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date: 25 July 2021

South Africa and Rhodesia/Zimbabwefree

South Africa and Rhodesia/Zimbabwefree

  • Alois MlamboAlois MlamboDepartment of Historical and Heritage Studies, University of Pretoria


This article traces the relations between South Africa and Southern Rhodesia/Rhodesia/Zimbabwe from the end of the 19th century until the present with respect to politics; economic, military, ideological, and cultural activities; as well as foreign policy. The conflicted relationship between the two countries went through varying periods of close cooperation and also of tension, especially given the difference in power between the much larger and more economically prosperous South Africa and the smaller society and economy of Southern Rhodesia. Other important factors include the dominant influence of the Afrikaners in South Africa, from the creation of the Union in 1910 onward, and the apprehension felt by a predominantly English-speaking white population of Rhodesia, which arose from a fear of being swallowed up by Afrikaner-dominated South Africa. During the Zimbabwean liberation struggle from the early 1960s onward, South Africa gave military support to Rhodesia, at least in the early part of the conflict; it changed its policy in the mid-1970s and began to advocate for negotiations between Rhodesia’s warring parties. Between Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 and the democratic transition in South Africa in 1994, relations between the two countries were fraught with tensions because the Zimbabwean government persistently condemned the apartheid regime and hosted representatives of South African anti-apartheid movements, although Zimbabwe was careful not to allow these movements to launch military attacks on South Africa from its soil, for fear of reprisals. On its part, the South African government conducted a sabotage campaign against its northern neighbor and exerted economic pressure on it. Despite all these tensions, however, South Africa remained Zimbabwe’s major trading partner throughout this period. The tension between the countries lessened when Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, but new tensions arose because of Mandela and Robert Mugabe’s rivalry over the leadership of Southern Africa. On coming to power in 1999, Thabo Mbeki tried to diffuse tensions by adopting a different style of foreign policy that, in Zimbabwe’s case, was known as “quiet diplomacy”—a policy that came under much criticism from Western countries and some sectors in Southern Africa. Mbeki’s successors continued this diplomatic policy toward Zimbabwe, even following a militarily assisted political transition in November 2017, which saw the overthrow of Mugabe and his replacement by Emerson Munangangwa.


  • Southern Africa

South Africa and the Birth of Southern Rhodesia

A discussion of the relations between South Africa and Southern Rhodesia/Rhodesia/Zimbabwe has to start with the acknowledgment that Southern Rhodesia was, literally, founded from South Africa.1 The brains and economic power behind its colonization was British expansionist Cecil John Rhodes, prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896 and a wealthy entrepreneur who had made his fortune in South Africa’s Kimberly diamond and the Witwatersrand gold mines.2 Rhodes was determined to use his considerable personal fortune to expand British rule in Africa and to fulfil his dream of building a railway line linking the Cape in the south of the continent to Cairo in the north, thus bringing the entire length of the African continent under British colonial rule. He put together and financed a group of adventurers known collectively as the Pioneer Column, who were tasked with colonizing the territory north of the Limpopo River. Comprising a mixture of English and Afrikaans speakers and accompanied by a private militia from Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSAC), the Column proceeded northward and claimed the Shona-dominated part of the country for Britain by hoisting the British flag in Salisbury in 1890.3 The southwestern part of Matebeleland was incorporated into the new colony after the defeat of the Ndebele King Lobengula in the Anglo-Ndebele War of 1893. Thus, the colony of Southern Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes) was born.4 The nature of its birth, its proximity to South Africa, and the presence of Afrikaners within its original colonizing force meant that Southern Rhodesia would remain closely linked to its larger southern neighbor economically, culturally, militarily, diplomatically, and also, to an extent, in terms of a shared belief in white supremacy.

Self-Government in Southern Rhodesia

The British South Africa Company (BSAC) ruled Southern Rhodesia from 1890 until 1923 under a December 1889 royal charter, which granted it control of the territory for a specified period under the understanding that, at the end of Company rule, the territory would join the South African Union as its fifth province.5 The 1910 Union Act had united the four South African provinces of the Cape, the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Natal into one country and had made provision for the incorporation of Southern Rhodesia at a later stage. Both British policy makers and Afrikaner leaders at the time shared the hope that Southern Rhodesia would eventually become part of the Union. For the British, this was desirable because it would help balance “the races,” by which was meant the two white races of Boer and Briton in South Africa. However, the increasing Afrikaner political dominance in the Union gradually alienated Southern Rhodesian colonial settlers, most of whom were of British stock and were, therefore, pro-empire, as opposed to the republicanist Afrikaners. They were also resentful of the fact that, once they were part of the Union, they would have to implement the policy of bilingualism, as did the rest of the Union. In addition, they generally looked down upon the Afrikaners, who they regarded as less civilized than they were.6

By the early 1920s a growing number of Southern Rhodesian settlers were demanding an end to Company rule and its replacement with self-government. Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for the colonies, was initially reluctant to concede to settler demands for self-government; he eventually agreed to a referendum in Southern Rhodesia to decide whether the colony would join the Union or go the self-government route. Held in October 1922, the referendum was won by proponents of self-government with 59 percent of the vote.7 Consequently the British government granted the colony its new status in October 1923. Thereafter, while the question of amalgamation sometimes came up, it gradually lost steam and died away.

More Like a Dominion Than a Responsible Government

Relations between Southern Rhodesia and its neighbor must also be seen within the context of the fact that, while technically a responsible government, Rhodesia was, in fact, treated like a dominion; it had control over its own defense forces and its “native” policy but was superintended by the Dominions Office, rather than the Colonial Office, of the British Government. Its prime ministers routinely attended “Imperial and Commonwealth conferences, while it was represented diplomatically by high commissioners in London and Pretoria.” It even established its own department of external affairs in 1953 and was duly represented abroad by “high commissioners, military attaches, and consular officials.”8 It was this autonomy that allowed it to craft its own relatively independent policy toward South Africa and its northern neighbors Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, on which it exerted its own expansionist influence.9 The autonomy is most evident in the country’s participation in a regional security alliance with South Africa and Portugal, which began in the Federation years and continued under Prime Minister Ian Smith until its collapse in 1974.10

The Central African Federation, 1953–1963

Meanwhile, growing Afrikaner political power in South Africa, culminating in the national election victory of the South African National Party in 1948 under the leadership of Dr. Malan, changed the political dynamics in the region, especially given South Africa’s adoption of the segregationist policy of apartheid. British policy makers had earlier been sympathetic to the idea of Southern Rhodesia joining the Union and had been lukewarm to requests by Southern and Northern Rhodesian leaders to be allowed to form a federation; they now warmed to the idea in order to cushion the British-dominated interior states from South African influence and possible domination.11 The British government was also persuaded by the pro-federation advocates’ argument that a geographically larger territory would best promote the region’s economic interests while also consolidating white settler political control over the more numerous African population. Thus, the Central African Federation of Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland eventually came into being in 1953. For the duration of the Federation until its demise in 1963, South Africa’s political influence on Southern Rhodesia was minimal to non-existent. It was only with the Rhodesian government’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965 that South African influence in the colony revived, as will be shown later in this article.

Shared Systems and Values

Despite the rejection of amalgamation with South Africa in 1922 and the British Southern Rhodesian settlers’ resentment of Afrikaners, whom they regarded as being only a little better than the despised “natives” on the civilization scale, many of Southern Rhodesia’s laws and policies were modeled on those of South Africa. In many respects the two countries were mirror images of each other. An example was the fact that both Southern Rhodesian and South African law was based on Roman-Dutch law, while the South African 1913 Native Land Act was reproduced in Southern Rhodesia’s 1930 Land Apportionment Act. Both acts divided land for occupation and use on the basis of race, with a disproportionately large amount of land allocated to the minority white population, while the majority African population was crammed into small pockets of land for their exclusive occupation and use.12 Meanwhile, African reserved areas, later to be known as Bantustans under apartheid, also featured in Southern Rhodesia’s so-called “native policy” from 1893 onward; designated areas known as Reserves (later, Tribal Trust Lands or TTLs) were established in Southern Rhodesia for separate African occupation. The first three reserves were Gwaai, Tsholotsho, and Nkai in Matebeleland, which were set up following the recommendations of a Company Government Commission of Enquiry on future land policy established earlier that year. Common to both the African reserved areas in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia was that they were often located far away from the urban centers and transportation facilities and, mostly, in marginal and unproductive soil regions. All fertile and productive areas near the urban markets and the main lines of transportation were reserved for whites. Both governments did this mainly to protect whites from African farmers by eliminating any economic competition.

Another similarity is that both countries established race-based governmental systems, with South Africa adopting the apartheid system in 1948 and Southern Rhodesia’s prime minister introducing Southern Rhodesia’s own segregationist policy known as the two-pyramid policy in the early 1930s. While not as rigid or as durable as the South African version, Southern Rhodesia’s segregationist governance system also advocated for separate development according to race, with Africans to be allowed into the white communities only as suppliers of cheap labor. The policy eventually proved unworkable when the country began industrializing from World War II onward; the economy increasingly demanded a permanent labor supply in the urban areas instead of the earlier dependence on seasonal African labor. Nevertheless, residential areas in the country’s towns and cities were strictly segregated, just as they were in South African urban areas. Similarly, both governments enforced a strict job-reservation policy, in which certain trades and jobs were reserved for whites in order to protect them from African competition in the labor market.

In the meantime, cultural links between the two countries remained close and strong. Rugby and cricket, the two most popular and developed sports in South Africa, were also the most popular in the white Southern Rhodesian community. These two sports were promoted in all white educational institutions but remained generally closed to Africans. South African and Southern Rhodesian teams often toured each other’s countries to play with local teams. It was also not uncommon for white Rhodesians to drive down into South Africa to watch rugby during the annual Currie Cup rugby tournament and cricket tournaments. Indeed, according to his biography, the Rhodesian prime minister during the UDI years, Ian Smith, was a frequent visitor to South Africa to watch rugby tournaments.13

In addition, white Southern Rhodesians sent their children to South African schools and universities. Again a good example is Ian Smith, who went to university at Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. In addition, white Southern Rhodesians took their annual holidays in South Africa, if they did not go to Beira and Lourenco Marques (Maputo) in Mozambique or to local tourist sites. In both countries, the braai (barbecue) remained central to get-togethers among family and friends. There was much in common culturally between the white societies of both countries; ideologically, white society on both sides of the Limpopo remained committed to white supremacy and continued white rule and was dedicated to marginalizing Africans in perpetuity both politically, economically, and otherwise. Both countries’ leaders and their populations shared the view that African nationalist groups were mere communists or communist-inspired agitators, rather than an expression of African aspirations for self-determination or a response to real grievances. They both were determined to suppress African nationalism with whatever means necessary in order to preserve “civilization”—a euphemism for white rule. This common commitment to the preservation of white rule and the continued dominance of whiteness saw South Africa going to the military aid of Southern Rhodesia in the mid-1960s, when the latter faced an escalating African nationalist armed insurgency fighting for independence from white rule.

African Connections and Interactions between the Two Countries

If relations between the white societies of the two countries were close and rooted in history, so were relations between African communities of both countries. Historically, black South Africans were linked to the colonial foundations of Southern Rhodesia, as several had entered the colony with the Pioneer Column as employees of the incoming settlers, working as porters and cooks or serving in other capacities. Some even fought with the settlers against the local Africans in the early days of white conquest; this soured relations between them and indigenous Africans groups for a while. As a reward for their loyalty, these “Cape Boys” were allocated special separate areas to reside in by the colonial administration. An example is Fingo Location just outside the city of Bulawayo, which, as the name suggests, was granted to South Africans of Fengu stock who had entered the country with the Pioneer Column. As a result, several South African languages, such as Sotho, Xhosa, and Pedi are spoken in various parts of Zimbabwe today. Later, some of the South Africans were to play a key role in African political and labor mobilization: such organizations included the Rhodesia Bantu Voters Association (RBVA); the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), whose origins lay in South Africa; and other institutions that promoted African political and economic interests and that were the forerunners of African anticolonial nationalism in the country.14

Even before the arrival of the “Cape Boys,” various Nguni groups from South Africa had either migrated to or passed through the territory between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers, which was to become Southern Rhodesia in the early 19th century. Northern Nguni migrants from the territory east of the Drakensberg Mountains migrated westward and northward, escaping the growing power of the Zulu King Tshaka during the Mfecane/Difaqane wars, conquering those they came across, and establishing their own political kingdoms. Among those who migrated north out of the present Kwazulu-Natal area were Soshangane (Manukuse) and Jere (Jele) of the Ngwane, who settled in the territory stretching from eastern Zimbabwe to the Indian Ocean and established the powerful Gaza Kingdom in the 1820s. When Soshangane and Jere later fell out, the latter fled with his supporters: first westward into south-central Zimbabwe, where they hastened the collapse of the existing indigenous Rozvi Empire; before heading north into eastern Zambia; and then onward into Malawi, where Jere and his followers established their own Ngoni Kingdom.

Yet another group from the Zululand area, led by Mzilikazi kaMatshobana, fled westward across the Drakensberg Mountains and settled just north of the present-day city of Pretoria, before being driven even further westward by Tshaka’s pursuing army into the area around the Great Marico River, near the border with present-day Botswana. Mzilikazilater clashed with the Boer trekkers—Afrikaners who were moving northward from the Cape as part of the Boer northward migration, known as the Great Trek—and was pushed further northward into what is now southwestern Zimbabwe. Throughout this time, he incorporated those he conquered into his society to mold the new Ndebele nation, which, eventually, settled in the southwestern part of the territory that was to become Southern Rhodesia. Its capital, KoBulawayo, was located at the same site as the present Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo.15

Africans did not just move northward from South Africa. Some also migrated southward from Southern Rhodesia and surrounding territories from the closing years of the 19th century onward to work in the diamond mines in Kimberley and the Rand gold mines in Johannesburg, as well as in other sectors of the South African economy. Later on, African students from Southern Rhodesia also attended South African universities and, while there, interacted with their South African counterparts, some of whom were active in struggles against racism and segregation and, after 1948, against the apartheid system. This contributed to their own political consciousness; when these students and workers eventually returned to their country, this subsequently fueled their nationalism that underpinned the anticolonial struggle in Southern Rhodesia. They participated in the activities of such organizations as the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the Pan-African Congress (PAC). Among the Zimbabwean nationalists who attended higher educational institutions or worked for a while in South Africa were Joshua Nkomo, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Herbert Chitepo, Morris Nyagumbo, and Leopold Takawira.16 At Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape, for instance, Mugabe interacted with future South African political leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, and Robert Sobukwe. As noted, on return to their own country, some of these people became leaders and prosecutors of the nationalist movement in the post–World War II period and, eventually, leaders of the anticolonial armed liberation struggle.17

Economic Relations

Economically, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia remained close trading partners, managing their trade relations through a series of customs and trade agreements between 1903 and 1964; the last, known as the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), remained in force until 1992, twelve years after white rule ended in Zimbabwe.18 While there were, obviously, tensions and resentments between them, especially given the unequal power balance due to geographical and population size and economic power, South Africa remained Southern Rhodesia’s main trading partner and its major source of investment capital. Indeed, many of the retail, manufacturing, and mining businesses in the country were either wholly or partially owned by South African capital and had their headquarters in South Africa. Southern Rhodesia was also largely dependent on South African transport networks and was linked to its neighbor’s cities and ports by road, rail, and air. While it enjoyed the use of alternative trade routes through the Mozambican ports of Beira and Lourenco Marques for much of its existence, this all came to a screeching halt when newly independent Mozambique closed its border with Rhodesia in 1976. Rhodesia then became entirely dependent on South African ports for all its imports and exports from and to global markets. This heavy dependency on South African trade routes gave South Africa immense power and influence over the Rhodesian regime in the era of worldwide economic sanctions on the UDI regime in Salisbury.

South Africa and Rhodesia in the UDI Years

The Central African Federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland lasted from 1953 to 1963. Throughout this period, South Africa had little influence on Southern Rhodesia, but Ian Smith’s unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 brought South Africa back into the mix. Although having advised Rhodesia against declaring unilateral independence from Britain, South African Prime Minister John Vorster refused to join in the international economic squeeze on Rhodesia and continued to trade with it in defiance of United Nations–imposed sanctions against that country. It also facilitated Rhodesia’s sanctions-busting campaign and became its most important ally in sanctions-avoidance measures. For instance, it allowed oil to continue to flow into Rhodesia from the late 1960s onward in defiance of an international oil embargo against Rhodesia. It facilitated the passage of Rhodesian exports through its ports to world markets, often disguising Rhodesian goods as South Africa’s own. Equally, it oversaw the import of all manner of goods and arms from various world markets into Rhodesia, acting as the middle-man nation that made it easier for the Rhodesian regime to survive the international sanctions regime.19

South Africa opted for this stance for a variety of reasons, including, perhaps most importantly, the fear that if economic sanctions were allowed to succeed against Rhodesia they might later be deployed against South Africa itself because of its apartheid policy. It was, thus, critical for the sanctions against Rhodesia to fail for South Africa’s own future security. South Africa refused to join the rest of the world in the anti-Rhodesia sanctions, arguing that the issue between Britain and Rhodesia was an in-house quarrel that the two should solve on their own. In any case, South African leaders argued that they did not believe in economic boycotts and would, therefore, not be part of one.

Also guiding South Africa’s anti-sanctions policy was the fact that there were significant racial, familial, and kinship links among the populations of the two countries, dating back from the foundation of Rhodesia at the end of the 19th century. Members of the Pioneer Column had set out for Southern Rhodesia from South Africa, while many of the subsequent immigrants into the colony had also come either from or via South Africa. There were many family connections between Southern Rhodesian settlers and white South Africans. Abandoning the Rhodesians to their own fate, therefore, would be abandoning kith and kin. South Africa was not about to do this, for as South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd stated in January 1966, “We have blood relations over the border. However others may feel or act towards their kith and kin when their international interests are at stake, South Africa, on the whole, cannot cold shoulder theirs.”20

It was a similar belief in the intertwined interests and fate of South Africa and Rhodesia because of their familial, ideological, and racial relationships that gave the UDI government confidence that South Africa would always cover its back, if only because the two countries were fighting the same battle, namely, to preserve white “civilization” and stem black “communism,” read “nationalism.” Indeed, five months before UDI, Ian Smith had expressed his confidence that South Africa would stick with Rhodesia should it come to a showdown with Britain, because the survival of the two countries was intertwined. Addressing his political supporters in June 1964, Smith said:

If we have any better friends than the people who live south of the Limpopo, I don’t know who they are. The survival of Southern Rhodesia is vital to the Republic. Once it is proved that there is going to be no handover here [presumably of political power to Africans], we will get so much help from them that even Southern Rhodesians will be surprised.21

Tellingly, Robert Kirsten, a former South African high commissioner to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, stated in January 1966 that many South Africans were keen to “go to the aid of the Rhodesians, who were, after all, fighting for the same principles as we are . . . and 60 per cent of whom had blood ties there.”22

In addition to aiding and abetting Rhodesia’s sanctions-busting efforts, South Africa also sent its armed police forces into the country to support Rhodesia’s counterinsurgency campaign. This was in response to increasing military collaboration between the ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), the armed wing of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union [ZAPU], in the military campaign against white minority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa. For instance, in 1967, a combined guerrilla force of MK and ZIPRA fought pitched battles with the Rhodesian Defense Forces in the Hwange area of Rhodesia. Strategically, the South African government had decided that it was better for it to fight African insurgency on the Zambezi, rather than wait and have to fight it on the Limpopo River. Thus, South Africa increasingly became the underwriter of Rhodesia’s counterinsurgency war, financing the war and providing other logistical support.

By the mid-1970s, however, the relationship between the two countries had begun to shift. South Africa increasingly realized that the conflict in Rhodesia was unwinnable and that, for South Africa’s own security, it would be better for Ian Smith to negotiate with the African nationalists rather than continue with the war, in order to make way for a moderate African government in Salisbury that would be kindly disposed to South Africa and was malleable in the hands of South Africa’s rulers. Prolonged military conflict in its neighbor was likely to further radicalize the African insurgents and raise the danger of South Africa later having to confront a radicalized and hostile African government across the Limpopo River. This potential danger had to be averted through a negotiated settlement in Salisbury between the UDI government and African nationalist leaders.

Moreover, at this time, the South African government under Prime Minister Vorster was attempting to mend bridges with Black-ruled Africa through his détente policy. This involved South Africa engaging with African governments to persuade them to accept South Africa and to establish diplomatic relations with it. Indeed, some African leaders, such as Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Omar Bongo of Gabon, and Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, did enter into working arrangements with South Africa, much to the chagrin of the other member countries of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In South Africa’s new determination to make friends with Black Africa, it could not continue to be seen to be shoring up the UDI regime in Salisbury. Thus, ironically, white supremacy in Rhodesia had to be sacrificed in order to preserve white supremacy in South Africa.

Consequently, in February 1975, South African Prime Minister John Vorster informed Ian Smith that South Africa was pulling its troops out of Rhodesia, ostensibly because the troops were unhappy to continue defending a system they did not support, namely one that allowed for eventual political integration between the races rather than rigid apartheid as in South Africa.23 Soon after that came a South African economic squeeze on Rhodesia. South African financial and military support dried up, while, suddenly, there were inexplicable delays at the joint border, resulting in shortages of essential imported commodities, including oil, in Rhodesia. These and other tactics designed to frustrate the Rhodesians soon had the latter complaining about how their erstwhile friend, South Africa, had turned its back on them. In his memoirs, Ian Smith wrote:

As far as Rhodesians were concerned, it was reassuring for us to know that, if all our erstwhile friends . . . turned against us, the South Africans could be trusted for the obvious and sound reason that we were in the same boat, and we would either survive or sink together. . . . From the time of our declaration of independence, South Africa was staunch and consistent. . . . Vorster’s whole character changed with his vision of détente. We were forced against our better judgement to acquiesce.24

Similarly, a leading member of his government complained in 1976:

Vorster is the bad guy. The reason for the RF (Rhodesia Front) failure [to reject the Kissinger proposals of 1975] was because of pressure put on Rhodesia. . . . 50 percent of the Rhodesian defence bill was paid by South Africa until June. A reply has not been given since then as to whether they would support it for a further year. . . . The railways system is moving very few goods . . . the border was closed over the period of the Kissinger talks . . . it is difficult to prove these things, as we cannot afford to antagonise South Africa by exposing her. . . . Against this background, the RF did not have an alternative but to accept the Kissinger package deal. Saying no would have meant fighting a rear-guard action at Beit Bridge.25

Under this pressure, Ian Smith’s administration participated in a number of international peace initiatives that, while they failed to resolve the Zimbabwean conundrum, did keep the peace initiative alive until the Lancaster House Conference in 1979, which, finally, led to an agreement among the warring parties and ushered in the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Zimbabwe–South Africa Relations, 1980–1994

In 1980, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe under a ZANU-PF-led government of national unity with Robert Mugabe as prime minister. The relations between the new government and South Africa between 1980 and 1994 were frosty, if not openly hostile, as the Mugabe government took the lead in the region and on the African continent in denouncing the apartheid system in international forums and pushing for the imposition of international economic sanctions on South Africa. He also supported the ANC by providing office facilities for its representatives in Zimbabwe. Among ANC officials who lived in and operated from Zimbabwe at different stages were Chris Hani, Joe Gqabi, Thabo Mbeki, and Jacob Zuma; the last two later became presidents of South Africa. Mugabe also continuously rendered diplomatic support to the anti-apartheid organizations at almost every international gathering he attended. He, however, stopped short of allowing either the ANC or the PAC to operate military bases in Zimbabwe for fear of retaliation from its more militarily powerful southern neighbor.

In reprisal and in a bid to intimidate Zimbabwe into silence, South Africa took a number of hostile measures. First, just as it had done against Rhodesia in 1976 in order to force the Ian Smith regime to accept a negotiated constitutional peace process, South Africa engineered transport delays at its common border with Zimbabwe, holding up the latter’s essential imports and exports for long periods of time and causing fuel shortages by delaying Zimbabwe’s fuel imports through South Africa. Under normal circumstances, Zimbabwe could have utilized the shorter and cheaper rail and road routes to the Mozambican ports of Beira and Maputo, but South Africa made this impossible by making sure that its surrogates in the Mozambican destabilization campaign, the Mozambican Resistance Movement (RENAMO), who were fighting the Mozambican government of the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Mozambique [FRELIMO], constantly attacked these routes and rendered them unusable. Zimbabwe was forced to station several battalions in Mozambique at great cost in order to protect the routes from RENAMO attacks. In May 1981, South Africa suddenly “withdrew 25 powerful diesel locomotives previously loaned to the Smith government and [that] had been the backbone of Zimbabwe’s industrial and agricultural transportation systems.”26 This caused serious transportation challenges in Zimbabwe at the time.

Second, South Africa sponsored a number of destabilization activities in Zimbabwe. This was part of its general destabilization strategy against the frontline states (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia), which was designed to discourage the governments of these countries from supporting the ANC and the PAC. It was also meant to disrupt normal economic activities in these countries, resulting in poor general economic performance so that the South African government could point to how incapable black rule was, as a way of justifying to its own African population why self-determination was ruinous to their own interests. Destabilization took the form of bombings, sabotage, and sponsoring surrogate political movements that would wage guerrilla war on the governments of the day. Thus, in Angola, South Africa funded the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) under Jonas Savimbi, while in Mozambique, its surrogate forces were RENAMO. South Africa attempted to sponsor a similar group in Zimbabwe by training and funding what was known as Super ZAPU; the effort quickly fizzled out, most likely due to the hostility of the authentic ZAPU toward the surrogates due to Super ZAPU’s close links to apartheid South Africa.

Nevertheless, South Africa did all it could to fish in the troubled waters of Zimbabwe’s conflict with the so-called dissidents, who refused to accept ZANU-PF’s victory at the polls in 1980 and took to the bush with their arms. The dissidents periodically attacked and killed white and black civilians in the southwestern province of Matebeleland and parts of Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province. The Zimbabwean government’s response was to unleash a ruthless military campaign spearheaded by its recently Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, which created mayhem in the affected areas and, reportedly, killed over twenty thousand people before the dissident challenge was quelled.27

Other forms of destabilization included a bomb attack on ZANU-PF offices in Harare, assassinations and attempted assassinations throughout the country, and the blowing up of some of Zimbabwe’s air force planes in the Midlands town of Gweru; the dissidents worked with Zimbabwean fifth columnists and South African operatives in these activities. After 1980, therefore, whatever “special relationship” had existed between white-ruled Rhodesia and South Africa was no more. South Africa did all it could to intimidate Zimbabwe into silence or to force it to tone down its criticism of the South African system. It even attempted to pressure the Mugabe government to sign an accord with it, similar to the Nkomati Accord (also known as the Agreement on Non-Aggression and Good Neighbourliness) signed between Mozambique and South Africa in March 1984, undertaking not to support anti-apartheid movements and initiatives. The Mugabe government refused to do this.

Despite these issues, trade relations between the two countries, surprisingly, remained governed by the 1964 Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), which had extended fairly generous tariff conditions to Rhodesian manufacturers, enabling them to tap the fruitful South African market and, indeed, to expand their manufacturing capacity in the UDI years. While these measures to disrupt the Zimbabwean government were enacted, the 1964 PTA remained in place until it expired in 1992. Meanwhile, South Africa continued to be represented in Zimbabwe by a trade commissioner.

South Africa–Zimbabwe Relations under Mandela

When President F. W. de Klerk came into office in August 1989, he introduced a number of political reforms that saw the unbanning of political movements, such as the ANC, the PAC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela. All this augured well for future South African–Zimbabwean relations. Although skeptical of de Klerk’s bona fides at first, Mugabe gradually thawed to South Africa, especially following the 1994 democratic transition and the election of Nelson Mandela as the first black president of South Africa. Harare, at this point, hoped that, because of its staunch support for the anti-apartheid struggle in the past, it would reap dividends of the new South African government’s gratitude in the form of an improved and mutually beneficial economic relationship. It hoped that a new special relationship would be established and that, given the price paid by Zimbabwe and other southern African countries for their support of the anti-apartheid struggle, South Africa would make a special effort to help create a new and fairer regional economic climate that would end South Africa’s traditional bully role in the region. Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way.

The arrival of Mandela on the regional geopolitical scene led to tensions between Robert Mugabe, hitherto the most powerful African leader in the region outside South Africa, and Nelson Mandela, who assumed leadership in the region’s most powerful economy. Part of the tension was over who, of the two, was to be the regional leader. Mugabe was upset when he was repeatedly outshined by Mandela at public appearances in the region, whereas before he had been the center of attention. The situation was not helped by the South African and Western press stoking the fires of Mugabe’s resentment by repeatedly touting the virtues of Mandela and comparing them unfavorably with Mugabe’s qualities. Mugabe, thus, resented his loss of the premier position in the leadership of the region. Although both leaders hid their mutual resentment from the public as much as possible, evidence abounds that there was nevertheless serious tension between them.

Such tension became evident in their disagreements over the operational nature and leadership of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which South Africa had joined in August 1994, and control of the Organ for Politics, Defence, and Security (OPDS), which replaced the Frontline States organization in June 1996. In the various struggles for supremacy between the two leaders, it appeared to Mugabe and other regional leaders that Mandela was determined to play the role of big brother because he was the leader of the biggest country and economy in the region. They resented this, as it seemed to hark back to the days of apartheid South Africa, where the southern neighbor flexed its muscles in the region, much to the detriment and displeasure of its neighbors.

For Zimbabwe, the Mandela government’s reluctance to renegotiate a trade agreement to replace the 1964–1992 Preferential Trade Agreement, which had lapsed, came as a bit of a shock and a disappointment, especially in the light of the sacrifices Zimbabweans believed they had made in the fight to end apartheid. Despite repeated requests and initiatives by Zimbabwe, South Africa dragged its feet and kept putting off negotiations. It pleaded the fact that, as a new government, Mandela’s regime was still trying to find its feet. To the Zimbabweans, it increasingly appeared as if South Africa was seeking to take economic advantage of Zimbabwe and to continue the bullying policies of the apartheid past with respect to its neighbors. Zimbabwe’s resentment grew further when South African policies increasingly began to hurt the Zimbabwean economy and resulted in the collapse of some local industries due to the loss of the lucrative South African market, which had been available during the UDI years and for the first dozen years of independence. Thus, what had promised to be a new beginning of a special relationship between the two countries was increasingly turning into a nightmare reminiscent of the past. Not surprisingly, resentment against South Africa increased. South Africa’s foot-dragging continued until the end of Mandela’s one-term presidency in 1999.

Differences between South Africa and Zimbabwe and other countries, not only in Southern Africa but also on the continent in general, developed and escalated over Mandela’s idealistic, moralistic, and personalized foreign policy approach; Mandela pushed a moral-driven foreign policy that championed human rights and democracy, yet he acted unilaterally without consulting other African leaders. His approach to foreign policy on the African continent irked his fellow African leaders, who felt that it was grounded more on Mandela’s anxiety to please the West and obtain its approval than in efforts to find African solutions to African problems or to work on the basis of African or regional consensus. This became evident over two incidents in Nigeria, namely, the imprisonment of Moshood Abiola and Obasanjo by the Abacha regime in 1994, and the assassination of Ken Saro Wiwa and his Ogoni group of followers in 1995. Without consulting other countries, not even Nigeria’s neighbors, Mandela rushed in to push the Abacha regime to release, first, Moshood Abiola and, subsequently, Obasanjo, to no avail.28 The Nigerian regime was not moved by his intervention. Other African countries resented the manner in which he was going about these issues, as he was departing from the consultation and consensus approach they preferred as the way to resolve African conflicts. Moreover, Mandela was trampling on a long-standing principle of intra-African diplomacy built into the founding charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) at its establishment in 1963, namely, the principle of noninterference in the domestic affairs of member African countries.

The most vexing manner in which Mandela ignored other African countries and sought to intervene in another domestic issue occurred following the assassination of Ogoni leaders, including Ken Saro Wiwa. When this happened, Mandela was attending a Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand. So outraged was he by the events in Nigeria that, without consulting his fellow African leaders, he called for the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth and the imposition of economic sanctions on the country. While the other African countries gave lukewarm support to these positions and Nigeria was, indeed, suspended from the organization, none of them enforced the economic sanctions that Mandela had advocated for; neither did the Western nations that had endorsed the call for sanctions.29 As a result, the economic sanctions were not effective, and they died a natural death.

These incidents had demonstrated clearly that South Africa’s unilateralism and moral-driven diplomacy were disconcerting to the other African countries, who were calling for a more consensus-based and Afrocentric approach. The failure of Mandela’s Nigerian initiatives was not lost on the next South African president, Thabo Mbeki. He resolved to abandon the unilateralism that had led to the isolation of South Africa and sought, instead, to work in cooperation with other African countries and to consult on foreign policy. As he clearly stated, South Africa’s Nigerian fiasco during the Mandela government had taught South Africa that it needed to “work in concert with others and to forge strategic alliances in pursuit of foreign objectives” and not to act in isolation.30

Another example of the tension between Zimbabwe and South Africa was the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) military intervention in 1998. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent in troops to support DRC president Laurent Kabila, who was under attack from rebels, ostensibly supported by Uganda and Rwanda, while South Africa and other SADC countries kept out of the conflict. Initial discussions among representatives of SADC countries had led to a stalemate, as Mandela insisted on a peace-based diplomatic approach to resolve the conflict, while Mugabe pushed for military intervention. When Mandela adamantly stuck to his position, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia decided to go ahead and send troops into the DRC. Subsequently, Mandela called a mini-summit of SADC leaders to assess the war, but Mugabe and DRC President Laurent Kabila boycotted it.31 The disagreement between Mandela and Mugabe continued until near the very end of the former’s presidency, when Mandela publicly conceded that Mugabe’s approach to the DRC conflict had been correct and that he now supported the military intervention undertaken by the three SADC counties.

Zimbabwe–South Africa Relations in the New Millennium

In June 1999, Thabo Mbeki took over as president of South Africa and embarked on a more realistic foreign policy. While the policy was designed to promote good governance and economic development on the continent, he did not want South Africa to become or to be seen as a bully. His realism in foreign policy was evident in his diplomatic approach to the Zimbabwe crisis in the 2000s. The late 1990s saw a rapid deterioration of the Zimbabwean economy due to the deleterious impact of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund–sponsored economic structural adjustment program, which Zimbabwe implemented from 1990; Zimbabwe’s costly military intervention in the DRC; and general mismanagement by and corruption of Mugabe’s administration. Therefore, one of the first tasks Mbeki had to attend to soon after taking office was to assist Zimbabwe’s economy through providing an economic rescue package, including support for the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Administration (ZESA) and the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM), among other sectors. Despite South Africa’s support, Zimbabwe’s downward economic spiral continued until it became a real crisis in the mid-2000s.32

Meanwhile, a different crisis was brewing in Zimbabwe at the very moment that Mbeki took over the presidency, namely, the forcible repossession of land from white farmers. A series of violent and chaotic land invasions saw white farmers being driven off the land and government supporters and officials taking over the land. The land question had been a central issue of dispute in the country from the early days of colonization, when the incoming settlers arrogantly allocated land to themselves without either consulting the indigenous inhabitants of the country or compensating them for it. The first Chimurenga/Umvukela armed uprising of 1896 was the local people’s effort to force the white settlers off the land and out of the country, but this did not succeed. Throughout the 20th century, land remained a bitterly contested issue, especially with the introduction of African reserves or Tribal Trust Lands (TTLs) and the segregationist Land Apportionment Act (LAA) of 1930.33

The desire to repossess the land [I mean alienated and not claimed] claimed by the settlers was one of the causes of the rise of anticolonial nationalism in the post–World War II years and a cause of the anticolonial armed insurgency from the 1960s onward. The Lancaster House Conference, which resolved the Rhodesian military confrontation and paved the way for national elections leading to Zimbabwe’s independence, resolved that any land to be acquired in independent Zimbabwe by the incoming majority government was to be obtained on a willing-seller-willing-buyer basis and to be paid for in hard currency. Because of these stringent restrictions, the unwillingness of white farmers who owned most of the productive land to sell, and government corruption and ineptitude, not much land was transferred to the Africans throughout the first two decades of independence. By 2000, most of the productive land remained in the hands of a few white farmers, while the land-hungry majority remained crowded in unproductive Reserves or TTLs, now renamed Communal Areas (CAs). Not surprisingly, African resentment over land remained strong and a potential resource to be exploited by demagogic politicians in search of convenient political and economic scapegoats should the need arise. The need arose with the birth of a new opposition political party that threatened the dominance of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

In 1999, a new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was founded by a broad coalition of labour, students, and civil society to challenge the ruling ZANU-PF party, which had pursued ruinous economic policies and had presided over a widely corrupt system of governance and growing political repression since independence. The MDC also demanded a new constitution to replace the Lancaster House Constitution that had been amended umpteen times by the ruling party for its own benefit. At first the government opposed this suggestion; then suddenly it made a U-turn, hijacked the idea, and proceeded to design a draft constitution on its own. The draft constitution was then put to a national referendum that overwhelmingly rejected it, mainly due to a strong campaign by the MDC against the proposed constitution, which would have further entrenched the already considerable powers of the president. ZANU-PF was both surprised and angered by the rejection.

Then ZANU-PF was further alarmed and displeased by the fact that the MDC performed exceedingly well during the 2000 general elections and almost outdid the ruling party. This was the first time that ZANU-PF had faced such serious political opposition in the country. Mugabe and his party decided to hit back at the opposition and all those who supported it. Thus, the mayhem of the farm invasions was unleashed. Government supporters were enabled by the government to undertake a countrywide campaign to drive white farmers off the land in the name of the Third Chimurenga or Hondo yeminda (war for the repossession of the fields, i.e., land).34 The farmers were targeted because they were considered to be the real brains behind and funders of the MDC. They and the farm workers who had turned out in droves to vote against the draft constitution and in support of the MDC during the general elections were subjected to harassment and beatings by government supporters and some liberation war veterans. Thousands of white farmers were forced off the land as a result.

Mbeki was faced with this serious crisis next door, which raised an outcry, particularly in the global north and within the white population of South Africa. The demands from these quarters were that Mbeki should intervene or, at least, put pressure on Mugabe to stop the invasions and to stop human rights abuses in the country. Much to their disappointment, Mbeki opted for the policy of quiet diplomacy. A number of reasons explain why he preferred the quiet diplomacy route rather than confrontation with Zimbabwe. Mbeki was mindful of what had happened to Mandela’s interventions in Nigeria. As he said,

We could have invaded Zimbabwe as some people suggested—but what would this have achieved? . . . You must remember what happened to us (at the Auckland Commonwealth meeting in 1995). . . . We suddenly found that we were the only ones who condemned the planned hanging. As a result we learnt a valuable lesson that, especially in Africa, you cannot act alone because you will find yourself isolated and in a position similar to that of the apartheid government.35

Moreover, Mbeki was very much aware that Mugabe would not take kindly to any effort by South Africa to act as if it was some sort of big brother or policeman in the region because, above all else, for Mugabe, sovereignty was sacrosanct. Any South African attempt to interfere in Zimbabwe would have been strongly resisted. As Mbeki himself conceded, “Zimbabwe is not a South African province.”36 While some critics of quiet diplomacy agitated for the imposition of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, this was untenable due to South Africa’s own economic interests: large amounts of capital were invested in various Zimbabwean economic sectors, and all South African goods transported to south-central and eastern Africa by road passed through Zimbabwe.

In addition, Mbeki shared Mugabe’s irritation at the West lecturing African countries on good government when it was the West that had colonized these countries and denied their people democratic rights. In the case of South Africa, Mbeki pointed out the hypocrisy of the brutal white rulers of yesteryear now preaching human rights and democracy to those they had detained, imprisoned, and brutalized in the past.37 For these and other reasons, Mbeki maintained the quiet diplomacy approach, hoping to persuade Mugabe to improve his governance through constructive engagement rather than alienate him through public denunciation and confrontation. Unfortunately, quiet diplomacy was not effective, as Mugabe continued his human rights violations. His supporters continued to push white farmers off the land, while MDC members were brutalized, harassed, and detained.

Meanwhile the Zimbabwean economic crisis worsened with business collapse, capital flight, rising unemployment, and monumental inflation rates being the order of the day between 2000 and 2008. By the latter date, food was scarce, shop shelves were empty, and the local currency so valueless that people were discarding monetary notes on the ground and no one was picking them up. The government abandoned its own currency and instead adopted a basket of currencies, including the British pound, US dollar, South African Rand, and several other currencies.38

Meanwhile, a general election held in the same year resulted in an indecisive MDC victory, necessitating a run-off. Mugabe and his party then employed intimidation, violence, and murder to wrest political victory from the MDC. Amid widespread global condemnation, Mugabe eventually accepted South Africa’s mediation to resolve the political impasse in Zimbabwe. Mbeki’s intervention resulted in the Government of National Unity (GNU) of September 2008, which comprised Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, and another splinter group of the MDC. The agreement brokered by Mbeki also bound the signatories to enact a number of reforms in the country’s political system that would ensure a fairer and freer society in future. ZANU-PF subsequently frustrated this process; no reforms were ever implemented.

In September 2008, Kgalema Motlanthe took over as interim South AfricanPresident after Mbeki’s recall by his party. His policy toward Zimbabwe did not differ substantially from that of Mbeki. Similarly, when Jacob Zuma became the President of South Africa in May 2009, despite some tough talking on Zimbabwe, quiet diplomacy remained South Africa’s policy on Zimbabwe.

The 2013 general election in Zimbabwe gave overwhelming victory to ZANU-PF and ended the GNU arrangement. With ZANU-PF in power, the economy deteriorated again. Meanwhile factionalism in the ruling party led, eventually, to the ouster of Robert Mugabe. A military-assisted political transition (some say, a coup) brought Mugabe’s erstwhile right-hand man over the years, Emmerson Mnangagwa, into office, supported by the military, some of whose members were awarded powerful ministerial posts. Rather than improve, both the country’s economy and human rights record worsened under the so-called “new dispensation.” Then, in 2018, the country went to the polls and produced a disputed election outcome, with the MDC opposition charging that ZANU-PF had stolen the election. Before the MDC denunciation of the results, however, on August 1, 2018, when the election results were still to be announced, large numbers of opposition supporters demonstrated in Harare, protesting the delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in announcing the results. In response, the Zimbabwean military shot into the crowds and killed six people and wounded many more.

In the face of widespread local, regional, and worldwide condemnation, Mnangagwa set up a Commission of Enquiry, chaired by South Africa’s former president Motlanthe, to investigate what had led to the August tragedy. Although the Commission pronounced against the military and made some substantive recommendations, the Mnangagwa administration did little to implement its recommendations. As of 2020, human rights abuses continued in Zimbabwe, with the new South African President Cyril Ramaphosa struggling to find ways to intervene in the Zimbabwean crisis.

Xenophobia in South Africa

The 1994 transition in South Africa resulted in an increasing flow of immigrants from the rest of the continent in search of economic opportunities in one of Africa’s wealthiest economies. With respect to Zimbabwe, the ever-deteriorating economic and political situation saw large numbers of Zimbabweans migrating to various corners of the world, including South Africa, in search of greener pastures or in order to escape an increasingly toxic political environment at home. This sudden inflow of immigrants from the rest of the continent sparked a great deal of resentment among black South Africans, who saw this as a major threat to their economic and social wellbeing. The widespread cry of “they take our jobs and our houses” soon rang out and was accompanied by outbreaks of xenophobic violence against the African immigrants. Because attacks were focused on only African immigrants, the violent outbreaks were more an expression of Afro-phobia, rather than a dislike of foreigners in general. From 1994, Africans from the continent came under repeated attacks. The worst manifestations of violent xenophobia occurred in 2008, when the entire country was engulfed in widespread violence that resulted in the deaths of scores of Africans and the burning of a Mozambican alive by marauding mobs in Johannesburg. Another major violent xenophobic outburst occurred in 2015 when, again, African migrants were attacked across the country.

Discussion of the Literature

Much has been written on various aspects of South African-Rhodesian/Zimbabwean relations since the early 20th century. While comprehensive historical analyses covering the entire history of the two countries’ relations from the establishment of Southern Rhodesia to the present are rare, the available scholarship does cover a wide variety of aspects of the interactions between them. Literature on the relations between the two countries from the end of the 19th century to 2015 falls roughly into five periods, namely:


From the founding of Southern Rhodesia in 1890 to the Central African Federation in 1953–1963


The UDI period from 1965 to 1979


The early years of Zimbabwe’s independence, from 1980 to 1994


The Mandela presidency, 1994 to 1999


The Mbeki years of quiet diplomacy and beyond, 1999 to 2015

In the period between 1890 and 1953, key texts include works by Hugh. Hole, Martin Chanock, Philip Warhurst, Ronald. Hyam, Robert Blake, T. R. H. Davenport, Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson, Ian Phimister, and Stanley Samkange, among others.39 These studies have analyzed, inter alia, the South Africa origins of the founding initiatives of Southern Rhodesia, South Africa’s influence in the country’s early history, Cecil John Rhodes’s leading role in the enterprise, as well as the myth of the Second Rand as the catalyst in energizing the white settlement of the territory north of the Limpopo. Other areas of focus also include the campaign to make the new colony a part of the South African Union when the company rule of the BSAC eventually ended, the growth of anti-Union sentiment in the colony, and the decisive 1922 referendum, which ushered in Southern Rhodesian self-government in 1923. Other studies have explored precolonial and ongoing regional interactions among the two countries’ African populations and their impact on regional political, cultural, and economic dynamics.40

Another theme from the early 20th century was the economic relationship between the two countries, particularly South African interests in Southern Rhodesia’s gold mining industry and trade agreements between them designed to manage their trade relations, which were clearly necessary given their unequal economic strengths that favored the larger and more economically powerful southern neighbor.41 Yet other scholars have documented cultural, ideological, and other links between the two countries, particularly their sporting links and shared white supremacy ideology.42

While scholarly treatment has generally been piecemeal for this early period, a more recent publication by Abraham Mlombo provides a more comprehensive analysis of the two countries’ relationship between the 19th century and the formation of the Central African Federation; it covers a wide spectrum of themes and issues, including economic, cultural, ideological, and political relations in a more holistic analysis of the forces that shaped the historical trajectory of Southern Africa in this period.43

Literature on the relations between South Africa and the now-renamed Rhodesia abounds. Among the themes explored are South Africa’s economic assistance to Rhodesia; its critical role in helping the latter’s sanctions-busting campaign, at least until the mid-1970s; and South Africa’s military support for Rhodesia during that country’s armed conflict between Rhodesian security forces and the forces of the liberation movements, again, until the mid-1970s. Additionally, the role that South Africa played in pressuring Ian Smith to participate in efforts to reach a negotiated settlement has also been subjected to scholarly scrutiny.44

Next is the body of literature that explores the tense relations between South Africa and independent Zimbabwe as well as other southern African countries, until the South African democratic transition in 1994. Themes here include South Africa’s destabilization campaign, Zimbabwe’s consistent condemnation of apartheid , its canvassing for the imposition of international economic sanctions against South Africa,, and the economic pressure exerted by South Africa on Zimbabwe.45

Relations between the two countries during the Mandela presidency (1994–1999), followed by the Mbeki administration (1999–2008), and after are also analyzed by several scholars. Themes include the tensions between Mandela’s administration and those of the neighboring countries and beyond, arising mainly over his government’s conduct of diplomacy on the African continent; Mbeki’s administration was mainly known for his quiet diplomacy toward Zimbabwe and the controversies surrounding it. A significant contribution to scholarship on this period is by Lottie Nkomo.46

Research Sources

The research sources for such a long and broad period are vast and scattered and include documents in the National Archives of South Africa (NASA); the National Archives of Zimbabwe (NAZ); the archives of the South African Department of Foreign Affairs; the Department of Customs and Excise, South Africa; the Department of Trade and Industry, South Africa; the National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew (TNA); parliamentary debates (Hansard) of Southern Rhodesia/Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; Union of South Africa House of Assembly debates; various newspapers published at the time in South Africa, Southern Rhodesia/Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; and other South African, Southern Rhodesian, Rhodesian, and Zimbabwean publications.

Further Reading

  • Ahwireng-Obeng, Frederick., and Patrick, McGowan. “Partner or Hegemon: South Africa in Africa.” In South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Dilemmas of a New Democracy. Edited by Jim Broderick, Gary Burford, and Gordon Freer, 4778. New York: Palgrave Press, 2001.
  • Barber, James. Mandela’s World: The International Dimension of South Africa’s Political Revolution, 1990–99. Oxford: James Currey, 2004.
  • Blake, Robert. A History of Rhodesia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978.
  • Butts, Kent, and Paul, Thomas. The Geopolitics of Southern Africa: South Africa as Regional Superpower. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.
  • Chanock, Martin. Unconsummated Union: Britain, Rhodesia and South Africa, 1900–45. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1977.
  • Cockram, Gail-Maryse. Vorster’s Foreign Policy. Cape Town, South Africa: Academica, 1970.
  • Dashwood, Helena. “Mugabe, Zimbabwe, and Southern Africa: The Struggle for Leadership.” International Journal 57, no. 1 (2001–2002): 78–100.
  • de Meneses, Filipe Ribeiro, and Robert McNamara. “The Origins of Exercise ALCORA, 1960–71.” International History Review 35 (2013): 1113–1134.
  • De Meneses, Filipe Ribeiro, and Robert McNamara. The White Redoubt: The Great Powers and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1960–1980. Cambridge, UK: Palgrave, 2018.
  • Di Perna, Anthony P. A Right to be Proud: The Struggle for Self-Government and the Roots of White Nationalism in Rhodesia, 1890–1922. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe: Books of Rhodesia, 1978.
  • Dzimba, John. South Africa’s Destabilisation of Zimbabwe. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.
  • Graham, Matthew. The Crisis of South African Foreign Policy: Diplomacy, Leadership and the Role of the African National Congress. London: I. B. Tauris, 2015.
  • Hanlon, Joseph. Apartheid’s Second Front: South Africa’s War against Its Neighbours. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
  • Hyam, Ronald. The Failure of South African Expansion 1908–1908. London: MacMillan, 1972.
  • Hanlon, Joseph . Beggar Your Neighbours: Apartheid Power in Southern Africa. London: James Currey, 1986.
  • Landsberg, Chris. The Diplomacy of Transformation: South African Foreign Policy and Statecraft. Johannesburg, South Africa: Pan Macmillan, 2004.
  • Landsberg, Chris. The Quiet Diplomacy of Liberation: International Politics and South Africa’s Transition. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2010.
  • Lowry, Donald. “Rhodesia 1890–1980: The Lost Dominion.” In Settlers and Expatriates: Oxford History of the British Empire. Edited by Robert Bickers, 112–149. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • McKinley, Dale. “South African Foreign Policy towards Zimbabwe under Mbeki.” Review of African Political Economy 31, no. 100 (2004): 357–364.
  • Meneses, Maria Paula, Celso Braga Rosa, and Bruno Sena Martins. “Colonial Wars, Colonial Alliances: The Alcora Exercise in the Context of Southern Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies 34, no. 2 (2017): 397–410.
  • Mills, Greg. Wired Model: South Africa, Foreign Policy and Globalisation. Cape Town, South Africa: Tafelberg, 2000.
  • Mlambo, Alois Simon. “‘We Have Blood Relations over the Border’: South Africa and the Rhodesian Sanctions, 1965–1975.” African History Review 40, no. 1 (2008): 1–29.
  • Mlambo, Alois Simon. A History of Zimbabwe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Mlambo, Alois. “‘Zimbabwe Is Not a South African Province’: Historicising South Africa’s Zimbabwe Policy since the 1960s.” Historia 61, no. 1 (2016): 18–40.
  • Mlombo, Alois. Southern Rhodesia–South Africa Relations, 1923–1953: Political, Social and Economic Ties. London: Palgrave McMillan, 2020.
  • Mugabe, Robert. Inside the Third Chimurenga. Harare, Zimbabwe: ZANU PF Department of Information and Publicity, 2001.
  • Neocosmos, Michael. From “Foreign Natives” to “Native Foreigners”: Explaining Xenophobia in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA, 2010.
  • Nkomo, Joshua. Nkomo: The Story of My Life. London: Methuen, 1984.
  • Omer-Cooper, John. The Zulu Aftermath: A Nineteenth Century Revolution in Bantu Africa. London: Longman, 1966.
  • Onslow, Sue. “The South African Factor in Zimbabwe’s Transition to Independence.” In Cold War in Southern Africa: White Power, Black Liberation. Edited by Sue Onslow, 110–111. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2009.
  • Phimister, Ian. “Rhodes, Rhodesia and the Rand.” Journal of Southern African Studies 1, no. 1 (1974): 74–90.
  • Phimister, Ian. An Economic and Social History of Zimbabwe, 1890–1948: Capital Accumulation and Class Struggles. London: Longman, 1988.
  • Phimister, Ian, and Brian Raftopoulos. “Mugabe, Mbeki and the Politics of Anti-Imperialism.” Review of African Political Economy 31, no. 101 (2004): 385–401.
  • Reyntjens, Filip. The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996–2006. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Schoeman, Maxi. “South Africa in Africa: Behemoth, Hegemon, Partner or ‘Just Another Kid on the Bock?’” In South Africa in Africa: The Postapartheid Era. Edited by Adekeye Adebajo, Adebayo Adedeji, and Chris Landsberg, 92–104. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007.
  • Siko, John. Inside South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Africa from Smuts to Mbeki. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.
  • Sprack, John. Rhodesia: South Africa’s Sixth Province; An Analysis of the Links between South Africa and Rhodesia. London: International Defence and Aid Fund, 1974.
  • Taylor, Ian. Stuck in the Middle Gear: South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Foreign Relations. London: Praeger, 2001.
  • Warhurst, Philip. “Rhodesia-South Africa Relations, 1900–23.” South African Historical Journal 3, no. 1 (2009): 93–108.
  • Wetherell, Iden. “Settler Expansionism and the Imperial Response of 1931 and Subsequent Implications.” African Affairs 78, no. 311 (1979): 210–227.