Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890 - 1980
Author: Peter Baxter
Size +/- 576 pp; 242 x 168mm;
Lavishly illustrated with 48 pages of black and
white and colour illustrations;
Four colour cover;
This is the first complete history of Rhodesia, the country founded by Empire Builder, Cecil John Rhodes. It tells how Rhodes’ men engaged Lobengula, the Matabele king, in lengthy negotiations while at the same time seeking a Royal Charter for the British South Africa Company and the right for white pioneers to occupy Mashonaland. It tells of the Pioneer Column and the occupation in 1890, the Matabele War, the Matabele and Mashona rebellions, Rhodesian military involvement in the Boer War and World War I when Rhodesians fought for King and country in SW Africa, East Africa and on the Western Front. Baxter explains the granting of self government by Britain in 1923 and the rapid development that took place between the wars, including the realisation of the tobacco dream. He writes about Rhodesian involvement in World War II when conscription was introduced as a necessity to halt a flood of volunteers that had become so great that if it had not been stopped it would have damaged the economy of the country. Men and women were detached to British and South African units to avoid the savage casualties of World War I when volunteers had fought in purely Rhodesian units. In this way the Rhodesians fought in every theatre of war, on land, sea and in the air. Baxter details the tide of white immigration after the war, the establishment and breakup of the Federation of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland and the rising political awareness of the black populace. The bid for full independence from Britain and finally UDI when Rhodesians went alone despite comprehensive UN sanctions. He details the rising tide of the Bush War waged by black nationalists, sustained by the military support of the Soviet Bloc and Red China, and finally the Lancaster House talks that led to a ‘free and fair’ British and Commonwealth supervised elections which led to the black demagogue Robert Mugabe coming to power. Throughout this historical tapestry the author has skilfully threaded in the many often larger-than-life personalities who shaped Rhodesia’s destiny from the early characters like Cecil John Rhodes, Leander Starr Jameson, Frank Johnson, King Lobengula, Archibald Colquhoan and many others, to the later ones like Godfrey Huggins, Sir Edgar Whitehead, Garfield Todd, Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe Ian Smith and a host of others.
Peter Baxter compiled and/ or wrote the book Rhodesia Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890-1980.
It is a fascinating look at the history of the area of the African content much of it later to become Rhodesia. The use of the term compiled is merely to let the reader know that this book also contains a vast amount of history and research and would be foolish not to acknowledge all the work Peter Baxter went to in order to complete this work. It takes on the feel of a text book when picked up and it isn’t until the reader begins the book that one can tell that there is a single author whose personality and writing style makes the book quite readable yet does not distract from the historical text. With this being said it is a very large and well-organized project. Even though some of the same ideas and historical references may appear in this book as in others, other books have been written with more of a focus on the military history of the area. This book starts at the beginning with what was left of the Portuguese and their colonizations, and moves on from there. It is right at the start that one can see the author’s personality emerge in reference to them, “the Portuguese were by then a spent force on the global stage, and had no business leading an enlightened world.” He later states, “And as poor a record as they tended to have as civilizers and colonizers, it is nonetheless a tragedy that so many of their early explorations of the interior went unrecorded.”
The format of Rhodesia Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890-1980 is simple and clearly laid out right in the beginning in the table of contents. It is organized by time period as well as by the events in those time periods. The book moves through history in the expected chronological order, but each new chapter revolves around an event from that time period allowing the reader to easily move through history and from one section to the next. This allows a smooth transition for the reader. Peter Baxter makes it a point to also touch on the ones that have made history within Rhodesia. He includes stories of kind Lobengula, and Rhodes as well as stories of many others including current day political activists like Tsvangirai. An index, notes, and a biography are included in the back of the book and is what would be expected out of a work like this. As a historical piece of work it is expertly done, but not to the point of just boring facts and figures. This book gives the history of Rhodesia a face and a life of its own.
Rhodesians Worldwide, September 2010
In Peter Baxter’s frank and compelling history of Rhodesia the author sets out to provide the first full length history of the country from its early African roots to 1980, the year that majority rule was brought in. Baxter brings excellent credentials to his task. Born in Kenya in 1962 he became an agriculturalist and tea planter and lived in Rhodesia until 1980. Thus he was an intimate witness to many of the events described in the second half of the book.
Which with the origin of Rhodesia lies in its two major African tribes, the Mashona and the Matabele (Ndebele). Formerly a semi-independent tribe under the Zulus, they warred briefly with Shaka Zulu and were forced to flee, eventually ending up in what is modern day Zimbabwe. They subjugated the resident Mashonas and established a kingdom. Their power was short lived however, in 1888 they negotiated a concession with Cecil John Rhodes which led, as things inevitably did in those days, to an influx of European settlers into Mashonaland. War with the Matabele followed in 1893 which resulted in their defeat and the conquest of Matabeleland which with Mashonaland became Rhodesia. During the war the whites suffered one of their rare defeats, at Shangani; “never again in the history of Rhodesia would the black race achieve anything close to a victory of this magnitude.” Yet only 31 whites were killed to around 500 Africans. Baxter relates an interesting story of Rhodes’ quest to establish an outlet to the sea through Portuguese Mozambique.
The author details many interesting aspects of the early colonial regime, such as the appropriation of land from the Mashona who previously did not view the land as having owners; “the land was there, there was plenty of it … it was common property to all.” Rhodesia became a British colony “fundamentally different” from Canada or New Zealand, due to the huge ratio of local Africans to British subjects, around 17 to 1. It was better off in this respect than Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) whose ratio was 60 to 1. And thus the three colonies, South Africa, Rhodesia and northern Rhodesia, fell into an uneasy system in Africa where the local whites wished to maintain their rule, even as the century progressed and the home country, England, gradually displayed less interest in them.
Rhodesia sacrificed massively for the British Empire during the two World Wars. 5,500 whites and 2,700 blacks from Rhodesia fought in the First World War, Baxter points out that “it was the largest single per capita contribution to the Allied war effort from all the colonies.” In World War Two 10,000 served. This history is especially helpful at shedding light on the interwar politics of Rhodesia and men like Godfrey Huggins who the author believes is among the trio of men who made the country, the other being Rhodes and Ian Douglas Smith. Huggins had arrived in the country in 1911 and soon became a man about town among Salisbury’s 3,000 whites. At the time farms covered around 250,000 acres divided into 2,000 estates.
Baxter also illuminates the origins of native resistance to white rule. As elsewhere in the empire education was a key and as in some other places the church had special influence; “of the 60 or more path finding nationalists … 48 at least received at least their early education from missionary schools.” The author is also quite Frank about the issue of miscegenation. It was, it seems, an obsession of the whites in the country in the early days, despite the fact that only 3,000 coloureds existed in the colony beside another 500 children defined as “half-caste” by the 1930s.
Black unrest came only infrequently since the brutal crushing of revolts in 1896. In 1927 there was a miners’ strike and a railway workers’ strike in 1945 and a larger strike in 1948. Baxter illuminates the fascinating story of Roy Welensky, last prime minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and the son of a Jewish hotel owner and one of 13 children.
Much of the rest of the story is wrapped up in the well know history of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and the leadership of Ian Douglas Smith. For Baxter he was “a son of the soil, a sportsman and veteran” and “bloodhound.” Some of the story of the war against the black nationalists has been told in Ron Reid Daly and Peter Stiff’s Selous Scouts. Baxter illuminates other sides of the story, such as the “derring do” of sanction busting Rhodesians who “saw Swazi veterinary documents attached to Rhodesian beef destined for African markets.”
But the war did not go well for the Rhodesians. Casualties compared to other wars were not high, between 1972 and 1977, 115 white civilians were murdered. Enemy casualties, civilian and terrorist were higher, and like so many recent conflicts were used expertly by the African “resistance” for propaganda value. The book provides a massive amount of details on secret operations, such as a planned assassination of Mugabe and various extra-legal Selous Scouts operations before and after the inauguration of majority rule. There is also a wealth of detail on the feelings of the white community during the period. The rest of the history of Zimbabwe is well known, Mugabe’s unleashing of genocide against the Ndebele, the destruction of the economy and the turning of one of Africa’s exporters of beef into a country that can barely feed itself.
Only one critique should be noted, there are no good maps in the book, a true oversight. Baxter has contributed a remarkable piece of history here, one that will probably not be repeated, for those who lived the history are growing older and few now recall that there was a place called Rhodesia.
Reviewed by Seth J. Frantzman, Columnist, Jerusalem Post and Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute of Market Studies. Amazon Top 100 Reviewer. September 2010
I have just purchased and read your work ‘Rhodesia 1890-1980 – the last outpost of Empire’. Apologies for the length of this letter, but it
reflects my thorough enjoyment of the book; as South African born (1944) but entirely Rhodesian-bred (1950-1980), I lived through many of the
events described and was in fact, as a civil servant in the Rhodesian and Zimbabwe Ministries of Foreign Affairs (1970-85), in the heart of
much of it, especially during my stint as Private Secretary (1970-72) to the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Public Service,
I found the book contents hugely edifying and the section leading up to 1890 especially interesting; a comprehensive and enlightening
round-up of pre- and early history of the area. I learned much; for example, I had never realised how close we came to joining the Union of
South Africa – thank heavens for those 8,000 or so who voted against! Again, I had always seen Ken Flower as a very hard right figure,
forever keeping Smith to the hard line position, so it was interesting to see that he was in fact a much more enlightened and pragmatic
individual. I had always assumed the assassination of Chitepo to have been a result of the ZANU/ZAPU internecine conflict rather than a
CIO-inspired coup. And so on, with many more nuggets.
I was at University in Salisbury at the time of UDI; it was at that time a fairly volatile campus, with fellow students of the likes of Byron Hove, but
I vividly remember the actual announcement, which came as we were at lunch in Manfred Hodson Hall; Smith’s statement was broadcast and
there was absolute silence then and immediately afterwards – I think to some extent a silence of relief that the uncertainty had ended, although
many of the students were of course vociferously opposed to the step.
I was ambivalent; I believed the country deserved equal treatment with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, although even at that stage I could
see the drift of the political winds and realised that majority rule was in due course inevitable. My mother was born in Basutoland of Scottish
parents and trained as a nurse at the Jo’burg General before marrying my father (of British descent) and moving to Salisbury in 1950; my
father died only a year later at 42. We lived in Hatfield and Queensdale, in one of the pisé houses so well described in the book and, clearly, in
very working class circumstances; my mother tended to support the Dominion Party and later the RF, to which I was always viscerally
opposed; we had many furious arguments! I never voted for an RF candidate although was often denied the opportunity to vote against, the
RF being generally in such ascendancy that many constituencies never offered opposition candidates!
After university (63-66) for which I’d had a Government loan to cover part costs, I had to work for Government for 2 years, and had taken a
teaching diploma so started teaching, for a term at Hamilton High in Bulawayo and then for two and a half years at Marandellas High School. I
had however always hankered after a diplomatic career and was accepted in 1969 for the then Ministry of External Affairs, starting in January
As you will know, the lack of acceptance of Rhodesia’s legality severely restricted our opportunities for foreign representation. I was therefore
lucky to have been appointed the Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary early on in 1970 and it gave me an insider’s view of many of the
developments of the following couple of years. At this time, we had official representation only in Pretoria, Lisbon and Mozambique. There
were also unofficial ‘information’ offices in Washington, Sydney and Brussels. In 1972 I was fortunate enough to be appointed Vice Consul in
Lourenço Marques (I had studied Portuguese at University). In late 1973, I was transferred to Libreville, Gabon (my University major had been
French). This is where I came into contact with Jack Malloch and Air Trans Africa. I developed a very warm relationship with Jack and was
devastated by his untimely (but in some way so appropriate) death. This post was at the time top secret since President Bongo did not want
it bruited about that he was allowing ATA to register its aircraft there and thus avoid sanctions - although he didn’t do it for love or principle!
We had to pay him a regular healthy retainer!
I returned to Salisbury in late 1975 and back to to the drudgery of Head Office before a new stroke of fortune saw me transferred in June 1977
to Madrid, on a very unofficial basis, until the end of 1978 when I sadly had to leave to move to Kinshasa. Many of these unofficial points of
contact were due to PK van der Bijl’s extensive circle of contacts and there had been some possibility of opening contact offices in Côte
d’Ivoire and Buenos Aires, but these did not come to fruition. Their worth was debatable but to those of us in post there, they were manna!
I returned to Salisbury at the end of 1979 after a dreadful year in Zaïre and so was in Head Office in time for the transition to Zimbabwe, which
you describe so well. All the arrangements for the celebrations were made by a team in Foreign Affairs, headed by the Assistant Secretary in
charge of information (a white) with two deputies: myself and one African, previously in exile. It was a hectic period but successfully navigated.
You mention Mugabe’s address to the nation at independence, and I remember that too, very vividly. You can well imagine white feelings at
that time and many were poised to take the chicken run immediately after independence; it was to Mugabe’s credit that his address alleviated
many such fears and led to many whites opting to remain on and give it a go. It has always irritated me that so many people attribute to
Mandela the notion of ‘reconciliation’; it was Mugabe who first introduced that principle in his first national address. It was probably the last
time he received, or was due, any credit!
You make no mention, but probably are aware, that an incentive system was introduced then to induce whites in the civil service to remain,
using pensions as the ‘carrot’. If they remained in post for 5 years, public servants could then have the option of remitting one-third of their
pension overseas, while retaining two-thirds as a monthly payment wherever they were residing. If they left earlier, they would only receive a
pro rata payment; thus, if they left after two years, they could remit only two-fifths of one-third. Many did take this option as those early years
progressed, and many whites in Foreign Affairs did. I and a few colleagues remained on for the full five years.
At the end of 1981, I was transferred, initially on a temporary basis, to the Zimbabwe Trade Mission in Johannesburg –at independence,
Government had announced, as another ‘carrot’, that those on Rhodesian passports could retain them until expiry. However, when it was
realised that this meant in practice that some could be using such documents for up to ten years, an abrupt decision was made to insist that
all Rhodesian passports be exchanged immediately for Zimbabwean documents. As you can imagine, this affected many thousands of blacks
and whites in South Africa and the ZTM was inundated with applicants for passports, as well as visas: all South African passport-holders had
henceforth to obtain visas to visit Zimbabwe. I was sent down to bolster the ZTM staff, and this lasted for three years. Not my happiest posting!
At that stage, I was an Assistant Secretary. In early 1985, I heard that my promotion to Under-Secretary had been denied and I was
superseded by 5 colleagues, one white and four black, all former ‘Comrades’. In view of this, coupled with the lack of overseas posting
opportunities for the remaining whites, my age (then 40) and my general pessimism about the political trends, I resigned and emigrated to the
UK. At the time of writing, to my knowledge, only one white remains in Foreign Affairs, who has been Ambassador to both Italy and Japan;
given that he appeared to be on the right-wing fringe in the office in Rhodesdian days, we have always wondered how he managed to adapt
his principles to continued service to such an administration….
I apologised at the start for the length of this, but the Muse descended as I wrote. I think the main aspects that were really brought home to me
by your recital of events was how many wasted opportunities there were along the way, by both white and black, with the white responsibility
being the graver. As it is, Rhodesia’s legacy to Zimbabwe was certainly the greatest in African up to that time (ironically with much of the
infrastructural development directly as a result of UDI!), and to see how this legacy has been wilfully squandered by Mugabe and his
henchmen is heartbreaking. But there were so many opportunities along the way when courageous decisions might have led to greater
accommodation of realities; the end result of majority rule could never have been avoided, at that stage of the international political
mainstream, but the outcome could have been so much more positive.
I congratulate you on an impressive achievement and I am widely promoting it to many of my previous compatriots who are now widely located
across the world.
David Adams, UK
I have just finished reading your excellent book “Rhodesia – Last Outpost of the British Empire.” I lived through that period in Zambia and Rhodesia but your book filled in a lot of empty gaps for me. I will recommend your book on the various NR sites of which I am a member.
I would like to comment on:
Page 157, line1: (General Paul Von Lettow Vorbeck) formally surrendered himself in Kenya.
My first wife’s father Frank Rumsey owner of Mbesuma Ranch near Chinsali in Northern Rhodesia was a sergeant in the British forces in WWI. He was given the task by Hector Croad the Magistrate of Kasama to take the news of the armistice to General Von Lettow Vorbeck whose troops were in Kasama and down as far as the north side of the Chambeshi River. It was not a nice task because the white flag on Frank’s car meant nothing to the German Askaris who took pot shots at him as he drove past. Luckily he arrived unharmed at the German H/Q and gave the news to Von Spangenburg, Von Lettow’s adjutant. For this exploit Frank was awarded the D. C. M.
Croad as a civilian could not accept the German surrender so Von Lettow had to march his troops back to Abercorn where they surrendered to South African General van Deventer who had by then reached there in his chase through Tanganyika after Von Lettow. The white German officers were allowed to keep their firearms. There may have been a second more formal or show surrender in Kenya but as far as I can make out Abercorn in NR was the point of surrender
For more about Frank go to http://www.nrzam.org.uk/index.html#anchor124846 then go to ‘miscellaneous’ and then ‘people’ to find his obituary.
See also page 65 of ‘Generation of Men’ by W. V. Brelsford.
Doug Grewar, South Africa
I was passing by a bookshop in Oxford Street, London, when I was drawn to a book in the window with a photograph of a mounted British South Africa Policeman in full ceremonial dress illustrating the front cover. It was titled Rhodesia: Last Outpost of the British Empire 1890 - 1980 by Peter Baxter.
I went in, bought a copy and spent the weekend reading it. In the mid-1970s I had almost emigrated to Rhodesia, but marriage to a girl who was reluctant to leave the Uk stymied my plans. I had nevertheless continued to take an interest in the country which was fighting a war on two fronts against two guerrilla movements, both armed and supported by countries behind the Iron Curtain. Although Rhodesia was continually targeted by Harold Wilson’s Labour government and virtually every left-wing newspaper in Great Britain, there was still lot of sympathy for the Rhodesians amongst the British public. I was dismayed when the Lancaster House talks in London between the government of Ian Smith and guerrilla leaders Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe resulted in an election in early 1980 with highly suspect results. As a result Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s first black prime minister — which was what Rhodesia was renamed.
I spent a whole weekend reading Baxter’s book which I couldn’t put down. I was drawn back to Queen Victoria’s days when Cecil Rhodes was intent on bringing Africa under British control. I discovered that Rhodes was concerned that Germany could well gain control of a swathe of southern Africa that stretched from German South West Africa on the Atlantic seaboard to the Indian Ocean which would completely block Great Britain’s plans to expand northwards.
Using various devious means he gained a royal charter from Queen Victoria that allowed him to occupy what was then Mashonaland with white pioneers in 1890. Later, when King Lobengula of the Matabele attempted to resume his annual sport of raiding the Mashona tribes for cattle and women, the settlers moved into Matabeland and took control, Lobengula losing his life in the process.
First the Mashona and then the Matabele rebelled against the settlers in 1896 but the rebellions were soon put down and peace descended on the country that had adopted the name of its founder, Rhodes. There was no more loyal British colony than Rhodesia. It provided soldiers to fight for the Crown during the Boer War, then World War-I when Rhodesian volunteers fought in German South West Africa, German East Africa, the Western Front and Salonica. In 1923 Rhodesia was granted self government with only a few clauses left that bound it to the Crown. It was these clauses that one would one day cause its downfall. Nevertheless the country steadily developed particularly in the farming and mining fields.
When World War-II broke out in 1939 Southern Rhodesia became the first country in the British Empire to follow the Motherland into war with Germany. Conscription had to be immediately introduced, otherwise the country would have soon been stripped of its menfolk. To avoid the massive casualties that the Rhodesians had been subjected to during World War-I, volunteers were split up and sent to serve in units throughout the British and South African military services. As a result they served in every served and distinguished themselves in every theatre of war.
After the war Rhodesia prospered with its tobacco crop becoming the king of what it produced. In the early 1950s a Federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland — which had long been mooted, came into being. This signalled the rise of African nationalism and although every effort was made to maintain the Federation in its present form, Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) and Nyasaland (soon to be Malawi) were allow to secede and become independent by the British government. Not so for Southern Rhodesia which the British decided could not become fully independent until it was ruled by an African majority government. The Rhodesian insisted that the indigenous blacks, while in time could take over government, were nowhere ready for it.
This led to Rhodesia unilaterally declaring itself independent on 11 November 1965. But the world was against it, particularly the British socialist government and Prime Minister Harold Wilson was instrumental in the introduction of UN mandatory sanctions against the country. The Soviet Union and Red China took the opportunity to arm and training guerrilla factions which operated from bases in black-ruled countries bordering Rhodesia. Nevertheless Rhodesia showed a growth of 8% during most of the war years.
Rhodesia fought a bloody, although initially a sporadic war that commenced in 1967 but becoming a full-scale conflict in 1973 until 1979 when under the auspices of the British Government a constitutional conference was held at Lancaster House London in 1979. Ths led to a flawed general election in early 1980 which Robert Mugabe’s party won. And he assumed power as prime minister of the new state of ‘Zimbabwe’.
The catalogue of disasters, ranging from mass murders to politically orchestrated famines, that Robert Mugabe has brought down on what was once a well-run democratic country, is an ongoing story that sadly can be followed in most newspapers around the western world.
This book, the first full history of Rhodesia from its foundation in 1890 to when it was thrown to the wolves in 1980, is a highly recommended read. I couldn’t put it down.
Len Percival, Brighton, Sussex.
Congratulations Galago, Rhodesia: The Last Outpost of the British Empire: 1890 - 1980 by Peter Baxter, is another real winner for your lists. I have read it twice and I will probably read it a third time. There was so much about Rhodesia’s history that I was ignorant about. It makes me very sad to think about what has happened to a once well run and beautiful country.
George Watson, Pretoria