Zambia and Rhodesia UDI, 50 Years Later

Zambia and Rhodesia UDI, 50 Years Later


Gabriel C Banda


NOVEMBER 2015 marks fifty years after the proclamation of UDI, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, in Southern Rhodesia. For on November 11, 2015, Rhodesia’s Ian Douglas Smith and his team forcibly declared Independence, under firm control of the local white population, of the territory of Southern Rhodesia. This move defied the authority of the British government, which was officially in charge of the territory. Africans referred to the country as “Zimbabwe.”

Southern Rhodesia had been part of the three state Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, sometimes called the Central Africa Federation. The Federation existed from 1953 to December 1963. Before and during the Federation, many things, from trade and commerce to export and import routes, were linked. There were commonly owned facilities of railways and airlines. Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia shared the Kariba Dam and hydro electricity station there.

Copper producing Northern Rhodesia was the richer and much of its finances went to maintain Southern Rhodesia programmes. Africans in the territories had fought the Federation believing the arrangement was mainly at the advantage of the white population in Southern Rhodesia.

In October 1964, Northern Rhodesia went on to become independent Zambia. Nyasaland had become Malawi in July 1964. The independence of Malawi and Zambia quickened efforts by the white settler community in Southern Rhodesia to take over and prevent a process of true Independence involving the native Black African population. The Smith team wanted to avoid the principle of “No Independence Before Majority Rule.”

                                                          UDI Acoming

The events leading to the treason against the British Crown and the people of Zimbabwe had been long acoming. UDI was predicted. Leaders of Africa and elsewhere asked the British government to step in and, if necessary, use force to reverse the coming defiance. Britain refused to use force. When on November 11, 2015, UDI was declared by Ian Smith and his team, the African governments still urged Britain to use force.

There were also plans by independent African governments, through the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, to use military force to crash the Rhodesia rebellion. Instead, Britain proposed economic sanctions, saying the Rhodesia regime would last not months but a matter of “weeks” as consequence of the economic sanctions.

The events around UDI were to affect Zambia for long. Indeed, the current situation of Zambia has been greatly influenced by those events of November 1965. Besides Zambia, many others in the world have been affected by the Rhodesia UDI. UDI Rhodesia was a factor in the entry of China into Africa and development of relations with various parts of the world.

At UDI in 1965, the newly independent state of Zambia, landlocked, was in a special situation. Independent bordering neighbours included Congo, Malawi, and Tanzania. But there was tension on other borders.

Besides Rhodesia on the Southern border, Zambia had Portuguese ruled territories of Angola, on the west, and Mozambique, on the East. Again on the West was the South Africa occupied South West Africa, popularly known as Namibia. This was a United Nations trust territory and occupying South Africa was expected to vacate the territory. Further South was apartheid South Africa.

Built on racism and widely isolated, the regimes of the Portuguese, in Angola and Mozambique, and Rhodesia and South Africa collaborated politically, economically, and militarily to fight Black Africans in struggle.

In 1965, Britain refused to crash the impending UDI. Zambia and others at the United Nations, trying to prevent UDI from happening, passed Resolutions 2012(XX) and 2022 (XX). A few days before UDI, the United Nations urged the use of pre-emptive force. Britain did not go along. Around that time, the USA supported Africa in the plan of force against the Ian Smith team.

When UDI happened, Britain still refused to use some force. Instead, it offered economic sanctions. In December 1966, through Security Council Resolution 253 Prime Minister Harold Wilson said that, through the obligatory sanctions, the UDI rebellion would be over “within a matter of weeks rather than months.”

But the Smith regime was to go on for some fourteen years, leading to a war that was costly for both Zimbabwe and neighbours like Zambia. Members of the armed forces and civilians on the Rhodesian side also suffered, with deaths, injuries, displacement, and isolation.

The Rhodesia regime lived on through various schemes, supported or shielded by South Africa, the Portuguese in Mozambique, and some western governments and businesses. Ian Smith is quoted as having said that there would not be Black Rule in his life time and in a thousand years. This contributed to making the freedom fighters determined and to use force.

                                                                           Various Ways

Zambia supported neighbouring freedom fighters in various ways. There was diplomatic assistance involving various platforms. Zambia used Mulungushi Club, the forerunner to the Frontline States. Zambia also worked with the OAU, Commonwealth, Non Aligned Movements, and the United Nations.

There were also various international and inter-continental programmes and organisations Zambia used to spread the message of support for those fighting for freedom. Zambia provided passports for members of freedom movements to travel on to various parts of the world.

Zambia supported the freedom movements through hosting refugees and cadres. Zambia provided accommodation, financial, and material support to enable persecution of the struggles. Zambia also provided safety, from harm, for the freedom fighters.


Zambia and its people, largely following United Nations and international actions against the Rhodesia regime, were affected in various ways. Because of the close historical bonds over the decades, following economic and trade sanctions affected Zambia’s import and export routes. Zambia began to divert from the South routes that were linked to Rhodesia and South Africa.

It was some cost to begin to think of using and building new routes for export and import. Zambia then faced East, towards independent Tanzania. At great cost, Zambia transported exports and imports via Dar es Salaam. There were then no efficient roads and railways. In that emergency, Zambia transported copper, for export, by plane! And, from Tanzania, petroleum drums were flown into Zambia. The airlift was helped by the governments of Canada, Britain, and USA.
Zambia began to think of permanent, stable, routes.

The Great North Road, to Tanzania, was being built. Trucks, from Italy and driven by drivers from Somalia, ran the very rough “Hell Run.” The ZamTan transport company was started.

There was also need to consider a railway line. The possible rail route Eastwards had been known to be possible. When Kenneth Kaunda approached the government of China, he was told to first try the Western governments and get back only when the West declined to undertake the railway building.

Britain and some in the West were not in favour of Zambia building new infrastructure linked to routes and routing. They said the UDI rebellion would soon end and it was not necessary to build new infrastructure and facilities. Kenneth Kaunda and his colleagues then went back to China.

The long TAZARA, Tanzania-Zambia Railway, was built by the Chinese. That is how the Chinese government got close to Zambia and later began to spread to other parts of Africa, and the world. So, the events of Rhodesia and November 11 1965 greatly affected China and its direction.

Because the dissolution of the Federation had taken civil and military aircraft to Rhodesia, Zambia ended up trying to develop its own airlines, airforce, and required structures. Meanwhile, there was tension between Zambia and Rhodesia. Zambia’s military equipment imported in through Rhodesia was confiscated by The Smith regime.

Due to international sanctions, Zambia began to look elsewhere for both routes and actual trade in items.
Another vital commodity was energy. With the help of neighbour Tanzania, the Italian government helped Zambia build infrastructure for transporting petroleum. A refinery was built at Ndola.

There was also uncertainty over access to electricity as the major source at Kariba Dam and power station were jointly owned by Zambia and Rhodesia, hostile neighbours. Zambia thought of building the huge Kafue Gorge power station.
As with TAZARA railway, some in the West were reluctant to help Zambia in building. They considered UDI a short-lived action that would not require separate facilities and infrastructure for Zambia. They wanted Zambia to continue with the Southern routes, which also benefitted Rhodesia and South Africa.

Initially, the World Bank was opposed to Zambia building the Kafue Gorge power station. President Kenneth Kaunda sent representatives to the USA government, which had authority over World Bank and also appreciated Zambia’s situation over Rhodesia and South Africa. The USA told the World Bank to allow Zambia to have the power station built.

So it was. Yugoslavia, with its Energo Project and Energo Invest, dealing with the structures and civil engineering and Sweden, dealing with the electricity equipment, were amongst those involved in building Kafue Gorge power station.
Later, Zambia went on to build at Kariba North Bank. These increased Zambia’s capacity to withstand sanctions with and from Rhodesia and South Africa.

Zambia was affected through financial and economic sanctions. At that time, Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere said that if Zambia, being in the frontline and greatly affected, were to opt out of the heavy sanctions, the rest of the world would understand. But Zambia believed in following the sanctions.

Zambia was also affected through the military cost. Zambia began to spend more to build capacity to withstand the hostile neighbouring regimes of Portuguese Angola, Rhodesia, and South Africa. People in Zambia feared letter bombs and parcel bombs. These killed and maimed people, such as the writer Chiman Vyas, in Zambia.

As nationalist fighters intensified against the regimes, the regimes, in “hot pursuit,” began to attack the liberation movements where they were based. Many of them were in Zambia.

                                                                       Green Army

The neighbouring regimes began to raid further into Zambia, attacking freedom fighters and Zambia’s infrastructure, military forces, and civilians. In response, besides training others from other sectors, in 1975, Zambia began conscription of school leaver females and males into training by Zambia National Service, which became part of the combined Zambia National Defence Force, ZNDF. This increased Zambia’s military troops. Eventually, dubbed the Green Army by Rhodesia and South Africa, they not only received training but served in the ZNDF.

From the 1960s, due to raids by the neighbouring regimes, many freedom fighters and Zambians were killed and wounded. Zambia’s infrastructure was bombed and some of it was rebuilt through public contributions. Fifty years after UDI, there are still some areas of Zambia known to still have unremoved landmines that were planted by the racist forces and freedom fighters.

                                                                      Basic Needs

Due to pressures in the independence and liberation struggles, Zambia’s programmes in basic needs, having deeply advanced from independence, deeply building capacities in various fields, were slowed down.

Economic impact of the 1973 Rhodesia border closure led Zambia to its first facility with the International Monetary Fund, IMF, that machinery whose negative programmes, some of them with the imprimatur of the force of evil, act against the integrity of life and have contributed immense suffering, deaths, inequity, want, and disturbance to life and living.

IMF later, in the 1980s, imposed harsh Structural Adjustment” austerity conditions that contributed to poverty and shaking of indebted Zambia’s social fabric. As in other parts of the world, it led, twice, in 1986 and 1990, to riots over food prices. Zambia’s role in supporting independence and liberation movements in Africa contributed to its debt profile. But there was no organised international programme to help Zambia cover the effects of the Southern Africa struggles.

                                                                     Africa wide

From Independence, with President Kenneth Kaunda quoting the Pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah on the independence of one country being limited if the rest of Africa was not free, Zambia hosted independence and liberation movements that had initially been based in Tanzania.

The Pan Africa support had started from West Africa, North Africa, and Ethiopia. Ghana, under Nkrumah, and Egypt, under Gamal Abdel Nasser, supported others who in turn, on independence, also supported others with struggles. Emperor Haile Selassie and Ethiopia hosted the Organisation of African Unity, launched in 1963, at Addis Ababa. The advances for independence accelerated after formation of OAU and its Liberation Committee based in Tanzania.

                                                        Portugal Coup, 1974

A major event was the collapse of the Portuguese government in April 1974. Due to dissatisfaction over the impact of liberation wars in Africa, there was a coup de tat. The new rulers came over to Zambia and, in talks mediated by Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda, struck a transition agreement with the FRELIMO movement.

The Independence of Mozambique, in June 1975, followed by the Independence proclamation in Angola, speeded up the pressure on the Smith and South African regimes. The Mozambique front the Zimbabwe fighters began to use increased pressure.

Finally, in August 1979, the Lusaka Commonwealth summit managed to get Rhodesia back under British control. Talks were held at Lancaster House, London, with President Kaunda present to help if needed by any side. Elections came and Zimbabwe became independent in April 1980. Robert Mugabe became ruler.

Becoming a member of the Frontline States, this Zimbabwe Independence helped Namibia, reaching Independence in 1990, and South Africa, with Kenneth Kaunda negotiating with Frederik de Klerk for the release of Nelson Mandela and colleagues.

In 1994, the “Last Laager” in Africa had transformed from the apartheid system, with Nelson Mandela becoming President of South Africa. For Africa and the world, it had been some experience with much suffering that could have been avoided through willingness to dismantle the structures, processes, institutions, and cultures of racism and oppression.

                                                                   In Various Places

The fight against UDI achieved through the actions of persons, governments, and institutions in various places of the world. Zambia was greatly affected. At the same time, Zambia could not have survived without the support of many others all over the world. In a world then divided by the “Cold War” political blocs, Zambia’s governments tried to be Non Aligned and managed to acquire much and build capacities through links with those from both West and East.

Zambia survived the many hostile neighbours because of both local support and the assistance of many others in the world. They provided support in various fields, including trade and commerce, finance, material, diplomatic, military, planning, and friendship. They helped Zambia build capacities to survive the situation. Some of that capacity has reached 2015, some fifty years after UDI.

                                                              Open Support

Zambia’s support for the independence and liberation movements was very open. However, there were other governments of Africa and other parts of the world that supported Southern Africa liberation movements in some quiet or hidden manner.

Those avoided being directly attacked by forces of the Portuguese, Rhodesia, and South Africa.
Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda said the fight against UDI and racism was not against white persons but “what was wrong.” He cautioned that people should be careful not to see an Ian Douglas Smith in every white face they came across.

Actually, Kenneth Kaunda, a supporter of the ways of his friend Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi had Non Violent struggle for Zambia’s Independence struggle. On Rhodesia UDI, Namibia, and South Africa, he still helped mediate or negotiate reaching some Non-Violent settlement during the disputes and at the end.

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This is a summarised version of a longer piece of writing. Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing and the arts, social development, and peace issues. He has attended the MA in Peace Studies programme, University of Bradford.

GCB, November 2015, LUSAKA.


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