Global Black History

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland


The white settlers in Southern Rhodesia conducted a referendum in 1923 to end British rule and established a new constitution under a system called ‘Responsible Government’. Under this new government there was little interference from the British. The white settlers could pass laws that helped them exploit and oppress black citizens.

After a while, the white settlers devised a plan to expand their territory by merging Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi). Under this plan, the federation would allow settlers from Southern Rhodesia to rule over and exploit the resources and citizens of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. With the British governments approval, the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was created in 1953. The wealth produced in Northern Rhodesia for example was used to fund projects that benefited Southern Rhodesia such as the Kariba dam.

The federation was opposed by most Africans in all three countries. The dissolution of the federation eventually led to the independence of Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda and Malawi under Hastings Banda. After the dissolution of the federation, the British tried to persuade white settlers in Southern Rhodesia to give Africans more power. The group led by Prime Minister Garfield Todd supported giving more rights to Africans but was voted out in 1959 and Edgar Whitehead became Prime Minister. After the British refused to give Southern Rhodesia full independence Prime Minister Ian Smith declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence).

Even after the dissolution of the federation, Africans in Southern Rhodesia remained exploited and oppressed. After the National Democratic Party was banned in 1961, the leaders formed a new party called the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and in 1962, Joshua Nkomo was elected President. The party was formed during a time when poverty and overcrowding was increasing on Tribal Trust Lands. Many people joined ZAPU in protesting in various ways with the hopes that Britain would give them independence. These were the early seeds for Zimbabwe’s complete independence which was eventually achieved in 1980.


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