entirely unfounded, the notion "that we Africans eat people", as one RAR soldier put it,[121] had a fearsome psychological effect; men of 1RAR reported Japanese soldiers picking up their comrades' bodies in the midst of battle and running away.[121]

In March 1945 the 22nd Brigade was ordered south to Dalaba where it became part of the 82nd (West Africa) Division, which had been tasked with clearing the Taungup area of Japanese troops. The 22nd Brigade was deployed as a flank guard, sweeping down the Tanlwe Chaung before hooking around to the Taungup Chaung and ultimately the road to Prome; this move was intended to cut Japanese units to the north off from the Irrawaddy Delta to the south, where most of the key battles were being fought. 1RAR patrolled the area during March and April 1945 and was involved in several contacts. On 20 April it assembled at a point overlooking Tanlwe Chaung, where it was shelled by Japanese artillery and mortars dug in atop two high features to the south.[122] On the morning of 26 April, after a few days of patrols, 1RAR took the lead in what became the Battle of Tanlwe Chaung; after about half an hour of bombing, strafing and artillery bombardment of the Japanese positions, elements of A and D Companies, 1RAR charged up the slopes and routed much of the Japanese garrison before taking both hills. Seven RAR men were killed in the action and 22 were wounded, mostly from D Company; an officer was also injured.[123][note 5] An officer of the RAR recalled the battles of April 1945 around Taungup and Tanlwe Chaung as extremely intense:

The way our fellows charged their way along these paths, yelling, makes a lump come into my throat when I think of it even now. It was sheer suicide for the leading group and the whole force faced machine guns up the sides of the slopes above them, on the sides of the features behind them, and even up the trees above them, with snipers behind who let them pass before opening fire. For sheer cold-blooded bravery, I can't believe it has ever been beaten in any other theatre of war; and this went on for three weeks solid.[125]

1RAR spent most of May 1945 building quarters and training before marching the 110 km (68 mi) to Prome in late June; from here they went another 25 km (16 mi) by truck to Gyobingauk. The monsoon conditions took a dreadful toll on operations, making logistics particularly difficult and slow—men found themselves either found themselves knee-deep in mud or slipping around on the surface. From early July 1945 1RAR patrolled around Gyobingauk, repeatedly engaging parties of Japanese and forcing them into the hills. Even after the Japanese commanders in Burma surrendered unconditionally, the Allied troops had to continue patrolling to handle Japanese stragglers who either did know of this or did not believe it. After the Japanese forces in South-East Asia formally surrendered at Singapore on 12 September 1945, active Allied operations in the region were greatly diminished.[126] 1RAR spent about half a year guarding Japanese prisoners in Burma before leaving for home in March 1946. They arrived back in Salisbury on 10 May.[127]

Other Frontiers


In addition to the main deployments, Southern Rhodesian servicemen served in other theatres of the war. Rhodesian sailors in the Royal, South African and Merchant Navies crewed ships in many parts of the world, including the Indian Ocean, the Arctic and the Pacific.[128][129] No. 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron operated in Iran and Iraq in 1942–43, guarding oil wells and pipelines and supporting the British Tenth Army.[66]

Closer to home, Southern Rhodesian military surveyors contributed to the preliminary planning work for the Allied invasion of Madagascar in May 1942, and landed at Diego Suarez with the invading forces. They remained there long after the Vichy French garrison agreed to an armistice at Ambalavao on 6 November 1942—the last Rhodesian left the island in October 1943.[130]

End of War

South African and Southern Rhodesian contingents marching in the London Victory Parade of 1946

Along with most of the Commonwealth and Allied nations, Southern Rhodesia sent a delegation of soldiers, airmen and seamen to London to take part in the grand Victory Parade of 8 June 1946. The colony's contingent, led by Colonel R E B Long,[131] marched after South Africa and before Newfoundland. The Southern Rhodesian colour guard comprised a white officer and two black sergeants of the Rhodesian African Rifles.[132] During the royal visit to Southern Rhodesia in April 1947, King George VI accorded the prefix "Royal" to the Rhodesia Regiment in recognition of its contributions to the two World Wars, and agreed to be its Colonel-in-Chief.[133]



Southern Rhodesia had contributed more manpower to the Allied cause in World War II, proportional to white population, than any other British dominion or colony, and more than the UK itself.[134] According to figures compiled by MacDonald for his War History of Southern Rhodesia, 26,121 Southern Rhodesians served in the armed forces during the conflict, of whom 2,758 were commissioned officers. Broken down by race and gender, there were 15,153 black men, 9,187 white men, 1,510 white women and 271 coloured and Indian men. Of the 8,390 who served outside the territory, 1,505 were black men, 6,520 were white men, 137 were white women and 228 were coloured or Indian men.[135]

According to official figures, 33,145 black Southern Rhodesians were conscripted for labour between 1943 and 1945; Vickery estimates that between 15,000 and 60,000 more may have worked on the aerodromes.[136] According to Ashley Jackson's work The British Empire and the Second World War, the Rhodesian Air Training Group instructed 8,235 Allied pilots, navigators, gunners, ground crew and others—about 5% of overall EATS output.[note 6]

A total of 2,409 Southern Rhodesians (977 officers and 1,432 other ranks) served in the RAF during the war, 373 (86 officers and 287 ratings) joined the Royal Navy, and 13 officers and 36 ratings from Southern Rhodesia mustered into the South African Navy. The vast majority of the rest served in either the Southern Rhodesian territorial forces or the British or South African Army. The colony's men and women received 698 decorations during the war; whites received 689 while black troops won nine. No coloured or Indian serviceman was decorated. Army officers won 269 decorations while the other ranks received 158; the air force officers and other ranks respectively won 184 and 72 decorations. All eight decorated Southern Rhodesian naval personnel were officers. Of the seven decorated women, all but one held commissioned rank.[135] Two hundred and fifty-three Southern Rhodesians were mentioned in despatches during the war.[138]

MacDonald records 916 Southern Rhodesian fatalities from enemy action during World War II—498 airmen, 407 ground troops, eight seamen and three female personnel—and 483 wounded, of whom 434 were soldiers, 47 were airmen and two were sailors.[135]


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  2. Gann & Gelfand 1964, p. 149.
  3. MacDonald 1945, p. 14.
  4. Killingray 2012, pp. 66–67.
  5. Vickery 1989, p. 427.
  6. MacDonald 1947, pp. 21–22.
  7. MacDonald 1947, p. 16.
  8. a b MacDonald 1945, pp. 17–19.
  9. a b Binda 2012, p. 47.
  10. MacDonald 1945, p. 84.
  11. a b MacDonald 1947, p. 20.
  12. a b Gann 1965.
  13. MacDonald 1947, p. 33.
  14. MacDonald 1947, p. 49.
  15. MacDonald 1947, p. 47.
  16. MacDonald 1950, p. 608.
  17. Petter-Bowyer 2005, pp. 15–16.
  18. MacDonald 1947, p. 9.
  19. a b MacDonald 1947, pp. 33–35.
  20. MacDonald 1947, pp. 87–91.
  21. MacDonald 1947, p. 51.
  22. MacDonald 1947, pp. 52–54.
  23. MacDonald 1947, pp. 278–282.
  24. MacDonald 1947, pp. 117–120.
  25. a b MacDonald 1947, pp. 102–103.
  26. MacDonald 1947, p. 75.
  27. MacDonald 1947, pp. 74–87.
  28. MacDonald 1947, pp. 101–115.
  29. MacDonald 1947, p. 115.
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  33. MacDonald 1947, pp. 178–182.
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  42. MacDonald 1947, pp. 215–216, 273.
  43. MacDonald 1947, pp. 155, 253–254.
  44. MacDonald 1947, pp. 224–225.
  45. MacDonald 1947, pp. 153–154.
  46. MacDonald 1947, pp. 217–223, 274–275.
  47. MacDonald 1947, p. 273.
  48. Molinari 2007, pp. 16–17.
  49. MacDonald 1947, p. 267.
  50. a b c MacDonald 1947, pp. 267–270.
  51. MacDonald 1947, p. 277.
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  54. Binda 2012, p. 79.
  55. a b MacDonald 1950, pp. 356–357.
  56. Molinari 2007, pp. 70–71.
  57. Nichols 2008, p. 92.
  58. Latimer 2002, p. 87.
  59. Blake 1977, pp. 234–235.
  60. MacDonald 1950, pp. 359–367.
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  65. MacDonald 1950, pp. 399–401.
  66. a b Berlyn 1978, pp. 50–54.
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  68. MacDonald 1950, pp. 405–406.
  69. MacDonald 1950, pp. 428–429.
  70. MacDonald 1950, pp. 429–436.
  71. a b MacDonald 1950, pp. 474–478.
  72. MacDonald 1950, p. 471.
  73. MacDonald 1950, pp. 478–489.
  74. MacDonald 1950, pp. 531–532.
  75. MacDonald 1950, p. 532.
  76. MacDonald 1950, pp. 532–561.
  77. MacDonald 1950, pp. 587–592.
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  79. MacDonald 1950, p. 601.
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  82. MacDonald 1950, pp. 624–625.
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  91. MacDonald 1950, pp. 638–640.
  92. MacDonald 1950, pp. 640–644.
  93. MacDonald 1950, pp. 643–645.
  94. MacDonald 1947, pp. 643–645.
  95. Orpen 1975, p. 309.
  96. Thomas 2002, pp. 29, 32.
  97. a b Salt 2001, p. 187.
  98. Saunders 2003, pp. 46–47.
  99. Wood & Dempster 1967, p. 518.
  100. MacDonald 1947, pp. 230–231.
  101. a b MacDonald 1947, p. 312.
  102. MacDonald 1947, p. 60.
  103. Lake 2002, p. 81.
  104. a b Lake 2002, p. 82.
  105. MacDonald 1950, pp. 386–391.
  106. MacDonald 1950, pp. 453–459.
  107. MacDonald 1950, pp. 517–519.
  108. MacDonald 1950, pp. 519–521.
  109. MacDonald 1950, p. 612.
  110. MacDonald 1950, pp. 611–614.
  111. MacDonald 1950, pp. 614–620.
  112. MacDonald 1950, p. 570.
  113. Binda 2007, pp. 41–45.
  114. Killingray 2012, p. 66.
  115. Binda 2007, p. 48.
  116. MacDonald 1950, pp. 442–443.
  117. Killingray 2012, p. 67.
  118. Binda 2007, pp. 48–49, 59.
  119. Binda 2007, p. 59.
  120. Binda 2007, p. 73.
  121. a b c Stapleton 2011, p. 188.
  122. Binda 2007, pp. 60–65.
  123. Binda 2007, pp. 65–68.
  124. Binda 2007, p. 95.
  125. Stapleton 2011, p. 190.
  126. Binda 2007, pp. 71–73.
  127. Binda 2007, pp. 73–77.
  128. MacDonald 1947, pp. 289–297.
  129. MacDonald 1950, pp. 391–395.
  130. MacDonald 1947, pp. 298–299.
  131. Binda 2007, p. 81.
  132. Binda 2007, p. 89.
  133. Binda 2012, p. 119.
  134. Moorcraft 1990.
  135. a b c MacDonald 1950, appx. p. i.
  136. Vickery 1989, p. 431.
  137. Jackson 2006, p. 39.
  138. MacDonald 1950, appx. p. viii.

Colony of Southern Rhodesia Post WWII

1946 Elections - First Elections since WWII


During the war a number of changes to the franchise had been made. The arrival of large numbers of British citizens to train as pilots for the Royal Air Force from 1940 led to a sudden increase in the electorate. Many Rhodesians felt that the forces personnel ought not to have the vote, given that their presence in Rhodesia was transitory and they had no long-term commitment. Therefore, the Assembly passed the Electoral Amendment Act 1941 which disfranchised them. The Act also disfranchised British citizens from other dominions who were not prepared to make a declaration of willingness to serve in Southern Rhodesia's defence forces. A third provision of the Act was to extend a previous lifetime disqualification of those sentenced to imprisonment to those given suspended prison sentences.

In the Civil Disabilities Act 1942, anyone convicted of treasonable or seditious practices, those who had deserted from or evaded service in the Army, or who were cashiered or dishonourably discharged, was disqualified from registration as a voter. To cope with the large number of Rhodesians serving away from the colony in the armed forces, the Active Service Voters Act 1943 permitted them to record their votes in a general election. They were permitted to vote for a political party rather than an individual candidate.

The twists and turns within the Rhodesia Labour Party which led it to divide into two parties at this election are recounted in the article on the Rhodesia Labour Party.

Jacob Smit, who had been an ally of Huggins in Reform Party days and previously served at the Ministry of Finance, went into opposition early in 1944. He joined a group of conservatives who were developing a new political party on the principles of economy in public spending, free enterprise, and seeking dominion status within the British Empire. Smit was soon appointed the Leader of this group, which named itself the Southern Rhodesia Liberal Party.

1948 Elections


The 1946 election had left the United Party in a precarious position in an overall minority in the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly, and reliant on the support of the Rhodesia Labour Party. Huggins was therefore seeking an opportunity to re-establish an overall majority. However, Huggins knew from his experience in 1934 that he needed to justify asking for a dissolution of the Assembly and a general election, as the Governor was not necessarily willing to grant one merely because it had been asked for.

Early in 1948, Huggins made his move by proposing that his own United Party merge with the opposition Liberal Party (which was a right-wing organisation). He then went to the Legislative Assembly and put down a motion of confidence in his government which endorsed all its policies for the full term of the Assembly. The Liberal Party, sensing a trap, agreed to the principle of fusion of the two parties but insisted that it be on the basis of Liberal Party policy. When the vote of confidence debate was concluded on 6 February, Huggins accepted an amendment moved by the Rhodesia Labour Party, and the confidence motion then passed without a division. Huggins had lost his chance for an election but gained endorsement of his government.

This situation did not last long. In July, the Coinage and Currency Bill was defeated by one vote on a clause which would have allowed the Currency Board to provide accommodation. Although this was a minor matter, Huggins argued that it was an issue of confidence because this provision had been agreed with the governments of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the Central African Council; as negotiations to form a new majority government failed, the Governor granted a dissolution.

Supporting Huggins' position, the South African general election in May that year had seen a win by the National Party which largely represented Afrikaners. This election marked a transfer of power away from the English-speaking South Africans and shocked the mostly British descended Southern Rhodesians, who recoiled from the Liberal Party who were backed by the small Rhodesian Afrikaner community; the Liberal Party's policy on race was similar to the National Party's policy of Apartheid.

Voters tended not to blame the government for the economic difficulties and petrol shortages which had affected Rhodesia in the years since the war, and the renewed push towards federation with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland also encouraged support for the United Party. In the end, it delivered a landslide for Huggins; Liberal Party leader Jacob Smit lost his seat.

Malayan Emergency - Outbreak of War

In this 1952 photograph, a communist guerrilla is held at gunpoint following his capture by Commonwealth forces.

The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war between the Federation of Malaya—a protectorate of Britain until August 1957, and part of the Commonwealth of Nations thereafter[1]—and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The MNLA sought to topple the Malayan government and force the British out, while the Commonwealth worked to prevent this.[2] The conflict had its roots in the Second World War, in which groups of local ethnic Chinese fought alongside Britain's limited forces in the country against the occupying Imperial Japanese; these Malayan Chinese subscribed to communist political thinking, and called themselves the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army.[3]

Soon after Japan was defeated, the communist fighters renamed themselves the Malayan National Liberation Army, and began to agitate against British rule. Using the arms that Britain had given them—which they had cached, and then subsequently retrieved—they formed themselves into eight regiments, and began a campaign of Maoist-style rural subversion, their intent being to politicise the villagers and gain popular support, which they could then use to take control of Malayan cities.[3] In March 1948, the MCP called on the Malayan people to rise up against the British. Three months later, on 16 June, MNLA guerrillas killed three British rubber plantation managers in Perak province. The British High Commissioner in Malaya, Sir Edward Gent, declared a state of emergency two days afterwards, marking the beginning of the Malayan Emergency.[2]

In addition to British and Malayan units and personnel, the Commonwealth forces in Malaya included Australians, New Zealanders, Gurkhas, Fijians, Nyasalanders, and Northern and Southern Rhodesians.[4] Southern Rhodesia had been self-governing since 1923. It ran its own affairs in most matters, including defence, but it was still constitutionally bound to Whitehall insofar as foreign affairs were concerned. The Southern Rhodesian government was therefore able to exercise a large degree of independence militarily, though diplomatically it came under the British flag.[5]

"C" Squadron, Special Air Service (1951–53)

The Federation of Malaya

The Special Air Service (SAS) commando unit was formed by the British Army in 1941, during the North African campaign of the Second World War. Including some Southern Rhodesians in its ranks, it served for the rest of the conflict, also operating in Italy and on the European Western Front. It was disbanded by the British government in October 1945,[6] and reinstituted in 1950 to serve in the Korean War. The situation in Korea had changed by the end of its three-month training period, however, and it was sent to Malaya instead. There it was placed under the command of a British officer, Major Mike Calvert.[7]

Early the following year, Calvert travelled to Southern Rhodesia on a recruitment visit. Roughly 1,000 white Southern Rhodesians, SAS veterans among them, volunteered to go to Malaya;[6] from these, about 100 were chosen to form an all-Southern Rhodesian unit.[8] This was the first SAS squadron from a British colony or dominion.[9] Led by the 24-year-old Temporary Captain Peter Walls, the volunteers arrived in Malaya in March 1951. Walls was promoted to major soon after he and his men disembarked at Singapore.[10] The SAS already had two Squadrons, "A" and "B", so the Southern Rhodesians became "C" Squadron,[8] known more informally as the Rhodesian SAS.[11]

Engaged largely in counter-insurgency warfare, the Southern Rhodesians became well-drilled in the relevant principles and doctrines.[12] They noticeably bolstered the hitherto thinly spread ranks of the SAS in Malaya, and performed strongly in the eyes of their superiors, though British Major C L "Dare" Newell believed that their attitude towards "the aborigines" was colder than that of the British soldiers. Barbara Cole, who wrote a history of the Rhodesian SAS, says by contrast that the Rhodesians became close friends with the Fijians they served alongside, and spent far more time socialising with black and mixed-race soldiers off-duty than their British counterparts did.[12]

In March 1953, after serving their required two years in Malaya, the men of "C" Squadron returned home.[10] They were replaced in 1955 by a squadron from New Zealand.[6] Three members of "C" Squadron—Sergeant O H Ernst, and Corporals J B Davies and V E Visagie—were killed while in Malaya.[13] For his services during the emergency, Walls was awarded an MBE.[10]



Central African Federation & Return to “Rhodesia”

Central African Federation Background

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 Council


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.[14]: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.[14]: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.[[15]

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".[16] 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.[14]: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.[17] A majority of Afrikaners and black Africans in all three territories were resolutely against it.[18][19] 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.[14]: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."[20]

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.[21] 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.[14]: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.[14]: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.[14]: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.[22]

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.[[23] 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.[[22]

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.[[24] 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.[[25]

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.[[26]

Numbers of white and black inhabitants before and during the CAF[27]
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 liberalism


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.[28] 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.[14]: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.[14]: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.[14]:671

Rhodesian African Rifles involvement in the Malayan Energency (1956–58)


Arrival in Malaya

SS Empire Clyde, on which most of the Rhodesian African Rifles travelled to Malaya

Following the departure of "C" Squadron, Southern Rhodesia was uninvolved in Malaya until early 1956, when the 1st Battalion, the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) were tasked to relieve the Northern Rhodesia Regiment (NRR) in Johore province. Originally formed in 1916 as the Rhodesian Native Regiment,[29] the RAR were, by Southern Rhodesian standards, an old and well-tried unit; they fought for Britain in East Africa during the First World War,[30] and contributed to the Burma campaign during the Second.[31] The Rhodesian Native Regiment (RNR) disbanded soon following the end of the First World War in 1918,[30] and the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) were formed in 1940.[32] Although technically separate, the two shared many traditions and personnel, and were generally considered to be closely linked. The RAR successfully lobbied for permission to emblazon their regimental colours with the RNR's First World War battle honours in 1952.[30] The regiment's black soldiers and warrant officers, led by white officers, came from both Mashonaland and Matabeleland, with Mashonas in the majority.[32]

The Royal Australian Regiment was also present in Malaya, so to prevent confusion the Rhodesian African Rifles' acronym was temporarily changed to "RhAR".[33] The regiment's advance party, made up of officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and warrant officers, left the Southern Rhodesian capital Salisbury by air on 13 February 1956. Their tortuous route took them through Nairobi, Aden, Karachi, and RAF Negombo (in Ceylon). After touching down in Singapore, the RhAR's advance party travelled to Kluang in Johore, where they spent three weeks in jungle training with the NRR. They then redeployed to Batu Pahat, where they camped with the Fiji Infantry Regiment. A spirit of camaraderie quickly developed between the Fijian and Southern Rhodesian soldiers. The RhAR officers and NCOs continued their acclimatisation with the local environment over the following weeks, assisted by the Fijians. The rest of the battalion travelled by sea aboard SS Empire Clyde, and reached Singapore on 26 April 1956. Soon after, the RhAR set up headquarters at Chaah, about 130 kilometers (81 mi) north-west of the port city.[8]

MNLA and RhAR tactics


By this stage of the insurgency, the MNLA had largely split into small groups of guerrillas, which existed by basing themselves in a chosen rural area, subverting local villagers and accumulating from them manpower and supplies. The lot of any security forces posted nearby was to play a constant game of hide-and-seek with the communists, whereby the army would indefinitely search for and destroy any base camps and food caches the MNLA set up. The Commonwealth leaders surmised that the MNLA could not possibly resist such a campaign forever, and would, in time, simply give up attempting to regroup.[8]

Our African soldiers are ideally suited to jungle warfare ... far superior to the British and Ghurkha troops.

Lt-Col Frank Fitzgerald, RhAR second-in-command in Malaya, 1957[34]

In Malaya, the RhAR comprised A, B, C and D Companies, each of which was split into three 32-man platoons. The white lieutenant commanding each platoon carried the weapon of his choice, usually a shotgun or an FN FAL battle rifle, and acted with the assistance of a black platoon sergeant and a black warrant officer. Under the lieutenant, three black corporals led a rifle section each. These consisted of the section leader (generally armed with a shotgun), a scout, a Bren gunner, a Patchett-Sterling machine-gunner, and up to seven FN FAL riflemen. When marching through thick jungle, an RhAR patrol moved in single file, with each trooper 5 meters (16 ft) behind the man in front. The warrant officer followed close behind the lieutenant, ready to take over command if necessary, with the radio operator and medic with him. The platoon sergeant made up the rear. According to Second Lieutenant John Essex-Clark, an Australian-born officer who led an RhAR platoon in Malaya, these Southern Rhodesian units moved much faster in jungle conditions than those made up of British men. The black Southern Rhodesian soldiers were reportedly naturals when it came to tracking;[35] many of them came from rural backgrounds, and had acquired relevant instincts and skills while growing up.[36]

RhAR operations in Malaya


The RhAR patrolled around Johore from May to September 1956 without major incident.[37] The rain of the Malayan monsoon season seemed endless to many of the battalion's men, and actual sightings of the communists were rare in the extreme. Even when the guerrillas were spotted, they almost invariably fled after a few shots. "We can but hope that the chaps will get a chance of seeing a CT [communist terrorist] for a change," reported an RhAR officer in August; "they are all as keen as mustard to come to blows with them."[38] So determined were the RhAR's officers and men to come face to face with the enemy that they ambushed around the railway line at Bekok for seven nights in a row, starting on 30 October 1956. Patrols were led by a different officer each night, but there were no contacts.[39]

Around this time the British Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, operating in the Bahau area, about 200 kilometers (120 mi) north-west of Bekok, reported to the RhAR that they had encountered the communist 32 Independent Platoon, led by Hor Lung, which was then heading south-east towards the Palong River. The RhAR therefore redeployed to intercept Hor Lung's men. On 9 November, a half-section of Southern Rhodesians led by Corporal Munyameni sighted 16 pack-laden guerrillas, marching east. On his own initiative, Munyameni attacked, catching the communists by surprise; the insurgents split up and fled, running in all directions. One fighter attempted to hide behind a tree, but was killed by RhAR rifle fire.[39]

On 17 November, the RhAR was withdrawn for a period of rest and recuperation (R&R). The battalion's Transport Platoon was ambushed by communist guerrillas as it was returning to base: a shot through the windscreen of one of the two trucks nearly hit its driver, but the convoy was able to escape the ambush without anybody being injured. On 26 November, the RhAR and the King's Own Scottish Borderers assisted the local police at Kelapa Sawit in an action called Tartan Rock: the security forces moved into the village and arrested 34 communist sympathisers, most of whom were ethnic Chinese students from the University of Malaya in Singapore. Two days later, the RhAR were back on regular duty.[40]

Starting in February 1957, the RhAR took part in Operations Cobble and Shoe. These were "food denial" operations, whereby efforts to deny supplies to the communists were to be redoubled. Patrols around the rubber plantations and the edges of the jungle were intensified. To prevent guerrilla supplies from north of the Rompin River from reaching the food denial areas to the south, covered by Operation Cobble, an RhAR platoon under Lieutenant David Heppenstall was posted to the area directly south of the river midway through the month. This action lasted from 21 February to 4 April 1957. There were few contacts, and only one communist was killed by Heppenstall's men, but a great deal of intelligence was secured regarding guerrilla organisation and supply routes.[41]

Over the next few months, RhAR patrols in the Chaah, Labis, Bekok and Sungai Karas areas were stepped up to last between 10 and 18 days each, but contacts with the communist forces remained rare. The constant patrols gradually began to take their toll on the insurgents, and guerrillas began to give themselves up increasingly frequently. A contributing factor here was Britain's granting of independence to Malaya within the Commonwealth on 31 August 1957, which dented the motivation of many fighters. Starting in October 1957, the RhAR were tasked to work alongside former MNLA personnel to wipe out any remaining communist forces in the region. The ex-insurgents were supposed to lead the security forces to MNLA camps and resting places, but this strategy was not successful. The RhAR soon developed a low opinion of these ex-MNLA men.[42]

As it approached the end of its two-year commitment in Malaya, the RhAR continued its patrolling in Johore province without major incident until February 1958, when it returned to Rhodesia.[43] Five of the regiment's number had been killed over the previous two years: Corporal Tavengwa, and Privates Joseph, Hunyani, Manuel and Mjikijelwa.[44]


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'.[45]

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. Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957
  2. a b Arnold & Wiener 2012, pp. 131–132
  3. a b Binda 2007, pp. 126–127
  4. Scurr 2005, p. 5
  5. Wood 2005, p. 9
  6. a b c Shortt & McBride 1981, p. 16
  7. Daily Telegraph 2002
  8. a b c d Binda 2007, p. 127
  9. Geraghty 1980, p. 220
  10. a b c RLI Regimental Association
  11. Geraghty 1980, pp. 220–222, 227
  12. a b MacKenzie 2011, pp. 66–67
  13. Rhodesian Army Association
  14. 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.
  15. "Central Africa - Hansard". Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  16. "Identity and Decolonisation: the policy of partnership in Southern Rhodesia 1945-62". Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  17. Blake, 268
  18. 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.
  19. Shaw, Carolyn Martin (2015). Women and Power in Zimbabwe: Promises of Feminism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0252081132.
  20. Blake, 284.
  21. Advisory Commission on the Review of the Constitution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, H.M. Stationery Office, 1960, page 288
  22. a b "Struggles for Freedom: Southern Africa". JSTOR. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  23. Lawrence, Cecilia (2017-11-23). An Introduction to Malawi: Basic Facts. Intercontinental Books. ISBN 978-1-9799-7277-2.
  24. 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. JSTOR 2637621.
  25. 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. JSTOR 2639309.
  26. Blake, Robert (1978). A History of Rhodesia. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-48068-8.
  27. 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.
  28. Blake, 288.
  29. Binda 2007, p. 17
  30. a b c Binda 2007, p. 25
  31. Binda 2007, pp. 59–77
  32. a b Binda 2007, pp. 41–42
  33. Abbott & Botham 1986, p. 14
  34. Stapleton 2011, p. 65
  35. Binda 2007, pp. 127–128
  36. Stapleton 2011, p. 192
  37. Binda 2007, p. 129
  38. Stapleton 2011, pp. 191–192
  39. a b Binda 2007, p. 130
  40. Binda 2007, p. 131
  41. Binda 2007, pp. 131–132
  42. Binda 2007, p. 138
  43. Binda 2007, pp. 139–140
  44. Binda 2007, p. 404
  45. The Past Is Another Country: Rhodesia 1890–1979, Martin Meredith, A. Deutsch, 1979, p. 51

Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence

The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) was a statement adopted by the Cabinet of Rhodesia on 11 November 1965, announcing that Rhodesia,[n 8] a British territory in southern Africa that had governed itself since 1923, now regarded itself as an independent sovereign state. The culmination of a protracted dispute between the British and Rhodesian governments regarding the terms under which the latter could become fully independent, it was the first unilateral break from the United Kingdom by one of its colonies since the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. The UK, the Commonwealth and the United Nations all deemed Rhodesia's UDI illegal, and economic sanctions, the first in the UN's history, were imposed on the breakaway colony. Amid near-complete international isolation, Rhodesia continued as an unrecognised state with the assistance of South Africa and Portugal.

The Rhodesian government, which mostly comprised members of the country's white minority of about 5%, was indignant when, amid the UK colonial government's Wind of Change policies of decolonisation, less developed African colonies to the north without comparable experience of self-rule quickly advanced to independence during the early 1960s while Rhodesia was refused sovereignty under the newly ascendant principle of "no independence before majority rule" ("NIBMAR"). Most white Rhodesians felt that they were due independence following four decades of self-government, and that the British government was betraying them by withholding it. This combined with the colonial government's acute reluctance to hand over power to black Rhodesians—the manifestation of racial tensions, Cold War anti-communism and the fear that a dystopian Congo-style situation might result—to create the impression that if the UK did not grant independence, Rhodesia might be justified in taking it unilaterally.

A stalemate developed between the British and Rhodesian prime ministers, Harold Wilson and Ian Smith respectively, between 1964 and 1965. Dispute largely surrounded the British condition that the terms for independence had to be acceptable "to the people of the country as a whole"; Smith contended that this was met, while the UK and black Rhodesian leaders held that it was not. After Wilson proposed in late October 1965 that the UK might safeguard future black representation in the Rhodesian parliament by withdrawing some of the colonial government's devolved powers, then presented terms for an investigatory Royal Commission that the Rhodesians found unacceptable, Smith and his Cabinet declared independence. Calling this treasonous, the British colonial governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, formally dismissed Smith and his government, but they ignored him and appointed an "Officer Administering the Government" to take his place.

While no country recognised the UDI, the Rhodesian High Court deemed the post-UDI government legal and de jure in 1968. The Smith administration initially professed continued loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II, but abandoned this in 1970 when it declared a republic in an unsuccessful attempt to win foreign recognition. The Rhodesian Bush War, a guerrilla conflict between the government and two rival communist-backed black Rhodesian groups, began in earnest two years later, and after several attempts to end the war Smith concluded the Internal Settlement with non-militant nationalists in 1978. Under these terms the country was reconstituted under black rule as Zimbabwe Rhodesia in June 1979, but this new order was rejected by the guerrillas and the international community. The Bush War continued until Zimbabwe Rhodesia revoked its UDI as part of the Lancaster House Agreement in December 1979. Following a brief period of direct British rule, the country was granted internationally recognised independence under the name Zimbabwe in 1980.



A unique case

Southern Rhodesia (or Rhodesia), highlighted in red on a map of Africa

The southern African territory of Rhodesia, officially Southern Rhodesia,[n 8] was a unique case in the British Empire and Commonwealth: although a colony in name, it was internally self-governing and constitutionally not unlike a dominion.[3] This situation dated back to 1923, when it was granted responsible government within the Empire as a self-governing colony, following three decades of administration and development by the British South Africa Company.[4] Britain had intended Southern Rhodesia's integration into the Union of South Africa as a new province, but this having been rejected by registered voters in the 1922 government referendum, the territory was moulded into a prospective dominion instead.[5] It was empowered to run its own affairs in almost all respects, including defence.[n 9]

Whitehall's powers over Southern Rhodesia under the 1923 constitution were, on paper, considerable; the British Crown was theoretically able to cancel any passed bill within a year, or alter the constitution however it wished. These reserved powers were intended to protect the indigenous black Africans from discriminatory legislation and to safeguard British commercial interests in the colony,[3] but as Claire Palley comments in her constitutional history of the country, it would have been extremely difficult for Whitehall to enforce such actions, and attempting to do so would have probably caused a crisis.[6] In the event, they were never exercised. A generally co-operative relationship developed between Whitehall and the colonial government and civil service in Salisbury, and dispute was rare.[3]

The 1923 constitution was drawn up in non-racial terms, and the electoral system it devised was similarly open, at least in theory. Voting qualifications regarding personal income, education and property, similar to those of the Cape Qualified Franchise, were applied equally to all, but since most blacks did not meet the set standards, both the electoral roll and the colonial parliament were overwhelmingly from the white minority of about 5%.[7][8] The result was that black interests were sparsely represented if at all, something that most of the colony's whites showed little interest in changing;[7] they claimed that most blacks were uninterested in Western-style political process and that they would not govern properly if they took over.[9] Bills such as the Land Apportionment Act of 1930, which earmarked about half of the country for white ownership and residence while dividing the rest into black purchase, tribal trust and national areas, were variously biased towards the white minority.[7] White settlers and their offspring provided most of the colony's administrative, industrial, scientific and farming skills, and built a relatively balanced, partially industrialised market economy, boasting strong agricultural and manufacturing sectors, iron and steel industries and modern mining enterprises.[10]

In the wider Imperial context, Southern Rhodesia occupied a category unto itself because of the "special quasi-independent status" it held.[11] The Dominions Office, formed in 1925 to handle British relations with the dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa and the Irish Free State, also dealt with Southern Rhodesia, and Imperial Conferences included the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister alongside those of the dominions from 1932.[11] This unique arrangement continued following the advent of Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences in 1944.[12] Southern Rhodesians of all races fought for Britain in the Second World War, and the colonial government gradually received more autonomy regarding external affairs.[3] During the immediate post-war years, Southern Rhodesian politicians generally thought that they were as good as independent as they were, and that full autonomy in the form of dominionship would make little difference to them.[13] Post-war immigration to Southern Rhodesia, mainly from Britain, Ireland and South Africa, caused the white community to swell from 68,954 in 1941 to 221,504 in 1961. The black population grew from 1,400,000 to 3,550,000 over the same period.[8]

Federation and the Wind of Change

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953–63)

Believing full dominion status to be effectively symbolic and "there for the asking",[13] Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins (in office from 1933 to 1953) twice ignored British overtures hinting at dominionship,[14] and instead pursued an initially semi-independent Federation with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, two colonies directly administered from London.[14] He hoped that this might set in motion the creation of one united dominion in south-central Africa, emulating the Federation of Australia half a century before.[n 10] The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, defined in its constitution as indissoluble,[16] began in 1953, mandated by the results of a mostly white referendum, with Southern Rhodesia, the most developed of the three territories, at its head, Huggins as Federal Prime Minister and Salisbury as Federal capital.[17][n 11]

Coming at the start of the decolonisation period, the Federation of self-governing Southern Rhodesia with two directly ruled British protectorates was later described by the British historian Robert Blake as "an aberration of history—a curious deviation from the inevitable course of events".[19] The project faced black opposition from the start, and ultimately failed because of the shifting international attitudes and rising black Rhodesian ambitions of the late 1950s and early 1960s, often collectively called the Wind of Change.[20] Britain, France and Belgium vastly accelerated their withdrawal from Africa during this period, believing colonial rule to be no longer sustainable geopolitically or ethically. The idea of "no independence before majority rule", commonly abbreviated to "NIBMAR", gained considerable ground in British political circles.[21] When Huggins (who had been recently ennobled as Lord Malvern) asked Britain to make the Federation a dominion in 1956, he was rebuffed. The opposition Dominion Party responded by repeatedly calling for a Federal unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) over the next few years.[22] Following Lord Malvern's retirement in late 1956, his successor Sir Roy Welensky pondered such a move on at least three occasions.[n 12]

Attempting to advance the case for Southern Rhodesian independence, particularly in the event of Federal dissolution,[22] the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister Sir Edgar Whitehead brokered the 1961 constitution with Britain, which he thought would remove all British powers of reservation over Southern Rhodesian bills and acts,[24] and put the country on the brink of full sovereignty.[25] Despite its containing no independence guarantees, Whitehead, Welensky and other proponents of this constitution presented it to the Southern Rhodesian electorate as the "independence constitution" under which Southern Rhodesia would become a dominion on a par with Australia, Canada and New Zealand if the Federation dissolved.[26] White dissenters included Ian Smith, MP for Gwanda and Chief Whip for the governing United Federal Party (UFP) in the Federal Assembly, who took exception to the constitution's omission of an explicit promise of Southern Rhodesian independence in the event of Federal dissolution, and ultimately resigned his post in protest.[25] A referendum of the mostly white electorate approved the new constitution by a majority of 65% on 26 July 1961.[27] The final version of the constitution included a few extra provisions inserted by the British, one of which—Section 111—reserved full powers to the Crown to amend, add to or revoke certain sections of the Southern Rhodesian constitution by Order in Council at the request of the British government. This effectively negated the relinquishment of British powers described elsewhere in the document, but the Southern Rhodesians did not initially notice it.[28]

The black Rhodesian movement in Southern Rhodesia, founded and organised by urban black elites during the late 1950s,[29] was repeatedly banned by the colonial government because of the political violence, industrial sabotage and intimidation of potential black voters that characterised its campaign.[30] The principal nationalist group, led by the Bulawayo trade unionist Joshua Nkomo, renamed itself with each post-ban reorganisation, and by the start of 1962 was called the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).[31][n 13] Attempting to win black political support, Whitehead proposed a number of reforms to racially discriminatory legislation, including the Land Apportionment Act, and promised to implement these if his UFP won the next Southern Rhodesian election.[37] But intimidation by ZAPU of prospective black voters impeded the UFP's efforts to win their support,[38] and much of the white community saw Whitehead as too radical, and soft on what they saw as black extremism. In the December 1962 Southern Rhodesian election, the UFP was defeated by the Rhodesian Front (RF), a newly formed alliance of conservative voices headed by Winston Field and Ian Smith, in what was widely considered a shock result.[39] Field became Prime Minister, with Smith as his deputy.[40]

Federal dissolution; the roots of mistrust


Meanwhile, secessionist black Rhodesian parties won electoral victories in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland,[40] and Harold Macmillan's Conservative administration in Britain moved towards breaking up the Federation, resolving that it had become untenable. In February 1962, the British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Duncan Sandys, secretly informed the Nyasaland nationalist leader Hastings Banda that secession would be allowed. A few days later, he horrified Welensky by telling him that "we British have lost the will to govern".[41] "But we haven't", retorted Julian Greenfield, Welensky's Law Minister.[42][n 14] Macmillan's Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, R.A. Butler, who headed British oversight of the Federation,[44] officially announced Nyasaland's right to secede in December 1962.[16] Four months later, he informed the three territories that he was going to convene a conference to decide the Federation's future.[45]

As Southern Rhodesia had been the UK's legislative partner in forming the Federation in 1953, it would be impossible (or at least very difficult) for Britain to dissolve the union without Southern Rhodesia's co-operation. Field could therefore potentially hamstring the British by refusing to attend the conference until they pledged to grant his country full independence.[45] According to Field, Smith and other RF politicians, Butler made several such guarantees orally to ensure their co-operation at the conference, but repeatedly refused to give anything on paper.[n 15] The Southern Rhodesians claimed that Butler justified his refusal to give a written promise by saying that binding Whitehall to a document rather than his word would be against the Commonwealth's "spirit of trust"—an argument that Field eventually accepted.[46] "Let's remember the trust you emphasised", Smith warned, according to Field's account wagging his finger at Butler; "if you break that you will live to regret it."[47] Southern Rhodesia attended the conference, which was held at Victoria Falls over a week starting from 28 June 1963, and among other things it was agreed to formally liquidate the Federation at the end of the year.[48] In the House of Commons afterwards, Butler flatly denied suggestions that he had "oiled the wheels" of Federal dissolution with secret promises to the Southern Rhodesians.[46]

Field's government was startled by Britain's announcement in October 1963 that Nyasaland would become fully independent on 6 July 1964. While no date was set for Northern Rhodesian statehood, it was generally surmised that it was going to follow shortly thereafter. Smith was promptly sent to London, where he held a round of inconclusive Southern Rhodesian independence talks with the new British Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home.[n 16] Around the same time, the presence and significance of Section 111 of the 1961 constitution emerged in Southern Rhodesia, prompting speculation in political circles that a future British government might, if it were so inclined, go against previous conventions by legislating for Salisbury without its consent, withdrawing devolved powers or otherwise altering the Southern Rhodesian constitution. Fearing what the Labour Party might do if it won the next British general election (which was projected for late 1964), the Southern Rhodesians stepped up their efforts, hoping to win independence before Britain went to the polls, and preferably not after Nyasaland.[50] The Federation dissolved as scheduled at the end of 1963.[50]

Positions and motivations


British government stance


The British government's refusal to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia under the 1961 constitution was largely the result of the geopolitical and moral shifts associated with the Wind of Change, coupled with the UK's wish to avoid opprobrium and loss of prestige in the United Nations (UN) and the Commonwealth.[51] The issue gained international attention in Africa and worldwide as a flashpoint for questions of decolonisation and racism.[52] By the early 1960s, general consensus in the post-colonial UN—particularly the General Assembly, where the communist bloc and the Afro-Asian lobby were collectively very strong—roundly denounced all forms of colonialism, and supported communist-backed black nationalist insurgencies across southern Africa, regarding them as racial liberation movements. Amid the Cold War, Britain opposed the spread of Soviet and Chinese influence into Africa, but knew it would become an international pariah if it publicly expressed reservations or backed down on NIBMAR in the Southern Rhodesia question.[53] Once the topic of Southern Rhodesia came to the fore in the UN and other bodies, particularly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), even maintaining the status quo became regarded as unacceptable internationally, causing the UK government a great deal of embarrassment.[54]

In the Commonwealth context, too, Britain knew that simply granting independence to Southern Rhodesia was out of the question as many of the Afro-Asian countries were also Commonwealth members. Statehood for Salisbury without majority rule would split the Commonwealth and perhaps cause it to break up, a disastrous prospect for British foreign policy.[51] The Commonwealth repeatedly called on Britain to intervene directly should Southern Rhodesian defiance continue,[55] while liberals in Britain worried that if left unchecked Salisbury might drift towards South African-style apartheid.[56] Anxious to avoid having to choose between Southern Rhodesia and the Commonwealth, Whitehall attempted to negotiate a middle way between the two, but ultimately put international considerations first, regarding them as more important.[51]

At party level, the Labour Party, in opposition until October 1964, was overtly against Southern Rhodesian independence under the 1961 constitution and supportive of the black Rhodesian movement on ideological and moral grounds. The Liberal Party, holding a handful of parliament seats, took a similar stance. The Conservative Party, while also following a policy of decolonisation, was more sympathetic to the Southern Rhodesian government's position, and included members who openly supported it.[57][n 17]

Southern Rhodesian government view


The Southern Rhodesian government found it bizarre that Britain was making independent states out of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, less developed territories with little experience of self-rule, while withholding sovereign statehood from Southern Rhodesia, the Federation's senior partner, which had already been self-governing for four decades and which was one of the most prosperous and developed countries in Africa. The principle of majority rule, the basis for this apparent inconsistency, was considered irrelevant by the Southern Rhodesians.[60] They had presumed that in the event of Federal dissolution they would be first in line for independence without major adjustments to the 1961 constitution, an impression confirmed to them by prior intergovernmental correspondence, particularly the oral promises they claimed to have received from Butler. When it did not prove forthcoming they felt cheated.[61] Salisbury contended that its predominantly white legislature was more deserving of independence than the untried black Rhodesian leaders as it had proven its competence over decades of self-rule.[62]

The RF claimed that the bloody civil wars, military coups and other disasters that plagued the new majority-ruled African states to the north, many of which had become corrupt, autocratic or communist one-party states very soon after independence,[63] showed that black Rhodesian leaders were not ready to govern. Influenced strongly by the white refugees who had fled south from the Congo, it presented chaotic doomsday scenarios of what black Rhodesian rule in Southern Rhodesia might mean, particularly for the white community.[64] Proponents of the RF stand downplayed black Rhodesian grievances regarding land ownership and segregation, and argued that despite the racial imbalance in domestic politics—whites made up 5% of the population, but over 90% of registered voters—the electoral system was not racist as the franchise was based on financial and educational qualifications rather than ethnicity.[65] They emphasised the colony's proud war record on Britain's behalf,[66] and expressed a wish in the Cold War context to form an anti-communist, pro-Western front in Africa alongside South Africa and Portugal.[67]

These factors combined with what RF politicians and supporters saw as British decadence, chicanery and betrayal to create the case they put forward that UDI, while dubious legally and likely to provoke international uproar, might nevertheless be in their eyes justifiable and necessary for the good of the country and region if an accommodation could not be found with Whitehall.[68]

Road to UDI


First steps, under Field


Field's failure to secure independence concurrently with the end of the Federation caused his Cabinet's support for him to waver during late 1963 and early 1964.[50] The RF caucus in January 1964 revealed widespread dissatisfaction with him on the grounds that the British seemed to be outwitting him. The Prime Minister was put under immense pressure to win the colony's independence.[68] Field travelled to England later that month to press Douglas-Home and Sandys for independence, and raised the possibility of UDI on a few occasions, but returned empty-handed on 2 February.[69]

The RF united behind Field after Sandys wrote him a terse letter warning him of the likely Commonwealth reaction to a declaration of independence, but the Prime Minister then lost his party's confidence by failing to pursue a possible route to at least de facto independence devised by Desmond Lardner-Burke, a lawyer and RF MP for Gwelo. During March 1964, the Legislative Assembly in Salisbury considered and passed Lardner-Burke's motion that the Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, should submit a petition to the Queen requesting alteration of Section 111 of the 1961 constitution so that the Royal Assent described therein would be exercised at the request of the Southern Rhodesian government rather than that of its British counterpart. This would both remove the possibility of British legislative interference and pave the way for an attempted assumption of independence by Order in Council.[n 18]

The RF's intention was partly to test whether or not the British would attempt to block this bill after Gibbs had granted Royal Assent to it,[72] but this issue never came to a head because Sandys persuaded Field not to forward it to Gibbs for ratification on the grounds that it had not been unanimously passed.[73] Lord Salisbury, one of Southern Rhodesia's main supporters in Britain, despaired at Field's lack of action, telling Welensky that as he saw it "the simple time to have declared independence, whether right or wrong, would have been when the Federation came to an end".[71] The RF hierarchy interpreted this latest backtrack by Field as evidence that he would not seriously challenge the British on the independence issue, and forced his resignation on 13 April 1964.[71] Smith accepted the Cabinet's nomination to take his place.[74]

Smith replaces Field; talks with Douglas-Home

Ian Smith replaced Winston Field as Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister in April 1964, and pledged to challenge Britain on independence.

Smith, a farmer from the Midlands town of Selukwe who had been seriously wounded while serving in the British Royal Air Force during the Second World War, was Southern Rhodesia's first native-born Prime Minister.[n 19] Regarded in British political circles as a "raw colonial"—when he took over, Smith's personal experience of the UK comprised four brief visits—he promised a harder line than Field in independence talks.[74] The RF's replacement of Field drew criticism from the British Labour Party, whose leader Harold Wilson called it "brutal",[78] while Nkomo described the new Smith Cabinet as "a suicide squad... not interested in the welfare of all the people but only in their own".[79] Smith said he was pursuing a middle course between black Rhodesian rule and apartheid so that there would still be "a place for the white man" in Southern Rhodesia;[80] this would benefit the blacks too, he claimed.[81] He held that the government should be based "on merit, not on colour or nationalism",[81] and insisted that there would be "no African nationalist government here in my lifetime".[82]

Salisbury's blunt refusal to be part of the Wind of Change caused the Southern Rhodesian military's traditional British and American suppliers to impose an informal embargo,[83] and prompted Whitehall and Washington to stop sending Southern Rhodesia financial aid around the same time. In June 1964, Douglas-Home informed Smith that Southern Rhodesia would not be represented at the year's Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, despite Salisbury's record of attendance going back to 1932,[n 20] because of a change in policy to only include representatives from fully independent states. This decision, taken by Britain to preempt the possibility of open confrontation with Asian and black African leaders at the conference, deeply insulted Smith.[85] Lord Malvern equated Britain's removal of Southern Rhodesia's conference seat with "kicking us out of the Commonwealth",[86] while Welensky expressed horror at what he described as "this cavalier treatment of a country which has, since its creation, staunchly supported, in every possible way, Britain and the Commonwealth".[84]

UK Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home met Smith in London in September 1964.

At 10 Downing Street in early September 1964, impasse developed between Douglas-Home and Smith over the best way to measure black public opinion in Southern Rhodesia. A key plank of Britain's Southern Rhodesia policy was that the terms for independence had to be "acceptable to the people of the country as a whole"—agreeing to this, Smith suggested that white and urban black opinion could be gauged through a general referendum of registered voters, and that rural black views could be obtained at a national indaba (tribal conference) of chiefs and headmen. Douglas-Home told Smith that although this proposal satisfied him personally, he could not accept it as he did not believe the Commonwealth, the United Nations or the Labour Party would also do so. He stressed that such a move towards accommodation with Smith might hurt the Conservatives' chances in the British general election the next month, and suggested that it might be in Smith's best interests to wait until after the election to continue negotiations. Smith accepted this argument. Douglas-Home assured Smith that a Conservative government would settle with him and grant independence within a year.[87]

Attempting to form a viable white opposition to the Rhodesian Front, the UFP resurrected itself around Welensky, renamed itself the Rhodesia Party, and entered the Arundel and Avondale by-elections that had been called for 1 October 1964. Perturbed by the prospect of having to face the political heavyweight Welensky in parliament at the head of the opposition, the RF poured huge resources into winning both of these former UFP safe seats, and fielded Clifford Dupont, Smith's deputy, against Welensky in Arundel.[n 21] The RF won both seats comfortably, and the Rhodesia Party soon faded away. Spurred on by this success, Smith organised the indaba for 22 October, and called a general independence referendum for 5 November 1964.[88] Meanwhile, Wilson wrote a number of letters to black Southern Rhodesians, assuring them that "the Labour Party is totally opposed to granting independence to Southern Rhodesia so long as the government of that country remains under the control of the white minority".[91]

Wilson's Labour government; Salisbury's tests of opinion

Harold Wilson replaced Douglas-Home in October 1964, and proved a formidable opponent of Smith.

Labour defeated the Conservatives by four seats in the British general election on 15 October 1964, and formed a government the next day. Both Labour and the Conservatives told Smith that a positive result at the indaba would not be recognised by Britain as representative of the people, and the Conservatives turned down Salisbury's invitation to send observers. Smith pressed on, telling parliament that he would ask the tribal chiefs and headmen "to consult their people in the traditional manner", then hold the indaba as planned.[92] On 22 October, 196 chiefs and 426 headmen from across the country gathered at Domboshawa, just north-east of Salisbury, and began their deliberations. Smith hoped that Britain, having taken part in such indabas in the past, might send a delegation at the last minute, but none arrived, much to his annoyance, particularly as the British government's Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley was only across the Zambezi in Lusaka at the time.[93][n 22]

While the chiefs conferred, Northern Rhodesia became independent Zambia on 24 October 1964, emulating Nyasaland, which had achieved statehood as Malawi three months earlier. Reasoning that it was no longer necessary to refer to itself as "Southern" in the absence of a northern counterpart, Southern Rhodesia began calling itself simply Rhodesia.[n 23] The same day, the commander of the Rhodesian Army, Major-General John "Jock" Anderson, resigned, announcing publicly that he was doing so because of his opposition to UDI, which he said he could not go along with because of his oath of allegiance to the Queen. Interpreting this as a sign that Smith intended to declare independence if a majority backed it in the referendum, Wilson wrote a stiff letter to Smith on 25 October, warning him of the consequences of UDI, and demanding "a categorical assurance forthwith that no attempt at a unilateral declaration of independence on your part will be made".[95] Smith expressed confusion as to what he had done to provoke this, and ignored it.[95]

When the indaba ended on 26 October, the chiefs and headmen returned a unanimous decision to support the government's stand for independence under the 1961 constitution, attesting in their report that "people who live far away do not understand the problems of our country".[95] This verdict was rejected by the nationalist movement on the grounds that the chiefs received governmental salaries; the chiefs countered that the black MPs in parliamentary opposition also received such salaries, but still opposed the government.[95] Malvern, who was becoming perturbed by the RF's actions, dismissed the indaba as a "swindle", asserting that the chiefs no longer had any real power; the British simply ignored the whole exercise.[96] On 27 October, Wilson released a firm statement regarding Britain's intended response to UDI, warning that Rhodesia's economic and political ties with Britain, the Commonwealth and most of the world would be immediately severed amid a campaign of sanctions if Smith's government went ahead with UDI.[95] This was intended to discourage white Rhodesians from voting for independence in the referendum,[97] for which the RF campaign slogan was "Yes means Unity, not UDI".[98] Wilson was pleased when Douglas-Home, his leading opponent in the House of Commons, praised the statement as "rough but right".[99] On 5 November 1964, Rhodesia's mostly white electorate voted "yes" to independence under the 1961 constitution by a margin of 89%,[n 24] prompting Smith to declare that the British condition of acceptability to the people as a whole had been met.[101]

Stalemate develops between Smith and Wilson


Smith wrote to Wilson the day after the referendum, asking him to send Bottomley to Salisbury for talks. Wilson replied that Smith should instead come to London.[101] The British and Rhodesians exchanged often confrontational letters for the next few months. Alluding to the British financial aid pledged to Salisbury as part of the Federal dissolution arrangements, Wilson's High Commissioner in Salisbury, J B Johnston, wrote to the Rhodesian Cabinet Secretary Gerald B Clarke on 23 December that "talk of a unilateral declaration of independence is bound to throw a shadow of uncertainty on the future financial relations between the two governments".[102] Smith was furious, seeing this as blackmail, and on 13 January 1965 wrote to Wilson: "I am so incensed at the line of your High Commissioner's letter that I am replying directly to you ... It would appear that any undertakings given by the British government are worthless ... such immoral behaviour on the part of the British government makes it impossible for me to continue negotiations with you with any confidence that our standards of fair play, honesty and decency will prevail."[103]

10 Downing Street, where Wilson received Smith in January 1965

The two premiers were brought together in person in late January 1965, when Smith travelled to London for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral. Following an episode concerning Smith's non-invitation to a luncheon at Buckingham Palace after the funeral—noticing the Rhodesian's absence, the Queen sent a royal equerry to Smith's hotel to retrieve him, reportedly causing Wilson much irritation—the two Prime Ministers inconclusively debated at 10 Downing Street. They differed on most matters, but agreed on a visit to Rhodesia the next month by Bottomley and the Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, to gauge public opinion and meet political and commercial figures.[104] Bottomley and Gardiner visited Rhodesia from 22 February to 3 March, collected a wide cross-section of opinions, including some from black Rhodesians, and on returning to Britain reported to the House of Commons that they were "not without hope of finding a way towards a solution that will win the support of all communities and lead to independence and prosperity for all Rhodesians".[105] Bottomley also condemned black-on-black political violence, and dismissed the idea of introducing majority rule through military force.[105]

The RF called a new general election for May 1965 and, campaigning on an election promise of independence, won all 50 "A"-roll seats (the voters for which were mostly white).[n 25] Josiah Gondo, leader of the United People's Party, became Rhodesia's first black Leader of the Opposition. Opening parliament on 9 June, Gibbs told the Legislative Assembly that the RF's strengthened majority amounted to "a mandate to lead the country to its full independence", and announced that the new government had informed him of its intent to open its own diplomatic mission in Lisbon, separate from the British embassy there. The British and Rhodesians argued about this unilateral act by Salisbury, described by the historian J R T Wood as the "veritable straw in the wind",[83] alongside the independence issue until Portugal accepted the mission in late September, much to Britain's fury and Rhodesia's delight.[107] Hoping to bring Smith to heel by stonewalling him, Wilson's ministers deliberately delayed and frustrated the Rhodesian government in negotiations.[108] Rhodesia was again excluded from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in 1965. The UK's refusal of aid, the Lisbon mission, the informal arms embargo and other issues combined with this to cause the Rhodesian government's sense of alienation from Britain and the Commonwealth to deepen.[109] In his memoirs, Smith accused the British of "resorting to politics of convenience and appeasement".[110] Wilson, meanwhile, became exasperated by what he saw as Rhodesian inflexibility, describing the gap between the two governments as "between different worlds and different centuries".[111]

Final steps to UDI


Amid renewed rumours of an impending Rhodesian UDI, Smith travelled to meet Wilson in London at the start of October 1965, telling the press that he intended to resolve the independence issue once and for all.[112] Both the British and the Rhodesians were surprised by the large numbers of Britons who came out to support Smith during his visit.[113] Smith accepted an invitation from the BBC to appear on its Twenty-Four Hours evening news and current affairs programme, but Downing Street blocked this at the last minute.[113] Following largely abortive talks with Wilson, the Rhodesian Prime Minister flew home on 12 October.[114] Desperate to avert UDI, Wilson travelled to Salisbury two weeks later to continue negotiations.[115]

During these discussions, Smith referred to the last resort of a UDI on many occasions,[116] though he said he hoped to find another way out of the quandary. He offered to increase black legislative representation by expanding the electorate along the lines of "one taxpayer, one vote"—which would enfranchise about half a million, but still leave most of the nation voteless—in return for a grant of independence.[115] Wilson said this was insufficient, and countered that future black representation might be better safeguarded by Britain's withdrawal from the colonial government of the power it had held since 1923 to determine the size and makeup of its parliament. The Rhodesians were horrified by this prospect, particularly as Wilson's suggestion of it seemed to them to have removed the failsafe alternative of keeping the status quo.[117] Before the British Prime Minister left Rhodesia on 30 October 1965, he proposed a Royal Commission to gauge public opinion in the colony regarding independence under the 1961 constitution, possibly chaired by the Rhodesian Chief Justice Sir Hugh Beadle, which would report its findings to both the British and Rhodesian Cabinets.[118] Wilson confirmed in the House of Commons two days later that he intended to introduce direct British control over the Rhodesian parliamentary structure to ensure that progress was made towards majority rule.[119]

Stalemate drew closer as the Rhodesian Cabinet resolved that since Wilson had ruled out maintenance of the status quo, its only remaining options were to trust in the Royal Commission or declare independence.[120] When the terms for the commission's visit were presented to Smith, he found that contrary to what had been discussed during the British Prime Minister's visit, the Royal Commission would operate on the basis that the 1961 constitution was unacceptable to the British government, and that Britain would not commit itself to accepting the final report. Smith said these conditions amounted to a "vote of no confidence in [the commission] before they commenced", and therefore rejected them.[121] "The impression you left with us of a determined effort to resolve our constitutional problem has been utterly dissipated", he wrote to Wilson on 5 November. "It would seem that you have now finally closed the door which you publicly claimed to have opened."[116]

Amid frantic efforts by Beadle and others on both sides to revive the Royal Commission, the Rhodesian government had Gibbs announce a state of emergency the same day on the grounds that black Rhodesian insurgents were reportedly entering the country. Smith denied that this foreshadowed a declaration of independence,[122] but the publishing of his letter to Wilson in the press provoked a worldwide storm of speculation that UDI was imminent.[116] Smith wrote again to Wilson on 8 November, asking him to appoint the Royal Commission under the terms they had agreed in Salisbury and to commit the British government to accepting its ruling, but Wilson did not immediately reply.[123] On 9 November, the Rhodesian Cabinet sent a letter to Queen Elizabeth II, assuring her that Rhodesia would remain loyal to her personally "whatever happens".[124]

Draft, adoption and signing

The United States Declaration of Independence was used by the Rhodesians as the model for their UDI.

The Rhodesian Minister for Justice and Law and Order, Desmond Lardner-Burke, presented the rest of the Cabinet with a draft for the declaration of independence on 5 November 1965. When Jack Howman, Minister of Tourism and Information, said that he was also preparing a draft, the Cabinet decided to wait to see his version too. The ministers agreed that if an independence proclamation were issued, they would all sign it.[122] On 9 November, the Cabinet jointly devised an outline for the proclamation document and the accompanying statement to be made by Smith.[124] The final version of the declaration of independence was prepared by a sub-committee of civil servants headed by Gerald Clarke, the Cabinet Secretary,[125] with the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776, the only other such proclamation ever issued by British colonials, used as a model.[126] Strongly alluding to Thomas Jefferson's text throughout, the Rhodesians used one phrase verbatim — "a respect for the opinions of mankind"[127]—but no reference was made to the assertion that "all men are created equal", nor to the "consent of the governed", two omissions later stressed by a number of commentators.[128]

Attached to the declaration of independence was a copy of the 1961 constitution amended for the circumstances, which became the 1965[129] constitution. In the eyes of the Smith administration, this document removed Whitehall's remaining authority over Rhodesia and made Rhodesia a de jure independent state. However, the Smith government still professed loyalty to Elizabeth II, and accordingly the document reconstituted Rhodesia as a dominion with Elizabeth as "Queen of Rhodesia". The new constitution created the concept of allegiance to the "Constitution of Rhodesia," and introduced the post of Officer Administering the Government, a viceregal figure empowered to sign passed legislation into law on behalf of the monarch if she did not appoint a Governor-General.[126]

The Rhodesian Cabinet waited in vain for Wilson's reply for the rest of 9 November and the next day. After briefly meeting Smith late on 10 November,[130] Johnston warned Wilson that evening that the Rhodesians seemed poised to declare independence in the morning. The British Prime Minister tried repeatedly to call Smith, but did not get through until Smith was already chairing a Cabinet meeting on the independence issue around 08:00 Central Africa Time (06:00 in London) on 11 November. Wilson attempted to talk Smith out of unilateral action by telling him the status quo could continue, and the two argued inconclusively about the proposed Royal Commission. Returning to his Cabinet meeting, Smith reported the conversation to his ministers, and, after debating for a while, the Cabinet came to the conclusion that Wilson was simply attempting to buy more time and that there was no sign of actual progress. Smith asked if Rhodesia should declare its independence, and had each Cabinet minister answer in turn. According to Smith's account, "each one, quietly but firmly, without hesitation, said: 'Yes'."[131]

At 11:00 local time on 11 November 1965, Armistice Day, during the traditional two minutes' silence to remember the fallen of the two World Wars, Smith declared Rhodesia independent and signed the proclamation document, with Dupont and the other 10 ministers of the Cabinet following. The timing was intended to emphasise the sacrifices Rhodesia had made for Britain in wartime.[132] As Ken Flower later said, "the rebellion was made to appear as though it was not a rebellion".[126] Smith and his ministers still pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, whose official portrait hung prominently behind them as they signed; the declaration even ended "God Save The Queen".[126] Four junior members of the Cabinet—Lance Smith, Ian Dillon, Andrew Dunlop and P K van der Byl—did not sign, but were included in the official photograph.[133]

Text of the declaration


Whereas in the course of human affairs history has shown that it may become necessary for a people to resolve the political affiliations which have connected them with another people and to assume amongst other nations the separate and equal status to which they are entitled:

And Whereas in such event a respect for the opinions of mankind requires them to declare to other nations the causes which impel them to assume full responsibility for their own affairs:

Now Therefore, We, The Government of Rhodesia, Do Hereby Declare:

That it is an indisputable and accepted historic fact that since 1923 the Government of Rhodesia have exercised the powers of self-government and have been responsible for the progress, development and welfare of their people;

That the people of Rhodesia having demonstrated their loyalty to the Crown and to their kith and kin in the United Kingdom and elsewhere through two world wars, and having been prepared to shed their blood and give of their substance in what they believed to be the mutual interests of freedom-loving people, now see all that they have cherished about to be shattered on the rocks of expediency;

That the people of Rhodesia have witnessed a process which is destructive of those very precepts upon which civilization in a primitive country has been built, they have seen the principles of Western democracy, responsible government and moral standards crumble elsewhere, nevertheless they have remained steadfast;

That the people of Rhodesia fully support the requests of their government for sovereign independence but have witnessed the consistent refusal of the Government of the United Kingdom to accede to their entreaties;

That the Government of the United Kingdom have thus demonstrated that they are not prepared to grant sovereign independence to Rhodesia on terms acceptable to the people of Rhodesia, thereby persisting in maintaining an unwarrantable jurisdiction over Rhodesia, obstructing laws and treaties with other states and the conduct of affairs with other nations and refusing assent to laws necessary for the public good, all this to the detriment of the future peace, prosperity and good government of Rhodesia;

That the Government of Rhodesia have for a long period patiently and in good faith negotiated with the Government of the United Kingdom for the removal of the remaining limitations placed upon them and for the grant of sovereign independence;

That in the belief that procrastination and delay strike at and injure the very life of the nation, the Government of Rhodesia consider it essential that Rhodesia should attain, without delay, sovereign independence, the justice of which is beyond question;

Now Therefore, We The Government of Rhodesia, in humble submission to Almighty God who controls the destinies of nations, conscious that the people of Rhodesia have always shown unswerving loyalty and devotion to Her Majesty the Queen and earnestly praying that we and the people of Rhodesia will not be hindered in our determination to continue exercising our undoubted right to demonstrate the same loyalty and devotion, and seeking to promote the common good so that the dignity and freedom of all men may be assured, Do, By This Proclamation, adopt, enact and give to the people of Rhodesia the Constitution annexed hereto;

God Save The Queen

Given under Our Hand at Salisbury, this eleventh day of November in the Year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five.

  • Prime Minister: Ian Smith
  • Deputy Prime Minister: Clifford Dupont
  • Ministers: William Harper, Montrose, Phillip van Heerden, Jack Howman, Jack Mussett, John Wrathall, Desmond Lardner-Burke, George Rudland, Ian McLean, Arthur Philip Smith

Announcement and reactions




Prompted by the government, the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation told the public to stand by for an important announcement from the Prime Minister at 13:15 local time. Smith went first to Government House to inform Gibbs that his Cabinet had declared independence,[126] then to Pockets Hill Studios in east Salisbury to announce UDI to the nation. He read the proclamation aloud, then stated that independence had been declared because it had become "abundantly clear that it is the policy of the British government to play us along with no real intention of arriving at a solution which we could possibly accept ... I promised the people of this country that I would continue to negotiate to the bitter end and that I would leave no stone unturned in my endeavours to secure an honourable and mutually accepted settlement; it now falls to me to tell you that negotiations have come to an end".[134]

Smith said that he believed that he would be remiss in his duty if he allowed Rhodesia to continue to "drift in its present paralysing state of uncertainty", and that following Britain's abandonment of the Federation his government was determined that "the same will never be allowed to happen here". He claimed that UDI did not mark "a diminution in the opportunities which our African people have to advance and prosper in Rhodesia", described "racial harmony in Africa" as part of his agenda and condemned black Rhodesian activities as attempts to "blackmail the British government into ... handing the country over to irresponsible rule". He then attempted to assuage fears that economic sanctions might destroy the economy, and asked Rhodesians to stand firm: "The mantle of the pioneers has fallen on our shoulders... In the lives of most nations there comes a moment when a stand has to be made for principles, whatever the consequences. This moment has come to Rhodesia ... the first Western nation in the last two decades to say 'so far and no further'." He concluded with an assertion that the declaration of independence was "a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity".[135]

Domestic reactions


By the time Smith and Dupont arrived at Government House to see Gibbs, Whitehall had instructed the Governor to formally dismiss Smith and his ministers for treason. Gibbs complied without hesitation. Smith and his ministers ignored this, holding that under the new 1965 constitution Gibbs "no longer ha[d] any executive powers in Rhodesia", and his reserve power to sack them no longer existed.[136] The Rhodesian government hoped that Gibbs might obligingly resign in light of his impotent situation, but he did not; following orders from London, he remained at his post at Government House. Gibbs told the Rhodesian military's senior officers, some of whom were troubled by the perceived choice between Queen and country, to remain at their posts to maintain law and order.[137] Wilson briefly flirted with the idea of sending Lord Mountbatten to Rhodesia to support Gibbs as a direct representative of the Queen, but this was dropped after Gibbs asked for somebody "higher up" in the royal family instead.[138] "Not likely", Wilson retorted.[138]

The Rhodesian government accompanied UDI with emergency measures that it said were intended to prevent alarm, unrest and the flight of people and capital. Press censorship and petrol rationing were imposed, import licences were cancelled and emigration allowances were cut to £100. News of UDI was generally received calmly by the local citizenry, apart from some isolated incidents of passing cars being stoned in the black townships outside Bulawayo. A few expected dissenters were arrested, most prominently Leo Baron, Nkomo's lawyer, whose links with black Rhodesians and communists were seen by authorities as "subversive".[137] Baron, the younger brother of the scientist Jacob Bronowski, was arrested nine minutes after UDI was made.[137]

What was it that could make a country twice the size of Britain with half the population of London pit itself against the massive weight of world opinion? Rights or wrongs aside, there was something splendid about the gesture -- Rhodesian journalist Phillippa Berlyn on UDI[139]}}

Welensky, who had opposed UDI, stated that he felt it was nevertheless "the duty of every responsible Rhodesian to support the revolutionary government" as he believed the only alternative was a descent into anarchy.[137] João de Freitas Cruz, the Portuguese consul-general in Salisbury, reacted to the news with wild excitement; visiting the Smith residence later in the day, he declared "Only Rhodesians could do this!"[140] A statement from ZAPU's Jason Moyo, who was in London at the time, denounced UDI as an act of "treason and rebellion" and asserted that "the lives particularly of four million unarmed Africans are in jeopardy".[141] Davis M'Gabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) said that "For all those who cherish freedom and a meaningful life, UDI has set a collision course which cannot be altered. [It has] marked the turning point of the struggle for freedom ... from a constitutional and political one to primarily a military struggle."[142] Most major Christian denominational leaders in the country publicly rejected UDI and the assertion that it defended Christianity, with the exception of the local Dutch Reformed Church, which stated that it was apolitical and thereafter refrained from comment.[143]

A week after UDI, Smith's government announced that Dupont, the Deputy Prime Minister, had resigned from the Cabinet to accept the post of Officer Administering the Government created by the 1965 constitution.[138] Attempting to assert his claimed prerogative as Her Majesty's Rhodesian Prime Minister, Smith advised the Queen by letter to appoint Dupont as Governor-General to supersede Gibbs. The letter was ignored.[144] Dupont nevertheless effectively replaced the Governor. The Smith administration assigned him the Governor's official residence at Government House, but no attempt was made to forcibly remove Gibbs and his entourage; the post-UDI government stated that the Officer Administering the Government would live at Governor's Lodge instead "until Government House, at present temporarily occupied by Sir Humphrey Gibbs in a private capacity, becomes available".[138]

The Speaker of the Rhodesian parliament, A R W Stumbles, reconvened the Legislative Assembly on 25 November, resolving that if he did not there would be chaos. He feared that Gibbs might dramatically walk into the chamber in an attempt to stop the proceedings, but Gibbs did no such thing. The parliamentary opposition opened the meeting by asking whether the assembly was legal.[145] Ahrn Palley, the lone white opposition MP, announced that as he saw it, "certain Honourable Members in collusion have torn up the constitution under which this House meets. The proceedings have no legal validity whatsoever".[146] Stumbles overruled this objection and two more interruptions from Palley, and suggested that any members with reservations might leave.[145] Palley continued his loud protests until he was forcibly ejected by the Sergeant-at-Arms, shouting "This is an illegal assembly! God save the Queen!"[146] Gondo and eight other opposition MPs followed Palley out;[145] all ten of them rejoined the Legislative Assembly in February 1966.[n 26]

Gibbs received threatening letters from the Rhodesian public, and on 26 November 1965 Smith's government cut off the telephones at Government House, and removed the ceremonial guard, the official cars "and even the typewriters", Wood records.[138] Gibbs nevertheless refused to step down or to leave Government House, issuing a statement that he would remain there "as the lawful Governor of Rhodesia until such time as constitutional government is restored, which I hope will be soon."[138] He stayed at his post, ignored by the post-UDI government, until the declaration of a republic in 1970.[138]

British and international responses; sanctions


Wilson was astonished by Smith's actions, and found the timing of the declaration to coincide with the Armistice Day silence deeply insulting.[148] Describing Salisbury as "hell-bent on illegal self-destroying",[111] the British Prime Minister, supported in the Commons by the Liberals and most Conservatives, called on Rhodesians to ignore the post-UDI government.[111] Within hours of UDI, the UN General Assembly passed a condemnatory resolution, by 107-to-two—South Africa and Portugal voted against, and France abstained—decrying Rhodesia's actions and calling on Britain to end "the rebellion by the unlawful authorities in Salisbury".[149] The UN Security Council the next day adopted Resolution 216, which denounced the declaration of independence as illegal and racist, and called on all states to refuse recognition and assistance to the Rhodesian government. Security Council Resolution 217, following on 20 November, condemned UDI as an illegitimate "usurpation of power by a racist settler minority", and called on nations neither to recognise what it deemed "this illegal authority" nor to entertain diplomatic or economic relations with it. Both of these measures were adopted by ten votes to none with France abstaining.[150]

Rhodesian black nationalists and their overseas supporters, prominently the OAU, clamoured for Britain to remove Smith's government with a military invasion, but Britain dismissed this option because of various logistical issues, the risk of provoking a pre-emptive Rhodesian strike on Zambia, and the psychological problems that were likely to accompany any confrontation between British and Rhodesian troops in what Smith said would be a "fratricidal war".[151] Wilson instead resolved to end the Rhodesian rebellion through economic sanctions; these principally comprised the expulsion of Rhodesia from the Sterling area, a ban on the import of Rhodesian sugar, tobacco, chrome and other goods, and an oil boycott of Rhodesia. When the Rhodesians continued to receive oil, Wilson attempted to directly cut off their main supply lines, namely the Portuguese Mozambican ports at Beira and Lourenço Marques, by posting a Royal Navy squadron to the Mozambique Channel in March 1966. This blockade, the Beira Patrol, was endorsed the following month by UN Security Council Resolution 221.[152] The United Nations proceeded to institute the first mandatory trade sanctions in its history with Security Council Resolutions 232 (December 1966) and 253 (April 1968), which required member states to cease all trade and economic links with Rhodesia.[153]

Wilson predicted in January 1966 that the various boycotts would force Smith to give in "within a matter of weeks rather than months",[154] but the British and UN sanctions had little effect on Rhodesia, largely because South Africa and Portugal went on trading with the breakaway colony, providing it with oil and other key resources.[155] Clandestine "sanction-busting" trade with other nations also continued, initially at a reduced level, and the diminished presence of foreign competitors helped domestic industries to slowly mature and expand. Rhodesia thus avoided the economic collapse predicted by Wilson and gradually became more self-sufficient.[156] The Rhodesian government set up a string of front holding companies in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein to help keep trade open, with some success; goods that had previously been imported from Britain were replaced by Japanese, French and West German equivalents. Even many OAU states, while bombarding Rhodesia with vitriol, continued importing Rhodesian food and other products.[157] The United States created a formal exception in its embargo with the Byrd Amendment of 1971, under which the US replaced its import of chrome from the Soviet Union with Rhodesian chrome ore. This breach of the UN sanctions, passed by the US Congress on the back of anti-communist Cold War considerations, was warmly welcomed by several white Southerners in Congress; it aided the Rhodesian economy until 1977, when the newly elected President Jimmy Carter successfully pushed Congress to repeal it.[158]




Rhodesia House, the Rhodesian High Commission in London, represented Smith's government in the UK until 1969, and became a regular target for political activists.

Official diplomatic recognition by other countries was key for Rhodesia as it was the only way it could regain the international legitimacy it had lost through UDI.[59] Recognition by the UK itself through a bilateral settlement would be the "first prize", in Smith's words, as it would end sanctions and constitutional ambiguity and make foreign acceptance, at least in the West, far more likely.[159] Considering their country a potentially important player in the Cold War as a "bastion against communism" in southern Africa,[160] the RF posited that some Western countries might recognise UDI even without a prior Anglo-Rhodesian rapprochement. Specifically, it expected diplomatic recognition from South Africa and Portugal, and thought that France might recognise Rhodesia to annoy Britain and create a precedent for an independent Quebec.[59] But although South Africa and Portugal gave economic, military and limited political support to the post-UDI government (as did France and other nations, to a lesser extent), neither they nor any other country ever recognised Rhodesia as a de jure independent state.[161] Rhodesia's unsuccessful attempts to win Western support and recognition included offers to the US government in 1966 and 1967, ignored by Lyndon B Johnson's administration, to provide Rhodesian troops to fight alongside the Americans and other anti-communist forces in Vietnam.[162]

Britain withdrew most of its High Commission staff from Salisbury in the days following UDI, leaving a small skeleton staff to man a "residual mission" intended to help Gibbs keep the British government informed of local happenings.[140] Several countries followed Britain's lead and closed their consulates in Salisbury, with one prominent exception to this being the United States, which retained its consulate-general in post-UDI Rhodesia, relabelling it a "US Contacts Office" to circumvent the problem of diplomatic recognition.[n 27] South Africa and Portugal maintained "Accredited Diplomatic Representative" offices in Salisbury, which were embassies in all but name, while Rhodesia kept its pre-UDI overseas missions in Pretoria, Lisbon and Lourenço Marques. Unofficial representative offices of the Rhodesian government also existed in the US, Japan and West Germany, while a citizen of Belgium was employed to represent Rhodesian interests there. The Rhodesian High Commission in London, located at Rhodesia House on the Strand, remained under the control of the post-UDI government and effectively became its representative office in the UK.[163] Like the South African Embassy on Trafalgar Square, Rhodesia House became a regular target for political demonstrations. These continued even after Britain forced the office to close in 1969.[164]

Because UDI claimed to make Rhodesia independent under the Queen as an effective dominion, many countries justified their retention of missions in Rhodesia concurrently with their non-recognition of the state by pointing out that the envoys' accreditation was to the Queen and not to Smith's government per se. But Rhodesia moved away from its original line of independence as a constitutional monarchy and towards republicanism during the late 1960s, hoping to end ambiguity regarding its claimed constitutional status and elicit official foreign recognition. In March 1970, after the electorate had voted "yes" in a referendum the previous year both to a new constitution and to the abandoning of symbolic ties to the Queen, Smith's government declared Rhodesia a republic. Far from prompting recognition, this led all countries apart from Portugal and South Africa to withdraw their consulates and missions, as the justification of royal accreditation could no longer be used.[163] After Portugal's Carnation Revolution in 1974, the Rhodesian mission in Lisbon was closed in May 1975, with its counterpart in Lourenço Marques following a month later on Mozambican independence. Portugal also withdrew its own remaining officials from Rhodesia, leaving South Africa as the only country with links to Salisbury. Rhodesia's diplomatic activities were thereafter greatly diminished.[165]



The Rhodesian High Court's nine Appellate and General Division judges initially neither rejected UDI nor openly supported it. The Chief Justice Sir Hugh Beadle, of the Appellate Division, announced simply that the judges would go on carrying out their duties "according to the law".[138] This originally noncommittal stance evolved over time, largely pivoting around legal cases argued at the High Court in Salisbury between 1966 and 1968. The first of these, Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke N. O. and Others, concerned Daniel Madzimbamuto, a black Rhodesian who was detained without trial by the Rhodesian government on 6 November 1965, the day after the declaration of a state of emergency and five days before UDI, on the grounds that he might pose a danger to the public. Desmond Lardner-Burke, the Rhodesian Minister of Justice and Law and Order, prolonged the state of emergency in February 1966, prompting Madzimbamuto's wife to appeal for his release, arguing that since the United Kingdom had declared UDI illegal and outlawed the Rhodesian government with the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965, the state of emergency (and, by extension, Madzimbamuto's imprisonment) had no legal basis.[166]

The General Division of the Rhodesian High Court ruled on 9 September 1966 that legal sovereignty lay with the British government, but that to "avoid chaos and a vacuum in the law" the Rhodesian government should be considered to be in control of law and order to the same extent as before UDI. In February 1968, ruling on Madzimbamuto's appeal, Beadle concluded that the Smith administration would be recognised by the local judiciary as the de facto government by virtue of its "effective control over the state's territory", but that de jure recognition would be withheld as this was not "firmly established".[166] Madzimbamuto applied for the right to appeal to the British Privy Council; the Rhodesian Appellate Division promptly ruled that he had no right to do so,[167] but the Privy Council considered his case anyway.[168]

In late February 1968, considering the fate of James Dhlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadreck, three black Rhodesians convicted of murder and terrorist offences before UDI, Beadle ruled that Salisbury retained its pre-UDI powers regarding executions and could carry out death sentences. Whitehall announced on 1 March that at the request of the UK government, the Queen had exercised the royal prerogative of mercy and commuted the three death sentences to life imprisonment. Dhlamini and the others applied for a permanent stay of execution on this basis. At the hearing for Dhlamini and Mlambo on 4 March 1968, Beadle argued that he saw the statement from London as a decision by the UK government and not the Queen herself, and that in any case the 1961 constitution had transferred the prerogative of mercy from Britain to the Rhodesian Executive Council. "The present government is the fully de facto government and as such is the only power that can exercise the prerogative", he concluded. "It would be strange indeed if the United Kingdom government, exercising no internal power in Rhodesia, were given the right to exercise the prerogative of clemency."[169] The Judge President Sir Vincent Quenet and Justice Hector Macdonald agreed, and the application was dismissed. Justice John Fieldsend of the High Court's General Division resigned in protest, writing to Gibbs that he no longer believed the High Court to be defending the rights of Rhodesian citizens. Dhlamini, Mlambo and Shadreck were hanged on 6 March.[169]

On 23 July 1968, the Privy Council in London ruled in Madzimbamuto's favour, deciding that orders for detention made by the Rhodesian government were invalid regardless of whether the 1961 or 1965 constitution was considered effective. It declared the latter, "revolutionary" constitution illegal, and ruled that the former was overridden by the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965, which had effectively outlawed the Rhodesian legislative, administrative and legal authorities in British law. Lord Reid, delivering the majority opinion (Lord Pearce dissented), argued that the "usurper" government, though the effective master of Rhodesia, could not be considered lawful as the UK government was still attempting to regain control and it was impossible to say whether or not it would succeed. He ruled that only Whitehall could determine what constituted the maintenance of "law and order" in Rhodesia, and that the Rhodesian emergency measures were unlawful as they had been formalised by the Officer Administering the Government, a post-UDI figure who was, in British eyes, unconstitutional. Reid concluded that Madzimbamuto was illegally detained.[168] Harry Davies, one of the Rhodesian judges, announced on 8 August that the Rhodesian courts would not consider this ruling binding as they no longer accepted the Privy Council as part of the Rhodesian judicial hierarchy. Justice J R Dendy Young resigned in protest at Davies' ruling on 12 August and four days later was sworn in as Chief Justice of Botswana.[170]

The Rhodesian High Court granted full de jure recognition to the post-UDI government on 13 September 1968, while rejecting the appeals of 32 black Rhodesians who had been a month earlier convicted of terrorist offences and sentenced to death. Beadle declared that while he believed the Rhodesian judiciary should respect rulings of the Privy Council "so far as possible", the judgement of 23 July had made it legally impossible for Rhodesian judges to continue under the 1961 constitution. He asserted that the court therefore faced a choice between the 1965 constitution and a legal vacuum, the latter of which he felt he could not endorse.[171] Referring to the Privy Council's decision that the UK might yet remove the post-UDI government, he said that "on the facts as they exist today, the only prediction which this court can make is that sanctions will not succeed in overthrowing the present government ... and that there are no other factors which might succeed in doing so".[166]

Macdonald, a member of Beadle's ruling panel, argued that since UDI, the British government had acted unconstitutionally and illegally regarding Rhodesia by involving the United Nations in what should have been legally considered a domestic problem, and had concurrently abdicated its right to the allegiance of the Rhodesian people by waging economic war against the country and encouraging other nations to do the same. To support this argument, Macdonald referred to the assertion by the 17th-century Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius that "the purpose of governing and the purpose of destroying cannot subsist together".[172] Since Britain was in a state of economic war against Rhodesia, the court concluded, it could not at the same time be regarded as governing it.[172] UDI, the associated 1965 constitution and the government were thereafter considered de jure by the Rhodesian legal system.[166]

The British Commonwealth Secretary, George Thomson, promptly accused the Rhodesian judges of breaching "the fundamental laws of the land",[171] while Gibbs announced that since his position as Governor existed under the 1961 constitution, which allowed appeals to the Privy Council, he could only reject the Rhodesian court ruling.[171] The Rhodesian judges continued regardless. Their recognition of the post-UDI order carried over to the 1969 republican constitution, adopted in 1970.[166]

Replacement of national symbols

Rhodesian Sky Blue Ensign, used until 1968[n 28]
Rhodesian green-and-white triband], adopted in 1968

Vestiges of British ties were removed piecemeal by the government over the decade following UDI, and replaced with symbols and terminology intended to be more uniquely Rhodesian.[174] A silver "Liberty Bell", based on the bell of the same name in Philadelphia, was cast during 1966 and rung by the Prime Minister each year on Independence Day (the anniversary of UDI), the number of chimes signifying the number of years since the declaration of independence.[175] The Union Jack and Rhodesia's Commonwealth-style national flag—a defaced Sky Blue Ensign with the Union Jack in the canton—continued to fly over government buildings, military bases and other official locations until 11 November 1968, the third anniversary of UDI, when they were superseded by a new national flag: a green-white-green vertical triband, charged centrally with the Rhodesian coat of arms.[176] The Union Jack continued to be ceremonially raised at Cecil Square in Salisbury on 12 September each year as part of the Pioneers' Day holiday, which marked the anniversary of the establishment of Salisbury (and, by extension, Rhodesia) in 1890.[177]

Since Elizabeth II was still the Rhodesian head of state in the eyes of Smith's administration until 1970, "God Save the Queen" remained the Rhodesian national anthem, and continued to accompany official occasions such as the opening of the Rhodesian parliament. This was intended to demonstrate Rhodesia's continued loyalty to the Queen, but the use of the unmistakably British song at Rhodesian state occasions soon seemed "fairly ironic", as The Times put it.[178] Salisbury started looking for a replacement anthem around the same time as its introduction of the new flag,[179] and in 1974, after four years without an anthem ("God Save the Queen" was formally dropped in 1970), republican Rhodesia adopted "Rise, O Voices of Rhodesia", an anthem coupling original lyrics with the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy".[180] The country's head of state under the republican constitution was the President of Rhodesia, the first of whom was Dupont.[181]

State press censorship, which had been introduced on UDI, was lifted in early April 1968.[182] Decimalisation occurred on 17 February 1970, two weeks before Rhodesia's reconstitution as a republic, with the new Rhodesian dollar replacing the pound at a rate of two dollars to each pound.[183] Following the republic's formal declaration the next month, the Rhodesian military removed nomenclatural and symbolic references to the Crown—the Royal Rhodesian Air Force and Royal Rhodesia Regiment dropped their "Royal" prefixes, new branch and regimental flags were designed, and the St Edward's Crown surmounting many regimental emblems was expunged in favour of the "lion and tusk", a motif from the coat of arms of the British South Africa Company that had been used in Rhodesian military symbolism since the 1890s. The air force's new roundel was a green ring with the lion and tusk on a white centre.[181] Later that year, a system of new Rhodesian honours and decorations was created to replace the old British honours. Rhodesia's police force, the British South Africa Police, was not renamed.[184]

Ending UDI

Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the country's first black Prime Minister, whose unrecognised government revoked UDI in 1979 as part of the Lancaster House Agreement

Wilson told the British House of Commons in January 1966 that he would not enter any kind of dialogue with the post-UDI Rhodesian "illegal regime" until it gave up its claim of independence,[185] but by mid-1966 British and Rhodesian civil servants were holding "talks about talks" in London and Salisbury.[186] By November that year, Wilson had agreed to negotiate personally with Smith.[187] The two Prime Ministers unsuccessfully attempted to settle aboard HMS Tiger in December 1966 and HMS Fearless in October 1968. After the Conservatives returned to power in Britain in 1970, provisional agreement was reached in November 1971 between the Rhodesian government and a British team headed by Douglas-Home (who was Foreign Secretary under Prime Minister Edward Heath), and in early 1972 a Royal Commission chaired by Lord Pearce travelled to Rhodesia to investigate how acceptable the proposals were to majority opinion. After extensive consultation, the commission reported that while whites, coloureds and Asians were largely in favour of the presented terms, most blacks rejected them. The deal was therefore shelved by the British government.[188]

The Rhodesian Bush War, a guerrilla conflict pitting the Rhodesian Security Forces against the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), the respective armed wings of ZANU and ZAPU, began in earnest in December 1972, when ZANLA attacked Altena and Whistlefield Farms in north-eastern Rhodesia.[189] The 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal, which over the next year replaced Portuguese support for Smith with an independent, Marxist–Leninist Mozambique on Rhodesia's eastern frontier, greatly swung the war's momentum in favour of the nationalists (particularly ZANU, which was allied with Mozambique's governing FRELIMO party), and caused the sanctions on Rhodesia to finally begin having a noticeable effect.[190] Diplomatic isolation, the sanctions, guerrilla activities and pressure from South Africa to find a settlement led the Rhodesian government to hold talks with the various black Rhodesian factions. Abortive conferences were held at Victoria Falls (in 1975) and Geneva (1976).[191] Despite ideological and tribal rifts, ZANU and ZAPU nominally united as the "Patriotic Front" (PF) in late 1976 in a successful attempt to augment overseas support for the black Rhodesian cause.[192]

By the mid-1970s, it was apparent that white minority rule could not continue forever. Even Vorster realized that white rule in a country where blacks outnumbered whites 22:1 was not a realistic option.[193] Smith, who was decisively re-elected three times during the 1970s, eventually came to this conclusion as well. He announced his acceptance in principle of one man, one vote during Henry Kissinger's Anglo-American initiative in September 1976, and in March 1978 concluded the Internal Settlement with non-militant nationalist groups headed by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Chief Jeremiah Chirau. This settlement, boycotted by the PF and rejected internationally,[194] led to multiracial elections and Rhodesia's reconstitution under majority rule as Zimbabwe Rhodesia in June 1979. Muzorewa, the electoral victor, took office as the country's first black Prime Minister at the head of a coalition Cabinet comprising 12 blacks and five whites,[195] including Smith as minister without portfolio.[196] Dismissing Muzorewa as a "neocolonial puppet",[197] ZANLA and ZIPRA continued their armed struggle until December 1979, when Whitehall, Salisbury and the Patriotic Front settled at Lancaster House. Muzorewa's government revoked UDI, thereby ending the country's claim to be independent after 14 years, and dissolved itself. The UK suspended the constitution and vested full executive and legislative powers in a new Governor, Lord Soames, who oversaw a ceasefire and fresh elections during February and March 1980. These were won by ZANU, whose leader Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister when the UK granted independence to Zimbabwe as a republic within the Commonwealth in April 1980.[198]

Notes and references



  1. It was never made clear which of the 1853 treaties was being "renewed". Lobengula regarded the 1887 agreement as renewing the treaty of friendship his father had made with Pretorius, but Pretoria apparently considered it a renewal of the earlier Potgieter treaty.[3]
  2. Not only had Lobengula and Moffat known each other many years, but their fathers, Mzilikazi and Robert Moffat, had been great friends. It was also helpful that the son Moffat was already 52; the Matabele izinDuna were more inclined to hold discussions with an emissary more advanced in years than a younger man.[6]
  3. Rhodes and Beit had already sent a man named John Fry north to negotiate a concession with Lobengula in late 1887, but Fry had since returned to Kimberley empty-handed; soon thereafter Fry died of cancer.[17]
  4. Shippard's visit was designed to help advance Rhodes's interests, but Rudd, who was unaware of Shippard's support, actually received his intervention with annoyance, complaining that it might delay the concession.[31]
  5. They nearly died on the road from dehydration, but a group of Tswana rescued and briefly nursed them before sending them on their way. They switched to horses at Mafeking on 17 November.[39]
  6. He did not explore the possibility that their musketry might improve with practice, or that they might carry both assegais and rifles.[48]
  7. It did so, retaining its name, until 1980.[3]
  8. a b Renamed Zimbabwe in 1980.[1] The official name of the colony under British law was Southern Rhodesia, but the colonial government switched to using the name Rhodesia in October 1964, when Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia concurrently with its independence from Britain.[2]
  9. Powers reserved to the British government at Whitehall under the 1923 constitution concerned foreign affairs, alterations to the constitution, the British-appointed Governor's salary, and bills regarding native administration, mining revenues and railways. Laws relevant to these subjects had to receive assent from the Governor (and, by extension, Whitehall), but all other bills could be passed by Salisbury without interference.[3]
  10. The original vision shared by Huggins and his Northern Rhodesian counterpart Sir Roy Welensky was a unitary amalgamation of the two Rhodesias that would eventually become a dominion. British politicians rejected this idea, asserting that black Northern Rhodesians would never accept it, but agreed to consider a Federation on the condition that neighbouring Nyasaland was also included.[15]
  11. Southern Rhodesian politicians from various parties later claimed that had Federation not occurred, Southern Rhodesia would have been a dominion by 1955.[18]
  12. With Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland under direct British control, a Federal UDI would have been far more complicated and difficult to execute than one by Southern Rhodesia alone. Indeed, it was partly because of this that Welensky deemed it infeasible.[23]
  13. Zimbabwe, derived from the name applied by the Shona people to the ancient ruined city today referred to as Great Zimbabwe, was adopted by the black Rhodesian movement between 1960 and 1962 as their preferred name for a majority-ruled Southern Rhodesia.[32] ZAPU was banned by the Whitehead administration in 1962 because of its violent activities,[33] but it continued operating nevertheless, publicly calling itself the People's Caretaker Council (PCC). Several prominent members left to form the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in 1963. ZANU and ZAPU were respectively backed by China and the Soviet Union, and influenced to various degrees by Chinese Maoism and Soviet Marxism–Leninism.[34] Following an escalation in internecine political violence between the two movements, a spate of industrial sabotage and civil disobedience and the politically motivated killing of a white man, Petrus Oberholzer, by ZANU insurgents, both PCC and ZANU were banned by Smith's government in August 1964, with most of each party's leaders concurrently jailed for criminal offences or otherwise restricted.[35] Both movements thereafter based themselves overseas.[36]
  14. Welensky was so shaken by Sandys' statement that he suffered a migraine. Lord Alport, the UK's High Commissioner to the Federation, reportedly left the meeting and vomited.[43]
  15. In particular, Field and Smith claimed that Butler told them at Victoria Falls on 27 June 1963 that in return for their help in winding up the Federation, Southern Rhodesia would be granted "independence no later than, if not before, the other two territories ... in view of your country's wonderful record of Responsible Government over the past forty years... and above all the great loyalty you have always given to Britain in time of war".[46]
  16. Douglas-Home was only a few days into his premiership following Macmillan's resignation on grounds of ill health. At one point during the meeting on 31 October 1964 he told Smith that though he opposed unilateral action, he felt Southern Rhodesia could "declare herself independent, [and] would be within her rights to do so".[49] Scandalised, British civil servants withheld record of this comment from their Southern Rhodesian counterparts.[49]
  17. In particular, a small but vocal phalanx of stridently pro-Salisbury Conservative peers emerged in the House of Lords, including Lord Salisbury (after whose grandfather the Southern Rhodesian capital was named), Lord Coleraine and Lord Grimston.[58] Together with an ancillary group of similarly minded Conservative MPs in the Commons, headed by Major Patrick Wall, these became referred to as the "Rhodesia Lobby".[59]
  18. The Lardner-Burke bill proposed that a two-thirds majority in the Legislative Assembly would prompt automatic consent for alterations from the Governor, who would then sign them into law on behalf of the Queen.[70] William Harper, the Minister of Water Development and Roads, posited that if this passed, Salisbury would be able to proclaim an independent republic outside the Commonwealth with a two-thirds majority in parliament.[71]
  19. Roy Welensky, who held the Federal premiership from 1956 to dissolution in 1963, was also born in Southern Rhodesia. Before Smith, Southern Rhodesia had had seven Prime Ministers, three of whom (including Field) had been born in Britain. The country's first two Prime Ministers, Charles Coghlan (1923–27) and Howard Moffat (1927–33), were respectively born in South Africa and Bechuanaland,[75] while Garfield Todd (1953–58) was originally from New Zealand.[76] Edgar Whitehead (1958–62) was born at the British Embassy in Germany, where his father was a diplomat.[77]
  20. Salisbury attended under the Federal flag from 1953 to 1963.[84]
  21. During the bitterly fought campaign,[88] Welensky was falsely personified by his opponents as representing appeasement of Britain and black extremists, and heckled at public concourses with cries of "communist", "traitor" and "coward";[89] one man even screamed "you bloody Jew" at Welensky during a debate.[90]
  22. Official observers came from Australia, Austria, France, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden.[93]
  23. Salisbury passed legislation to shorten the name, but Britain ruled this ultra vires as the laws naming the country were British acts passed at Westminster. Salisbury went on using the shortened name in an official manner anyway,[2] while the British government, the United Nations and other overseas bodies continued referring to the country as Southern Rhodesia. This situation continued throughout the UDI period.[94]
  24. Turnout was 61% of the 105,444 registered voters (89,886 whites, 12,729 blacks and 2,829 coloureds and Asians). There were 58,091 ballots in favour, 6,096 against and 944 spoilt papers. Most eligible non-whites reportedly abstained.[100]
  25. The electoral system devised in the 1961 constitution replaced the common voters' roll with two rolls, the "A" roll and the "B" roll, the latter of which had lower qualifications intended to make it easier for prospective voters to enter the political system. There were 50 "A"-roll constituencies and 15 larger "B"-roll districts, with a complicated mechanism of "cross-voting" allowing "B"-roll voters to slightly influence "A"-roll elections and vice versa. This system was theoretically non-racial, but in practice the "A" roll was largely white and the "B" roll was almost all black.[106]
  26. When they then repeatedly referred to Smith's government as "the illegal regime" during parliamentary discussions, Stumbles ruled the term out of order.[147]
  27. Australia and Canada shut down their trade missions in Salisbury, while Finland, Sweden and Turkey closed their honorary consulates. Denmark, France, Italy, Japan and the United States withdrew their heads of mission, but kept their offices open. Austria, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Switzerland retained their representative missions in Salisbury at the same levels as before UDI.[163]
  28. This overall design dated back to 1923, but a darker blue field was used until 1964, when the shade was lightened to make the Rhodesian flag more recognisable.[173]


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