Prime Minister of Rhodesia

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Prime Minister of Rhodesia
Flag of the Prime Minister of Rhodesia (1970-1979).svg
Flag of the Prime Minister of Rhodesia (1970–1979)
Style The Right Honourable
Appointer Governor of Southern Rhodesia (1923–1970)
President of Rhodesia (1970–1979)
Formation1 October 1923
First holder Charles Coghlan
Final holder Ian Smith
Abolished1 June 1979
Succession Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Rhodesia

The Prime Minister of Rhodesia (before 1964, of Southern Rhodesia) was the head of government in Rhodesia. Rhodesia, which became a self-governing colony of Britain in 1923, unilaterally declared independence on 11 November 1965, and was thereafter an unrecognized state in practice until 1979. In December 1979, the country came under temporary British control, and in April 1980 the country gained recognized independence as Zimbabwe.

Head of government is a generic term used for either the highest or second highest official in the executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, who often presides over a cabinet, a group of ministers or secretaries who lead executive departments. The term "head of government" is often differentiated from the term "head of state", as they may be separate positions, individuals, or roles depending on the country.

Rhodesia former country in Africa

Rhodesia was a country in southern Africa from 1965 to 1979, equivalent in territory to modern Zimbabwe. Rhodesia was the de facto successor state to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, which had been self-governing since achieving responsible government in 1923. A landlocked nation, Rhodesia was bordered by South Africa to the south, Bechuanaland to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east.

In the British Empire, a self-governing colony was a colony with an elected government in which elected rulers were able to make most decisions without referring to the colonial power with nominal control of the colony. Most self-governing colonies had responsible government.


Rhodesia's political system was modeled on the Westminster system, and the Prime Minister's role was similar to that of the same position in other countries with similar constitutional histories Canada, for example, or Australia.

Westminster system democratic parliamentary system of government

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system of government developed in the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national legislatures and subnational legislatures of most former British Empire colonies upon gaining responsible government, beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890. However, some former colonies have since adopted either the presidential system or a hybrid system as their form of government.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, many near the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.


The British self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia—simply Rhodesia from October 1964—was created on 1 October 1923, from land previously governed by the British South Africa Company. The British government annexed the land, then immediately sold it to the newly formed responsible government of Southern Rhodesia for £2 million.

Southern Rhodesia self-governing British colony from 1923 to 1980

The Colony of Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing British Crown colony in southern Africa. It was the predecessor state of what is now Zimbabwe.

British South Africa Company former mining and colonial enterprises company

The British South Africa Company was established following the amalgamation of Cecil Rhodes' Central Search Association and the London-based Exploring Company Ltd which had originally competed to exploit the expected mineral wealth of Mashonaland but united because of common economic interests and to secure British government backing. The company received a Royal Charter in 1889 modelled on that of the British East India Company. Its first directors included the Duke of Abercorn, Rhodes himself and the South African financier Alfred Beit. Rhodes hoped BSAC would promote colonisation and economic exploitation across much of south-central Africa, as part of the "Scramble for Africa". However, his main focus was south of the Zambezi, in Mashonaland and the coastal areas to its east, from which he believed the Portuguese could be removed by payment or force, and in the Transvaal, which he hoped would return to British control.

Responsible government is a conception of a system of government that embodies the principle of parliamentary accountability, the foundation of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. Governments in Westminster democracies are responsible to parliament rather than to the monarch, or, in a colonial context, to the imperial government, and in a republican context, to the president, either in full or in part. If the parliament is bicameral, then the government is responsible first to the parliament's lower house, which is more representative than the upper house, as it has more members and they are always directly elected.

From 1953 to 1963, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland—equivalent to today's Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, respectively—were joined in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, also known as the Central African Federation. Sir Godfrey Huggins served as Federal Prime Minister from 1953 to 1956, then Sir Roy Welensky held the post until the end of Federation on 31 December 1963. When Northern Rhodesia gained independence as Zambia on 24 October 1964, Southern Rhodesia began to refer to itself simply as "Rhodesia".

Northern Rhodesia protectorate in south central Africa in 1924–1964

Northern Rhodesia was a protectorate in south central Africa, formed in 1911 by amalgamating the two earlier protectorates of Barotziland-North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia. It was initially administered, as were the two earlier protectorates, by the British South Africa Company (BSAC), a chartered company on behalf of the British Government. From 1924 it was administered by the British Government as a protectorate under similar conditions to other British-administered protectorates, and the special provisions required when it was administered by BSAC were terminated.

Nyasaland former British Protectorate in central Africa

Nyasaland was a British Protectorate located in Africa that was established in 1907 when the former British Central Africa Protectorate changed its name. Between 1953 and 1963, Nyasaland was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After the Federation was dissolved, Nyasaland became independent from Britain on 6 July 1964 and was renamed Malawi.

Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland former country in Africa

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was a federal semi-Dominion that consisted of three southern African territories—the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia and the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland—between 1953 and 1963.

Prime Minister Ian Smith's government issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1965, and he remained Prime Minister when the country was declared a republic in 1970. Under the Internal Settlement in 1979, after a long period of conflict, the country became known as Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, with Abel Muzorewa as its first black Prime Minister.

Ian Smith 20th-century Prime Minister of Rhodesia

Ian Douglas Smith was a politician, farmer, and fighter pilot who served as Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 1964 to 1979. As the country's first premier that was not born abroad, he led the predominantly white government that unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, following prolonged dispute over the terms. He remained Prime Minister for almost all of the fourteen years of international isolation that followed, and oversaw Rhodesia's security forces during most of the Bush War, which pitted the unrecognised administration against communist-backed black nationalist guerrilla groups. Smith, who has been described as personifying white Rhodesia, remains a highly controversial figure—supporters venerate him as a man of integrity and vision "who understood the uncomfortable truths of Africa", while critics describe an unrepentant racist whose policies and actions caused the deaths of thousands and contributed to Zimbabwe's later crises.

Rhodesias Unilateral Declaration of Independence

The Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) was a statement adopted by the Cabinet of Rhodesia on 11 November 1965, announcing that Rhodesia, a British territory in southern Africa that had governed itself since 1923, now regarded itself as an independent sovereign state. The culmination of a protracted dispute between the British and Rhodesian governments regarding the terms under which the latter could become fully independent, it was the first unilateral break from the United Kingdom by one of its colonies since the United States Declaration of Independence nearly two centuries before. The UK, the Commonwealth and the United Nations all deemed Rhodesia's UDI illegal, and economic sanctions, the first in the UN's history, were imposed on the breakaway colony. Amid near-complete international isolation, Rhodesia continued as an unrecognised state with the assistance of South Africa and Portugal.

Internal Settlement 1978 agreement in Rhodesia

The Internal Settlement was an agreement which was signed on 3 March 1978 between Prime Minister of Rhodesia Ian Smith and the moderate African nationalist leaders comprising Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and Senator Chief Jeremiah Chirau. After almost 15 years of the Rhodesian Bush War, and under pressure from the sanctions placed on Rhodesia by the international community, and political pressure from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Rhodesian government met with some of the internally based moderate African nationalist leaders in order to reach an agreement on the political future for the country.

None of these acts were recognised internationally, and under the Lancaster House Agreement the country's government agreed to revert to colonial status in 1979 to facilitate the introduction of majority rule and the creation of the independent state of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Lancaster House Agreement 1979 ceasefire agreement ending the Rhodesian Bush War, dissolving the unrecognized state Zimbabwe Rhodesia, imposing British direct rule, to be eventually replaced by a Republic of Zimbabwe

The Lancaster House Agreement, signed on 21 December 1979, declared a ceasefire, ending the Rhodesian Bush War; and directly led to the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe. It required the imposition of direct British rule, nullifying Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence. British governance would be strictly proscribed to the duration of a proposed election period; after which independence would follow. Crucially, the political wings of the black nationalist groups ZANU and ZAPU, who had been waging the escalating, and increasingly violent insurgency, would be permitted to stand candidates in the forthcoming elections. This was however conditional to compliance with the ceasefire and the verified absence of voter intimidation.

Zimbabwe republic in southern Africa

Zimbabwe, officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Harare. A country of roughly 16 million people, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, with English, Shona, and Ndebele the most commonly used.

The office of Prime Minister of Zimbabwe was abolished in 1987, when Robert Mugabe became executive President. However, in 2009, it was restored through political negotiations, resulting in Morgan Tsvangirai becoming the first prime minister of the country in over 21 years.

List of prime ministers of Rhodesia


   Rhodesia Party
   Reform Party
   United Party / United Rhodesia Party / United Federal Party [1]
   Rhodesian Front

PictureTook officeLeft officeElected
Political Party
1 Charles Coghlan
MP for Bulawayo North
Sir Charles Coghlan, circa 1925.jpg 1 October 192328 August 1927 1924 (1st) Rhodesia Party
Introduction of responsible government, after the 1922 referendum. Formation of Southern Rhodesia. Oversaw the government's purchase of the country from the British South Africa Company for £2.3 million. Opposed amalgamation with either Northern Rhodesia or the Union of South Africa. Died in office.
2 Howard Moffat
MP for Gwanda
Coat of arms of Rhodesia.svg 2 September 19275 July 1933— (1st)
1928 (2nd)
Rhodesia Party
Viewed as a conservative, who believed that Rhodesia would eventually join the Union of South Africa. He oversaw the purchase, for £2 million, of the British South Africa Company's remaining mineral rights in Southern Rhodesia. His government passed the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, which defined the pattern of land allocation and ownership and is viewed as being one of the ultimate causes of the land disputes in Zimbabwe from 2000. Resigned.
3 George Mitchell
MP for Gwanda
Coat of arms of Rhodesia.svg 5 July 193312 September 1933— (2nd) Rhodesia Party
Changed the title from Premier to Prime Minister. Shortest serving Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. Lost the 1933 general election to Reform Party.
Godfrey Huggins
MP for Salisbury North
Huggins.jpg 12 September 19337 September 1953 1933 (3rd)
1934 (4th)
1939 (5th)
1946 (6th)
1948 (7th)
Reform Party
(until 1934)
United Party
(from 1934)
Longest serving Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. Created coalition with Rhodesia Party to form the United Party. World War II. Became an advocate of federating Southern Rhodesia with some of the neighbouring British colonies in the region so that they would become an independent state within the British Empire while maintaining white minority rule with only a small number of educated blacks qualifying for the vote in addition to most whites. As a result of his effort the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was created in 1953 uniting Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Resigned to become the first Prime Minister of the Federation.
5 Garfield Todd
MP for Shabani
Garfield todd.jpg 7 September 195317 February 1958— (7th)
1954 (8th)
United Rhodesia Party
Introduced modest reforms aimed at improving the education of the Black majority. Also introduced the appellation "Mr" for Blacks instead of "AM" an appellation derived from their patois language. Under influence from large alcohol distributors, his government ended prohibition under which black population were unable to buy and sell alcohol in their designated areas. In a major breakthrough, Todd pushed a bill allowing for multiracial trade unions, thereby undercutting the growing white nationalist influence in the unions. Lastly, in a bid to increase the number of Blacks eligible to vote from 2% to 16% of the electorate, he lowered property and education qualifications, but this was soundly rejected. These reforms were seen as dangerously radical by most whites, and he was forced to resign.
6 Edgar Whitehead
MP for Salisbury North
EWhitehead.jpg 17 February 195817 December 1962— (8th)
1958 (9th)
United Federal Party
Oversaw continued rapid economic growth but also the beginnings of the dismantling of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland against the wishes of his party. He was crucial in the negotiation of the 1961 constitution, which increased black representation in the Southern Rhodesian parliament. He relaxed racial discrimination laws and attempted to enroll black voters, but this was done against a background of civil unrest and a tightening of security measures. The policies of his government caused alarm among the white population, while the blacks remained dissatisfied with the advances they had made. Lost the 1962 general election to Rhodesian Front.
7 Winston Field
MP for Marandellas
Winston Field 1960.jpg 17 December 196213 April 1964 1962 (10th) Rhodesian Front
Dissolution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; his government won the majority of the Federation's military and other assets for Southern Rhodesia. Forced to resign after his failure to win independence from the United Kingdom.
8 Ian Smith
MP for Umzingwane
Ian Smith 1950s.jpg 13 April 19641 June 1979— (10th)
1965 (11th)
1970 (12th)
1974 (13th)
1977 (14th)
Rhodesian Front
His government issued the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965, causing widespread international condemnation and the first instance of economic sanctions in the history of the United Nations, led by Britain and the Organization of African Unity. Enjoyed limited support of South Africa and Portugal. Declared Rhodesia to be a republic on 2 March 1970, after the 1969 referendum. The Rhodesian Bush War started in 1964, and escalated into a full-scale conflict after 1972. Rhodesia's isolation intensified once Mozambique became independent from Portuguese rule in 1975, and when South Africa started to scale back its support. Under mounting isolation and international pressure, Smith conceded to a form of majority rule in 1978, by signing the Internal Settlement with moderate black nationalist leader Abel Muzorewa (this act was unrecognized by the international community and by main black nationalist groups). As part of this settlement, the 1979 general election were held, the first multi-racial parliamentary elections (but with separate black and white rolls). Following the election, Rhodesia was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Muzorewa succeeded Smith as Prime Minister.


  1. The United Party, formed in 1934, renamed itself the United Rhodesia Party in 1953, when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was created. In 1957, it merged with the Federal Party to become the United Federal Party. It should not be confused with the rump United Rhodesia Party led by former prime minister Garfield Todd, which fought the 1958 general election, then promptly dissolved.

See also

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