During the 1890s the British South Africa Company (BSAC ), controlled by Capebased mining magnate and ardent British imperialist Cecil Rhodes , occupied the area between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers inhabited primarily by the Shona and Ndebele peoples. BSAC forces invaded and conquered the Ndebele Kingdom in 1893 and subdued a rebellion by elements of the Ndebele and Shona in 189697. e territory became known as Southern Rhodesia while the area colonized by the BSAC north of the Zambezi became Northern Rhodesia . Since the vast gold deposits anticipated by Rhodes turned out to be highly exaggerated, the Southern Rhodesia’s economy became dominated by large white settler commercial farms with Africans mostly pushed into small reserves, later renamed Tribal Trust Lands (TTL), from where they provided cheap labour. When the BSAC withdrew from administration in 1922, the territory’s small white population rejected a proposal to join the Union of South Africa and accepted responsible government, a form of internal self-government, from Britain which was granted the following year. Although Southern Rhodesia adopted a non-racial but quali ed voting system, racial discrimination and the nature of the colonial economy meant that very few blacks quali ed to vote. e white minority used its control of the state to pass laws favourable to itself such as the Land Apportionment Act of 1931 which restricted African land ownership to a very small portion of the country. A white Rhodesian identity arose and many settlers looked forward to further political devolution from Britain along the lines of the autonomous dominions such as South Africa and Canada, and it was believed that Southern Rhodesia had earned this anticipated status by the participation of its soldiers in both world wars. At the same time, and mirroring developments across the continent, an African nationalist movement emerged that began in the early twentieth century with small groups of westernized elites who peacefully petitioned the state to reduce racial discrimination and turned more radical and expanded across urban areas immediately a er the Second World War . With the election of the anti-British Afrikaner National Party in South Africa in 1948 which implemented a strict form of racial segregation called apartheid, London sought to create a new powerful ally in Southern Africa by combining the small territories of Southern Rhodesia , Northern Rhodesia and
Nyasaland into the Central African Federation in 1953. Britain invested heavily in the federation helping to build a massive hydro-electric project at Kariba on the Zambezi River and expanding federal military air power. As the federation was controlled by the tiny white minority of Southern Rhodesia , African nationalist movements in all three territories staged increasingly violent protests which were crushed by security forces in a series of states of emergency at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. is internal turmoil, coupled with the move towards decolonization across Africa, prompted Britain to disband the federation in 1963 and the next year independence and majority rule political systems were granted to Northern Rhodesia which became Zambia and Nyasaland which became Malawi . In those countries, the African nationalist movements that had protested colonial rule and federation entered government and quickly turned into autocratic one party states. Given that Southern Rhodesia still enjoyed responsible government, Britain could not legally interfere in its internal a airs and the local white minority elected the conservative Rhodesian Front to maintain their dominance. is led to a political impasse in which Southern Rhodesia demanded the immediate and unconditional granting of dominion status which Britain refused unless there was a guarantee of eventual universal su rage. In November 1965 the Rhodesian Front government, led by Ian Smith , enacted a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI ) from Britain which did very little to stop this illegal action. Smith’s Rhodesia became an international pariah and the target of gradually increasing economic and military sanctions. However, it survived by building close ties with apartheid South Africa and colonial Portugal with its territories in neighbouring Mozambique and Angola , and using its strongly anti-communist stance to appeal for limited covert support from the Western world including the United States.