Northern and Southern Rhodesia (pre-1950)

Northern and Southern Rhodesia (pre-1950)
Northern and Southern Rhodesia (pre-1950)

In 1911, Northern Rhodesia, a wealthy protectorate of the United Kingdom with borders that corresponded roughly to modern Zambia, was created from a combination of North West Rhodesia and North East Rhodesia. Both of these areas were under the control of the British South Africa Company, which had acquired the area in 1899 by dint of a royal charter.

This empowered the company with complete administrative control over what became known as Southern Rhodesia and Northern Bechuanaland. While the charter gave the company power in the south, it soon expanded northward, extending its activities across the Zambezi River into what eventually became Northern Rhodesia.

The name of the area was derived from the name of Cecil John Rhodes, renowned British empire builder and the most influential figure in the European expansion into southern Africa. Rhodes gained influence for the British in the area through negotiations with local chiefs for mineral rights in 1888.

These negotiations, while questionable in terms of fairness to the indigenous population, were so successful that later the same year both Northern and Southern Rhodesia were proclaimed a part of the British sphere of influence. Southern Rhodesia was formally annexed and was granted self-government in 1923.

Northern Rhodesia remained under the complete administrative and legislative control of the British South Africa Company until the same year, at which time the company surrendered all of its buildings, assets, land, and other monopolistic rights aside from mineral rights in return for a cash payment from the British government.

Thus, Northern Rhodesia became a British protectorate, and in 1924 executive and legislative councils were established along with the office of the governor of Northern Rhodesia. Seeing the situation of the white population in nearby South Africa, the Colonial Office promoted the immigration of white settlers to the area, reserving huge stretches of prime farmland taken from important tribal areas. This appropriation of land clashed with the land rights of the local population, who had little recourse for complaining about the situation.

British South Africa Company logo
British South Africa Company logo
The outbreak of World War II saw Northern Rhodesia playing an important role for the British. As soon as the war began, citizens of Northern Rhodesia signed up to fight for the British army in both the European and African theaters.

Arguably as important, the vast copper resources of Rhodesia were used to create vital munitions for the British war effort. This desperate need for copper caused an upswing in the price of the material, which saved the failing Rhodesian economy.

Northern Rhodesia was considered as a possible location for the settlement of European Jews fleeing the political repression of the Nazi regime in Germany, particularly following the Kristallnacht, a massive anti-Semitic pogram launched by facist organizations on November 9, 1938.

Following the war, Northern Rhodesia took steps toward democratization with the establishment of an African Representative Council in 1946. Again following the lead of South Africa, white Rhodesia settlers opposed any policy that would allow the larger African population to gain greater representation in the political process or better access to education.

Most of the white population pushed for an amalgamation with the more prosperous Southern Rhodesia. In spite of the strong opposition of the white population, two African members were appointed to the Northern Rhodesian legislative council in 1948, the first step toward enfranchising the indigenous peoples. Northern Rhodesia became the independent nation of Zambia on October 24, 1964.

The area known as Southern Rhodesia corresponds roughly to modern Zimbabwe. After the split in 1923, Southern Rhodesia became known simply as Rhodesia. Previously, in 1922, nearly 30,000 white settlers in Southern Rhodesia voted for the area to become self-governing rather than integrated into the Union of South Africa.

Very soon after the annexation by the British government in 1923, Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing colony. As with Northern Rhodesia, the right to vote was tied primarliy to property qualifications. While a few black Africans were elected to the assembly, the legislature was predominantly white.

In 1930, the Southern Rhodesian Land Act was passed, excluding black Africans from owning the best farmland and creating a situation similar to the one experienced by the native people in South Africa at the same time. Four years later, a labor law excluding black Africans from entering the skilled trades and professions was passed. Additional legislation of the time continued to discriminate against the native population.

The indigenous peoples suffered repeated shrinking of areas set aside for them, the constant confiscation of the best, most arable lands, and continued exclusion from any professions that required specific skills. Education tended to be private schools that catered to the white minority, with the education of the native Africans relegated to missionaries.

However, with the onset of World War II, the social conditions of Southern Rhodesia were forced to change. During the war, many young white men enlisted to serve in the British army; this meant that black African natives had to fill the vacated jobs to prevent the complete collapse of the economy. This, more than anything,started to empower the natives.

The black population of Southern Rhodesia was not unrepresented in the legislature but was significantly under-represented. Dissatisfaction with the local political situation began to grow in the native community, and many social and political organizations advocating the demands of the local black population sprang up.

Following the war, the British Colonial Office attempted to assuage the situation with constitutional changes, increasing the size of the electorate and granting political representation to the African majority. Naturally, the powerful white minority opposed these measures, believing that the Colonial Office had no authority; Southern Rhodesia had been self-governing since 1924.

This position was enhanced by the return of white Rhodesian servicemen following the end of the war; veterans wanted their jobs back, a situation that permitted the environment of pushing aside the grievances of the black African population and increasing racial policies that closely resembled those of neighboring South Africa.

Southern Rhodesia would remain relatively peaceful by African standards until the 1960s.