This set of web pages under the 'history' banner attempts
to outline the rich history of the British South Africa Police
in a very abbreviated form. It will hopefully provides a number
of interesting facts about the force from the days when it
provided valuable military assistance to both a Royal
Charter Company and later the British Empire, when
it became a renowned Colonial police force with strong allegiance
to the British Crown, and later a para-military police force
involved in the defence of a Republic which had declared its
Independence from Britain.
Macloutsie Camp, Bechuanaland
The British South Africa Police force sees its origins in
the Royal Charter authorising the formation of the British
South Africa Company in 1889 shortly before the Pioneer
Column entered the territory which was eventually
to become Rhodesia. Formed and trained at Macloutsie in Bechuanaland
as a mounted infantry unit, the force's initial task was to
protect the Pioneer Column. On arrival at what was to become
Fort Salisbury it was evident that the force would have to
assume a more civil role in policing the immediate area of
occupation and later surrounding farms and mines.
The Mashonaland Mounted Police was formed
in 1892 to serve this purpose and in 1893, after the Matabele
occupation, the Matabeleland Mounted Police
was established followed by the Matabeleland Native
Police in 1894 under the control of 'Native Commissioners'.
Other forces, including municipal forces in both Salisbury
and Bulawayo, were established before they were all amalgamated
into a single force by 1909 when control of the BSA Police
transferred to the Imperial Government under the command of
one Commissioner of Police.
Fort Victoria, 1903
After the occupations there followed two separate
uprisings by the indigenous Mashona and Matabele tribes, both of which
appear to have taken advantage of depleted police manpower, in the
wake of Dr Leander Jameson's ill fated raid of the Boer Republic of
Transvaal. The native rebellions were eventually suppressed.
In consequence of the Jameson Raid debacle, the British High Commission
in the Cape placed all Southern Rhodesian Forces, including the Police,
under the command of a Commandant General, Sir Richard Martin.
The force also played a small role, along side imperial and colonial
troops and volunteers, in the Anglo Boer War, continuing to function
as Mashonaland and Matabeleland forces until their merger in 1903.
The outbreak of hostilities during the First World
War did not exclude conflict in the Southern African region and the
BSA Police participated in actions against Germany's colonial interests
in the Caprivi Strip (then part of German West Africa, and in East
Africa (Tanzania) for which the force received its only Battle Honour.
Surrender of German Askari
at Ilembula, East Africa 1918
The BSA Police functioned more as a civilian police
force between the wars, but remained structured in a military form.
The force contributed manpower to campaigns during the Second World
War, after which it went through change recommended by the Mundy Commission.
The post war years saw the introduction of a third, Midlands Provincial
Command and the Federal era, which brought together the Southern and
Northern Rhodesian territories with Nyasaland. Their police forces
At the close of 1963 the Federation was dissolved
and there followed a further turbulent period in the history of Rhodesia
with the rise of African Nationalism. This, in conjunction with the
advent of the first terrorist attacks in Rhodesia, the 1964 declaration
of a State of Emergency in the country, the banning of Nationalist
parties, and the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence changed
the character of the BSA Police compelling it back to its military
Crowd Control, Harare Township 1963
There followed a protracted civil war between Nationalist
(communist aligned and sponsored) insurgents from two main camps split
along tribal and ideological lines, the Zimbabwe National Liberation
Army (ZANLA - mostly Shona oriented) and the Zimbabwe Peoples Revolutionary
Army (ZIPRA - mostly Matabele). The evolving conflict saw the BSA
Police's engagement in full counter-insurgency operations alongside
the military in all operational spheres, next to its civilian policing
Rhodesia changed its political face, becoming a Republic
with a titular President in 1970, and, as the war escalated, so did
the persona of the BSA Police transform yet further. It experienced
expansion to service its obligations in the war including the introduction
of National Service policemen, a much increased Support Unit establishment,
and larger Special Branch and Ground Coverage operations. The opening
of defined operational areas commanded by joint police and military
presences was a significant aspect of the force's history.
Lord Soames Arrives 1980
Abandoned by their sole ally, South Africa, Rhodesia's white
politicians eventually capitulated under British and American
pressure to the concept of majority rule resulting in the
birth of a short lived regime called Zimbabwe-Rhodesia with
its first black Prime Minister. The new order never received
acceptance within the international community, thus forcing
the new regime to British sponsored all party talks at Lancaster
House, culminating in the return of British rule and eventually
Zimbabwean independence from Britain.
The BSA Police ceased to exist after 1 August 1980. The
force became known as the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
The remainder of these pages will take you to other aspects
of the force history. Interested visitors may wish to divert
to the bibliography section for leads to further reference
Documents and Addendums
For those interested there is a small PDF
document which details the origins of the BSA
Police logo/crest and the banner, referred to above as a Battle
Honour, which seems to have cause confusion, and continues
to, concerning its description.
Dr Sue Onslow and Dr Anne Berry have finalised their report
on the Oral
History Project which included extensive interviews
of former members of the BSA Police. The project, funded by
the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and carried out
by the University of the West of England, Bristol. Dr Onslow,
has kindly granted permission for this site to carry the report.