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Rhodesian Bush War
Second Chimurenga
Zimbabwe Liberation Struggle

Zimbabwe had originally been part of the British colony Rhodesia. It had been a self-governing colony since 1923, but with a white minority ruling over an African majority. In the 1960s a new constitution was approved that allowed for limited African participation, but this failed to appease most Africans.

The Federation of Rhodesia, which had been created in 1953, broke up as African majority governments assumed control of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi). Modern Zimbabwe, then known as Southern Rhodesia, remained under white minority rule whose conservative trends in fact hardened with the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia.

Britain tried to negotiate a way for the government in Southern Rhodesia to eventually allow for African majority rule, but the negotiations proved to be unsuccessful and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia's unilateral independence from Great Britain on November 11, 1965. While Britain considered the act to be an act of rebellion, it did not intervene by force. It did, however, request UN economic sanctions on Rhodesia and it also refused to recognize Rhodesian independence when a British commission's hearings discovered that the vast majority of Africans opposed the terms of Rhodesian independence that did not provide for adequate African representation. In 1966 the UN Security Council placed sanctions on Rhodesia, the first in the history of the Security Council. The sanctions were broadened in 1968 by imposing an almost total embargo on all trade with, investments in, or transfers of funds to Rhodesia and restrictions on air transport were also imposed.

From the opposition to white minority rule emerged two African nationalist organizations: the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and operating from Mozambique, and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo and operating from Zambia. The groups would later be united under the name ZANU-PF in 1974 (PF is short for Patriotic Front). Both organizations carried out guerrilla campaigns against Ian Smith's government throughout the 1970s, largely beginning in 1972. Smith attempted to bring right-wing politicians in the United States and Britain to his cause, but failed and his government continued to go unrecognized by the international community.

Increasing pressures on the Rhodesia and the Smith government continued to mount with embargo-related economic hardships, continued guerilla activity, majority rule in neighboring former Portuguese colonies, and a UK-US diplomatic initiative all bringing pressure to bear on Rhodesia. The Smith government eventually agreed in principle to majority rule and a meeting with African nationalist leaders in Geneva to negotiate a final settlement. However the meeting failed because of Ian Smith's inflexibility and the inability of the African leaders to form a united political front.

A 1978 internal settlement created an interim coalition government with Smith and three black leaders. A 1977 UK-US plan called for majority rule, pre-independence elections, a democratic constitution, and an integrated army. While the plan was not widely supported, no one really rejected it either and it began to go into effect. The United African National Council, led by Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa, won the parliamentary elections but Muzorewa lost credibility as he sought support from South Africa. The elections also failed to end the guerrilla conflict, which continued despite the moves towards majority rule and democratization.

In 1979 the British began aggressive negotiations with African leaders aimed at reaching a final settlement on independence and majority rule. As part of the transition to independence the British reverted to imposing de facto colonial status on Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, which was followed by the lifting of sanctions on the country. The United States lifted sanctions not long afterwards. Three months after the negotiations began, an agreement was signed that called for a cease-fire, new elections, a transition period under British rule, and a new constitution calling for majority rule while protecting minority rights. The new country was to be called Zimbabwe.

With the new agreement, the UN Security Council endorsed the settlement and called upon its member states to remove the sanctions. In the pre-independence elections, ZANU-PF, led by Robert Mugabe, won an absolute majority and was asked to form Zimbabwe's first government. Mugabe stated that he would work for Zimbabwe's integration and reconciliation, as well as repairing the damage from the guerrilla campaigns. In regards to foreign policy, Zimbabwe was to be non-aligned and though it would opposed apartheid in South Africa, it would not be a base for anti-South African guerrillas. The British government formally granted independence to Zimbabwe on April 18, 1980 and most other states followed suit soon after.

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