Rhodesia (/roʊˈdiːʒə//roʊˈdiːʃə/;[1] ShonaRodizha), officially from 1970 the Republic of Rhodesia,[2] was an unrecognised state in Southern Africa from 1965 to 1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe. Rhodesia was the de facto successor state to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which had been self-governing since achieving responsible government in 1923. A landlocked nation, Rhodesia was bordered by South Africa to the south, Bechuanaland (later Botswana) to the southwest, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) to the northwest, and Mozambique (a Portuguese province until 1975) to the east. From 1965 to 1979, Rhodesia was one of two independent states on the African continent governed by a white minority of European descent and culture, the other being South Africa.

In the late 19th century, the territory north of the Transvaal was chartered to the British South Africa Company, led by Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes and his Pioneer Column marched north in 1890, acquiring a huge block of territory that the company would rule until the early 1920s. In 1923, the company’s charter was revoked, and Southern Rhodesia attained self-government and established a legislature. Between 1953 and 1963, Southern Rhodesia was joined with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

The rapid decolonisation of Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s alarmed a significant proportion of Southern Rhodesia’s white population. In an effort to delay the transition to black majority rule, the predominantly white Southern Rhodesian government issued its own Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The new nation, identified simply as Rhodesia, initially sought recognition as an autonomous realm within the Commonwealth of Nations, but reconstituted itself as a republic in 1970. Two African nationalist parties, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), launched an armed insurgency against the government upon UDI, sparking the Rhodesian Bush War. Growing war weariness, diplomatic pressure, and an extensive trade embargo imposed by the United Nations prompted Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith to concede to majority rule in 1978. However, elections and a multiracial provisional government, with Smith succeeded by moderate Abel Muzorewa, failed to appease international critics or halt the war. By December 1979 Muzorewa had secured an agreement with ZAPU and ZANU, allowing Rhodesia to briefly revert to colonial status pending new elections under British supervision. ZANU secured an electoral victory in 1980, and the country achieved internationally recognised independence in April 1980 as Zimbabwe.

Rhodesia’s largest cities were Salisbury (its capital city, now known as Harare) and Bulawayo. Prior to 1970, the unicameral Legislative Assembly was predominantly white, with a small number of seats reserved for black representatives. Following the declaration of a republic in 1970, this was replaced by a bicameral Parliament, with a House of Assembly and a Senate. The bicameral system was retained in Zimbabwe after 1980. Aside from its racial franchise, Rhodesia observed a fairly conventional Westminster system inherited from the United Kingdom, with a President acting as ceremonial head of state, while a Prime Minister headed the Cabinet as head of government.


Further information: Rhodesia (name)

The official name of the country, according to the constitution adopted concurrently with the UDI in November 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.[3]

This naming dispute dated back to October 1964, when Northern Rhodesia became independent from the UK 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, so could not be altered by the colonial government. Salisbury went on using the shortened name in an official manner nevertheless,[4] while the British government continued referring to the country as Southern Rhodesia. This situation continued throughout the UDI period.[3] The shortened name was used by many people including the British government in the House of Commons.


Main article: History of Rhodesia

Part of a series on the
History of Zimbabwe
Ancient historyLeopard’s Kopjec. 900 – c. 1075Mapungubwe Kingdomc. 1075 – c. 1220Zimbabwe Kingdomc. 1220 – c. 1450Butua Kingdomc. 1450–1683Mutapa Kingdomc. 1450–1760
White settlement pre-1923Rozvi Empirec. 1684–1834Mthwakazi1823-1894Rudd Concession1888BSA Company rule1890–1923First Matabele War1893–1894Second Matabele War1896–1897World War I involvement1914–1918Colony of Southern Rhodesia1923–1980World War II involvement1939–1945Malayan Emergency
1948–1960Federation with Northern
Rhodesia and Nyasaland
1953–1963Rhodesian Bush War1964–1979Unilateral Declaration of
Independence (UDI)
1965Rhodesia under UDI1965–1979Zimbabwe-RhodesiaJune–December 1979Lancaster House AgreementDecember 1979British Dependency1979–1980Zimbabwe1980–presentGukurahundi1982–1987Second Congo War1998–2003Coup d’état2017


Until after the Second World War, the landlocked British possession of Southern Rhodesia was not developed as an indigenous African territory, but rather as a unique state that reflected its multiracial character.[5] This situation certainly made it very different from other lands that 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.[6][7] In 1922, faced with the decision to join the Union of South Africa as a fifth province or accept nearly full internal autonomy, the electorate cast its vote against South African integration.[8][9][10]

In view of the outcome of the referendum, the territory was annexed by the United Kingdom on 12 September 1923.[11][12][13][14] Shortly after annexation, on 1 October 1923, the first constitution for the new Colony of Southern Rhodesia came into force.[13][15] Under this constitution, Southern Rhodesia was given the right to elect its own thirty-member legislaturepremier, and cabinet—although the British Crown retained a formal veto over measures affecting natives and dominated foreign policy.[16][17][18]

Over the course of the next three decades, Southern Rhodesia experienced a degree of economic expansion and industrialisation almost unrivaled in sub-Saharan Africa.[19] Its natural abundance of mineral wealth—including large deposits of chromium and manganese—contributed to the high rate of conventional economic growth.[19] However, most colonies in Africa, even those rich in natural resources, experienced difficulty in achieving similar rates of development due to a shortage of technical and managerial skills.[19] Small, rotating cadres of colonial civil servants who possessed little incentive to invest their skills in the local economy were insufficient to compensate for this disadvantage.[19] Southern Rhodesia had negated the issue by importing a skilled workforce directly from abroad in the form of its disproportionately large European immigrant and expatriate population.[19] For example, in 1951 over 90% of white Southern Rhodesians were engaged in what the British government classified as “skilled occupations”, or professional and technical trades.[19] This made it possible to establish a diversified economy with a strong manufacturing sector and iron and steel industries, and circumvent the normal British protectionist policy of supporting domestic industry in the metropole while discouraging industry in the colonies abroad.[5][20] As the white population increased, so did capital imports, especially in the wake of the Second World War.[19] This trend, too, stood in sharp contrast to most other colonial territories, which suffered a major capital deficit due to revenues simply being repatriated to the metropole, leaving little capital to be invested locally.[21] The considerable investment made by white Rhodesians in the economy financed the development of Southern Rhodesia’s export industries as well as the infrastructure necessary to integrate it further with international markets.[19]

In August 1953, Southern Rhodesia merged with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the two other British Central African territories, 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.[22] As it began to appear that decolonisation was inevitable and indigenous black populations were pressing heavily for change,[5] the federation was dissolved at the end of December 1963.[23][24]