History Monday: The History of Zimbabwe- Chronology (1953-1970)

At the beginning of this time period, the British government was faced with conflicting demands from Nyasaland, Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia.

1953: The British government imposes a compromise in the form of Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; the Central African Federation. A self-governing colony with its own assembly and prime minister; starting with Lord Malvern.

1957: Joshua Nkomo is elected president of the local branch of the African National Congress (ANC).

1960: The ANC is banned and Joshua Nkomo goes on to found the National Democratic Party (NDP).

1961: The NDP is proscribed, and Joshua Nkomo founds Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU). Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe are his colleagues

1961: Political pressure from Rhodesia’s African majority, combined with support for their cause from the United Nations (UN), causes federal governement to introduce a new constitution allowing for African representation in Rhodesia’s parliament. Proposal creates backlash and Ian Smith founds a new party, Rhodesian Front (RF) committed to white supremacist policies and offering the promise of an independent Rhodesia governed by the European minority.

1962: In elections the Rhodesian Front wins a surprise victory, replacing the moderate United Federation Party. Winston Field becomes Prime Minister with Ian Smith as 1st deputy.

1963: Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe split from ZAPU, to form the rival Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU).

1963: Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland breaks up when Zambia and Malawi gain independence.

1964: In April, four months after the end of the federation, Ian Smith of the Rhodesian Front (RF) becomes prime minister replacing Field. He tries tries to persuade Britain to grant independence. Ian Smith’s first act in office is to order the arrest of Nkomo and Mugabe. Each remains in detention till 1974 (Sithole joins them in November 1965)

1965: On 11 November Smith unilaterially declares independence; Unilateral Declaration Independence (UDI) under white minority rule, sparking international outrage and economic sanctions.

1966-1968: The British government reacts to UDI with patient diplomacy with two meetings with Ian Smith off the coast of Gilbraltar. First on the HMS Tiger in 1966 and HMS Fearless in 1968. Both these meetings were met with blatant refusal to compromise on the part of Ian Smith.

1968: Economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations with British approval in 1968. The Rhodesians rally together and fight against sanctions. This ensures that the sanctions take a long time to bite.

Next History Monday, I will take two weeks to expand on this decade. This first part I will look at the rise of African nationalism and its buidl up to the guerilla war. The second part I will look at the lead up to UDI and how the RF were able to fend off the impact of sanctions.


  1. Gascoigne, 2001. “History of Zimbabwe.”

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