Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

Federation of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland

Coat of arms
Motto: Magni Esse Mereamur
"Let Us Achieve Greatness"
Location of Rhodesia and Nyasaland
and largest city
LanguagesEnglish, Shona, Ndebele, Bemba, Chewa
GovernmentFederal monarchy
• 1953–1957
Lord Llewellin
• 1957–1963
Lord Dalhousie
• 1963
Humphrey Gibbs
Prime Minister 
• 1953–1956
Godfrey Huggins
• 1956–1963
Roy Welensky
1 August 1953
31 December 1963
• Established
• Disestablished
• Total
1,261,674 km2 (487,135 sq mi)
CurrencyCAF pound
Time zoneUTC+2 (CAT)
Today part of
Administrative divisions of the federation

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (also known as the Central African Federation, CAF) was a federal semi-Dominion that consisted of three southern African territories—the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia and the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland—between 1953 and 1963.

The Federation was established on 1 August 1953.[1][2] The Federation was established with a Governor-General as the Queen's representative at the centre. An interesting and novel feature was the African Affairs Board, set up to safeguard the interests of Africans and endowed with statutory powers for that purpose, particularly in regard to discriminatory legislation.[3] The constitutional status of the three territories – a self-governing Colony and two Protectorates – was not affected, though certain enactments applied to the Federation as a whole as if it were part of Her Majesty's dominions and a Colony.[4] The economic advantages to the Federation were never seriously called into question, and the causes of the Federation's failure were purely political: the strong and growing opposition of the African inhabitants.[4]

The rulers of the new black African states were united in wanting to end colonialism in Africa. With most of the world moving away from colonialism during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United Kingdom was subjected to pressure to de-colonize from both the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). These groups supported the aspirations of the black African nationalists and accepted their claims to speak on behalf of the people.

The federation officially ended on 31 December 1963.[5][6] In 1964, shortly after the dissolution, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became independent under the names Zambia and Malawi, respectively. In 1965, Southern Rhodesia unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom as the state of Rhodesia.


Central African Council

In 1929, the Hilton Young Commission concluded that "in the present state of communications the main interests of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, economic and political, lie not in association with the Eastern African Territories, but rather one another and with the self-governing Colony of Southern Rhodesia". In 1938, the Bledisloe Commission concluded that the territories would become interdependent in all their activities, but stopped short of recommending federation. Instead, it advised the creation of an inter-territorial council to coordinate government services and survey the development needs of the region. The Second World War delayed the creation of this institution until 1945, when the Central African Council was established to promote coordination of policy and action between the territories. The Governor of Southern Rhodesia presided over the Council and was joined by the leaders of the other two territories. The Council only had consultative, and not binding, powers.[7]:591


In November 1950, Jim Griffiths, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, informed the House of Commons that the government has decided that there should be another examination of the possibility of a closer union between the Central African territories, and that a conference of the respective governments and the Central African Council was being arranged for March 1951. The conference concluded that there was a need for closer association, pointing to the economic interdependence of the three territories. It was argued that individually the territories were vulnerable and would benefit from becoming a single unit with a more broadly based economy. It was also said that unification of certain public services would promote greater efficiency. It was decided to recommend a federation under which the central government would have certain specific powers, with the residual powers being left with the territorial governments. Another conference was held in September 1951 at Victoria Falls, also attended by Griffiths and Patrick Gordon Walker. Another two conferences would be held in London in 1952 and 1953 respectively, where the federal structure was prepared in detail.[7]:592

While many points of contention were worked out in the conferences that followed, several proved to be acute, and some, seemingly insurmountable. The negotiations and conferences were arduous. Southern Rhodesia and the Northern Territories had very different traditions for the 'Native Question' (black Africans) and the roles they were designed to play in civil society.[citation needed]

An agreement would likely not have been reached without Sir Andrew Cohen, CO Assistant Undersecretary for African Affairs (and a later Governor of Uganda). He became one of the central architects and driving forces behind the creation of the Federation, often seemingly singlehandedly untangling deadlocks and outright walkouts on the part of the respective parties. Cohen, who was Jewish and traumatised by the Holocaust, was an anti-racialist and an advocate of African rights. But he compromised his ideals to avoid what he saw as an even greater risk than the continuation of the paternalistic white ascendancy system of Southern Rhodesia – its becoming an even less flexible, radical white supremacy, like the National Party government in South Africa. Lord Blake, the Oxford-based historian, wrote: "In that sense, Apartheid can be regarded as the father of Federation."[citation needed]

The House of Commons approved the conferences' proposals on 24 March 1953, and in April passed motions in favor of federating the territories of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. A referendum was held in Southern Rhodesia on 9 April.[7]:592 Following the insistence and reassurances of the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister, Sir Godfrey Huggins, a little more than 25,000 white Southern Rhodesians voted in the referendum for a federal government, versus nearly 15,000 against.[8] A majority of Afrikaners and black Africans in all three territories were resolutely against it.[9][10] The Federation came into being when the Parliament of the United Kingdom enacted the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation Act, 1953. The Act authorized the Queen, by way of an order in council, to provide for the federation of the three constituent territories. This order was made on 1 August 1953, bringing certain provisions of the Constitution into operation. The first Governor-General, Lord Llewellin, assumed office on 4 September. On 23 October 1953, Llewellin issued a proclamation bringing the remainder of the provisions of the Constitution into operation.[7]:591


The semi-independent federation (a 'quasi-dominion') was finally established, with five branches of government: one Federal, three Territorial, and one British. This often translated into confusion and jurisdictional rivalry among various levels of government. According to Blake, it proved to be "one of the most elaborately governed countries in the world."[citation needed]

The Constitution provided for a federal government with enumerated powers, consisting of an executive government, a unicameral Federal Assembly (which included a standing committee known as the African Affairs Board), and a Supreme Court, among other authorities. Provision was made for the division of powers and duties between the federal and territorial governments. Article 97 of the Constitution empowered the Federal Assembly to amend the Constitution, which included a power to establish a second legislative chamber. The Governor-General would be the representative of the Queen in the Federation. Federal authority extended only to those powers assigned to the federal government and to matters incidental to them. The enumerated federal powers were divided into a "Federal Legislative List" for which the federal legislature could make laws, and a "Concurrent Legislative List" for which both the federal and territorial legislatures could make law.[7]:593 Federal laws prevailed over territorial laws in all cases where the federal legislature was empowered to legislate, including the concurrent list.

The executive government consisted for the Governor-General who would represent the Queen, an Executive Council consisting of the Prime Minister and nine other ministers appointed by the Governor-General on recommendation from the Prime Minister, and a Cabinet of ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. The judiciary consisted of a Supreme Court, later regulated by the Federal Supreme Court Act, 1955, which consisted of the Chief Justice, two federal justices, and the chief justices of each of the three constituent territories of the Federation. The court was inaugurated on 1 July 1955, when the Governor-General swore in the Chief Justice and the other judges. The ceremony was also attended by the Lord High Chancellor and the Chief Justice of the Union of South Africa.[7]:595 The Chief Justices were Sir Robert Tredgold, previously Chief Justice of Southern Rhodesia, who was Chief Justice of the Federation from 1953 to 1961 and Sir John Clayden, from 1961 to 1963. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction was limited chiefly to hearing appeals from the high courts of the constituent territories. The court, however, had original jurisdiction over the following:

  • Disputes between the federal government and territorial governments, or between territorial governments inter se, if such disputes involved questions (of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depended;
  • Matters affecting vacancies in the Federal Assembly and election petitions; and
  • Matters in which a writ or order of mandamus, or prohibition or an injunction, is sought against an officer or authority of the federal government.[7]:596

In 1958, the Prime Minister established an Office of Race Affairs which reviewed policies, practices and activities which may have hampered or adversely affected a climate favorable to the federal government's equal "partnership" policy. On 1 April 1959, the Prime Minister appointed the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs, who held the status of a full minister, to assume responsibility for racial affairs.[7]:595

Dominance of Southern Rhodesia

A map of the Federation of and its surrounding territories. The Southern Rhodesian capital of Salisbury doubled as Federal capital.
Click here to enlarge map.

It was commonly understood that Southern Rhodesia would be the dominant territory in the federation – economically, electorally, and militarily. How much so defined much of the lengthy constitutional negotiations and modifications that followed. African political opposition and nationalist aspirations, for the time, were moot.[citation needed]

Decisive factors in both the creation and dissolution of the Federation were the significant difference between the number of Africans and Europeans in the Federation, and the difference between the number of Europeans in Southern Rhodesia compared to the Northern Protectorates. Compounding this was the significant growth in Southern Rhodesia's European settler population (overwhelmingly British migrants), unlike in the Northern Protectorates. This was to greatly shape future developments in the Federation. In 1939, approximately 60,000 Europeans resided in Southern Rhodesia; shortly before the Federation was established there were 135,000; by the time the Federation was dissolved they had reached 223,000 (though newcomers could only vote after three years of residency). Nyasaland showed the least European and greatest African population growth.[citation needed]

The dominant role played by the Southern Rhodesian European population within the CAF is reflected in that played by its first leader, Sir Godfrey Huggins (created Viscount Malvern in 1955), Prime Minister of the Federation for its first three years and, before that, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia for an uninterrupted 23 years. Huggins resigned the premiership of Southern Rhodesia to take office as the federal Prime Minister, and was joined by most United Rhodesia Party cabinet members. There was a marked exodus to the more prestigious realm of federal politics. The position of Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia was once again, as under Britain's Ministerial Titles Act of 1933, reduced to a Premier and taken by The Rev. Garfield Todd, the soon-to-be controversial centre-left politician. It was considered that Todd's position and territorial politics in general had become relatively unimportant, a place for the less ambitious politician. In fact, it was to prove decisive both to the future demise of the CAF, and to the later rise of the Rhodesian Front.[citation needed]

Rather than a federation, Huggins favored an amalgamation, creating a single state. However, after World War II, Britain opposed this because Southern Rhodesia would dominate the property and income franchise (which excluded the vast majority of Africans) owing to its much larger European population. A federation was intended to curtail this.[citation needed] Huggins was thus the first Prime Minister from 1953 to 1956, and was followed by Sir Roy Welensky, a prominent Northern Rhodesian politician, from 1956 to the Federation's dissolution in December 1963.

The fate of the Federation was contested within the British Government by two principal Ministries of the Crown in deep ideological, personal and professional rivalry – the Colonial Office (CO) and the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) (and previously with it the Dominion Office, abolished in 1947). The CO ruled the northern territories of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, while the CRO was formally but indirectly in charge of Southern Rhodesia. The Northern Territories opposed a Southern Rhodesian hegemony, one that the CRO promoted. Significantly, the CO tended to be more sympathetic to African rights than the CRO, which tended to promote the interests of the Southern Rhodesian (and to a lesser extent, Northern Rhodesian) European settler populations.[citation needed]

It was convenient to have all three territories colonized by Cecil Rhodes under one constitution. But, for Huggins and the Rhodesian establishment, the central economic motive behind the CAF (or amalgamation) had always been the abundant copper deposits of Northern Rhodesia. Unlike the Rhodesias, Nyasaland had no sizeable deposits of minerals and its tiny community of Europeans, largely Scottish, was relatively sympathetic to African aspirations. Its inclusion in the Federation was always more a symbolic gesture than a practical necessity. Ironically, it was to be largely Nyasaland and its African population where the impetus for destabilization of the CAF arose, leading to its dissolution.[citation needed]

Numbers of white and black inhabitants before and during the CAF[11]
Year Southern Rhodesia Northern Rhodesia Nyasaland Total
White Black White Black White Black White Black
1927 38,200 (3.98%) 922,000 (96.02%) 4,000 (0.4%) 1,000,000 (99.6%) 1,700 (0.13%) 1,350,000 (99.87%) 43,900 (1.32%) 3,272,000 (98.68%)
1946 80,500 (4.79%) 1,600,000 (95.21%) 21,919 (1.32%) 1,634,980 (97.68%) 2,300 (0.10%) 2,340,000 (99.90%) 104,719 (1.84%) 5,574,980 (98.16%)
1955 125,000 (4.95%) 2,400,000 (95.05%) 65,000 (3.02%) 2,085,000 (96.98%) 6,300 (0.25%) 2,550,000 (99.75%) 196,300 (2.71%) 7,035,000 (97.28%)
1960 223,000 (7.30%) 2,830,000 (92.70%) 76,000 (3.14%) 2,340,000 (96.85%) 9,300 (0.33%) 2,810,000 (99.66%) 308,300 (3.72%) 7,980,000 (96.28%)
Other Languages
slovenčina: Rodézia a Ňasko
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Federacija Rodezije i Njasalenda