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  • Michael Chalk


Updated: Jan 10

The historical trajectory of Rhodesia, spanning the period from the unilateral declaration of independence by the RF Government under Ian Smith in November 1965 to its legal independence as Zimbabwe in April 1980, has been punctuated by severe economic challenges, widespread corruption, a breakdown in law and order, and the emergence of an autocratic regime.

As we reflect on the period from 1965 to 2024, it's undeniable that the country has clearly slid ever deeper into an abyss of misery and turmoil.

The question I have been contemplating is whether a different course would have been charted had the RF Government, in 1965, pursued an amicable settlement with the UK rather than opting for unilateral independence.

Here are some hypothetical observations on what might have transpired in such a scenario:

  1. Avoidance of Widespread Insurrection: With the country remaining under the ultimate control of the UK, it's plausible that the black nationalist movement might not have engaged in widespread insurrection and guerrilla warfare.

  2. Pressure for Independence Through Diplomacy: The black nationalist movement, alongside the OAU and the UN, would have intensified diplomatic efforts to compel Britain to hold the RF accountable and ensure the bestowal of some form of independence.

  3. Avoidance of Rhodesian Bush War: The 13-year Rhodesian Bush War and the consequent loss of many thousands of lives might not have occurred.

  4. Sparing of sanctions: The country would have been spared from nearly 15 years of international sanctions. Ironically this would have slowed the diversification of the country’s economy.

  5. Civil Disobedience Instead of Civil War: Rather than a civil war, a period of civil disobedience would have unfolded as black nationalist parties sought to pressure the RF Government into an independence agreement with the UK.

  6. Adherence to NIBMAR Principle: Britain would have stuck to its principle of "no independence before majority rule" (NIBMAR).

  7. Earlier Independence Agreement: It's conceivable that an agreement with Britain could have been reached by 1970, potentially with less draconian terms than those negotiated at Lancaster House in 1979.

  8. Different Political Landscape in 1970: Assuming an earlier agreement, the 1970 general election might have seen Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU party performing better than it did in 1980. Conversely, ZANU, possibly led by someone other than Mugabe, might not have achieved its landslide victory of 1980.

  9. Sustained UK Influence: Post-independence, the UK would likely have retained more influence in the country compared to the situation after 1980, with reduced influence from Russia and China.

On balance, it seems plausible that, in the hypothetical scenario of the RF Government shunning UDI, the country might have experienced a more favourable outcome than it did post-UDI.

Your thoughts on these speculations are welcomed.

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