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Zimbabwe: Historical flags

Last modified: 2002-10-26 by jarig bakker
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The land was administered from 1890 by the British South Africa Company.

The first flag of sovereignty flown in what is now Zimbabwe was the British Union Flag (Union Jack) raised at Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890, which marked the beginning of prolonged British influence in the region. Instrumental in bringing European pioneers to the area was the 19th century British imperialist and financier, Cecil John Rhodes, whose British South African Company (BSACo) was later given prospecting and mining rights by the Matabele king, Lobengula. The company's own flag had not been received from England when the Pioneer Column set out from South Africa, so a Union Jack was carried instead, the first company flag only arriving in Fort Salisbury in 1892.
The flag of the BSACo was raised in the Matabele capital of Bulawayo on 4 November 1893 after the Company's forces led by Major Patrick Forbes drove the native Ndebele from the town. The flag consisted of a Union Jack emblazoned with the BSACo badge in the centre.
Bruce Berry, 18 June 1998


by Steven Shea and Mark Sensen

Rhodesia became a self-governing colony with responsible Government in 1923. What this meant was that there was a local parliament although some powers (notably relating to African political advancement) was retained by London. Southern Rhodesia (as it was called then) was ruled via the Dominions Office (and NOT the Colonial Office) although strictly speaking the country was not a Dominion (like Canada, Australia, South Africa etc.). This was a unique case.
Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995, 14 March 1996

According to Bruce Berry's excellent account [Flying in the Winds of Change Bruce B. Berry, The Flag Bulletin No. 163, March-April 1995] the status and usage of Southern Rhodesian flags from 1924-1937 was a bit of a mess, to say the least! But it appears that S. Rhodesia, when it used the blue ensign at all, used the shield of the territory without the white ring behind it, unlike other colonies. (For reasons which I'll be outlining, Rhodesia was a constitutional anomaly; neither dominion nor true colony) The two contemporary images I have are flatly contradictory. One (dated 1940) implies the circle, the other (c1937) doesn't.
Stuart Notholt, 11 Feb 1996

Alternative version

by Herman De Wael

I have in my collection a flag with the arms in White circle. In articles on the subject of Rhodesian flags by Michael Faul and Bruce Berry, and in Richard Allport's book on the subject recently published as the SAVA Journal, it is stated that, while officially there should have been no white circle, in fact there were versions in existence both with and without the circle.
My flag was made by Annin & Co., and measures 4x6 feet (2:3 proportions). It is marked on the heading "Rhodesia".
I got this flag from Nick Artimovich, maybe he can fill in some of its direct history. I have a vague recollection that at the 1976 Motreal Olympics, the Rhodesians were allowed to play, but were made to play under the old colonial flag, rather than their green and white national flag. Could these flags have been made up with the white circle? That would explain the marking 'Rhodesia' rather than 'Southern Rhodesia' on my flag.
Devereaux Cannon, 15 February 1998

This is true, there was confusion surrounding the flag of Southern Rhodesia after the adoption of Responsible Government in 1923. When the organiser of the British Empire exhibition wrote to the Rhodesian High Commission in London in May 1925 on the question of the flag for the colony, this caused some consternation. The High Commission did not know what flag to use; on the advice of the Colonial Office, it recommended that the Blue Ensign with arms (or flag badge) in the fly be used, adding that the Governor had indicated that the government had approved the shield only as the flag badge. In March 1928 the Rhodesian High Commission wrote to the Colonial Office in Salisbury asking what the flag of the colony was, adding that they used the "Blue and Red ensigns with the Arms of the Colony in a circle" at the HC in London and at some exhibitions.
The reply a month later stated that the Union Jack was the flag of Southern Rhodesia and that the use of the flag badge on the Union Jack or of both the Red and Blue Ensigns "would not be in order for the purpose mentioned in your letter". Between 1933 and 1934 correspondence between London and Salisbury described the colony's flag as being the Union Jack with the colony's badge in the centre of the fly, while another letter noted that no official authority had been given for the use of such a flag, normally reserved for use at sea. In brief, there was no official flag for Southern Rhodesian during this period.
The impending coronation of King George VI in 1937 brought matters to a head as the Rhodesian prime minister wanted a flag to represent the colony at the coronation. Through correspondence with the High Commission and the Dominions Office, it emerged that the most appropriate flag would be a Blue Ensign with the badge of Southern Rhodesia emblazoned in the fly, although the High Commissioner was of the opinion that the Union Jack remained the official flag of the colony and that the new flag had been adopted only for use OUTSIDE the colony. Thus the flag for Southern Rhodesia was finally established as being a Blue Ensign with the colonial shield in the fly. The Union Jack nevertheless continued to be flown INSIDE the colony, alongside subsequent Rhodesian flags, until 11 November 1968.
Not only the basic form of the colonial flag, but its exact details were confused in the era of its use. The Admiralty amended the 1915 edition of its Flags of All Nations by issuing, as part of Errata 8, a coloured sheet dated May 1926 which showed the flag badge as having the full achievement of the Southern Rhodesia arms. In April 1927 a correction was made, clearly establishing that the shield only was the appropriate flag badge. In both sheets the text indicated that this emblem appeared on a white disk when on the Union Jack, but WITHOUT a disk on the Blue Ensign. Nevertheless a Rhodesian Government publication illustrated the ensign with a disk behind the shield.
Various sources refer to a Southern Rhodesian Red Ensign bearing the shield (without disk), although Southern Rhodesia's lack of a coastline suggests that such a flag would have been unnecessary even if - as appears not to have been the case - it had official sanction. Red Ensigns were displayed during the 1947 Royal Visit and the local Salisbury newspaper commented, "This is a variety which we have not met previously and which appear to owe its origin neither to official sanction nor custom, but to an enterprising manufacturer's idea of what our flag should be".
The issue of a flag for Southern Rhodesia was resolved once the territory became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and a new flag adopted on 7 September 1953.
So in short - dark blue Southern Rhodesia Ensigns are known to have had the colony's shield both on a white disk and without the disk. Official proportions would have followed the British pattern of 1:2.
Bruce Berry, 16 Feb 1998

The printers, who published the Admiralty Flag Book and its amendments, appear to have been unsure of the correct badge for the defaced Union Flag and Blue Ensign that were authorised for Southern Rhodesia in the mid-1920's. A 1925 amendment to the 1916 edition of the Admiralty Flag Book included a new page for Southern Rhodesia. The badge illustrated was the shield from the Arms of 11th August 1924, with a note that the white circle, on which it was drawn, was to appear on the Union Flag, but not on the Blue Ensign. The authority was N.L.1655/25, which I think is the reference number of the letter from Naval Law authorising the amendment for distribution. A May 1926 amendment, which was in a slightly different format to all the other amendments, changed the badge for the flags from the shield, to the complete Coat of Arms. Another amendment dated April 1927 changed the badge back to just the shield, quoting the original authority N.L.1655/25.
David Prothero, 18 June 1999


In 1953 Southern Rhodesia became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
Bruce Berry, 16 Feb 1998

UDI - 1964-1968

by Steven Shea, 13 Mar 1996 and Mark Sensen 4 Dec 1997

After the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (when Southern Rhodesia joined the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland between 1953 - 1963) Northern Rhodesia became the independent republic of Zambia and Nyasaland became Malawi under African leadership during 1964. Rhodesia (having dropped the "Southern") wanted independence on the same lines but the British Government refused on the basis that not enough was being done regarding the political advancement of the Africans.
Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995, 14 March 1996

The Rhodesian national flag from 8 April 1964 until 11 November 1968, was in the style of a British ensign with the Rhodesian badge in the fly. Rather than the dark blue ensign commonly used by Commonwealth countries or British colonies, such as those used by Autralia or Hong Kong, the field of the Rhodesian flag was light blue or sky blue, similar to that used on the Royal Air Force ensign or the flag of Fiji or Tuvalu.
Devereaux Cannon, 13 Jan 1998


by Bruce Berry

Consequently the white minority government of Ian Smith declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965. This was not recognised by any other country (incl. South Africa by the way!) and the following year Britain went to the UN and had mandatory sanctions imposed on the breakaway "rebel" colony. South Africa and Portugal (prior to 1975) did not comply with the UN embargo.

To signify the severing of colonial links Rhodesia adopted a new flag on 11 November 1968 - being green, white and green with the national Arms in the centre of the white stripe. Rhodesia declared herself a republic on 2 March 1970, an act again not recognised by the UK which maintained it "legally" had control although de facto this was not the case.
Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995, 14 Mar 1996

1979 (June - December)

by Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995

African opposition to UDI and the white regime manifested itself through an increasing guerilla struggle waged from initially Zambia and then also from Mozambique. In 1978 the Rhodesian Government reached a compromise with "internal" African leaders resulting in first time universal suffrage elections in February 1979. This led to the establishment of a black led government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the formation of ZIMBABWE RHODESIA on 01 June 1979. As the external guerilla leaders were not accommodated the new state was not recognised (although Margaret Thatcher did her best!) and sanctions were maintained and the guerilla struggle continued. A new flag to reflect the changing political dipensation was hoisted on 2 september 1979. Image derived from a picture in Christian Fogd Pedersen's Alverdend flag i farver (Dutch edition 1980)
Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995, 14 Mar 1996

1979 (December) - 1980 (February)

by Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995

The new Zimbabwe Rhodesia government entered into negotiations with the external nationalists at Lancaster House held under the auspices of the British Government. This resulted in a ceasefire and the arrival of a British Governor (Lord Soames) on 12 december 1979. Rhodesia had reverted back to being a British Colony under direct control from London. Sanctions were lifted and legality restored. The Union Jack was restored, although in practise the ZR flag continued to fly. Under the supervision of the Commonwealth, further elections were held which resulted in victory for (externaly based guerilla nationalist) Robert Mugabe. On 18 April 1980 the new sovereign independent republic of Zimbabwe was born and the current Zimbabwe flag was adopted.

It was the Union Jack that became the flag of the "colony" in Dec 1979, although in practise the Zimbabwe Rhodesia flag continued to fly. This is the reason why it was the Union Jack that was lowered at the Independence ceremony and not the Southern Rhodesia light blue ensign. (see my article in The Flag Bulletin No. XXIV:2/163 - March-April 1995).
Bruce Berry, 20 Nov 1995, 14 Mar 1996 

Overview of the Flags of Southern Rhodesia / Rhodesia / Zimbabwe-Rhodesia / Zimbabwe

1900-1923 Flag of the British South African Company
1923-c1937 British Union flag (although blue ensign flags also used)
c1937-1953 Blue ensign (although Union flag remained official)
1953-1963 Flag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (alongside Union Flag)
1964-1968 Light blue ensign
1968-1979 green-white-green Rhodesian flag
1979 Zimbabwe-Rhodesia flag
Dec 1979-Feb 1980 British Union flag
1980 Current Zimbabwean flag
Stuart Notholt, 16 March 1996

Two Flags

I wonder how many other countries have this official policy of flying two flags (state flags don't count, neither do supra-national flag)?

This practice was also followed in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
After the dissolution of the federation, Rhodesia continued the practice with the Union Jack and the sky blue Rhodesian flag, but ceased doing so with the adoption of the new green and white national flag on 11 November 1968.
Devereaux Cannon, 10 January 1998

I wonder how many other countries have this official policy of flying two flags (state flags don't count, neither do supra-national flag)? This practice was also followed in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After the dissolution of the federation, Rhodesia continued the practice with the Union Jack and the sky blue Rhodesian flag, but ceased doing so with the adoption of the new green and white national flag on 11 November 1968.
The only oddity about this situation was that it continued so late, since in the early days all British dominions flew the Union
Jack (as the primary flag) and the local flag, often side by side. (I use the word “dominion” here in the pre-First World War
sense, meaning a possession of the British Crown, as opposed to a self-governing member of the Empire, which was the
definition that came into use in the 1920s, and more particularly in the ’30s following the Statute of Westminster, which made
the Dominions [capital D] independent states.) See fot instance South Africa 1910-1928.
Mike Oettle, 22 May 2002

I would be interested to know where Mike thinks that this was done ?
The impression I have is that it was done, to a greater or lesser extent, only in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, (Southern) Rhodesia and Union of South Africa.
David Prothero, 23 May 2002

One of the reasons as to why this came into being was due to the confusion in the 1930s over what was considered to be the Southern Rhodesia flag. When the Admiralty granted permission for a Southern Rhodesian dark blue ensign in 1937, this was specifically stated as being for use OUTSIDE the country only while the Union Jack remained the official flag of the colony and thus flew within the country. With the advent of the Federation in 1953, it must be remembered that the UK Government was an official participating entity in the Federal government structure (along with the Governments of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and the Federal Government - a unique, if somewhat clumsy, 5 administration arrangement), hence the Union Jack remained an "official" flag along with the Federal flag. Following the dissolution of the Federation at the end of 1963, the participating territories reverted back to their individual "colonial" status and Southern Rhodesia continued with the dual flag arrangement until after UDI in 1965. This "rebellion against the crown" saw the adoption of a new flag on 11 Nov 1968 and the dropping of the Union Jack as an official flag of the country.
Bruce Berry, 23 May 2002

fancy Rhodesia flag

[fancy Rhodesia flag] sent by Olivier Touzeau, 15 Oct 2002

From a series of Cigarette Silks Iron-on Transfers, the subject of which is: Nation Animals & Flags, the fancyful flag of Rhodesia.
(source this site)
Olivier Touzeau, 15 Oct 2002

The flag shown for Rhodesia is interesting. It is likely to be a fantasy, like many of the others, but perhaps Bruce Berry could give us some indication. It's unlikely that the British South Africa Company would have used a plain red flag with a roundel in the centre, but the arms in the roundel do resemble (vaguely) those of the BSA Co. However, the BSA Co's chief flag was a Union Jack defaced with its arms.
Mike Oettle, 15 Oct 2002

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