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History, Settler Colony

As Rhodes hoped, Southern Rhodesia grew as a settler-dominated colony under the rule of the British South Africa Company. Whites laid out farms along the railroad, which ran along the plateau between Salisbury and Bulawayo. In order to provide cheap labor for the colony’s farms and mines, colonial administrators imposed heavy monetary taxes on black inhabitants (who had no money, and therefore were forced to seek jobs) and encouraged immigration from Mozambique.

The settlers established a legislative council, and when the British South Africa Company charter expired in 1923, a referendum was held on whether to join South Africa. The vote went against union, and Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony. This marked the beginning of decades of prosperity for white settlers in Southern Rhodesia. In 1930 the colonial government passed the Land Apportionment Act, which divided the colony into separate areas for whites and blacks. The act allocated white settlers, who numbered only about 50,000 (less than 5 percent of the colony’s population), approximately 50 percent of the land.

The Great Depression of the 1930s held back economic prosperity and white immigration. Tobacco farming developed, however, and after World War II (1939-1945) the colony witnessed considerable immigration and investment. By 1950 the white population had risen to about 125,000.

In 1953 white settlers in Northern and Southern Rhodesia pressured the British government to unite Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (also known as the Central African Federation). The federation, which allowed white settlers in the colonies to consolidate their economic power, had its capital in Salisbury and was dominated by Southern Rhodesia. The federation lasted until 1963 and saw rapid economic expansion, as Southern Rhodesia industrialized and became the second-most powerful economy in southern Africa, after South Africa. The regions of the colony allocated to blacks grew overcrowded in the 1950s, prompting large numbers of blacks to move to the colony’s urban areas. By 1960 the white population had grown to 220,000.

During this period, black opposition to white settler rule grew more active and vocal. The first African labor unions began to appear in the 1920s, and in the 1950s African nationalist parties formed. As support for the parties grew, the colonial government became increasingly repressive and resisted the idea of majority rule.

 

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