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Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland

Last modified: 2010-11-13 by bruce berry
Keywords: federation of rhodesia and nyasaland | southern africa |
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      image by Clay Moss, 10 Sept 2005

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    The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953-1963)

    The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, also called Central African Federation, was created in 1953 and embraced the colony of Southern Rhodesia (later Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe) and the territories of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland now Malawi).

    The Federation was dissolved on 31 December 1963, and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland gained independence in 1964 as Zambia and Malawi respectively.
    Mark Sensen, 12 Apr 1997

    The idea of a federation (or amalgamation as it was then called) between the British territories in central Africa was first mooted after World War I, but it was only after World War II that the idea was pursued more vigorously.  Arguments in favour of federation were led by the Europeans in Southern Rhodesia on the premise of forming a large and powerful economic unit in central Africa.  At a time when African nationalism was beginning to emerge on the continent, many Africans, especially in the two protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were opposed to the idea as they felt that they would become subservient to the more economically powerful European-dominated colony of Southern Rhodesia.  Nevertheless after a number of prolonged negotiations and intensive consultations between the governments of the respective territories and that in the United Kingdom, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland came into existence on 07 September 1953.  Its full constitution came into full operation on 23 October 1953.  The Federation was one of the most complicated systems of government ever established.  Five different governments had overlapping and interlocking responsibilities for its affairs. There was the British government in London, theoretically united but divided for practical purposes into two by no means friendly departments - the Commonwealth Office which dealt with the Federal and Southern Rhodesian Governments through separate sets of High Commissioners in Salisbury and London, and the Colonial Office which dealt with the two protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland through their respective Governors who possessed very wide powers.  There was also the Governor-General of the Federation and  Governor of Southern Rhodesia, both of whom, unlike their northern counterparts, were constitutional monarchs acting  on the advice of their prime ministers.

    The flag of the Federation was a British blue ensign with the shield from the Federation coat of arms (granted by Royal Warrant on 22 July 1954) in the fly, namely:
    "Per fess Azure and Sable in Chief a Sun rising Or and in base six palets wavy Argent overall a fesse dovetailed counter-dovetailed of the last thereon a Lion passant Gules".  The shield was an amalgam of those of the participating territories.  The rising sun in gold came from the shield of Nyasaland, the red lion from that of Southern Rhodesia and the six vertical black and white wavy 'pallets' representing the Victoria Falls came from that of Northern Rhodesia.

    According to H. Cresham Carr, Flags of the World (1961), this ensign differed from most others on the colonial pattern in being in proportion of 3:5.  However, in practice actual flags were manufactured in the usual tradition of 1:2.

    Despite its economic advantages and potential, the Federation was plagued with political differences amongst its participating member territories.  Following a Royal Commission in 1960, the Federation was dissolved on 31 December 1963. Subsequently in 1964 Nyasaland became independent as Malawi and Northern Rhodesia became independent as Zambia.  The political situation in Southern Rhodesia reached an impasse between the governments of Southern Rhodesia and the United Kingdom, leading the white minority regime to declare its Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965.
    Bruce Berry, 13 Apr 1997

    Coat of Arms of the Federation

    [Great Arms of the Federation] sent by Dean Thomas, 17 Sep 2002

    The Arms of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland were designed by MJ Morris (later Information Attaché to the Federal High Commission in Pretoria) and were granted by Royal Warrant on 22 July 1954. The blazon is as follows:
    Arms: Per fesse Azure and Sable in Chief a Sun rising Or and in base six Palets wavy Argent over all a fesse dovetailed counter-dovetailed of the last thereon a Lion passant Gules.
    Crest: On a wreath of the colours, an Eagle reguardant wings extended Or perched upon and grasping in the talons a Fish Argent.
    Supporters: Dexter a Sable Antelope and sinister a Leopard.
    Motto: Magni Esse Mereamur  (Let us deserve Greatness)

    The rising sun on a blue field in the upper part was taken from the arms of Nyasaland; the white palets on a black field in base are from the arms of Northern Rhodesia and represent the Victoria Falls, while the dovetailed fesse (which links the component parts), bearing the red lion passant, is from the arms of Southern Rhodesia.
    (Source: The Union Jack over Southern and Central Africa 1795-1994, by FG Brownell, SAVA Journal 3/94 [brl94]).
    Bruce Berry, 13 Apr 1997

    Governor-General's flag

    [Governor-General flag] image by Željko Heimer, 03 Jan 2003

    Carr's Flags of the World (1961) has:
    "The flag of the Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is similar to those of Australia, Canada, etc. The precise inscription is as follows: FEDERATION OF RHODESIA AND NYASALAND.
    Jarig Bakker, 2 Jan 2003

    The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland came into being on 3 September 1953 comprising the colony of Southern Rhodesia and the protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.  A Governor-General was appointed in addition to the Governor of the three constituent territories. The Governor-General had the same powers as the local Governors, but represented the Crown with regard to the activities of the Federal Government and was Commander-in-Chief of the Federal armed forces.

    There appear to have been two different flags used by the Governor-General: an official flag in proportions 1:2 of dark blue charged with a crowned lion upon a St. Edward's crown, with a gold scroll beneath bearing the words "Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland" and a personal flag.  The official flag follows the pattern approved by King George V in 1930 for use by the Governors-General of South Africa and Canada, and later adopted as the standard design for use by other Governors-general in Commonwealth countries, the central device being:
    "Upon a royal crown proper a lion statant guardant Or, royally crowned also proper".
    The personal and car flag was chosen by the Lord Llewellin, the first Governor-General, on his arrival in the Federation. It was the duty of the Governor-General to authorise the design of a personal flag which was to be a purely local symbol intended for domestic purposes.  This flag was flown at his residence and on any vehicle in which he traveled and was also used with the territorial flag when the Governor-General was staying at the Government House of the territory concerned.  The car flag of the Governor-General took precedence over that of a Governor when both officials traveled together.

    The design chosen by Lord Llewellin was a pale cream flag charged in the centre with a Flame Lily flower in the centre. "I have decided to use an African flame lily (Gloriosa Superba) as the emblem, a flower of great beauty which  grows in   each of the three territories which comprise the Federal area) (National Archives of Zimbabwe ref: F201/GG24).

    Unfortunately the National Archives of Zimbabwe do not have an example of this flag in its collection and I have not seen any illustrations. However, a black and white illustration based on the above description was prepared for inclusion in SAVA Journal SJ:5/96 entitled Flags and Symbols of Rhodesia 1890 - 1980 by Richard Allport.

    Lord Dalhousie, who succeeded Llewellin, continued to use the Flame Lily flag as his personal standard until the Federation was formally dissolved on 31 December 1963.
    Bruce Berry, 20 Jan 2003

    Governor-General's flag (incorrect version)

    [Governor-General incorrect flag] image by Željko Heimer, 23 Mar 2003

    Some time ago Željko Heimer provided a image of the flag of the Governor General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I just had a look in Znamierowski's Encyclopedia of Flags (1999), p. 71, where that flag has a red field.
    Jarig Bakker, 23 Mar 2003

    I queried this with Bruce Berry when the book first came out. He replied:
    The illustration in Znamierowski for the G-G of the Federation of Rhodesian and Nyasaland is incorrect.  The field should be the standard dark blue as found in the flags of other G-Gs elsewhere in the "Empire/Commonwealth" at that time.  I guess this is a printing error in the book.  The National Archives of Zimbabwe has such a flag in its collection of which I have a photograph and the field is definitely dark blue..
    David Prothero, 23 Mar 2003

    Dual flag arrangement

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

    This practice was also followed in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. (Federal flag and Union Jack)
    Devereaux Cannon, 10 Jan 1998 

    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 1930s following the Statute of Westminster, which made the Dominions [capital D] independent states.) See for instance South Africa 1910-1928.
    Mike Oettle, 22 May 2002

    The impression I have is that it was done, to a greater or lesser extent, only in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, (Southern) Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa.
    David Prothero, 23 May 2002

    In the Rhodesian case, 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 (see above). 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 November 1968 and the dropping of the Union Jack as an official flag of the country.
    Bruce Berry, 23 May 2002

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

    1890 - 1923                British South African Company (BSAC) flag
    1923 - 1968                British Union flag (alongside various colonial flags)
    1923 - 1953                Southern Rhodesia dark blue ensign (two variants - with and without white disc in fly)
    1953 - 1963                Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland ensign (alongside British Union Flag)
    1964 - 1968                Southern Rhodesian light blue ensign (alongside British Union Flag)
    1968 - 1979                Rhodesian flag
    Jun - Dec1979             Zimbabwe-Rhodesia flag (de facto until Dec 1979; de jure until Apr 1980)
    Dec 1979 - Apr 1980  British Union flag (de facto although Zimbabwe Rhodesia flag in common use)
    18 Apr 1980 to date    Zimbabwe flag
    Stuart Notholt, 16 Mar 1996