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A British possession in South Africa, bounded on the north and northwest by the Congo Free State and German East Africa; on the east by German East Africa, Nyassaland, and Portuguese East Africa; on the south by the Transvaal and Bechuanaland; on the west by Bechuanaland and Portuguese West Africa. Cecil John Rhodes, to whom the colony owes its name, desired to promote the expansion of the British Empire in South Africa. The Dutch South African Republic and Germany were contemplating annexations in the neighbourhood of the Zambesi River. To thwart these enemies of unity without delay and without the aid of the British Parliament was the task to which Mr. Rhodes and his colleagues set themselves. Early in 1888 Lobengula, King of Matabeleland, entered into a treaty with Great Britain and on 30 October of the same year he granted to Rhodes's agents "the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals" in his dominions. On 28 October, 1889, the British South Africa Company was formed under a royal charter. The company, on Lobengula's advice, first decided to open up Mashonaland, which lies north and west of Matabeleland and south of the Zambesi. In September, 1890, an expeditionary column occupied that country and, in the next four years, much was done to develop its resources. In 1893 the company, who questioned the right of the Matabele to make annual raids among their neighbours the Mashonas, came to blows with King Lobengula. Five weeks of active operations and the death of the king, probably by self-administered poison, brought the whole of Southern Rhodesia under the absolute control of the company.

After the war, the settlement and opening up of the country was carried on under the direction of Mr. Rhodes who, on the ruins of Lobengula's royal kraal at Bulawayo, built Government House, and in the vicinity, laid out the streets and avenues of what was intended soon to become a great city. At one time Bulawayo had a population of some 7000 white inhabitants and seemed to be fulfilling the dreams of its founder when its progress and that of the whole country was cut short by the cattle pest, the native rebellion of 1896, and by years of stagnation and inactivity consequent upon the Boer War. Its white population (1911) is 5200. Besides Southern Rhodesia the chartered company own the extensive territories of Northwestern and Northeastern Rhodesia which lie north of the Zambesi and which, with the more populous southern province, cover an area of some 450,000 square miles and form a country larger than France, Germany, and the Low Countries combined. The black population is less than 1,500,000, while the whites hardly exceed 16,000. All the native tribes of Rhodesia belong to the great Bantu family of the negro race. Before the arrival of the pioneer columns the dominant race south of the Zambesi were the Matabele, an off-shoot of the Zulus, who conquered the country north of the Limpopo River in the middle of the last century. They formed a military caste which lived by war and periodical raids upon their weaker neighbours. The destruction of this military despotism was a necessary step to the evangelizing of the country. Before the arrival of the Matabele warriors the principal inhabitants of Southern Rhodesia were the Makaranga whose ancestors had formed the once powerful empire of Monomotapa. North-western Rhodesia or Barotseland is ruled partly by an administrator residing at Livingstone, near the Victoria Falls of the Zambesi and partly by its native King Lewanika, the chief of the Barotse, who has been heavily subsidised by the company. The predominant people in North-eastern Rhodesia are the Awemba and the Angoni whose raiding propensities and coöperation with the Arab slave drivers caused much trouble and expense until their definitive annexation by the company in 1894.

The earliest attempt to evangelize Matabeleland was made in 1879 when three Jesuit Fathers, travelling by ox-wagon, accomplished the journey of some twelve hundred miles between Grahamstown and Bulawayo. They were hospitably received by King Lobengula who had been assured by some resident traders that the missionaries had come for his people's good. He granted them a free passage through his dominions and allowed them to train his subjects in habits of industry but not to preach the Gospel of Christ which, as he well knew, would lead to drastic changes, not only in the domestic life of his people, but in his whole system of government. For some fourteen years the missionaries held their ground awaiting events and it was only through the conquest of the country by the company that free missionary work was rendered possible. It was during this period that Baron von Hübner, who was not without personal experience of South Africa, declared that he would never contribute a penny to the Zambesi Mission, since he thought it contrary to his duty to foster an enterprise doomed to failure and disaster. Events seemed to justify his prognostications, for the mission, owing to fever and the hardships of travel, seemed to be losing more workers than it made converts. In 1893, however, the power of Lobengula was broken and mission stations began to grow up in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, the capital, and of Bulawayo. In Matabeleland there are two mission stations, one at Bulawayo and the second at Empandeni, some sixty miles away. This last station owns a property of about one hundred square miles most of which formed the original grant of Lobengula and the title to which was confirmed by the company. The principal station among the Mashonas or Makaranga is Chishawasha, fourteen miles from Salisbury (founded in 1892). There are other stations of more recent date at Salisbury, Driefontein, Hama's Kraal, and Mzondo, near Victoria, all under the charge of the Jesuit Fathers. The Missionaries of Marianhill, recently separated from the Trappists, have two missions in Mashonaland at Macheke and St. Trias Hill. The Makaranga who are thus being evangelized from seven mission stations are the descendants of the predominant tribe who received the faith from the Ven. Father Gonçalo de Silveira in 1561. Among the Batongas, who owe a somewhat doubtful allegiance to King Lewanika in North-western Rhodesia, there are two Jesuit mission stations on the Chikuni and Nguerere Rivers. These missions are under the jurisdiction of the Jesuit Prefect Apostolic of the Zambesi, resident in Bulawayo. There are 35 priests, 30 lay brothers, and 83 nuns in charge of the missions. The Catholic native population is about 3000. For the missions of North-eastern Rhodesia see VICARIATE APOSTOLIC OF NYASSA. The land of the mission stations in Rhodesia is usually a grant from the Government made on condition of doing missionary work and is therefore inalienable without a special order in Council. Native schools, in some cases, are in receipt of a small grant from the Government. The Jesuit Fathers have one school for white boys (120) at Bulawayo, while the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic have three: at Bulawayo (210), Salisbury (130) and Gwelo (40). These schools are undenominational and receive grants from the Government. Hence Catholics who were first in the field, have a very considerable share in the education of the country. New Government schools have been built recently in Salisbury, Bulawayo, and Gwelo and other places in order to meet the growing demand for education and they have, so far, succeeded in filling their school-rooms without taking many pupils from the schools managed by Catholics.


The chief source of information about the Zambesi Mission is the Zambesi Mission Record, issued quarterly (Roehampton, England); HENSMAN, A History of Rhodesia (London, 1900); HONE, Southern Rhodesia (London, 1909); HALL, Prehistoric Rhodesia (London, 1909); MICHELL, Life of C. J. Rhodes (2 vols., London, 1910).

About this page

APA citation. Kendal, J. (1912). Rhodesia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kendal, James. "Rhodesia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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