Rhodesia (//, rə-DEE-zhə), commonly known from 1970 onwards as the Republic of Rhodesia, was an unrecognised state in southern Africa from 1965 to 1979. It comprised the region now known as Zimbabwe. The country, with its capital in Salisbury, was considered a de facto successor state to the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia (which had achieved responsible government in 1923).
During an effort to delay an immediate transition to black majority rule, Rhodesia's predominantly white government issued its own Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The UDI administration initially sought recognition as an autonomous realm within the Commonwealth of Nations, but reconstituted itself as a republic in 1970.
Following a brutal guerrilla war fought with two rival militant African nationalist organisations (Robert Mugabe's ZANU and Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU), Rhodesian premier Ian Smith conceded to bi-racial democracy in 1978. However, a provisional government subsequently headed by Smith and his moderate colleague Abel Muzorewa failed in appeasing international critics or halting the bloodshed.
By December 1979, Muzorewa had replaced Smith as Prime Minister and secured an agreement with the militant nationalists, allowing Rhodesia to briefly revert to colonial status pending elections under a universal franchise. It finally achieved internationally recognised independence in April 1980; the nation was concurrently renamed the Republic of Zimbabwe.
A wholly landlocked area, Rhodesia was bordered by South Africa to the south, Bechuanaland (later Botswana) to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique (a Portuguese province until 1975) to the east. The state was originally named after Cecil Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company acquired the land in the late 19th century.
- 1 Nomenclature
- 2 History
- 3 Politics
- 4 Society
- 5 Military and police
- 6 Foreign relations
- 7 Legacy
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The official name of the country, according to the constitution adopted concurrently with the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, was Rhodesia. This was not the case under British law, however, which considered the territory's legal name to be Southern Rhodesia, the name given to the country in 1898 during the British South Africa Company's administration of the Rhodesias, and retained by the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia after the end of Company rule in 1923.
This naming dispute dated back to October 1964, when Northern Rhodesia became independent from Britain and concurrently changed its name to Zambia. The Southern Rhodesian colonial government in Salisbury felt that in the absence of a "Northern" Rhodesia, the continued use of "Southern" was superfluous. It passed legislation to become simply Rhodesia, but the British government refused to approve this on the grounds that the country's name was defined by British legislation and so could not be altered by the colonial government. Salisbury went on using the shortened name in an official manner nevertheless, while the British government continued referring to the country as Southern Rhodesia. This situation continued throughout the UDI period.
The British government maintained this stance regarding the June–December 1979 successor state of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, and when Zimbabwe Rhodesia returned to colonial status from December 1979 to April 1980, it was as "Southern Rhodesia". Southern Rhodesia subsequently gained international recognition of its independence in April 1980, when it became the Republic of Zimbabwe.
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White settlement pre-1923
Until after World War II, the landlocked British possession of Southern Rhodesia was not developed as an indigenous African territory, but rather as a unique state which reflected its multiracial character. This scenario certainly made it very different from other lands which existed under colonial rule, as many Europeans had arrived to make permanent homes, populating the towns as traders or settling to farm the most productive soils. In 1922, faced with the decision to join the Union of South Africa as a fifth province or accept nearly full internal self-autonomy, the electorate cast its vote against South African integration.
In view of the outcome of the referendum, the territory was annexed by the United Kingdom on 12 September 1923. Shortly after annexation, on 1 October 1923, the first constitution for the new Colony of Southern Rhodesia came into force. Under this constitution, Southern Rhodesia was given the right to elect its own thirty-member legislature, premier, and cabinet—although the British Crown retained a formal veto over measures affecting natives and dominated foreign policy. White residents, meanwhile, provided most of the colony's administrative, industrial, scientific, and farming skills in addition to owning half the land. They also established a relatively balanced economy, transforming what was once a primary producer dependent on backwoods farming into an industrial giant which spawned a strong manufacturing sector, iron and steel industries, and modern mining ventures. These economic successes owed little to foreign aid.
The Rhodesian authorities resisted the temptation to nationalise major enterprises without paying proper compensation, consistently refused to radically alleviate unemployment, and shied from filling civil service posts with partisan appointees. By colonial standards, public services were well-organised and praised for their efficiency.
In 1953, Southern Rhodesia merged with the two other British Central African states to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland – a loose association that placed defence and economic direction under a central government but left many domestic affairs under the control of its constituent territories. As it began to appear that decolonisation was inevitable and indigenous black populations were pressing heavily for change, the federation was dissolved in 1963.
|Year||Southern Rhodesia||Northern Rhodesia||Nyasaland||Total|
|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||150,000 (5.88%)||2,400,000 (94.12%)||65,000 (3.02%)||2,085,000 (96.98%)||6,300 (0.25%)||2,550,000 (99.75%)||221,300 (3.05%)||7,035,000 (96.95%)|
|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%)|
Unilateral Declaration of Independence (1965)
Although prepared to grant formal independence to Southern Rhodesia (now Rhodesia), the British government had adopted a policy of no independence before majority rule, dictating that colonies with a substantial population of European settlers would not receive independence except under conditions of majority rule. Rhodesian colonials initially balked at the suggestion; some felt they had a right to absolute political control, at least for the time being, despite their relatively small numbers. The authorities were also disturbed by the post-independence chaos which was plaguing other African nations at the time. However, once Rhodesia had been introduced as a topic for discussion in international bodies, extension of the status quo became a matter of concern to the world community and a serious embarrassment to the United Kingdom.
After the federal break-up in 1963, then-Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home insisted that preconditions on independence talks hinge what he termed the "five principles" – unimpeded progress to majority rule, assurance against any future legislation decidedly detrimental to black interests, "improvement in the political status" of local Africans, moves towards ending racial discrimination, and agreement on a settlement which could be "acceptable to the whole population". Harold Wilson and his incoming Labour government took an even harder line on demanding that these points be legitimately addressed before an independence agenda could be set.
By 1964, growing dissatisfaction with the ongoing negotiations ousted Salisbury's incumbent Winston Field, replacing him with Ian Smith, deputy chairman of the conservative Rhodesian Front party. Smith, the colony's first Rhodesian-born leader, soon came to personify resistance to liberals in British government and those agitating for change at home. He ruled out acceptance for all five of the proposed principles as they stood, implying instead that Rhodesia was already legally entitled to independence—a claim which was overwhelmingly endorsed by registered voters in a referendum.
Emboldened by the results of this referendum and the subsequent general election, Rhodesia now threatened to assume her own sovereignty without British consent. Harold Wilson countered by warning that such an irregular procedure would be considered treasonous, although he specifically rejected using armed force against the English "kith and kin" in Africa. Wilson's refusal to consider a military option encouraged Smith to proceed with his plans. Talks quickly broke down, and final efforts in October to achieve a settlement floundered; the Rhodesian Front remained unwilling to accept what were regarded as unacceptably drastic terms and the British would settle for nothing less – it was a formula doomed to failure.
|“||The mantle of the pioneers has fallen on our shoulders to sustain civilisation in a primitive country.||”|
- Ian Smith, 11 November 1965, upon the announcement of UDI
On 11 November 1965, following a brief but solemn consensus, Rhodesia's leading statesmen issued their country's unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). This was immediately denounced as an "act of rebellion against the Crown" in the United Kingdom, and Wilson promised that the illegal action would be short-lived. However, few seemed to initially realise that Rhodesia was no longer within the Commonwealth's direct sphere of influence and British rule was now a constitutional fiction; Salisbury remained virtually immune to credible metropolitan leverage.
In October 1965, the United Nations Security Council had warned Whitehall about the possibility of UDI, urging Wilson to use all means at his disposal (including military pressure) to prevent the Rhodesian Front from asserting independence. After UDI was proclaimed, UN officials branded Ian Smith's government as an "illegal racist minority regime" and called on member states to sever economic ties with Rhodesia, recommending sanctions on petroleum products and military hardware. In December 1966, these measures became mandatory, extending to bar the purchase of Rhodesian tobacco, chrome, copper, asbestos, sugar, meat, and hides.
Britain, having already adopted extensive sanctions of its own, dispatched a Royal Navy squadron to monitor oil deliveries in the port of Beira, from which a strategic pipeline ran to Umtali. The warships were to deter "by force, if necessary, vessels reasonably believed to be carrying oil destined for (Southern) Rhodesia".
Some nations, such as Switzerland, and West Germany, which were not UN members, conducted business legally with Rhodesia – the latter remained the Smith government's largest trading partner in Western Europe until 1973, when Bonn joined the UN. Japan continued to accept more Rhodesian exports than any other nation, and Iran provided oil. The Portuguese government marketed Rhodesian products as its own, via false certificates of origin and disguised trade channels. South Africa openly refused to observe the UN sanctions. A 1971 amendment passed in the United States permitted American firms to go on importing Rhodesian chromium and nickel as normal.
Despite the poor showing of sanctions, Rhodesia found it nearly impossible to obtain diplomatic recognition abroad. In 1970, the US government had made it clear that the UDI would not be recognised "under [any] circumstances". Even Smith's ideological allies in Pretoria, although sympathetic, failed to recognise the new country on an equal level.
Initially, the state retained its pledged loyalty to Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, recognising her as Queen of Rhodesia. After trying and failing to have Deputy Prime Minister Clifford Dupont named as Governor-General of Rhodesia, Smith designated Dupont as "Officer Administering the Government." The colonial Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs sacked the entire cabinet on orders from Whitehall and condemned the UDI as an act of treason. However, he was unable to enact any concrete actions to foster a return to legality. Government ministers simply ignored his notices, pointing out that UDI made his office obsolete. Even so, Gibbs continued to occupy his residence in Salisbury until 1970, when he vacated the premises and left Rhodesia following the declaration of a republic.
In September 1968, the Appellate Division of the Rhodesian High Court ruled that Ian Smith's administration had become the de jure government of the country, not merely the de facto one. To support his decision, Chief Justice Sir Hugh Beadle used several statements made by Hugo Grotius, who maintained that there was no way in which a nation could rightly claim to be governing a particular territory – if it was waging a war against that territory. Beadle argued that due to Britain's economic war against Rhodesia, she could not (at the same point) be described as governing Rhodesia. Resulting court decisions held that the rebel government "could lawfully do anything its predecessors could lawfully have done".
A Salisbury commission chaired by prominent lawyer W.R. Waley was appointed to study constitutional options open to the Rhodesian authorities as of April 1968, but reaching a further settlement with the British was ruled out early on. Waley, although insistent that "Europeans must surrender any belief in permanent European domination", also testified that majority rule was not immediately desirable and conceded that the government ought to remain in responsible hands for the near future.
Talks aimed at easing the differences between Rhodesia and the United Kingdom were carried out aboard Royal Navy vessels once in December 1966 and again in October 1968. Both efforts failed to achieve agreement, although Harold Wilson added a sixth principle to the five he had previously enunciated: "it would be necessary to ensure that, regardless of race, there was no oppression of the majority by the minority or of [any] minority by the majority." Rhodesian resolve stiffened following a failure to reach a new settlement, with more radical elements of the Rhodesian Front calling for a republican constitution.
During a two-proposition referendum held in 1969, the proposal for severing all remaining ties to the British Crown passed by a majority of 61,130 votes to 14,327. Rhodesia declared itself a republic on 2 March 1970. Under the new constitution, a president served as ceremonial head of state, with the prime minister nominally reporting to him. Some in Rhodesian government had vainly hoped that the declaration of a republic would finally prompt other nations to grant recognition.
Impact of UDI
The years following Rhodesia's UDI saw an unfolding series of economic, military, and political pressures placed on the country which eventually brought about majority rule, a totality of these factors rather than any one the reason for introducing change. In 2005, a conference at the London School of Economics which discussed Rhodesia's independence concluded that UDI was sparked by an existing racial conflict complicated by Cold War intrigues.
Critics of UDI sought to maintain that Ian Smith intended only to safeguard the privileges of an entrenched colonial elite at the expense of the impoverished African community. According to this logic, UDI created a vacuum of oppression which was eventually filled by Robert Mugabe's present dictatorship. Smith and his supporters continued to defend their actions, however, by claiming that the Rhodesian majority was too inexperienced at the time to manage effectively a developed nation.
At large, the European population's emerging attitude to UDI was tense. Many white Rhodesians had seen themselves as nothing less than fully fledged members of the British Empire, carrying on the same rugged values and frontier spirit of the early Englishmen who had settled in 1890. But such confidence was rudely shaken by Whitehall's refusal to grant independence on their terms. After 1965, there were those who continued to claim that they were collectively upholders of principle and defenders of such values against the twin threats of communism, manifested through the militant black nationalists, and – ironically – the decadence of Britain herself. Often repeated appeals to the Christian heritage of their pioneer ancestors in "defending the free world" reflected these beliefs.
African parties displayed initial horror at Smith's declaration, with one ZANU official stating, "...for all those who cherish freedom and a meaningful life, UDI has set a collision course which cannot be altered. 11 November 1965 [has] marked the turning point of the struggle for freedom in that land from a constitutional and political one to primarily a military struggle." It would, however, be several years before even the most radical nationalists chose to develop a coherent strategy revolving around armed resistance, preferring instead to create opportunities for external intervention.
Because Rhodesian exports were generally competitive and had previously been entitled to preferential treatment on the British market, the former colony did not recognise the need for escalating the pace of diversification before independence. Following the UDI, however, Rhodesia began to demonstrate that she had the potential to develop a greater degree of economic self-sufficiency. After the Rhodesian Front began introducing incentives accorded to domestic production, industrial output expanded dramatically. A rigid system of countermeasures enacted to combat sanctions succeeded in blunting their impact for at least a decade. Over the next nine years Rhodesian companies, spiting the freezing of their assets and blocking of overseas accounts, also perfected cunning techniques of sanctions evasion through both local and foreign subsidiaries, which operated on a clandestine trade network.
From 1968 until 1970, there was virtually no further dialogue between Rhodesia and the UK. This altered immediately after the ascension of Edward Heath, who reopened negotiations. Smith remained optimistic that Heath would do his utmost to remedy Anglo-Rhodesian relations, although disappointed that he continued to adhere publicly to the original "five principles" proposed by Alec Douglas-Home, now foreign secretary. In November 1971, Douglas-Home renewed contacts with Salisbury and announced a proposed agreement which would be satisfactory to both sides – it recognised Rhodesia's 1969 constitution as the legal frame of government, while agreeing that gradual legislative representation was an acceptable formula for unhindered advance to majority rule. Nevertheless, the new settlement, if approved, would also implement an immediate improvement in black political status, offer a means to terminate racial discrimination, and provide a solid guarantee against retrogressive constitutional amendments.
Implementation of the proposed settlement hinged on popular acceptance, but the Rhodesian government consistently refused to submit it to a universal referendum. A twenty four-member commission headed by an eminent jurist, Lord Pearce, was therefore tasked with ascertaining public opinion on the subject. In 1972, the commission began interviewing interest groups and sampling opinions – although concern was expressed over the widespread apathy encountered. According to every published finding, whites were in favour of the settlement, and Rhodesians of mixed or Asian background generally pleased, while black reaction was resoundingly negative. As many as thirty African chiefs and politicians voiced their opposition, prompting Britain to withdraw from the proposals on the grounds of the commission's report.
The Bush War
As early as 1960, minority rule in Southern Rhodesia was already being challenged by a rising tide of political violence led by African nationalists such as Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole. After their public campaigns were initially suppressed, many believed that negotiation was completely incapable of meeting their aspirations. Petrol bombings by radicals became increasingly common, with the Zimbabwe Review observing in 1961, "for the first time home-made petrol bombs were used by freedom fighters in Salisbury against settler establishments." It was officially noted that between January and September 1962 alone, 33 bombings were carried out, in addition to 27 acts of attempted sabotage on communications. In that same period, nationalists were implicated in arson targeting 18 schools and 10 churches. Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) subsequently disclosed that it had formed a military wing (Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army, ZIPRA), and 'the decision to start bringing in arms and ammunition and to send young men away for sabotage training' had already been made. The Rhodesian authorities responded by banning ZAPU and driving its supporters underground. Frustrated by their repeated failures, nationalists also conducted a campaign of terror against black Africans, murdering those who had either identified with the colonial administration or had simply failed to demonstrate their allegiance to the cause. To protect civilians, emergency laws were imposed, broadening the legal definition of unlawful gatherings and giving the police greater powers to crack down on agitators or subversives. The death sentence was also introduced for terrorism involving explosives and arson.
A crisis of confidence soon resulted across ZAPU, which was already suffering from poor morale, compounded by tribal and ideological factionalism. In 1963, party dissidents rejected Joshua Nkomo's authority to form their own organisation, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) – which worked out its own strategy for impressing international opinion, undermining white assurance, and achieving a complete breakdown of order. By August 1964, ZANU, which had brutally intimidated neutrals and opponents alike, was outlawed by authorities as well.
ZANU's agenda was inward-looking, leftist, and pan-Africanist in nature. Ndabaningi Sithole and avowed Marxist Robert Mugabe, its most prominent leaders, demanded a one party Zimbabwean state with total black rule and a public monopoly on land. After being forced from Rhodesia, they continued to operate in exile, creating occupation groups representing urban workers, miners, and peasant farmers. ZANU also attracted professionals, students, and feminists to its ranks. While ZAPU theoretically continued to command the allegiance of most Ndebele and Shona activists, Sithole and Mugabe drew their support from the Mashonaland countryside.
After the UDI, ZANU officials mapped an elaborate plan for the "liberation of Zimbabwe" which called for attacks on white farmers, destruction of cash crops, disrupting electricity in urban areas, and petrol bombings. Sithole and Nkomo both insisted on the need for armed struggle, but disagreed on the means to go about it. For example, ZAPU tended to follow Soviet thinking, placing an emphasis on sophisticated weaponry in the hopes of winning a conventional battle like the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu. ZANU preferred to politicise populations in areas which they intended to seize. Neither force, however, had acquired basic knowledge of guerrilla warfare. Debate on political theory and insurgent tactics became the obsession of nationalists at this stage.
In April 1966, two Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA – the military wing of ZANU) units, having received prior training at Nanjing Military College, crossed into Rhodesia from Zambia. They were armed with SKS carbines, Chinese hand grenades, explosives, and communist pamphlets, having been issued vague instructions to sabotage important installations before killing white persons indiscriminately. At least five guerrillas were simply arrested before getting very far. Another seven hoped to destroy a pylon carrying electricity to Sinoia in the northwest. Their faulty demolitions were uncovered by the Rhodesian Security Forces and the men easily tracked to a nearby ranch on 28 April, where they were shot resisting capture. This event is considered to be the first engagement of what came to be known as the "Bush War" in Rhodesia and the "Second Chimurenga" (or rebellion in Shona) by supporters of the guerrillas.
The campaign proper is generally considered to have started in 1972 with the Attack on Altena Farm, despite the minor threat already represented by the nationalist movements in the 1960s.
After unsuccessful appeals to Britain and the United States for military assistance to liberate Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, who was based in Mozambique after that country's independence from Portugal in 1975, led ZANU to seek support from the People's Republic of China and countries of the Soviet Bloc. Joshua Nkomo, based in Zambia and also supported by the Soviet Union, led ZAPU. ZANU and ZAPU together formed 'the Patriotic Front'. Broadly, ZANLA recruited mainly from Mashonaland and Manicaland provinces, whilst the ZIPRA recruited from Mashonaland West, Midlands and Matabeleland provinces of Zimbabwe.
After the collapse of Portuguese rule in Mozambique in 1974–75, it was no longer viable for the Smith regime to sustain white minority rule indefinitely. Even the South African Apartheid regime considered sustaining white minority rule in a nation in which blacks outnumbered whites by 22:1 as untenable. In 1978 there were 270,000 Rhodesians of European descent and more than six million Africans.
International business groups involved in the country (e.g. Lonrho) transferred their support from the Rhodesian government to black nationalist parties. Business leaders and politicians feted Nkomo on his visits to Europe. ZANU also attracted business supporters who saw the course that future events were likely to take. Funding and arms support provided by supporters, particularly from the Soviet Union and its allies in the latter 1970s, allowed both ZIPRA and the ZANLA to acquire more sophisticated weaponry, thereby increasing the military pressure that the guerrillas were able to place on Rhodesia.
Until 1972, containing the guerrillas was little more than a police action. Even as late as August 1975 when Rhodesian government and black nationalist leaders met at Victoria Falls for negotiations brokered by South Africa and Zambia, the talks never got beyond the procedural phase. Rhodesian representatives made it clear they were prepared to fight an all out war to prevent majority rule. However, the situation changed dramatically after the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique in 1975. Rhodesia now found itself almost entirely surrounded by hostile states and even South Africa, its only real ally, pressed for a settlement.
|“||Having let slip one chance after another of reaching an accommodation with more moderate black leaders, Rhodesia's whites seem to have made the tragic choice of facing black nationalism over the barrel of a gun rather than the conference table. The downhill road toward a race war in Rhodesia is becoming increasingly slippery with blood.||”|
At this point, ZANU's alliance with FRELIMO (the Liberation Front of Mozambique) and the porous border between Mozambique and eastern Rhodesia enabled large-scale training and infiltration of ZANU/ZANLA fighters. The governments of Zambia and Botswana were also emboldened sufficiently to allow resistance movement bases to be set up in their territories. Guerrillas began to launch operations deep inside Rhodesia, attacking roads, railways, economic targets and isolated security force positions, in 1976.
The government adopted a 'strategic hamlets' policy of the kind used in Malaya and Vietnam to restrict the influence of insurgents over the population of rural areas. Local people were forced to relocate to protected villages (PVs) which were strictly controlled and guarded by the government against rebel atrocities. The protected villages were compared by the guerrillas to concentration camps. Some contemporary accounts claim that this interference in the lives of local residents induced many of them who had previously been neutral to support the guerrillas.
The war degenerated into rounds of increasing brutality from all three parties involved (ZANU and ZAPU, and the Rhodesian Army fighting off their attacks). Mike Subritzky, a former NZ Army ceasefire monitor in Rhodesia, in 1980 described the war as "both bloody and brutal and brought out the very worst in the opposing combatants on all three sides."
End of the Bush War
Rhodesia began to lose vital economic and military support from South Africa, which, while sympathetic to the white minority government, never accorded it diplomatic recognition. The South African government placed limits on the fuel and munitions they supplied to the Rhodesian military. They also withdrew the personnel and equipment that they had previously provided to aid the war effort, though covert military support continued.
In 1976, the South African government and United States governments worked together to place pressure on Smith to agree to a form of majority rule. In response to the initiative of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in 1976 Ian Smith accepted the principle of black majority rule within two years. The Rhodesians now offered more concessions, but those concessions, focused on reaching an "internal settlement" with moderate black leaders, were insufficient to end the war.
At the time, some Rhodesians said the still embittered history between the British-dominated Rhodesia and the Afrikaner-dominated South Africa partly led South African government to withdraw its aid to Rhodesia. Ian Smith said in his memoirs that even though many white South Africans supported Rhodesia, South African Prime Minister John Vorster's policy of détente with the Black African states ended up with Rhodesia being offered as the "sacrificial lamb" to buy more time for South Africa. Other observers perceived South Africa's distancing itself from Rhodesia as being an early move in the process that led to majority rule in South Africa itself.
|“||In 1976 South Africa saw settlement of the Rhodesian question as vital on several fronts: to cauterise the wound of the psychological blow … caused by her defeat in the Angolan conflict; to pre-empt possible Cuban intervention in Rhodesia and the possibility of South Africa being sucked into another Cold War regional conflict without the support and endorsement of the western powers||”|
- Dr Sue Onslow, 'South Africa and UDI'
In the latter 1970s, the militants had successfully put the economy of Rhodesia under significant pressure while the numbers of guerrillas in the country were steadily increasing. The government abandoned its early strategy of trying to defend the borders in favour of trying to defend key economic areas and lines of communication with South Africa, while the rest of the countryside became a patchwork of "no-go areas".
By the late 1970s, Rhodesia's front-line forces contained about 25,000 regular troops and police – backed up by relatively strong army and police reserves. Its armoured vehicles largely consisted of light armoured cars, complemented by eight tanks (Polish built T-55LD tanks), delivered in the last year of the war. The Rhodesian air force, in turn, operated an assortment of both Canberra light bombers, Hawker Hunter fighter bombers, older de Havilland Vampire jets as well as a somewhat antiquated, but still potent, helicopter arm. These forces, including highly trained special operations units, were capable of launching devastating raids on resistance movement camps outside the country, as in Operation Dingo in 1977 and other similar operations.
Nevertheless, guerrilla pressure inside the country itself was steadily increasing in the latter 1970s. By 1978–79, the war had become a contest between the guerrilla warfare placing ever increasing pressure on the Rhodesian regime and civil population and the Rhodesian government's strategy of trying to hold off the militants until external recognition for a compromise political settlement with moderate black leaders could be secured.
By this time, the need to cut a deal was apparent to most Rhodesians, but not to all. Ian Smith had dismissed his intransigent Defence Minister, P. K. van der Byl, as early as 1976. "PK" had been a hard-line opponent of any form of compromise with domestic opposition or the international community since before UDI.
|“||...it is better to fight to the last man and the last cartridge and die with some honour. Because, what is being presented to us here is a degree of humiliation...||”|
- P. K. van der Byl in 1977, commenting on a British peace plan.
Van der Byl eventually retired to his country estate outside Cape Town, but there were elements in Rhodesia, mainly embittered former security force personnel, who forcibly opposed majority rule up to and well beyond independence. New white immigrants continued to arrive in Rhodesia right up to the eve of independence.
Alleged biological attacks had little impact on the fighting capability of ZANLA, but caused considerable distress to the local population. Some former officers of the Rhodesian Security Forces stated that anthrax was covertly used by Rhodesian psy-ops units during the late 1970s, though not produced in Rhodesia; they stressed that Rhodesia did not have the capacity to produce such weapons, and that the cholera and anthrax had come from the South African government's top-secret chemical and biological weapons programme, Project Coast, which was using Rhodesia as a "laboratory".
The work of journalists such as Lord Richard Cecil, son of the Marquess of Salisbury, stiffened the morale of Rhodesians and their overseas supporters. Lord Richard produced regular news reports such as the Thames TV 'Frontline Rhodesia' features. These reports typically contrasted the incompetent insurgents with the "superbly professional" government troops. A group of ZANLA fighters killed Lord Richard on 20 April 1978 when he was accompanying Rhodesian airborne unit employed in Fire Force Operations.
The shooting down on 3 September 1978 of the civilian Vickers Viscount airliner Hunyani, Air Rhodesia Flight RH825, in the Kariba area by ZIPRA fighters using a surface-to-air missile, with the subsequent massacre of its survivors, is widely considered to be the event that finally destroyed the Rhodesians' will to continue the war. Although militarily insignificant, the loss of this aircraft (and a second Viscount, the Umniati, in 1979) demonstrated the reach of resistance movements extended to Rhodesian civil society.
The Rhodesians' means to continue the war were also eroding fast. In December 1978, a ZANLA unit penetrated the outskirts of Salisbury and fired a volley of rockets and incendiary device rounds into the main oil storage depot – the most heavily defended economic asset in the country. The storage tanks burned for five days, giving off a column of smoke that could be seen Script error: No such module "convert". away. Half a million barrels of petroleum product (comprising Rhodesia's strategic oil reserve) were lost.
The government's defence spending increased from R$30 million, 8.5% of the national budget in 1971 to 1972, to R$400 m in 1978 to 1979, 47% of the national budget. In 1980, the post-independence government of Zimbabwe inherited a US$500 million national debt.
End of UDI (1979)
The Rhodesian army continued its "mobile counter-offensive" strategy of holding key positions ("vital asset ground") while carrying out raids into the no-go areas and into neighbouring countries. While often extraordinarily successful in inflicting heavy guerrilla casualties, such raids also on occasion failed to achieve their objectives. In April 1979 special forces carried out a raid on Joshua Nkomo's residence in Lusaka (Zambia) with the stated intention of assassinating him. Nkomo and his family left hastily a few hours before the raid – having clearly been warned that the raid was coming. Rumours of treachery circulated within Rhodesia. It was variously suggested that the army command had been penetrated by British MI6 or that people in the Rhodesian establishment were positioning themselves for life after independence. The loyalty of the country's Central Intelligence Organization became suspect.
In 1979, some special forces units were accused of using counterinsurgent operations as cover for ivory poaching and smuggling. Colonel Reid-Daly (commander of the Selous Scouts) discovered that his phone was bugged and after challenging a superior officer on this issue was court martialled for insubordination. He received the lightest sentence possible, a caution, but he continued to fight his conviction and eventually resigned his commission and left the Army.
By 1978–79, up to 70% of the regular army was composed of black soldiers (though both the army and police reserves remained overwhelmingly white). By 1979 there were also 30 black commissioned officers in the regular army. While there was never any suggestion of disloyalty among the soldiers from predominantly black units (in particular within the Selous Scouts or the Rhodesian African Rifles – RAR), some argue that, by the time of the 1980 election, many of the RAR soldiers voted for Robert Mugabe.
As the result of an internal settlement between the Rhodesian government and some urban-based African nationalist parties, which were not in exile and not involved in the war, elections were held in April 1979. The United African National Council (UANC) party won a majority in this election, and its leader, Abel Muzorewa (a United Methodist Church bishop), became the country's prime minister on 1 June 1979. The country's name was changed to Zimbabwe Rhodesia. The internal settlement left control of the country's police, security forces, civil service and judiciary in white hands, for the moment. It assured whites of about one third of the seats in parliament. It was essentially a power-sharing arrangement between whites and blacks which, in the eyes of many, particularly the insurgents, did not amount to majority rule. However, the United States Senate voted to end economic sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia on 12 June.
While the 1979 election was described by the Rhodesian government as non-racial and democratic, it did not include the main nationalist parties ZANU and ZAPU. In spite of offers from Ian Smith, the latter parties declined to participate in an election in which their political position would be insecure and under a proposed constitution which they had played no part in drafting and which was perceived as retaining strong white minority privilege.
Bishop Muzorewa's government did not receive international recognition. The Bush War continued unabated and sanctions were not lifted. The international community refused to accept the validity of any agreement which did not incorporate the main nationalist parties. The British Government (then led by the recently elected Margaret Thatcher) issued invitations to all parties to attend a peace conference at Lancaster House. These negotiations took place in London in late 1979. The three-month-long conference almost failed to reach conclusion, due to disagreements on land reform, but resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. UDI ended, and Rhodesia temporarily reverted to the status of a British colony (the'Colony of Southern Rhodesia').
The outcome was an internationally supervised general election in early 1980. ZANU (PF) led by Robert Mugabe won this election, some alleged, by terrorising opposition to ZANU, including supporters of ZAPU, through elements of ZANU that had not confined themselves to the designated guerrilla assembly points, as stipulated by the Lancaster House Agreement. The observers and the newly installed governor Lord Soames were accused of looking the other way, and Mugabe's victory was certified. Nevertheless, few could doubt that Mugabe's support within his majority Shona tribal group was extremely strong. The Rhodesian military seriously considered mounting a coup against a perceived stolen election ("Operation Quartz") to prevent ZANU from taking over the country. The alleged coup was to include the assassination of Mugabe and coordinated assaults on guerrilla assembly points throughout the country. The plan was eventually scuttled, as it was obvious that Mugabe enjoyed widespread support from the black majority despite voter intimidation, as well as the fact that the coup would gain no external support, and a conflagration which would engulf the country was seen as inevitable.
Republic of Zimbabwe (1980)
Mugabe and the victorious black nationalists were rather less concerned by Operation Quartz than by the possibility that there might be a mass exodus of the white community of the kind that had caused chaos in Mozambique five years earlier. Such an exodus had been prepared for by the South African government. With the agreement of the British Governor of Rhodesia, South African troops had entered the country to secure the road approaches to the Beit Bridge border crossing point. Refugee camps had been prepared in the Transvaal. On the day the election results became known, most white families had prepared contingency plans for flight, including the packing of cars and suitcases.
However, after a meeting with Robert Mugabe and the central committee of ZANU (PF), Ian Smith was reassured that whites could, and should stay in the new Zimbabwe. Mugabe promised that he would abide strictly by the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement and that changes in Zimbabwe would be made gradually and by proper legal process. In a CBS news interview, Mugabe claimed that Rhodesian whites "...are still in control of the economy, the majority being commercial farmers.", Mugabe however, would reverse his commitment to these agreements some years later; the regime began confiscating white owned farm lands. This is widely blamed for leading to the deterioration of the Zimbabwean economy which plagues the country today.
On 18 April 1980 the country became independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe, and its capital, Salisbury, was renamed Harare two years later.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2011)|
Throughout the period of its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (1965 to 1979), Rhodesia pursued a foreign policy of attempting to secure recognition as an independent country, and insisting that its political system would include 'gradual steps to majority rule.' Ardently anti-communist, Rhodesia tried to present itself to the West as a front-line state against communist expansion in Africa, to little avail. Rhodesia received little international recognition during its existence; recognition only occurred after elections in 1980 and a transition to black African rule.
Rhodesia wished to retain its economic prosperity and also feared communist elements in the rebel forces, and thus felt their policy of a gradual progression to black majority rule was justified. However, the international community refused to accept this rationale, believing that their policies were perpetuating racism. This attitude was part of the larger decolonisation context, during which Western powers such as the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium hastened to grant independence to their colonies in Africa.
Britain and the UDI
Rhodesia was originally a British colony. Although decolonisation in Africa had begun after World War II, it began accelerating in the early 1960s, causing Britain to negotiate independence rapidly with several of its colonies. During this period, it adopted a foreign policy called NIBMAR, or No Independence Before Majority African Rule, mandating democratic reforms that placed governance in the hands of the majority black Africans. The governing white minority of Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith, opposed the policy and its implications. On 11 November 1965, Rhodesia's minority white government made a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom, as it became apparent that negotiations would not lead to independence under the white regime.
The United Kingdom government immediately brought in legislation (Southern Rhodesia Act 1965) which formally abolished all Rhodesian government institutions. This move made life difficult for Rhodesian citizens who wished to travel internationally as passports issued by Rhodesia's UDI administration were not recognised as valid; in January 1966, the British issued a statement accepting as valid any passport issued before the declaration of independence and allowing six-month United Kingdom passports to be granted when they expired – provided that the bearer declared they did not intend to aid the UDI Rhodesian government.
Until late 1969, Rhodesia still recognised Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, even though it opposed the British government itself for hindering its goals of independence. The Queen, however, refused to accept the title Queen of Rhodesia. Eventually, the Smith government abandoned attempts to remain loyal to the Crown, and in 1969, a majority of the electorate voted in referendum to declare Rhodesia a republic. They hoped that this move would facilitate recognition as an independent state by the international community, but the issues of white minority control remained and hindered this effort, and like the UDI before it, the proclamation of a republic lacked international recognition.
After the declaration of independence, and indeed for the entire duration of its existence, Rhodesia did not receive official recognition from any state, although it did maintain diplomatic relations with South Africa, another white minority regime (but did not recognise Rhodesia due to its wish to preserve its fragile positions with other nations but frequently assisted the republic), and Portugal, which ceased relations with Rhodesia after its Carnation Revolution in 1974. The day following the declaration of independence, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (S/RES/216) calling upon all states to not accord Rhodesia recognition, and to refrain from any assistance. The Security Council also imposed selective mandatory economic sanctions, which were later made comprehensive.
Despite the mounting sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the Rhodesian economy prospered. By the 1970s, Rhodesia's economic strength was second only to that of South Africa's. Rhodesia's Europeans had one of the highest standards of living in the world, whilst Rhodesia's Africans had the highest standard of health, education and housing when compared to any other African people. Rhodesia's economic success in the face of such adversity was truly unprecedented.
Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965 was promptly condemned by the international community. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 216 of 12 November 1965 called "upon all States not to recognise this illegal racist minority regime in Southern Rhodesia."
Rhodesia campaigned for international acceptance and invoked the doctrine of non-intervention in internal affairs as justification for rebuking external criticism of its internal policies. However, the emerging doctrine of self-determination in colonial situations meant that most nations regarded Rhodesia as illegitimate.
Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia, took a pragmatic approach towards Rhodesia. Kenneth Kaunda, heavily dependent on access through Rhodesia for his nation's copper ore exports, fuel, and power imports unofficially worked with the Rhodesian government. Rhodesia still allowed Zambia to export and import its goods through its territory to Mozambique ports, despite the Zambian government's official policy of hostility and non-recognition of the post-UDI Smith Administration.
The United States, like all other Western nations, refused to recognise Rhodesia, but unlike others allowed its Consulate-General to function as a communications conduit between the American government in Washington, D.C., and the Rhodesian government in Salisbury. When Rhodesia set up an information office in Washington, D.C., OAS nations loudly protested. The US government responded by saying the Rhodesian mission and its staff had no official diplomatic status and violated no US laws.
Portugal pursued a middle path with Rhodesia. While not officially recognising Rhodesia under Ian Smith, the government of António Salazar did permit Rhodesia to establish a representative mission in Lisbon, and permitted Rhodesian exports and imports through their colony of Mozambique. The Portuguese government in power at that time, authoritarian and ardently anti-communist, gave active behind-the-scenes support in Rhodesia's fight against the guerrilla groups.
South Africa, itself under international pressure as a white minority government, pursued a policy of détente with the black African states at the time. These states wanted South Africa to pressure Ian Smith to accept a faster transition to majority rule in Rhodesia, in return for pledges of non-interference in South Africa's internal affairs. Prime Minister John Vorster, believing majority rule in Rhodesia would lead to international acceptance for South Africa, used a number of tactics to pressure Smith. The South African government held up shipments of fuel and ammunition and pulled out friendly South African forces from Rhodesia. The combined loss of Mozambique and the loss of support from South Africa dealt critical blows to the Rhodesian government.
After the UDI, Rhodesia House in London, (the Rhodesian High Commission), now the Embassy of Zimbabwe in London, simply became a representative office with no official diplomatic status. Other locations which had Rhodesian representative offices were:
The most important representative offices for Rhodesia were Lisbon and Pretoria.
Continuing civil war and a lack of international support eventually led the Rhodesian government to submit to an agreement with the UK in 1979. This led to internationally supervised elections, won by Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front and Robert Mugabe, establishing the internationally recognised Zimbabwe.
After recognised independence in April 1980, the history of Rhodesia became that of Zimbabwe. However, many of the issues associated with UDI and the Bush War were not resolved immediately. In the early 1980s, South Africa sought to secure its position in the region by various means including the destabilisation of neighbouring states through support for dissident groups such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola UNITA (in Angola) and Renamo (in Mozambique). In Zimbabwe, the South African intelligence service promoted ZIPRA dissidents in what became known as the super-ZAPU insurgency in Matabeleland.
During the Bush War of the 1970s some white farmers were able to carry on operations by paying protection money to commanders. The super-ZAPU insurgency of the early 1980s was much less manageable. Super-ZAPU targeted white farmers, missionaries and tourists on the grounds that their murders would make "international headlines."
|“||...then the super-ZAPU element came in and this really unseated us—South Africa targeting white farmers. I mean it changed a few perspectives, I can tell you...||”|
- Ed Cumming, Matabeleland white farmer
The insurgency was equipped and coordinated by South African intelligence, working through white former members of the Rhodesian security services. The super-ZAPU insurgency was eventually resolved at a military level by the Zimbabwe army Fifth Brigade's sweep through Matabeleland in 1983 (operation "Gukurahundi") and at a political level by the Unity Accord of 1987. Operation Gukurahundi was associated with the massacre of between four and twenty thousand civilians. Those last figures are estimated by sources ranging from the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace to Parade magazine.
In the ten years after independence, around 60% of the white population of Zimbabwe emigrated, most to South Africa and to other mainly white, English speaking countries where they formed expatriate communities. Politically within Zimbabwe, the consolidation of power by Robert Mugabe continued through the 1980s. Parliamentary seats reserved for the white population were abolished in 1987 and a new constitution promulgated with Mugabe in the position of state president. Many expatriates and some of the whites who stayed in Zimbabwe became deeply nostalgic for Rhodesia. These individuals are known as "Rhodies." Native whites who are more accepting of the new order are known as "Zimbos."
While as Rhodesia, the country was once considered the breadbasket of Africa. Today, Zimbabwe is a net importer of foodstuffs, with the European Union and United States providing emergency food relief as humanitarian aid on a regular basis. The nation has suffered profound economic and social decline in the past twenty years. Part of the issue is due to a marked decrease in agricultural production as fertile farmland once cultivated by trained white farmers and their employees sometimes from other African countries has been forcibly relocated to black Zimbabweans by political background rather than farming experience, many whom are untrained in agricultural land management, as compensation for military service and/or political loyalty. In such cases, production usually falls to less than half of its estimated capacity and fertile land lies fallow due to neglect. Not only is production reduced, but the jobs associated with operating a viable enterprise are lost. The Zimbabwe government blame the crippling sanctions imposed by the Western governments to force a regime change, for the failures in the economy. Recently the agriculture sector has started to do well since the availability of expertise and machines has improved supported mainly by China.
Zimbabwe also suffered from a crippling inflation rate, as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had a policy of printing money to satisfy government debts, which introduces excessive currency into the economic system which led to the demise of the local currency. This policy caused the inflation rate to soar from 32% in 1998 (considered extremely high by most economic standards) to an astonishing 11,200,000% by 2007. Monetary aid by the International Monetary Fund has been suspended due to the Zimbabwe government's defaulting on past loans, inability to stabilise its own economy, and its inability to stem corruption and advance human rights. In 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned its currency, relying instead on foreign currencies such as the South African rand, the US dollar, the Botswana pula, the euro and the British pound, among others.
In 2008 elections, Mugabe garnered 41%, Simba Makoni 10% and Morgan Tsvangirai 48% of the votes cast for president forcing a runoff election called by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). In the months leading to the run-off, instances of extreme violence between the two major parties (ZANU PF and MDC) led Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. In February 2009, a power-sharing accord was reached which resulted in the Zimbabwe Government of National Unity of 2009. The accord was, essentially, to create the position of "Prime Minister" for Tsvangirai, who served in that role from 2009 to 2013. Mugabe retained the title of President.
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- The Viscount disasters of 1978 and 1979
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- Ian Beckett, an account of the Bush War (in 2 parts)
- Rhodesian and South African Military History – An extensive collection of histories and analysis of Rhodesian and South African military operations, to the early 1980s
- Window on Rhodesia- An archive of the history and life of Rhodesia.
- 1975 BBC report on the failure of negotiations between the Rhodesian government and the black nationalists
- The Brookings Institution : Managing Ethnic Conflict in Africa – Rhodesia/Zimbabwe
- Selby, Angus (2006) "Commercial Farmers and the State: Interest Group Politics and Land Reform in Zimbabwe, 1890–2005", PhD Thesis, Oxford University
- Rhodesia Roll of Honour – Those who died in defence of UDI
- Constitution of Rhodesia
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Audio and video
- Audio of Ian Smith's radio address announcing UDI
- 2 years of independence, 1967 Rhodesian MoI film (7 mins) on YouTube
- Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, collection of film clips (6 mins) on YouTube
- Songs of UDI, 3 songs from 1977 (9 mins) on YouTube
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