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Southern Rhodesia was the name of the British colony situated north of the Limpopo Rivermarker and the Union of South Africa. Since its independence and the institution of a majority African government, the area has been re-named Zimbabwemarker.


Origin as 'Rhodesia'

The territory was originally referred to as 'South Zambezia' but the name 'Rhodesia' came into use in 1895. The designation 'Southern' was adopted in 1901 and dropped from normal usage in 1964 on the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and Rhodesia became the name of the country until the creation of Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979. Legally, from the British perspective, the name Southern Rhodesia continued to be used until April 18, 1980, when the name Republic of Zimbabwemarker was formally proclaimed.

Rhodesia was named after Cecil Rhodesmarker, the British empire-builder who was one of the most important figures in British expansion into southern Africa, and who obtained mineral rights in 1888 from the most powerful local traditional leaders through treaties such as the Rudd Concession and the Moffat Treaty signed by King Lobengula of the Ndebele.

The British government agreed that Rhodes' company, the British South Africa Company (BSAC), would administer the territory stretching from the Limpopomarker to Lake Tanganyikamarker under charter as a protectorate. Queen Victoria signed the charter in 1889. Rhodes used this document in 1890 to justify sending the Pioneer Column, a group of white settlers protected by well-armed British South Africa Police (BSAP) and guided by the big game hunter Frederick Selous, through Matabeleland and into Shona territory to establish Fort Salisbury (now Hararemarker). In 1893-94, with the help of their new maxim guns the BSAP would go on to defeat the Ndebele in the First Matabele War, a war which also resulted in the death of King Lobengula and the death of most of the members of the Shangani Patrol. Shortly after the disastrous Jameson Raid of the BSAP into the Transvaal Republic, the Ndebele were led by their spiritual leader Mlimo against the white colonials and thus began the Second Matabele War (1896-97). After months of bloodshed, Mlimo was found and shot by the American scout Frederick Russell Burnham and soon thereafter Rhodes walked unarmed into the Ndebele stronghold in Matobo Hillsmarker and persuaded the impi to lay down their arms, effectively ending the revolt.

In 1899, a Legislative Council was created with a minority of elected seats, through which the BSAC had to pass government measures. The electorate was almost exclusively white settlers, and the proportion of elected seats increased steadily over time. Prior to about 1918, the opinion among the electorate supported continued BSAC rule but opinion changed because of the development of the country and increased settlement. In addition, a decision in the British courts that land not in private ownership belonged to the British crown rather than the BSAC gave great impetus to the campaign for self-government.

Adoption of the name 'Southern Rhodesia'

The territory north of the Zambezimarker, now Zambiamarker, which was the subject of separate treaties with African chiefs, was administered separately by the BSAC as North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia from 1890 and 1897 respectively. The whites in the territory south of the river paid it scant regard though, and generally used the name 'Rhodesia' in a narrow sense to mean their part. The designation 'Southern' was used from 1901, especially when the BSAC merged the administration of the two northern territories as Northern Rhodesiamarker in 1911.

The Legislative Council election, in 1920, returned a large majority of candidates of the Responsible Government Association and it became clear that BSAC rule was no longer practical. Opinion in Britain and South Africa favoured incorporation of Southern Rhodesia in the Union of South Africa, but, by forcing the pace of negotiation, the Southern Rhodesians obtained unfavourable terms and the electorate backed Responsible Government in a 1922 referendum. Self-government began in October 1923. Charles Patrick John Coghlan was the first Premier of Southern Rhodesia and upon his death in 1927 he was succeeded by Howard Unwin Moffat.

During World War II, The Southern Rhodesian military units participated on the side of the United Kingdommarker. Specifically, Southern Rhodesian forces were involved in the East African Campaign.
Southern Rhodesia developed an economy that was narrowly based on the production of a small number of primary products (notably, chrome and tobacco). It therefore became very vulnerable to the economic cycle. The deep recession of the 1930s gave way to a post-war boom. This boom prompted the immigration of about 200,000 white settlers between 1945 and 1970, taking the white population up to 270,000. A large number of these immigrants were of British working-class origin.

In the 1940s, the founding of a University to serve central African countries was proposed. Such a University was eventually established in Salisburymarker, with funding provided by British, CAF and Rhodesian governments and some private sources. One condition of British funding was that student admission should be based on "academic achievement and good character" with no racial distinction. University College of Rhodesia (UCR) received its first intake of students in 1952. Until 1971 it awarded degrees of the Universities of London and Birmingham. In 1971 UCR became the University of Rhodesia and started awarding its own degrees. In 1980 it was renamed the University of Zimbabwemarker.


In 1953, with calls for independence mounting in many of its African possessions, the United Kingdommarker created the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (or the Central African Federation 'CAF'), which consisted of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesiamarker and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwemarker, Zambiamarker, and Malawimarker, respectively). The idea was to try and 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 in order to form viable independent nations. Originally designed to be "an indissoluble federation", the CAF quickly started to unravel. It suffered the fate of similar ventures undertaken in the closing days of Empire including the West Indies Federation and East African Community.

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on January 1, 1964. When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence by Britain on October 24, 1964, it changed its name to Zambiamarker; Southern Rhodesia remained a British colony, resisting attempts to bring in majority rule. The colony attempted to change its name to Rhodesia although this was not recognised by the United Kingdom. The majority of the Federation's military and financial assets went to Southern Rhodesia as (a) the British Government did not wish to see them fall into the hands of the nationalist leaders, and (b) Southern Rhodesia had borne the majority of the costs of running the Federation. With regard to the latter, however, Northern Rhodesiamarker was the wealthiest of the three member states (due to its vast copper mines) and actually contributed more to the overall building of infrastructure than the other two members. Southern Rhodesia, recognising an inevitable dissolution of the Federation, was quick to use federal funds in building up their infrastructure ahead of the others. A key component of this was the building of the Kariba Dammarker and its hydroelectric facility (shafts, control centre, etc.), which was situated on the Southern Rhodesian side of the Zambezimarker Gorge. This situation caused some embarrassment for the Zambian government later when it was a "front line state" in support of insurgents into Rhodesia in that its major source of electric power was controlled by the Rhodesian rebel state.

Return to 'Rhodesia'

With the colony of Northern Rhodesia no longer in existence, in 1964 Southern Rhodesia reverted to the name Rhodesia (see next section).

In 1965, Rhodesia unilaterally declared itself independent under a white-dominated government. After a long civil war between the white government and two African guerilla organisations (ZIPRA and ZANLA), Britain resumed control for a brief time and then granted independence to the country in 1980, whereupon it became Zimbabwe.

Legal aspects of the name since 1964

On October 7, 1964 the Southern Rhodesian government announced that when Northern Rhodesiamarker achieved independence as Zambiamarker, the Southern Rhodesian government would officially become known as the Rhodesian Government and the colony would become known as Rhodesia. On October 23 the Minister of Internal Affairs notified the Press that the Constitution would be amended to make this official. The Legislative Assembly then passed an Interpretation Bill to declare that the colony could be referred to as Rhodesia; the Bill received its third reading on December 9, 1964, and therefore passed to the Governor for assent.

However, no assent was granted to the Bill. The Southern Rhodesia (Annexation) Order in Council 1923, section 3, provided that Southern Rhodesia "shall be known as the Colony of Southern Rhodesia" and the Southern Rhodesia (Constitution) Act 1961 and the Order in Council which followed it both referred to it as such. These were United Kingdommarker measures and it was ultra vires for the Southern Rhodesian institutions to amend them.

The Rhodesian government, which had begun using the new name anyway, did not press the issue. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence was in the name of Rhodesia. While the new name was widely used, 'Southern Rhodesia' remained the colony's formal name in United Kingdom constitutional theory: for example, the Act passed by the United Kingdom Parliament declaring the independence a legal nullity was entitled the Southern Rhodesia Act, 1965. When the rebellion was formally declared at an end by the passing of the Constitution of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia (Amendment) (No. 4) Act 1979, the United Kingdom resumed the governance of the colony under the direct control of the Governor under the name of Southern Rhodesia.

See also


  1. Historical Notes : history of the University of Zimbabwe
  2. Southern Rhodesia Information Service Press Statement 980/64 A.G.C.
  3. See "The Constitutional History and Law of Southern Rhodesia" by Claire Palley (Oxford University Press, 1966), at pages 742-3.

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