A Chronology of Southern African Independence

Africa Political Map
Africa Political Map 1893. Nastasic / Getty Images

Below you'll find a chronology of the colonization and independence of the countries making up Southern Africa: Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Republic of Mozambique

Mozambique on map of Africa
Mozambique. AB-E

From the sixteenth century, the Portuguese traded along the coast for gold, ivory, and enslaved people. Mozambique became a Portuguese colony in 1752, with large tracts of land run by private companies. A war for liberation was started by FRELIMO in 1964 which ultimately led to independence in 1975. The civil war, however, continued into the 90s. 

The Republic of Mozambique achieved independence from Portugal in 1976.

Republic of Namibia

Namibia on map of Africa
Namibia. AB-E

The German-mandated territory of South West Africa was given to South Africa in 1915 by the League of Nations. In 1950, South Africa refused a UN request to give up the territory. It was renamed Namibia in 1968 (although South Africa continued to call it South West Africa). In 1990 Namibia became the forty-seventh African colony to gain independence. Walvis Bay was given up in 1993.

Republic of South Africa

South Africa on map of Africa
South Africa. AB-E

In 1652 Dutch settlers arrived at the Cape and set up a refreshment post for the journey to the Dutch East Indies. With minimal impact on the local peoples (Bantu speaking groups and Bushmen) the Dutch started to move inland and colonize. The arrival of the British in the eighteenth century accelerated the process.

The Cape colony was ceded to the British in 1814. In 1816, Shaka kaSenzangakhona became the Zulu ruler and was later assassinated by Dingane in 1828.

The Great Trek of the Boers moving away from the British in the Cape started in 1836 and lead to the founding of the Republic of Natal in 1838 and the Orange Free State in 1854. Britain took Natal from the Boers in 1843.

The Transvaal was recognized as an independent state by the British in 1852 and the Cape Colony was granted self-government in 1872. Zulu War and two Anglo-Boer wars followed, and the country was unified under British dominion in 1910. Independence for white minority rule came in 1934.

In 1958, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister, introduced the Grand Apartheid policy. The African National Congress, formed in 1912, finally came into power in 1994 when the first multiracial, multiparty elections were held and independence from white, minority rule was finally achieved.

Kingdom of Swaziland

Swaziland on map of Africa
Swaziland. AB_E

This little state was made a protectorate of the Transvaal in 1894 and a British protectorate in 1903. It achieved independence in 1968 after four years of limited self-government under King Sobhuza.

Republic of Zambia

Zambia on map of Africa
Zambia. AB-E

Formally the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Zambia was developed purely for its vast copper resources. It was grouped with Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi) as part of a federation in 1953. Zambia achieved Independence from Britain in 1964 as part of the program to dilute the power of white racists in Southern Rhodesia.

Republic of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe on map of Africa
Zimbabwe. AB-E

The British colony of Southern Rhodesia became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953. The Zimbabwe African People's Union, ZAPU, was banned in 1962. The racial segregationist Rhodesian Front, RF, was elected into power that same year. In 1963 Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland pulled out of the Federation, citing the extreme conditions in the Southern Rhodesia, whilst Robert Mugabe and the Reverent Sithole formed the Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU, as an offshoot of ZAPU.

In 1964, Ian Smith the new Prime Minister banned ZANU and rejected the British conditions for independence of multiparty, multiracial rule. (Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were successful in achieving independence.) In 1965 Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence and declared a state of emergency (which was renewed every year until 1990).

Negotiations between Britain and the RF started in 1975 in the hope of reaching a satisfactory, non-racist constitution. In 1976 ZANU and ZAPU merged to form the Patriotic Front, PF. A new constitution was finally agreed by all parties in 1979 and independence achieved in 1980. (Following a violent election campaign, Mugabe was elected Prime Minister. Political unrest in Matabeleland resulted in Mugabe banning ZAPU-PF and many of its members were arrested. Mugabe announced plans for a one-party state in 1985.)

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "A Chronology of Southern African Independence." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/southern-african-independence-4069435. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2020, August 27). A Chronology of Southern African Independence. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/southern-african-independence-4069435 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "A Chronology of Southern African Independence." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/southern-african-independence-4069435 (accessed May 30, 2023).