When I was born in 1970 Rhodesia existed, today it does not exist. Instead Zimbabwe exists in its place and the people we think of as Rhodesian's, the whites of Rhodesia, mostly do not live in Zimbabwe and many do not even call themselves Rhodesian any more. But why should that be?
Now many wonder why should a country that had fought long and bravely for its independence no longer exist? Rhodesia had many advantages, it produced so much food it was called the breadbasket of Africa, it was a Democracy (a limited Democracy as only whites could vote), it had a small but very good military and the white population was very loyal.
To understand lets first have a look at their history.
In the 1880's the British Empire was seeking to control as much of Africa as it possibly could, it wanted a continuous line of territories, often known as Cairo to Cape Town. In the early 1890's Cecil Rhodes the richest man in Southern Africa had the tribes of the area sign a treaty giving up mineral rights. The tribes were happy to get what seemed like money for nothing, but of course mining requires more than just mines. It requires miners and they require food and entertainment and accommodation, minerals need to be transported and at that time it was by railway. And all of this needs to be administered and policed. The tribes tried to stop this by attacking the few whites in the area. This seemingly unprovoked attacked created a lot of bad blood on the part of the whites. The military defeat of the tribes within months of their starting what they called the "Chimurenga" created a lot of bad blood on the African side. By 1900, after a second war, Rhodesia, as the country was now known was part of the British Empire and Africans lost nearly all political power.
In 1895 an employee of Cecil Rhodes, Dr. Jameson lead a raid into the then the independent Republic of the Transvaal. The raid was a disaster and President Krugal of the Transvaal was very generous and send them back without punishment. In 1899 war broke out between the British Empire and the two Boer Republics in South Africa. Rhodesia was solidly behind the British Empire. The war was bloody and for the Boers (now known as Afrikaners) the war ended in defeat and the destruction of their republics. In 1910 The Union of South Africa was created uniting British colonies with the former Boer Republics together into one country.
In 1923 Rhodesia, now divided into Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), was asked in a referendum if it wanted to become a self governing colony with the British Empire, or whether it wanted to join the Union of South Africa, it chose to be self governing.
In the last 1950's it was decided that the British colonies within Africa would be given independence, in Rhodesia this created a problem as the whites who governed the country did not want to be controlled by the much larger African population. They argued that the Africans had neither the skills or the ability to govern the country and that to give power to the majority African population was irresponsible. The period until 1965 was one of the British Government trying to get white Rhodesian's to agree to give power to a majority African population and the white Rhodesian's saying no. In 1965 Rhodesia broke way and declared itself independent. UDI as it was known, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. In International law this didn't make Rhodesia independent but a territory in rebellion. The British tried to negotiate with the Rhodesian's but to no avail. In 1970 Rhodesia declared itself a Republic. From this point on the security situation which had been unstable started to get very bad. Each year got worse and finally in 1979 Rhodesia signed the Lancaster House Agreement which created Zimbabwe.
I believe that their are three primary reasons why Rhodesia failed
Here is a map of Rhodesia, you'll notice that Rhodesia has a big problem, it's landlocked. This presents enormous economic and security problems. As a general rule it's cheaper to transport goods in this order, by sea, by rail, by road, by air. Straight away one of those is denied to Rhodesia as it has no port. Rhodesia must have good relations with as many of its neighbours as it possibly can just to stay economically viable. If it does not then the rail and road transport links are in danger, if they are cut then only air transport remains. It means that Rhodesia has a major problem in both importing goods, such as oil and in exporting its agricultural products.
Security wise being landlocked is also bad. Having a coastline means you can project power and that it is possible to stop maritime attacks or infiltration easier, not 100% but still easier. Land borders are porous as often borders are lines on a map and not geographical features such as mountain ranges or rivers. Zambia and Rhodesia had the Zambezi River as a border, but between Mozambique and Rhodesia there were next to no physical barriers.
White Rhodesian's feared majority African rule, one man one vote, but in reality they denied any real political solution to the problem because they didn't even allow 100 men one vote. Africans were nearly completely denied political power or representation. White Rhodesian's were, it's true, good administrators, but when an entire people cannot have a say in how they are Governed it creates problems. If an intelligent or ambitious young man sees he can never have political power what is he to do? Should he just give up, or should he strife to achieve that power and if it is still denied to him then what other option does he have except to fight? If one side says join us and we will give you power and the other side says join us and you'll never have political power, who would you join?
I'm not saying Rhodesia needed to have one man one vote, but it needed something better than all Africans no vote.
In 1977 Rhodesia sought an Internal Agreement, which it got, from moderate African leaders. The Government then sought to undermine it's own agreement because in reality it didn't want anything to change at all. This destroyed the Internal Agreement, discredited the moderate African leadership and destroyed its own credibility with loyal Africans. It also meant that only the extreme leaders remained so when a final agreement was signed it was with them.
When Rhodesia declared UDI in 1965 it had natural allies in Southern Africa, South Africa and the Portuguese Empire which still controlled Angola and Mozambique. But over time it was to lose even these allies and by 1979 it was effectively friendless. But lets step back and look at this in stages.
Only Zambia is hostile and it needs Rhodesia economically, so while it says nasty things about Rhodesia in reality it is only mildly hostile, even thought it does allow guerrillas to operate from it's territory. Britain has announced sanctions against Rhodesia and has naval ships enforcing it but it's only of limited effectiveness. Many countries quietly support Rhodesia, even Eastern bloc Communist countries trade without issue.
The African states in Southern Africa that face Rhodesia and South Africa are now called the Frontline States, they are receiving much needed support, economically, militarily and politically. They are encouraged to stand up to Rhodesia and because of the support they are now receiving they do, with much backsliding at times. The wars in Angola and Mozambique are getting harder for the Portuguese, more men, money and resources are needed to continue fighting and the guerrillas are receiving much needed aid from the Communist bloc. At the same time South Africa is starting to be put under a lot of pressure to cut Rhodesia loose.
In 1974 there is a military coup in Portugal and Angola and Mozambique are given their independence. The economic and security problems start to get very big now. In 1977 South Africa cuts Rhodesia loose. To many people this seems strange as they seem to be two pees in a pod, but in reality neither Rhodesia nor South Africa really understand the other. Rhodesia believes that South Africa will stand by it no matter what, but that isn't true. South Africa resents Rhodesia as the Afrikaners who ran South Africa think of Rhodesia as a left over piece of the hated British Empire. The British Empire attacked them and destroyed their republics, told them how to live and killed many during the war of 1899-1902. They had no love for Rhodesia, particularly as Rhodesian's had rejected South Africa in 1923 when it was given the chance to join. By 1979 Rhodesia had no friends, it had trouble trading, it couldn't maintain it's military force and it had enemies near and far.
Rhodesia failed because it could no longer pretend that it lived in its own world. The rest of the world had opinions about how Rhodesia should be governed and whether it was right or wrong it's opinion could no longer be ignored. The future was supposed to be brighter but it wasn't, for all the problems of Rhodesia it's successor state Zimbabwe was to truly fail. But thats for another time.
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