The Colony of Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing British Crown colony in southern Africa from 1923 to 1980, the predecessor state of modern Zimbabwe. In 1904, it had a total area of 143,830 square miles (372,518 square kilometers) and an estimated population of 6,605,764. Most of the area is elevated, consisting of a central plateau (high veld) stretching from the southwest northwards. The extreme east portion is mountainous, known as the Eastern Highlands and renowned for their great natural beauty. Victoria Falls, one of the world’s biggest and most spectacular waterfalls, is located in the what was the former colony’s extreme northwest, part of the Zambezi River. The colonial administrative center was Salisbury.
Following its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965, the nation existed as the self-declared, unrecognized state of Rhodesia until 1979, when it reconstituted itself under indigenous African rule as Zimbabwe Rhodesia, which also failed to win overseas recognition. After a period of interim British control following the Lancaster House Agreement in December 1979, the country achieved internationally recognized independence as Zimbabwe in April 1980.
Initially, the territory was referred to as “South Zambezia”, a reference to the River Zambezi, until the name ‘Rhodesia’ began being used in 1895 in honor of Cecil Rhodes, the British empire-builder who was one of the most important figures in British expansion into southern Africa.
Rhodes 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. “Southern” was first used in 1898 and dropped from normal usage in 1964, on the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. “Rhodesia” then remained 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 18 April 1980, when the Republic of Zimbabwe was promulgated.
The British government agreed that Rhodes’ company, the British South Africa Company (BSAC), would be granted exclusive mineral rights stretching from the Limpopo to Lake Tanganyika. 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 Harare).
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 Hills and persuaded the impi to lay down their arms, effectively ending the revolt.
A Legislative Council was created in 1899 to manage the company’s civil affairs, with a minority of elected seats, through which the BSAC had to pass government measures. As the Company was a British institution in which settlers and capitalists owned most shares, and local Black African tribal chiefs the remainder, and the electorate to this council was limited to those shareholders, the electorate was almost exclusively white settlers.
Over time as more settlers arrived and a growing number had less than the amount of land required to own a share in the company or where in trades supporting the company as workers, successive activism resulted in first increasing the proportion of elected seats, and eventually allowing non-share holders the right to vote in the election. 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. In the resulting treaty government self-government, Crown lands which were sold to settlers allowed those settlers the right to vote in the self-governing colony.
The territory north of the Zambezi was the subject of separate treaties with African chiefs: today, it forms the country of Zambia. The first BSAC Administrator for the western part was appointed for Barotseland in 1897 and for the whole of North-Western Rhodesia in 1900. The first BSAC Administrator for the eastern part, North-Eastern Rhodesia, was appointed in 1895. 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 Rhodesia” was first used officially in 1898 in the Southern Rhodesia Order in Council of October 20, 1898, which applied to the area south of the Zambezi, and was more common after the BSAC merged the administration of the two northern territories as Northern Rhodesia in 1911.
As a result of the various treaties between the BSAC and the black tribes, Acts of Parliament delineating BSAC and Crown Lands, overlapping British colonial commission authority of both areas, the rights of the increasing number of British settlers and their descendants were given secondary review by authorities. This resulted in the formation of new movements for expanding the self-government of the Rhodesian people which saw BSAC rule as an impediment to further expansion.
The Southern Rhodesian Legislative Council election of 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 the United Kingdom and South Africa favored incorporation of Southern Rhodesia in the Union of South Africa, but, by forcing the pace of negotiation, the Southern Rhodesians obtained unfavorable terms and the electorate backed Responsible Government in a 1922 referendum.
In view of the outcome of the referendum, the territory was annexed by the United Kingdom on September 12, 1923. Shortly after annexation, on October 1, 1923, the first constitution for the new Colony of Southern Rhodesia came into force. Under this constitution Sir Charles Coghlan became the first Premier of Southern Rhodesia and upon his death in 1927 he was succeeded by Howard Unwin Moffat.
During World War II, Southern Rhodesian military units participated on the side of the United Kingdom. Southern Rhodesian forces were involved on many fronts including the East and North African Campaigns, Italy, Madagascar and Burma. Southern Rhodesian forces had the highest loss ratio of any constituent element, colony, dependency or dominion of the British Empire forces during World War II. Additionally, the Rhodesian pilots earned the highest number of decorations and ace appellations of any group within the Empire. This resulted in the Royal Family paying an unusual state visit to the colony at the end of the war to thank the Rhodesian people.
Economically, Southern Rhodesia developed an economy that was narrowly based on production of a few primary products, notably, chrome and tobacco. It was therefore 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 307,000. A large number of these immigrants were of British working-class origin. More settlers from the Belgian Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and later Angola and Mozambique as well as increased birth rate, raised the Rhodesian white population to 600,000 by 1976. The black population was about six million.
In the 1940s, the founding of a university to serve central African countries was proposed. Such a university was eventually established in Salisbury, with funding provided by the British and Southern 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 began awarding its own degrees. In 1980 it was renamed the University of Zimbabwe.
In 1953, with calls for independence mounting in many of its African possessions, the United Kingdom created the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (or the Central African Federation, CAF), which consisted of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, respectively). The idea was to try to 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 to form viable independent nations. Originally designed to be “an indissoluble federation”, the CAF quickly started to unravel due to the low proportion of British and other white citizens in relation to the larger Black tribal populations. Additionally, by incorporating the tribes within the Dominion as potential citizens, the Dominion created the paradoxical situation of having a white elite owning most of the land and capital, whilst using cheap black labor.
The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on January 1, 1964. However, it was expected that only Nyasaland would be let go, whilst the remainder of Rhodesia both north and south would be united. Although Northern Rhodesia had a white population of over 100,000, as well as additional British military and civil units and their dependents, most of these were relatively new to the region, were primarily in the extraction business, had little landed interests, and were more amenable to allowing black nationalism than the Southern Rhodesians.
Accordingly, Britain granted independence to Northern Rhodesia on October 24, 1964. However, when the new nationalists changed its name to Zambia and began tentatively at first and later in rapid march an Africanization campaign, 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 recognized by the United Kingdom. The majority of the Federation’s military and financial assets went to Southern Rhodesia, since the British Government did not wish to see them fall into the hands of the nationalist leaders, and since Southern Rhodesia had borne the major expenses of running the Federation.
With regard to the latter, however, Northern Rhodesia was the wealthiest of the three member states (due to its vast copper mines) and had contributed more to the overall building of infrastructure than the other two members did. Southern Rhodesia, recognizing an inevitable dissolution of the Federation, was quick to use federal funds in building its infrastructure ahead of the others. A key component of this was the building of the Kariba Dam and its hydroelectric facility (shafts, control center, etc.), which was situated on the Southern Rhodesian side of the Zambezi 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 state.
With the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia no longer in existence, in 1964 Southern Rhodesia reverted to the name Rhodesia.
In 1965, Rhodesia unilaterally declared itself independent under a white-dominated government led by Ian Smith. After a long civil war between the white government and two African majority, Soviet Bloc-aligned ‘liberation movements’ (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army and Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army), Britain resumed control for a brief period before granting independence to the country in 1980, whereupon it became Zimbabwe.
The first stamps used in Southern Rhodesia were those of the British South Africa Company from 1890. Stamps were first issued inscribed with the name of Southern Rhodesia in 1925. Aside from designs common to the British colonies, several sets were issued with designs specific for Southern Rhodesia. From 1954, stamps of the Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland were released. One set of definitives was issued by Southern Rhodesia in 1964. These were superseded by those of Rhodesia in 1965 and, from 1980, by those of Zimbabwe.
On June 3, 1940, Southern Rhodesia released a set of eight bi-colored pictorial stamps, unwatermarked and perforated 14 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the colony (Scott #56-63). The 1 penny stamp in red and violet blue stamp portrays the hoisting of the Union Jack by Lt. Edward Tyndale Biscoethe of the Pioneer Column on the kopje overlooking Fort Salisbury on the morning of September 13, 1890. Designed by Mrs. L. E. Curtis, the stamps were printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. of London.
The Pioneer Column was a force raised by Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company in 1890 and used in his efforts to annex the territory of Mashonaland, later part of Southern Rhodesia.
Rhodes was anxious to secure Matabeleland and Mashonaland before the Germans, Portuguese or Boers did. His first step was to persuade the Matabele King Lobengula, in 1888, to sign a treaty giving him rights to mining and administration (but not settlement as such) in the area of Mashonaland which was ruled by the King by use of coercion and murderous raids involved tribute-taking and abduction of young men and women. Using this Rudd Concession between Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (allegedly on behalf of Queen Victoria though without any official knowledge or authority) and Lobengula, he then sought and obtained a charter from the British government allowing him to act, essentially although in a limited way, with the government’s consent. The next step was to occupy the territory.
Rhodes’s military advisers estimated that it would take 2,500 men and about one million pounds to win the war that would, they thought, inevitably result when Lobengula realized that Rhodes meant not only to mine but also to occupy his land. Frank Johnson, a 23-year-old adventurer, however, undertook to deliver the territory in nine months with a mere 250 men for £87,500. Frederick Selous, a hunter with close knowledge of Mashonaland, agreed to join the effort as guide. Johnson published recruitment notices in Kimberley offering each volunteer 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of land and 15 mining claims (aggregating about 21 acres, or 8.5 hectares).
On the advice of Rhodes, Johnson selected for his column, from thousands of applicants, mostly the sons of rich families, so that if they were, indeed, imperiled by Lobengula their families would be more likely to enlist British government support for their rescue. Johnson’s column eventually consisted of 180 civilian colonists, 62 wagons and 200 volunteers who ultimately formed the nucleus of what became the British South Africa Police. A further party of 110 men, 16 wagons, 250 cattle and 130 spare horses later attached itself to the column. The troopers were equipped with Martini-Henry rifles, revolvers, seven-pound field guns and Maxim machine guns, as well as an electric searchlight which they later used to good effect to intimidate Matabele warriors shadowing the column.
The route began at Macloutsie in Bechuanaland on June 28, 1890. On July 11, it crossed the river Tuli into Matabeleland. It proceeded north-east and then north over a distance of about 400 miles (650 kilometers) intending to terminate at an open area explored by Selous a few years earlier that he called Mount Hampden. However, the column halted about 9.3 miles (15 km) before that at a naturally flat and marshy meadow bounded by a steep rocky hill; (today’s Harare Kopje) on September 12. The British union flag was hoisted on the following day, September 13, 1890.
Three towns were founded; the first in early August at the head of a gentle route that led up from the low altitude area known as the Lowveld (named Providential Pass), called Fort Victoria (renamed Masvingo in 1982); the second at Fort Charter on a plateau halfway to the terminus of the column at the originally named Fort Salisbury. The Pioneer Corps was officially disbanded on October 1, 1890, and each member was granted land on which to farm.
They originally named the city Fort Salisbury after the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, then British Prime Minister, and it subsequently became known simply as Salisbury. The Salisbury Polo Club was formed in 1896. British South Africa Company administrators demarcated the city and ran it until Southern Rhodesia achieved responsible government in 1923. It was declared to be a municipality in 1897 and it became a city in 1935.
The area at the time of founding of the city was poorly drained and earliest development was on sloping ground along the left bank of a stream that is now the course of a trunk road (Julius Nyerere Way). The first area to be fully drained was near the head of the stream and was named Causeway as a result. This area is now the site of many of the most important government buildings, including the Senate House and the Office of the Prime Minister, now renamed for the use of President Mugabe after the position was abolished in January 1988.
Salisbury was the capital of the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia from 1923, and of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland from 1953 to 1963, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front government declared Rhodesia independent from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965, and proclaimed the Republic of Rhodesia in 1970. Subsequently, the nation became the short-lived state of Zimbabwe Rhodesia; it was not until April 18, 1980, that the country was internationally recognized as independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe. The capital city retained the name Salisbury until 1982.
The name of the city was changed to Harare on April 18, 1982, the second anniversary of Zimbabwean independence, taking its name from the village near Harare Kopje of the Shona chief Neharawa, whose nickname was “he who does not sleep”. Prior to independence, “Harare” was the name of the black residential area now known as Mbare.