Rhodesia, commonly known as the Republic of Rhodesia, was governed by the British South Africa Company until the 1920s. It remained an unrecognized state in Southern Africa from 1965 to 1979. The country had a democratic Westminster Parliamentary System with multiple political parties contesting the elections. But, the voting was dominated by the white settler minority and the black Africans, only, had a minority level of representation at that time, so it was recognized, internationally, as a “racial state”. In the modern world, the region of Rhodesia is called as Zimbabwe.
Here, are some remarkable facts about the politics and independence of Rhodesia:
- The first settlers, in 1890s, faced a couple of “native rebellions”, from the indigenous peoples. White Rhodesians fought a number of wars on the behalf of the British Empire for about fourteen years which resulted into over 30,000 deaths.
- Having its capital in Salisbury (now Harare), Rhodesia was known to be a successor state to the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia, that turned into responsible government in 1923.
- The white government issued its own Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 11, 1965 with a purpose to deprive the African majority of the few rights it held. Ian Smith remained Prime Minister until it became Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979.
- Smith and his supporters continued to defend their actions by claiming that Rhodesian majority was too inexperienced at the time to manage effectively a developed nation. There was rigorous oppression to such claims by communist backed African nationalist organizations, Robert Mugabe’s ZANU and Joshira Nkomo’s ZAPU.
- The Rhodesian saga was decided, largely, on the battlefield. The war had three phases: from UDI to 1973, the involvement of small Rhodesian forces where they could have easily won in military terms; from 1972 to 1976, it could be called as a “no-win” war; and from 1976 to 1980, the Rhodesians were evidently losing the battle.
- The Rhodesian forces received massive South African support, especially, in the last phase of fighting. During the first phase of the war in 1967, the South Africans sent about 2,000 members of the South African Police (SAP) to help guard the northern border with Zambia.
- As a result of this brutal guerilla war, Rhodesian premier Ian Smith conceded to bi-racial democracy in 1978. A provisional government was, subsequently, directed by Smith and his moderate colleague, Abel Muzorewa, which could not be able to pacify international critics or halt bloodshed.
- By mid-1979, 95 per cent of Rhodesia was under martial law. The senior generals, led by Lieutenant-General Peter Walls, who had served in the Black Watch, and Ken Flower of the CIO, a Cornishman, were running the country behind the facade of the new Prime Minister, Bishop Muzorewa. The bishop had come out as victorious from the elections of April 1979, in which the guerilla factions, “ZANU” and “ZAPU” were banned from participating.
- There were no formal liberated areas inside Rhodesia, but government infrastructure – schools, clinics, animal dip-tanks and local government – had been wiped out in the more isolated lands, where most of the approximately six million Africans lived. Guerrilla commissars, especially in eastern Rhodesia, were building up rudimentary administrative systems, along the long porous border with Mozambique to support Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).
- After renewed pressure from the UK and the US, a new election was held in 1980, this time including the two guerilla factions, “ZANU” and “ZAPU”. Robert Mugabe (ZANU) won an overwhelming victory.
- Finally, Rhodesia recognized independence in April 1980, and it was renamed as the Republic of Zimbabwe.
- The end of UDI and of the Bush War resulted into the abrupt transfer of power to the rebellious black political parties in 1980. Consequently, Zimbabwe was not able to enjoy the benefits of a managed transfer to democracy as in the case with other neighboring countries such as Botswana and South Africa.