|Crossing the Shadow Line: An Analysis of Rhodesia’s Illegal Independence and its Influence on the Commonwealth of Nations|
|Southern Rhodesia unilaterally declared its independence from Britain on 11 November 1965. The territory had always been on the shadow line of Britain’s imperial policy. It had enjoyed self-government since 1923 but contrary to South Africa, Rhodesia was not independent, and after WW2, when her government asked for the last remnants of British sovereignty to be lifted, the British government imposed conditions as to the form of government and the representation of the African majority.
For 15 years after 1965, Rhodesia remained a de facto independent territory whose political existence was illegal, but which still was a reality that could not be ignored. This paper will more specifically deal with the very first part of the rebellion, from 1965 to 1970, as the Rhodesian UDI inaugurated a period of great uncertainty as to the existence of Rhodesia itself, but also the identity of Britain as a world power and the future of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Indeed, in those years, the British government tried to reconcile outward condemnation of the white-minority rebel regime, and attempts at dealing with it to forward an acceptable ground for the final transfer of power as a condition of international recognition. Illegality of status and non-official existence had to be overcome to work out a solution and the British government had to walk the narrow line between complicity and condemnation.
As for Rhodesia, in spite of having declared their independence unilaterally, the government had not totally broken the links as, for instance, it still pretended to retain the same political regime as before UDI, that of a constitutional monarchy with the British monarch as the head of state. It is only in 1970 that the Rhodesian government proclaimed a republic, thus choosing direct confrontation with the international community and entrenching its illegal existence. The unilateral declaration of independence of 1965 looks more as a means to pressure on Britain and the international community rather than as an end in itself.
At the same time, Rhodesia’s shadow existence also had an influence on her immediate neighbours in Africa, politically and economically and on the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of former territories of the empire which on this occasion, also entered a grey era of its development. Indeed because of the specific question it raised, the Rhodesian rebellion triggered a crisis of confidence within the Commonwealth of Nations between Britain and the other members. At the end of the day, the chaotic period the Commonwealth underwent from 1965 to 1971 was instrumental in transforming this former association of former colonies with their former imperial power into a true international organisation in which the members were united on values of common humanity.
This paper intends to show that the Rhodesian crisis not only inaugurated a grey era for Rhodesia itself, but also for Britain’s identity and for that of the Commonwealth of Nations.|