Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Rhodesia (after Cecil Rhodes) is the former name of the African country of Zimbabwe. At an earlier period, the name "Rhodesia" was used to refer to a larger region that corresponds to both Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) and Zambia (Northern Rhodesia).

In 1953, faced with the independence of African states, the United Kingdom attempted to create the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which consisted of the current nations of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi which at the time were called Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland respectively.

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on January 1, 1964 upon the independence of Malawi and Zambia. When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence by Britain in 1964, it changed its name to Zambia. Southern Rhodesia remained a British colony and came to be known simply as Rhodesia.

The British government adopted a policy known as NIBMAR (No Independence Before Majority African Rule), to the consternation of the white minority Rhodesian Front (RF) government, led by Ian Smith. On November 11, 1965, Smith unilaterally declared the country independent from British rule, in what became known as the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the Rhodesian Government. This was internationally condemned and Rhodesia was put on international sanctions from 1965 to independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

A long armed resistance campaign by ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union) against the Smith regime followed UDI. ZANU was, at that time, a Marxist-socialist African nationalist liberation movement, which was led by Robert Mugabe. ZAPU was also a Marxist-socialist African nationalist liberation movement, which was led by Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU was generally considered by the British and the West as more moderate than ZANU). The Rhodesian government struggled and failed to control the ZANU and ZAPU armed campaign, which had developed into a full-scale war covering the whole country. This became known as the "Bush War" by the supporters of the white-dominated government and as "Chimurenga" (liberation war) by supporters of the African nationalist movement.

As a result of internal settlement or agreement between the Rhodesian government and moderate and small African nationalist parties, which were not in exile and therefore not involved in the war, elections were held in April 1979, in which the UANC (United African National Council) party won a majority, and its leader,Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa, a United Methodist Church bishop, became the country's prime minister. At this point the country's name was changed to Zimbabwe Rhodesia. While these elections were described by the Rhodesian government as non-racial and democratic, they did not include the two prominent political parties within the African nationalist liberation movement, ZANU and ZAPU. Bishop Muzorewa's government and the country's new name Zimbabwe Rhodesia did not receive international recognition. The international community recognised that the resolution of the war in Rhodesia must include Mugabe's ZANU and Nkomo's ZAPU in order to be successful because these two were critical factors in the armed conflict. This recognition is precisely the reason why the British Government was urged by the International community to intervene.

As a result of the exclusion of the major Afican nationalist parties, i.e., ZANU and ZAPU, "terrorism" from the perspective of the Rhodesian government and "war of liberation" from the perspective of ZANU and ZAPU, continued unabated. The British Government (then led by the recently elected Margaret Thatcher) again intervened to try to force a settlement between the elected government and the nationalist fighters.

Under the terms of this peace treaty, Britain resumed control for a brief time in 1980 and then granted independence to Zimbabwe Rhodesia during that same year, whereupon the first all-party multi-racial elections were held in which there was much intimidation and violence carried out by both sides of the belligerant parties. Unsurprisingly, the Marxist Robert Mugabe and ZANU won these elections. On April 18th, 1980, the country became independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe, and its capital, Salisbury was renamed Harare, two years later.

Robert Mugabe has ruled the country to this day, first as Prime Minister, and from 1988 as President. Recently, Mugabe has been widely condemned (and terms like "dictator" and "racist" have been used to describe him) as a result of 1) the way he has handled the resolution of Zimbabwe's historical land question, 2) the violence and intimidation that has characterised the 2000 election, and 3) the intolerance his government has displayed against the media.

Flag of Rhodesia