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Commentary: The Rhodesia Syndrome and its impact on American society: The long journey from Obama to Trump
Published on January 2, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version


By Tiberiu Dianu

1. A New Syndrome

For those born after 1980 (Millennials, that is), Rhodesia was an African country led by a white anti-communist militant regime (1965-1980), in a region dominated by black Marxist administrations and military factions self-titled “liberation armies”. Its unique case – during a short-lived existence and especially after -- shows us what happens when a social construction led by competent elites is sacrificed on the altar of political and racial correctness, in the name of some utopian ideals shared by the majority of the local population.

The Rhodesia Syndrome is a term that I coin in order to describe the degeneration of a society, partially anomic, whose administration camouflages its perverse socialized communist-type policies through its ethnic narrative overtones about the so-called “racial injustice”.

The phenomenon is vividly present here, in America, from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Delta, and from one coast to another. The same expired theories and bankrupt economic solutions, consistent with the left-wing party activist lines and doubled by racial components, have made today part of communities from Detroit to Atlanta and New Orleans, and from San Francisco to Chicago and Baltimore, to look more like Zimbabwean microcosms.

2. The American Model

Like the United States, Rhodesia was a British colony. In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, the British businessman, mining magnate and politician in South Africa, who later on served as a prime minister of the Cape colony (1890-1896), obtained a concession for mining rights from the local tribal leaders. In 1890, he established Fort Salisbury (the current country capital of Harare), in 1895 his company adopted the name “Rhodesia” for the territory, and in 1898 “Southern Rhodesia” became the official name for the region south of the Zambezi River, which later became Zimbabwe. The region north of the river – Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) -- was administered separately. Rhodesia was annexed by the United Kingdom in 1923, and under the same year new constitution, and subsequent to a 1922 referendum, it became a self-governing British colony.

Between 1953 and 1963, in the face of growing African nationalism, the British consolidated the two Rhodesias with Nyasaland (now Malawi) in a Central African Federation (dominated de facto by Southern Rhodesia). With Zambian independence in 1964, Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front (a white conservative party) issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The act repudiated the British policy of granting independence without majority rule. Basically, this was the first act of its kind taken by a British colony since the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, which Smith claimed provided a suitable precedent to his actions.

Unlike the United States though, the British did not send troops “to subdue the first national treason against the Crown since the American War of Independence", but opted -- through their then Labour prime minister Harold Wilson -- for sanctions instead.

3. An Integrated Society

By that time, Rhodesia – in comparison with the United States at the time of their independence – was a more integrated state, socially, electorally, and militarily. Rhodesian society was not shaped after the American segregation system of the pre-70s, or the South African apartheid system of the pre-90s.

The electoral system followed Cecil Rhodes’s dictum of “equal rights for all civilized men”, with no overt racial component to the franchise. But since the requirement excluded a majority of native blacks from the electorate, it geared to resist to majority rule. The system was based on the Westminster Parliamentary System, modified by a system of separate black and white electoral rolls (A and B, each with qualifications), with differing property and education qualifications, without regard to race. Being wealthier and more educated, whites ended up with the majority of the parliamentary seats. However, the mechanism whereby the number of black members of parliament would increase in line with the proportion of income tax revenues paid by black citizens, was up to the moment blacks had the same number of seats as whites, since the declared goal was “parity between the races” rather than majority rule (cf. Phillippa Berlyn, The Quiet Man: A Biography of Ian Douglas Smith, M O Collins Publishers, Salisbury, 1978, pp. 240-256).

The importance of education during the electoral act – during a surge of ideological egalitarianism preached by most of the African black leaders of the time -- was properly emphasized by the Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith in an April 28, 1974 televised interview with William F. Buckley, Jr.

The issue has kept its importance until today, vis-à-vis the Millennials’ appetency in voting for “Free Stuff Matters”-type of policies tested elsewhere with disastrous results, and the “Black Lives Matter” anti-marginalization and entitlement movement.

The non-segregated military and police forces were well-equipped and operationally efficient. Rhodesia had contributed, per head of population, more in both world wars than any part of the British Empire, including the United Kingdom itself.

4. A Man for All Seasons

During its fifteen years of existence, Rhodesia crossed several stages:

(1) Unilaterally declared independent commonwealth, as Rhodesia (November 11, 1965);

(2) Unilaterally declared parliamentary republic, as Rhodesia (March 2, 1970);

(3) Unilaterally declared parliamentary republic, as Zimbabwe Rhodesia (June 1, 1979 to December 12, 1979), and

(4) Re-established British Commonwealth, as Southern Rhodesia (December 12, 1979 to April 17, 1980).

After that, Zimbabwe was internationally recognized as an independent state (April 18, 1980). The country used the Rhodesian pound during 1965-1970, and the Rhodesian dollar during 1970-1979.

Ian Smith (1919-2007), the country’s prime minister not born abroad, was a man with love for his people and land, and a true patriot. He was born in the small farming town of Selukwe, southwest of Salisbury, and studied farming at a Salisbury agricultural college. From his father, a rancher, he inherited solid principles of fairness and moral values. Smith acquired a Victorian vision of the world, both in moral standards and in the belief of British primacy that characterized the empire. In his 1997 autobiography, The Bitter Harvest: The Great Betrayal, Smith recollects about his father: “He always told me that we’re entitled to our half of the country and the blacks are entitled to theirs.”

After retiring from political life, he spent some of his later years at his Gwenoro ranch, near Selukwe. During the Second World War, he was a Royal Air Force officer pilot and flew combat missions in the Middle East and Europe.

His task – of keeping Rhodesia afloat – was almost a “mission impossible.”


Given the impact of economic and diplomatic sanctions, the country was still able to develop and maintain a significant and professional military and police capability.

5. A Divided Black Society

On the domestic front, Smith cracked down hard on the two black nationalist Marxist parties and their guerrilla movements, in what is called “the Bush War” (1964-1979).

Since both black militant groups (whose members saw their parties as “national liberation movements”) were operating from the outside – Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) from Zambia, and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) from Mozambique – Rhodesian authorities treated them as external communist threats. ZAPU was logistically supported by Soviet Russia (plus Cuba, East Germany, and others), while ZANU (initially a ZAPU dissident wing turned into a party) was receiving support from Maoist China (plus Mozambique, Tanzania, Libya, and others). However, neither militant group possessed basic knowledge of guerrilla warfare, which basically allowed the Rhodesian army to maintain the control in the theaters of operations.

The control was maintained despite a 22 to 1 black-to-white ratio.

Other factors for their inefficiency consisted in tribal differences. ZANU consisted mainly in Shona tribe members (80% of the population), while ZAPU was formed basically by Ndebele tribe members (20% of the population, spread mostly in the South-West).

6. A World with Too Few Friends

On the international arena, Rhodesia’s early counter-insurgency successes were neutralized to a great extent by the Western powers themselves (some of them early allies), like United Nations, United Kingdom (called “Perfidious Albion” by Smith in his memoirs), United States, South Africa, and Portugal.

Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and over 100 articles in law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, DC, and can be followed on Medium.
Immediately after 1965 UDI, the British Labour Party government, followed by the United Nations’ Security Council, started to apply economic sanctions (countered to an extent by the Rhodesian government and companies in cooperation with some third states’ authorities).

The United States, although it refused to recognize Rhodesia, allowed its Consulate-General to function as a communications conduit between the American government in Washington, DC, and the Rhodesian government in Salisbury. Rhodesia set up an information office in Washington, DC, which remained open after UDI, but its staff was deprived of their diplomatic status.

In April 1974, as a result of the socialist Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, the sympathetic right-wing Salazar regime was removed, together with Portugal previous political and economic support. Portugal’s withdrawal from its colonies led neighboring Mozambique turn into a communist state openly allied with ZANU.

In December 1974, South African prime minister Vorster pressured Smith into accepting a détente policy involving Rhodesia frontline states, outlining that South African interests (the apartheid policy, that is) would be better served by cooperating with the black African governments over a Rhodesian deal.

In 1976, the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pushed for a deal of his own, involving the principle of majority rule, which Smith reluctantly conceded to, in exchange for an “internal settlement” with more moderate black leaders (like bishop Abel Muzorewa). A Geneva Conference was organized from October 28 to December 14 the same year, presided by the British Labour Party member Ivor Richard, in order to implement Kissinger’s agreement terms, but since some black nationalists from Rhodesia refused to recognize the agreement, no progress was made.

7. From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe

Once Zimbabwe had become an internationally recognized independent state, as a presidential republic (April 18, 1980), the degeneration of society began. The new leader Robert Mugabe, an avowed Marxist-Leninist, triggered a vast military operation, called Gukurahundi, for neutralizing the ZAPU “dissident” members.

The task was carried out by his personal North Korean trained paramilitary Fifth Brigade, held responsible for killing an estimated ten to thirty thousand Ndebele people, in the South-Western province of Matabeleland and its capital, Bulawayo. Ultimately, this led to a unity accord (December 22, 1987), effectively dissolving ZAPU into ZANU, renamed Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and paving the way toward a one-party system.

The destruction of society continued in the following decades.

The 1990s were marked by anti-Mugabe social protests organized by students, trade unions, and health personnel, related to poor life standards (reportedly, 25% of the population had been infected by HIV in 1997). The 2000 land reform (the “fast track” version) involved compulsory land acquisitions and confiscations from the white farmers, holders of some 70% of the country agricultural land.

In 2002, as a result of the continuing degradation of the society – white farms seizures, gross economic mismanagement, electoral and human rights violations – the country is suspended from the (former British) Commonwealth of Nations. In 2008, Mugabe was controversially re-elected as president, but the opposition party of Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) won the parliamentary elections, and their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, becomes prime minister. In 2013, a new constitution has extended Mugabe’s presidential powers (followed by his re-election, with accusations of vote rigging). As a result of grossly mismanaging of economy and corruption in society, the formal unemployment rate reached 80%, while inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998 to a high of 11,200,000%, which represented a state of hyperinflation, and a new 100 billion dollar note was introduced by the central bank.

That marked the abandonment of the national currency.

Mugabe was a die-hard fan of printing money, and so was president Obama in the same fatidic year of 2008 and after, when the US national debt had peaked to several trillions of dollars.

The only difference between the Rhodesian dollar and the US dollar was that the latter one still had credibility on the market.

8. Degeneration and Decline

Another visible effect in the post-independent Zimbabwe has been the rapid decline of the white community. The white population dropped from 7% (1960) to 4% (1975), then 2% (1999), 1% (2002), and reached 0.20% (2012). A Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) Report specified that out of the total population of 13,061,239 residents, the European ethnic group counted only for 28,732 residents (see: ZIMSTAT, 2012, p. 22).

Between 1980 and 1990, two thirds of the white émigrés (nicknamed Rhodies) left the country.

About 50% of them went to South Africa, about 30% to United Kingdom and Ireland, and 20% to United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The other third consisted in non-émigrés (nicknamed Zimbos), who did so either because they were wealthy and/or skilled, or poor and unable to emigrate. Most of the remaining white Rhodesians are elderly.

For them, and the old elite of the country, the slogan has become “Farewell, Rhodesia! Hello, Zimbabwe!”

The phenomenon has also characterized the last decades of some large American cities.


A more recent trend shows a discrete reverse, but some are skeptical that this reversed trend will hold.

Still, it is worth mentioning that in 2014, while in Rhodesia the white community is becoming progressively extinct, in the neighboring Zambia (former Northern Rhodesia), a white acting president becomes breaking news.

9. The Rhodesian and American Models

Some striking resemblances between Rhodesians and Americans deserve to be pointed out:

-- The sense of belonging to a great nation, carrying the same solid values and frontier spirit (vis-à-vis the American pioneers and minutemen, and the early Rhodesian Englishmen settlers);

-- Collective upholders of principle and defenders of values against both decadence of Britain itself, and communism worldwide;

-- Front-line states against communist expansion (in Africa, for Rhodesia, in the world, for the US);

-- Christian heritage of their pioneer ancestors in “defending the free world”;

-- Retaining their own economic prosperity through a gradual progression to other racial/ethnic groups.

Unfortunately for Rhodesia, all these sets of values gained little international recognition during its existence. The gradual progression to black majority rule was seen by the international community as a rationale perpetuating policies of racism. The attitude of the Western powers was rooted in a larger decolonization context, during which countries like United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium hastened to grant independence to their colonies in Africa.

There are some factors that explain why the white rule in Rhodesia lasted for so long, namely from 1895 to 1980.

First, Rhodesia was longtime considered the Africa’s breadbasket. White farmers were skilled, and after the 1980s the black farmers’ low skills or lack of incentives have led to a farming policy with disastrous results.

Second, the country’s two main ethnic groups, the Shona and the Ndebele, were many times more in conflicting than in partner relationships. It was said that, in a way, Rhodesia’s white administration was the black majority chance for a balanced approach, toward prosperity and the creation of a solid middle class.

There are also some lessons to be learned from Rhodesia’s case.

Domestically (nationally and locally), going along racial lines and political convenience against the expertise of the few can be the sure recipe for economic disaster.

Regionally, your neighbors can be both good and bad, but at the end of the day they can all turn up being even worse.

Internationally, your allies’ diplomacy of duplicity, followed by treachery, will be pursued for their own pure self-interest, and later justified by “principles and requirements” of Realpolitik.

But in the end, even if you remain alone with your pride, standards and values, you can rest assured that your place in history has been secured. Or, to put it in Ian Smith’s own prophetic words: “I told you so!”

10. A Close Call for America

Barack Obama has not realized, or did not want to realize, that both his election and reelection as the president of the United States (in 2008 and 2012, respectively) were possible through the votes of the white Americans. Whites alone (the European-Americans) comprise 72.4% of the US population, while blacks (or African-Americans) are only 12.6%.

Ignoring this basic truth and choosing to rule in a divisive manner throughout his two mandates, Obama has alienated a large portion of whites, mostly from the rural areas but also from some significant urban regions of the country (both from the South and the Mid-West, including the Great Lakes area). As a result, Donald Trump won white non-Hispanic voters by a 21 percentage points compared to Hillary Clinton (57% to 37%), slightly better than Mitt Romney in 2012 (20 percentage points, 59% to 39% compared with Barack Obama). Trump has fared a little better among blacks (8% compared to 6%) and Hispanics (28% compared with 27%) than Romney did in 2012.

Constantly criticized and ridiculed by the politically correct segments of the American society and the mainstream media, the “silent majority” of whites (within an impressive arch, ranging from the white nationalists, traditional conservatives and the alt-righters to the independents and moderate democrats) voted in an extremely disciplined and efficient manner. These “forgotten men and women” have offered a caveat to the unsuspecting Establishment, who tried to foresee their intention by using corrupted polls, and who has constantly ignored them, belittled them, and taken them for granted for so many decades.

In a sustained effort to defend their core traditional values and principles, the white electorate in the United States has regained its voice and prevented the Rhodesia syndrome to take over the American society in the years to come.
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