a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Rhodesian Government vs ZANU,ZAPU,PF

Years: 1967-1979
Battle deaths: 27,080 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2014-08-10 17:28:14
The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on January 1, 1964 upon the independence of Malawi and Zambia. When Northern Rhodesia was granted independence by Britain in 1964, it changed its name to Zambia. Southern Rhodesia remained a British colony and came to be known simply as Rhodesia.

The British government adopted a policy known as NIBMAR (No Independence Before Majority African Rule), to the consternation of the white minority Rhodesian Front (RF) government, led by Ian Smith. On November 11, 1965, Smith unilaterally declared the country independent from British rule, in what became known as the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (Rhodesia) (UDI) by the Rhodesian Government. This was internationally condemned and, at the behest of Britain, Rhodesia was placed under the first United Nations Security Council-authorized sanctions, beginning in 1965 up until its independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.

A lengthy armed resistance campaign by ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union) against the Smith government followed UDI. ZANU was, at that time, a Marxist-socialist African nationalist liberation movement, which was led by Robert Mugabe. ZAPU was also a Marxist-socialist African nationalist liberation movement, which was led by Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU was generally considered by the British and the West as more moderate than ZANU). The Rhodesian government struggled and failed to control the ZANU and ZAPU armed campaign, which had developed into a full-scale war covering the whole country. This became known as the "Bush War" by the supporters of the white-dominated government and as "Chimurenga" (liberation war) by supporters of the African nationalist movement.

As a result of internal settlement or agreement between the Rhodesian government and moderate and small African nationalist parties, which were not in exile and therefore not involved in the war, elections were held in April 1979, in which the UANC (United African National Council) party won a majority, and its leader, Abel Muzorewa, a United Methodist Church bishop, became the country’s prime minister on June 1, 1979. At this point the country’s name was changed to Zimbabwe Rhodesia. While these elections were described by the Rhodesian government as non-racial and democratic, they did not include the two prominent political parties within the African nationalist liberation movement, ZANU and ZAPU. Bishop Muzorewa’s government and the country’s new name Zimbabwe Rhodesia did not receive international recognition. The international community recognised that the resolution of the war in Rhodesia must include Mugabe’s ZANU and Nkomo’s ZAPU in order to be successful because these two were critical factors in the armed conflict. This recognition is precisely the reason why the British Government was urged by the International community to intervene.

As a result of the exclusion of the major Afican nationalist parties, i.e., ZANU and ZAPU, armed conflict between these groups and Smith’s government continued unabated. The British Government (then led by the recently elected Margaret Thatcher) intervened again to try to force a settlement between the elected government and the nationalist fighters.

Under the terms of this peace treaty, Britain resumed control for a brief time in 1980 and then granted independence to Zimbabwe Rhodesia during that same year, whereupon the first all-party multi-racial elections were held. There was much intimidation and violence carried out by belligerent parties on both sides. Unsurprisingly, the Marxist Robert Mugabe and ZANU won these elections. On April 18th, 1980, the country became independent as the Republic of Zimbabwe, and its capital, Salisbury, was renamed Harare two years later.


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) ID: #122
Low: 12,050 High: 28,998

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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