The Modern Wars of Africa are some of the bloodiest and racially divided of the 20th century and no nation exemplified those traits quite like Southern Rhodesia, an autonomous nation under the control of the British Empire. Named for Cecil Rhodes, Rhodesia lasted for a decent portion of the 20th century until it became Zimbabwe in 1980 after years of conflict. Whites led the government in Rhodesia much like South Africa, where blacks were violently suppressed.
Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia, led his white supremacist supporters in the RF (Rhodesian Front). When he attempted in 1965 to create an independent Rhodesia, Britain was outraged. Not only was a colony declaring independence, but Smith was determined to repress all blacks in the country. Britain attempted to defuse the situation, but refused to send troops into Rhodesia. The United Nations criticized Smith’s regime’s blatant racism and encouraged sanctions to be imposed in order to cripple the economy. With a failing economy and international pressure, the blacks in Rhodesia rose up in order to create an independent Zimbabwe. Smith’s response? War.
In 1972, the white population of Rhodesia was overwhelmingly small compared to the black population. Apartheid-era South Africa assisted white Rhodesia with their economy and sent troops and police to keep things in order. Black independence movement like the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) took up arms against Smith’s regime in guerrilla and targeted attacks. Chinese-backed ZANU and Soviet-backed ZAPU stood mainly to remove the white elite from power and create a better government where the 4 million-strong black majority had the real power. ZANU attacked white farmers in the northeast in large guerrilla operations. This prompted Operation Hurricane that December, which managed to quiet the number of attacks.
The war trickled into Mozambique and Zambia as many ZANU and ZAPU bases were located there. As the Zimbabwe ‘Freedom Fighters’ butchered whites all throughout the nation, the Rhodesians stepped up their military attacks. Conscription escalated and no Rhodesians over 17 were allowed to leave the country to study in attempts to avoid draft. Those who refused to join were often arrested and tortured. The Rhodesian Bush War exploded into a racial war of atrocities. Villages were burned, civilians were slaughtered, and no quarter was given.
By 1976, the situation for white Rhodesia was becoming worse as forces clashed with Mozambican and Zambian troops on several occasions. The border was closed and the Rhodesian Air Force bombed multiple sites along the border as well. The whites were only supported by South Africa with just two precious rail lines. If they lost those, they would be alone. Tourism was halted as many became caught in the crossfire. The state of white Rhodesia was deteriorating fast as they fought Zimbabwean guerrillas, Zambian forces, and Mozambican troops. Operations Tangent and Repulse attempted to assuage threats to the east, but to no avail. Henry Kissinger met with the South African PM and managed to convince them to stop sending aid to Rhodesia. They were alone.
Zimbabwean militants destroyed railroad bridges for Rhodesia’s supplies in 1976 and managed to further cripple the economy. Mozambican troops fought against Rhodesians but they were crushed by the RhAF. The USSR, the US, Britain, and the UN denounced the invasion, prompting Smith to remove his forces. By 1978, the war had reached peak brutality as 50 civilians were cut down and 106 militants were killed in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. Helicopter attacks by Rhodesian troops were common. By 1979, the war was too much for Smith’s white government. The Lancaster Agreement was signed, transferring power to the black majority. Zimbabwe became its own nation.under the leadership of Canaan Banana.