Ian Smith signing the UDI

The Unilateral Declaration of Independence which is popularly known as the UDI was announced by Ian Smith, the first Rhodesian born Prime Minister on 11 November 1965 and it brought forth the independence of Southern Rhodesia from the British Crown. The prefix 'Southern' was dropped and the 'former' British colony was now called Rhodesia. Rhodesia regarded itself independent from British influence and severed all its ties with Britain in as far as the governance of the colony was concerned. Smith's predecessors had tried to broker a deal with Britain to be granted independence but this was all in vain. Smith unlike his predecessors took a somewhat brave step by deciding that Rhodesia had to attain independence by force rather than by consent. The UDI had serious repercussions for the Smith's led regime which was however brought to an end by the nationalist movements through a protracted struggle, the Second Chimurenga.

Events Preceding the UDI

Prior to the announcement of the UDI, several attempts had been instigated which all signalled that Southern Rhodesia present day Zimbabwe was on the path of desiring to severe all its ties with Britain. In 1923, there was the introduction of a Responsible Government which meant the creation of an internal government meant to improvise the control of the colony. Before 1923, the colony was administered by the British South Africa Company (BSAC).[1] By virtue of being accorded the power to form an internal government, Southern Rhodesia stood out to be a distinguished colony of the British as contrasted to other colonies under the British Crown.

As a self-governing colony, Southern Rhodesia acquired a privileged status within the Commonwealth, something that was not granted to any other British colony.[2] Though this can be said to have been the appropriate time and period in which Southern Rhodesia was to push for the attainment of independence from the British, the whites were however reluctant to do so. When interest in this move was now quickening, it was obstructed by the negotiations fronting the formation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which came into being in 1953.[2] For Southern Rhodesia to be independent, it implied that the federation had to be dismantled first whereby Southern Rhodesia was to stand as a separate entity from Nyasaland present-day Malawi, akin to what was prevalent prior to the formation of the federation. This was a mammoth task for the whites to achieve.

In the wake of all this, the then Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Edgar Whitehead negotiated successfully for the removal of British reserve powers under its 1923 constitution.[2] Despite this, however, Edgar Whitehead was voted out of power mainly because of his stance to tolerate Africans in all spheres of life, something that was detested by the minority whites who wanted to retain their hegemony in the colony.

Winston Field replaced Whitehead and he embarked on a relentless campaign to ensure that the British government was to bulge to his suggestion of letting Southern Rhodesia be independent of the British Crown. The British government objected to this on the basis that independence was to be granted only if Africans' voting rights and representation in parliament was extended.[2] The Winston led government objected to these ideas as well as his party, the Rhodesian Front. In January 1964, the British government only complied on paper that Southern Rhodesia was to be granted a sovereign status but alas when Field returned to London in March 1964, nothing came out and this quickened the impatience of the whites in Southern Rhodesia.[2] Because of his failure to convince the British government, Field was forced to resign and he did so in April 1965, paving way for Smith who was the Deputy Prime Minister, one who had shown his interest in adopting a more aggressive approach towards the British government.

Smith's Aggressive Stance

Before his investiture as the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, Smith visited London frequently to warn the British government of what was happening in Southern Rhodesia.[2] The government however remained reluctant. Smith's move can be said to have been a step to entice the British government to agree to grant its colony independence but alas this yielded no results.

Upon assuming the Prime Minister's post, Smith who was referred to as the astute spokesman of the settler's interest, began to campaign to gather support on what he was intending to do. On 25 June 1965, he made a nationwide broadcast declaring that if negotiations fail only once more, he was going to unilaterally declare Southern Rhodesia as a sovereign state.[2]

On 11 November 1965, Smith declared that Southern Rhodesia was now an independent state and the 'Southern' prefix was dropped, and what was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia was now Rhodesia.[3] This was viewed as an act of insurgency, ineffective to law and Rhodesia was termed a rebel colony no longer being recognised by Britain and the rest of the international community with the exception of South Africa and France as well as USSR (Russia) which remained neutral.[4]

A photo of the UDI document

Post UDI Era

After the declaration of the UDI, economic sanctions were put in place as a way to invoke the Rhodesians to repudiate their move. Instead of crippling the Rhodesian economy, the sanctions boosted the economy of the colony rather than undermining the colony. This was mainly because these sanctions were applied cynically.[1] On 3 December 1965, the British government suspended governors and directors of the Reserve Bank of Rhodesia and Rhodesian reserves in Britain were frozen.[5]

In April 1966, informal talks were held between Smith and Harold Wilson who was the then Prime Minister of Britain in a bid to influence Smith to repudiate the UDI.[5] This never fulfilled the intended goal. After the failure of these talks, the United Nations (UN) called all its members to implement economic sanctions by the end of 1966 which were renewed annually.[5] In 1967, Lord Alport who was once the High Commissioner of the Central African Federation visited Rhodesia in the hope of discovering a way in which a stalemate could be brokered.[5]

In 1968, talks were held again but they never yielded any results and the UN condemned Britain's lack of interest to intervene militarily through Resolution 253.[6] It was reported that Britain was reluctant to intervene militarily because of the colony's brave war record. Ex-service men from both the First and Second World Wars were said to have been settled in the prosperous territory in greater numbers as contrasted to any British colony.[6] Hence it was a grease mountain to climb for the British government to intervene militarily in Rhodesia to denounce the UDI because the colony was deemed more powerful and strong in the military.

Reactions of the Nationalists Movements

The nationalists movements, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) reacted fiercely to the UDI. Their first step was to call upon the British government to use force to make Smith reverse the UDI but this was never done.[6] ZANU PF petitioned the UN and the Organisation of the African Union (OAU) for assistance.[6] Both movements finally resorted to an armed struggle being aided by independent African nations and this saw the end of the Smith's led regime bringing forth the independence of the country in 1980 after the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Paul Moorcraft, Rhodesia's War of Independence, "History Today", published:1990,retrieved:30 June 2014"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Douglas G. Anglin, Unilateral Independence, "Canadian International Council", published:1964, retrieved:30 June 2014"
  3. , Rhodesia, "Zimbabwe Online":,retrieved:30 June 2014"
  4. , 1965: Rhodesia breaks from UK, "BBC News", published:11 Nov 1965,retrieved:30 June 2014"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Chronology: Rhodesia UDI: Road To Settlement, "IDEAS",:,retrieved:30 June 2014"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Alistar Boddy-Evans, Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), "African History",:,retrieved:30 June 2014"