The Legislature in the British Empire and Rhodesia

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In this essay I will be discussing the topic of Rhodesia and Britain during the end of the 19th to the 20th century and the problems and conflicts that occurred throughout the 20th century in Rhodesia; including the signing of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965 and the conflict that occurred over the span of twenty years after that into what was finally the independence of the country—becoming what is now Zimbabwe—and resulting in the fall of the British Empire in Africa.

Overview of the History of Britain in Rhodesia in the Early 20th Century:

In the year 1923 Rhodesia became a self-governing country under the British Empire. After World War Two there was a conflict between the British settlers wishing to stay and claim the power in full force again while at the same time granting independence to other colonies around Rhodesia. The Black African population—or African Nationalists—in Rhodesia felt there was a double standard in play here as they were witnessing Britain relinquishing their power in other areas of the continent but pressing down hard in Rhodesia to maintain it. This all resulted in a stalemate between Rhodesia, Great Britain and the African Nationalists as none of the parties were able to come to an agreement on how to best handle the situation.

Conflict in the 20th Century:

In response to the stalemate that occurred from Rhodesia, Great Britain and African Nationalists Ian Smith, the President of Rhodesia at the time, issued what was known as the Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th, 1965. This was the start of a huge breakdown between the white Rhodesians and the Black African Nationalists as this document kept the political and economical power in the hands of the British and didn’t transition any of it over to the Black African populous. However, all of this was lost on the white Rhodesians as they held the belief that nothing was truly wrong and that they had some of the happiest people (both white and black) in all the continent of Africa. Many of them also held the belief that African’s weren’t able to form any kind of organization that would be effective or even develop differing political ideologies—essentially viewing them as puppets of the white Rhodesians. The signing of the UDI also left the white Rhodesians in a bit of pickle as they were now acting in treason against the British government by declaring illegal independence from Britain. This was argued against by the Rhodesian government saying that because the Queen was still mentioned and in high authority in new constitution that it was not an act of treason against Britain, but more of a rebellion against the current government in Britain. They claimed that their signing of the order beneath the Queens portrait and declared that they even named her the Queen of Rhodesia. This allowed them to keep some political independence while at the same time staying in the good books with Britain.

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This signing of the UDI created an immediate response from the African Nationalists and obvious resistance to this bill resulting in the formation of two main military based groups the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (or ZAPU), which focused on the support of the Ndebele people to back them, and the Zimbabwe African National Union (or ZANU), which focused on the support of the Shona people to back them. Ian Smith’s implementation of the UDI resulted in both the ZAPU and ZANU to go on the offense with the help of the Zimbabwe Peoples Revolutionary Army (or ZIPRA) and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (or ZANLA). The implementation of a new constitution shortly after the signing of the UDI did not help these matters as it was nearly the same as the 1961 constitution with the only change being that it had removed some of the active power from Britain, but maintained their relationship symbolically which Queen Elisabeth remaining head of Rhodesia, but not having any power in the country creating quite a paradox. This wasn’t very helpful for the Rhodesians as all it did was placate the British while at the same time increasing tensions between the white Rhodesians and black Africans—tensions that the white Rhodesians were clearly oblivious to.

Between 1966-1968 these groups band together in Zambia strategizing a plan and later attacking Rhodesia from Zambia with the hopes of establishing a guerilla base in Rhodesia to operate from. The initial attack resulted in around 180 deaths forcing the guerilla army to flee back to Zambia to re-establish an alternate plan. This only reinforced the idea amongst the white Rhodesian’s that they were superior in their might and military and that without them the black African population wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves. They believed that their help and intel from Vietnam War veterans was greater than that of the black African’s and whatever information they could possess and even created a Rhodesia Light Infantry entirely made up of veterans from the Vietnam War. This is also when the Rhodesian Front [Rebels] adopted a “kill rate” or a “body count” as a means of distinguishing their superiority. This resulted in the Rhodesian Front killing even wounded or surrender rebel soldiers.

This resulted in ZANLA deciding to take a more Chinese Maoist approach and avoid direct confrontation with the Rhodesian army and instead gradually gain control of the more rural areas while ZAPU took their advice from the Soviet Union (although ZANLA’s approach will prove more victorious). The early 1970s begins this establishment of control over the rural life in Rhodesia. At the same time an alliance was formed with Mozambican guerilla group FRELIMO (Mozambican Liberation Front) resulting in their aid to help ZANLA into Rhodesia. By the mid 1970’s there are 6,000 FRELIMO guerillas in Rhodesia allowing ZANLA yet another opportunity to flood Rhodesia in an attempt to gain control.

During this time the white Rhodesians reasoned still that the war occurring between themselves and the various African Nationalist groups was more the result of China and the Soviet Union intervening instead obrf actual unhappiness from the black African population in Rhodesia themselves. They believed that these communist groups from China and the USSR were influencing and almost brainwashing these people and that their [the white Rhodesian’s] energy would be better spent trying to fight against the forces of China and USSR all while maintaining the idea that nothing was truly wrong with their strategy and believing that they were more superior to the black Africans as well as needing to maintain power to further the cause of Rhodesia and the British Empire. They also felt that the intelligence community overall didn’t hold much for them. By 1979 Rhodesia was losing its stronghold and in December of that same year Rhodesia, Britain, ZANU and ZAPU agree to hold elections the following year. In March of 1980, Robert Mugabe comes into power.

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The Legislature in the British Empire and Rhodesia. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from
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