Countries were becoming “independent.”
The post-independence period in all the sub-Saharan countries followed a strangely predictable pattern. Smith called it the “one man, one vote, one time” pattern. In addition to the rise of (generally Communist) dictators for life, the independence movements were also characterized by the rape and slaughter of any remaining white Africans (although it’s supposedly important to protect minorities, protecting whites in Africa is apparently affirmatively bad), massive reductions in economic output and the general decay or outright disappearance of any semblance of civilization. Nevertheless, the Americans and the British (and, of course, the Russians – purely coincidentally, I’m sure) continued to push for independence.
“Freedom” came to Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Congo (1960), Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar (later part of Tanzania), with largely predictable results.
The writing was on the wall for Rhodesia by the early ’60s. They met to draft a new Constitution in hopes the British would grant them independence. Obviously, given the success of other independence movements, the ruling elite (mostly white) were reluctant to follow the fully-democratic route. In drafting the constitution, the leaders met with and obtained approval from over 600 tribal chiefs.
The history of the various constitutions and negotiations is too long (and frankly too depressing) to repeat. Read it, if you can stomach it.
The British perpetually pushed for full elections. The Rhodesians would have elections and consultations with tribal leaders. Always, the elections were considered unrepresentative by the British. Mugabe would convince his supporters to boycott, for example, and the British would be up in arms. Always, the constitutions stated explicitly that the political system was dedicated to “unimpeded progress to majority rule.” It was never enough. Full elections were nearly impossible anyway, in a country that had never taken a census, in which most citizens had no birth certificates, and most citizens were illiterate.
The British essentially outsourced their foreign policy in Africa to the OAU. That organization became a collective of third-rate communist dictators. A fun group to bargain with.
The international community exerted increasing pressure on Rhodesia. The UN labelled Smith a threat to world peace – apparently not wishing to plunge his country into chaos and destruction is a threat to world peace. The UN blockaded the country, even though they simultaneously didn’t recognize its independence. The UN thereby (according to its own logic) blockaded part of the United Kingdom.
Early on, the blockade was largely ineffective. In fact, it gave a boost to agricultural production (at this point Rhodesia actually started exporting food) and industry. However, the blockade put Rhodesia at the mercy of South Africa and Portugal (via it’s colonies, particularly Mozambique).
In a few years, the Portuguese government was overthrown. Portugal soon abandoned its colonies and “free” Mozambique declared war on Rhodesia (ah, freedom).
At this point, Rhodesia was entirely reliant on South Africa for things like access to the sea and bullets. Smith viewed apartheid as “unprincipled and totally indefensible” and an entirely untenable long-term solution.
At this point, South Africa basically threw Rhodesia under the bus, in hopes that doing so would appease the international community. If white South Africans weren’t getting it so badly, you’d almost think they deserved what they were getting for their treatment of Rhodesia.
One can’t help but wonder if South Africa and the international community had their own reasons to focus first on Rhodesia. Was the acceptance of ultimate black rule and the fact that blacks and whites had many equal rights too threatening to South Africa? Was the fact that Rhodesia was so successful too threatening to the international community? For whatever reason, Rhodesia had to be dealt with.
(Smith blames the Communists. Indeed, de-colonization resulted in communist governments in most of Africa. If you read this blog regularly, you may not be surprised that US and British foreign policies were entirely dedicated to gaining additional African territory for communists. Smith, however, was unable to believe that the US and Britain were promoting communist interests. If communists were trying to take over all of Africa (and ultimately the resource rich South Africa), taking Rhodesia first would be a necessary step. This, like much of post-war US and British foreign policy is probably just a coincidence though. It’s worth noting that when Smith visited the US or Britain and spoke to politicians, the politicians were always shocked by Smith’s arguments. Apparently the State Department and Foreign Office were passing communist propaganda on Rhodesia through to politicians. Another coincidence, I’m sure.)
As the situation became more dire, whites started leaving Rhodesia in larger numbers (economic output began declining accordingly). Smith stayed.
A group of black leaders emerged. Generally the leaders were generally tribal leaders (full democracy in these countries at these times just meant putting the largest tribe in control of the country). Leaders at the time include Nkomo, Sithole, Mugabe, and Muzorewa. The latter was the first Prime Minister after Smith, but wasn’t ruthless enough (and hostile enough to whites, one suspects) to keep Mugabe out.
Fully free elections (to the surprise of the British apparently, but not anyone who was actually paying attention) turned out to be competitions to see who could terrorize the largest number of citizens. The prize, under this enlightened method for choosing a leader, would obviously eventually be Mugabe’s.
Smith stayed in Rhodesia until he was stripped of his citizenship, at which point he left for South Africa. He died in 2007. The Zimbabwean “government” seized his land in 2012.