Independence of Zimbabwe – Fact sheet 263

Following the break up of the Central African Federation, Britain granted independence to its former parts: Northern Rhodesia, which became Zambia, and Nyasaland, which became Malawi. The third part, Southern Rhodesia, had problems with the lack of guaranteed majority rule.

On 11 November 1965, the Rhodesian Front of Ian Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom. The British Government considered the UDI unconstitutional and illegal, and imposed sanctions on Rhodesia. On 16 November, Australia announced a series of measures against Rhodesia that mirrored British actions. In 1966 and 1968, the United Nations Security Council imposed mandatory economic sanctions on Rhodesia.

Attempts were made in the later 1960s and early 1970s to reach settlement between the British Government and the Rhodesians. In 1974, an African National Council (ANC) was formed, bringing nationalist parties together. Then in 1976, the major African nationalist groups – the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), led by Joshua Nkomo, and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), under Robert Mugabe – formed the Patriotic Front (PF).

Guerilla attacks by the PF, the crippling effects of economic sanctions, the independence in 1975 of the neighbouring former Portuguese colony of Mozambique, and the pressure applied by South Africa and the United States, forced Smith to begin talks with black leaders on the establishment of majority rule. In April 1979, a general election was held. The two PF parties chose not to participate. Bishop Abel Muzorewa, leader of the United African National Council (UANC), was elected the country’s first black prime minister, but was not recognised internationally.

The Australian Government of Malcolm Fraser considered an acceptable solution could be found within the Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Lusaka, Zambia, in August 1979, at which Fraser was an active participant, produced the pathway that would lead to a resolution.

On 10 September 1979, the British Government met with representatives of the various Rhodesian groups at Lancaster House in London to begin discussions on a settlement. In December, British Governor Lord Soames arrived in Salisbury to administer Rhodesia.

By 21 December, the Lancaster House Agreement was signed, paving the way for a ceasefire, transitional British rule until the holding of free and democratic elections, and a new constitution implementing majority rule while protecting minority rights. The Australian Government implemented a number of measures including establishing a Liaison Office in Salisbury, contributing a contingent of 152 to the Commonwealth Ceasefire Monitoring Force, sending an eight-person national observer group and appointing an Australian official to the Commonwealth Observer Group for the elections.

The elections, held in February 1980, were won clearly by Mugabe’s ZANU (PF) party. The republic of Zimbabwe was proclaimed at a ceremony in Salisbury (now Harare) on 18 April 1980, at which Robert Mugabe was sworn in as prime minister.

Selected records about the independence of Zimbabwe

Department of Foreign Affairs

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemRhodesia – relations with Australia – policy statements on Rhodesia1960–73A1838, 190/10/1/5 part 1
ItemSouthern Rhodesia – political – elections1964–80A1838, 190/2/4 part 1
ItemSouthern Rhodesia – political – elections1980A1838, 190/2/4 part 2
ItemSouthern Rhodesia – political – elections1980A1838, 190/2/4 part 3
ItemRhodesia – political relations with Australia – Australian government action on Security Council resolution (sanctions) [see also parts 18 to 31]1971–72A1838, 190/10/2/10 part 17
ItemRhodesia – Australian relations – activities of Rhodesia – Information service, Melbourne and Sydney1977–79A1838, 190/10/1/3 part 8
ItemZimbabwe – political – chronology of events1978–79A1838, 190/2/1/1 part 1
ItemCHOGM – Lusaka, 1979 – possible declaration on racism and racial prejudice1979A1838, 899/6/21/3 part 2
ItemRhodesia (Zimbabwe) – political – general [see also parts 56 to 89]1979A1838, 190/2/1 part 55
ItemSouthern Rhodesia – Australia relations – general [see also parts 19 to 30]1979A1838, 190/10/1 part 18
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1979A1838, 681/34 part 1
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1979A1838, 681/34 part 2
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1979A1838, 681/34 part 3
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1979A1838, 681/34 part 5
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1979A1838, 681/34 part 6
ItemCommonwealth ceasefire monitoring force – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia1980–82A1838, 681/34 part 13
ItemCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – Lusaka, 1979 – issues [see also parts 2 to 8]1978–79A1838, 899/6/21/1 part 1
ItemCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – Lusaka, 1979 – issues1979A1838, 899/6/21/1 part 10
ItemCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – Lusaka, 1979 – issues1979A1838, 899/6/21/1 part 11
ItemCommonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) – Lusaka, 1979 – issues1979–81A1838, 899/6/21/1 part 12

Cabinet Office

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Office of National Assessments

Rt Hon John Malcolm Fraser (CP 51)

Geoffrey Yeend (CP 982)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemHandwritten notes of conversation between Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Thatcher1979M4805, 28

Allan Griffith (CP 981)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemAfrica – Rhodesia1967–80M4609, 7
ItemAfrica – Rhodesia1978–80M4609, 6
ItemAfrica – Rhodesia/Zimbabwe – report on April 1979 general election1979M4609, 9
SeriesAfrica – Zimbabwe/Rhodesia – cables and other documents1979M4609, 10

Identifying further records

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