Was Rhodesia’s Declaration of Independence a shock to Britain and what was the general international response?

I’ll summarise a lot of things that are very complex and very nuanced in a rather basic way if that’s okay, as I’m not an expert but I know a fair bit on Rhodesia and UDI.

According to Wikipedia when Ian Smith declared the independence of Rhodesia in 1965, it created ‘outrage’ in Britain. Is this the case and if so why?

It’s mostly the case. Outrage was caused as the British government and Harold Wilson were seen as having negotiated poorly and ultimately got the worst of both worlds from their perspective, keeping Rhodesia under it’s current rule and losing control of it. There was also outrage from men of a certain age, who couldn’t understand why the Empire wasn’t standing by ‘Good Old Smithy’ and his regime and it’s conservative, anti-communist leanings.

My understanding is Rhodesia had been largely self-governing since the mid-20’s? Why would the British be particularly shocked or outraged about this happening? Wouldn’t it have been seen as inevitability.

Whilst Rhodesia was self-governing, and to be frank, governed rather well, with one of the best civil services, economies, militaries, health services and in general living standards in Africa, it was governed mostly by whites. Voting was universal but whites had a very disproportionate say, the 3% or so minority electing about 80% of the parliament and the 97% of blacks voting for about 10%, with tribes electing representatives for the other 10% (rounded up-ish stats).

Also, Britain and the wider international community had a rule called NIMBAR in negotiating independence in Africa – No Independence Before Majority Rule, referring to the black populations. Harold Wilson, being a left winger and quite internationalist, refused to go against this and generally let the situation deteriorate for both the white and black Rhodesians.

This also comes not long after Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech in Cape Town. The British had accepted independence movements were sweeping across the continent – why would they have been specifically outraged at Rhodesia?

See above; Rhodesia was governed mostly by whites. Whilst this governance was of fair success given the time in history (Civil rights struggle still going on in the US at this point, alongside the cold war and anti-communist feeling, which was personified in Rhodesia as the black rebels were generally self-identified Marxists), it was undeniably not equal in any sense. Whites controlled around half of the land despite being a small minority of the population, and almost all of the money and services. There was a fair bit of segregation, though not apartheid level.

Essentially, Harold Wilson wanted to make Rhodesia (or as he may have preferred, Zimbabwe) to be as successful as Rhodesia, though under black rule. The Rhodesian Front and Ian Smith didn’t believe that giving black rule this early would allow this, and so took it into their own hands.

What led to Smith declaring independence when he did, was it solely because of McMillan’s Cape Town speech? Did they feel the ‘motherland’ was abandoning Africa post war?

There were a lot of factors, including the motherland abandoning Africa (though more importantly what they saw as Christian civilisation and British values I would say), but the breaking point was when negotiations broke down again, which happened to be soon after Winds of Change – It seemed that Ian Smith had sense the mood and realised that the British wouldn’t budge, but also weren’t as strong as they thought they were, and most likely wouldn’t use force – the Rhodesian military being one of the best trained and most professional in the world. At the point of UDI, Smith saw no alternative that would keep white rule, which he believed (and in my opinion, at the time likely was) the way to keep Rhodesia at it’s very high standard and to continually be on the rise.

And finally what was the general international response to the declaration? Was there a reaction from the US, other European powers and particularly other African states?

The UN and African Union (I can’t remember it’s name at the time but same sort of organisation) condemned it and refused to recognise it. The Rhodesians had two allies. South Africa, because white ruled southern African states, and Portugal, under Salazar’s Estado Novo regime, who importantly had colonies either side of Rhodesia in Angola and Mozambique. Rhodesia being landlocked, used these three nations to do a lot of their trade, as of the sanctions from the wider continent. When Salazar died however, Portugal gave Angola and Mozambique independence, and Rhodesia became so reliant on South Africa economically that when they gave up on them in the mid to late seventies, it seemed the game was up for Smith.

The US was fairly ineffective in responding, though was vaguely pro-Rhodesian at times, especially the Republicans, due to their anti-communism and how the US South at the time wasn’t hugely dissimilar to the nicer parts of Rhodesia, but never made an actual move.

Almost all other black run African states and nearly all European powers didn’t recognise Rhodesia or support it’s very existence. The African Union at the time was rather communist dominated as well, which furthered the Rhodesian’s anger at the British abandonment of them, seeing it as pandering to the communist threat which was very real in much of the continent.

It’s a very nuanced and complex situation and time, and as I said I’m no expert and simplified a bit, I’m sure I missed some things out. Nonetheless, I hope I cleared a few things up or was helpful in some way. Don’t eat me if I got a few details wrong.

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Source: AfricaMetro

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