1980 Southern Rhodesian general election

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1980 Southern Rhodesian general election

← 1979 14 February–4 March 1980 1985 →

All 100 seats in the House of Assembly
  First party Second party
Leader Robert Mugabe Joshua Nkomo
Last election N/A N/A
Seats won 57
(Common Roll)
(Common Roll)
Seat change N/A N/A
Popular vote 1,668,992
(Common Roll)
(Common Roll)
Percentage 63.0%
(Common Roll)
(Common Roll)

  Third party Fourth party
Leader Ian Smith Abel Muzorewa
Last election 28
(White Roll)
Seats won 20
(White Roll)
(Common Roll)
Seat change Decrease 8 Decrease 48
Popular vote 13,621
(White Roll)
(Common Roll)
Percentage 83.0%
(White Roll)
(Common Roll)

Prime Minister before election

Abel Muzorewa

Prime Minister-designate

Robert Mugabe

General elections were held in Southern Rhodesia between 14 February and 4 March 1980 to elect the members of the House of Assembly of the first Parliament of the independent Zimbabwe.[1][2] As stipulated by the new Constitution of Zimbabwe produced by the Lancaster House Conference, the new House of Assembly was to comprise 100 members, 80 of whom would be elected proportionally by province by all adult citizens on a common roll, and 20 of whom would be elected in single-member constituencies by whites on a separate roll.

The result was a victory for Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union, contesting the election as ZANU–PF, which won 57 of the 80 common roll seats, giving it a majority in the 100-member House of Assembly. Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union, contesting the election as the Patriotic Front, won 20 of the 80 common roll seats, with the remaining 3 going to Abel Muzorewa's United African National Council. Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front won all 20 of the white roll seats, with most of its candidates running unopposed. As a result of the election, Robert Mugabe became Zimbabwe's first prime minister upon the country's independence on 11 April 1980.

There was widespread violence during the election.[3]


Agreement at Lancaster House on the fundamentals of the constitution was relatively easy. The new House of Assembly was to comprise 100 members, of whom 80 would be elected on a common roll by every adult citizen. The intention was to move to election in single member constituencies but owing to the lack of an electoral roll and the timescale, the first election was to be conducted by provinces using closed lists put forward by the political parties. Voters had their fingers marked with an invisible ink that showed up under Ultraviolet light to detect attempts to vote twice. To qualify for seats in a province, a party needed to achieve a threshold of 10% of the vote, and then the seats among the eligible parties were divided proportionately.

The remaining 20 members of the House of Assembly were to be elected by the 'white roll' comprising those people (mostly white) who had previously qualified to vote. This election was conducted in 20 single member constituencies which had been drawn up by a Delimitation Commission in 1978 and were the same as those used in the 1979 'internal settlement' election. Voters who were registered on the white roll were ineligible to participate in the common roll election.

Following the passage in Zimbabwe Rhodesia of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Rhodesia (Amendment) No. 4 Act 1979 on 11 December 1979, and the arrival of Lord Soames as Governor the next day, the 14-year UDI rebellion came to an end, and Zimbabwe Rhodesia returned to legality under British law as the colony of Southern Rhodesia. The United Kingdom Parliament then passed the Zimbabwe Act to put in place the country's independence constitution. On 21 December 1979, the formal agreement to a ceasefire in the Rhodesian Bush War (or second Chimurenga) was signed; Lord Soames also signed proclamations lifting the ban on ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwe African People's Union and granting a general amnesty to all those who had taken up arms in the war. British Army forces then set up 16 assembly points throughout Southern Rhodesia where Patriotic Front guerillas could disarm and return to civilian life; 18,300 did so by the deadline of 6 January.[4]

While the Rhodesian authorities were in charge of administration on the ground, the formal Returning Officer was Sir John Boynton (1918–2007) who had just retired as chief executive of Cheshire County Council.


Common roll[edit]

Over Christmas 1979, many former Patriotic Front soldiers returned to their former homes to prepare for the election.[5][6] For ZANU-PF, its military leader Josiah Tongogara was killed in a car crash in Mozambique. Tongogara was known to be a supporter of the two Patriotic Front parties, ZANU-PF and ZAPU, fighting the election with a joint list, and it was immediately speculated that his death was arranged by opponents of this policy.[7]

On 13 January, Joshua Nkomo, leader of ZAPU, returned to Southern Rhodesia after three years' exile and addressed a rally of between 100,000 and 150,000 at Highfield township in Salisbury.[8] He was followed on 27 January by Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, who addressed 200,000 (the crowd would have been larger had organisers not turned some away for safety reasons).[9][10]

Abel Muzorewa, who had led the unity government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, campaigned vigorously on behalf of his United African National Council which had won the most votes the previous year. However, attendance at his rallies was reported to be poor, and Muzorewa's habit of inveighing against other Zimbabwean politicians was thought to detract from his appeal as a man of unity.[11] James Chikerema, who had fallen out with Muzorewa in June 1979, entered the field with his Zimbabwe Democratic Party which grew increasingly close to ZAPU (he held unity talks with Nkomo);[12] Chikerema complained about intimidation by supporters of ZANU-PF.

ZANU-PF presented a moderate manifesto that showed little of the party's professed alliance with communist China, although party speakers often threatened that the war might continue if the party did not win. The party complained bitterly to Lord Soames about official bias against it. The Registrar-General of Elections refused to put the party's intended logo on ballot papers because it contained an image of an AK47 rifle and he considered it detrimental to public order.[13] ZANU-PF posters were confiscated if they were considered inflammatory, and many party activists and some candidates were arrested.[14] Soames responded by accusing ZANU-PF of intimidating voters in 23 out of the 56 districts of the colony.

ZAPU caused something of a stir by deciding to fight the elections under the name "Patriotic Front".[13] They campaigned most heavily in the Ndebele areas, where the ZAPU army, ZIPRA, made particular strides in trying to integrate with the Southern Rhodesian forces.

White roll[edit]

Comparatively little interest was shown in the election for the 20 white roll seats, partly because those elected were unlikely to have much influence in the independent Zimbabwe, but mostly because all seats were expected to be won easily by the Rhodesian Front under Ian Smith. Fourteen out of the twenty seats were filled unopposed, and only two candidates in the other seats could put up a reasonable challenge to the Rhodesian Front candidate. One was Dr Timothy Stamps, a newcomer to politics, in the Kopje constituency covering the centre of Salisbury. Stamps advocated co-operation with the new black-led government. In addition, Nick McNally, who had led the liberal 'National Unifying Force' which opposed white dominance, ran in Mount Pleasant in the Salisbury suburbs.

Twelve out of the 20 Rhodesian Front candidates were reported to favour merging their party with Muzorewa's United African National Council to create a biracial party, following their experience in government together in Zimbabwe Rhodesia.[11] White opinion was generally supportive of Muzorewa's government for including competent Ministers, and hoped that Muzorewa would win enough common roll seats to deprive ZANU–PF of a majority.


PartyCommon rollWhite rollTotal
United African National Council219,3078.2833
Zimbabwe Democratic Party28,1811.0600
National Front of Zimbabwe18,7940.7100
National Democratic Union15,0560.5700
Rhodesian Front13,62183.042020
United National Federal Party5,7960.2200
United People's Association of Matabeleland1,1810.0400
Valid votes2,649,52998.05
Invalid/blank votes52,7461.95
Total votes2,702,275100.00
Registered voters/turnout29,566
Source: African Elections Database

Provincial common roll results[edit]

Votes % Votes % Votes % Seats Votes % Seats Votes % Votes % Seats Votes % Votes (%)
Manicaland (11) 1,837 0.6 1,283 0.4 4,992 1.6 19,608 6.2 16,843 5.4 263,972 84.1 11 5,251 1.7
Mashonaland Central (6) 1,216 0.7 1,086 0.6 3,947 2.3 14,985 8.6 3,671 2.1 146,665 83.8 6 2,446 1.4 UNFP 914 (0.5%)
Mashonaland East (16) 2,359 0.4 1,668 0.3 28,805 4.6 75,237 11.9 2 9,499 1.5 508,813 80.5 14 4,466 0.7 UNFP 1,593 (0.3%)
Mashonaland West (8) 2,211 0.8 2,589 0.9 37,888 13.4 1 28,728 10.2 1 4,688 1.7 203,567 71.9 6 3,261 1.2
Matabeleland North (10) 1,840 0.5 4,517 1.1 313,435 79.0 9 30,274 7.6 3,218 0.8 39,819 10.0 1 1,333 0.3 UNFP 1,340 (0.3%)
UPAM 729 (0.2%)
Matabeleland South (6) 927 0.5 2,494 1.4 148,745 86.4 6 5,615 3.3 694 0.4 11,787 6.8 775 0.5 UNFP 619 (0.4%)
UPAM 452 (0.3%)
Midlands (12) 2,218 0.6 3,087 0.9 94,960 27.1 4 30,245 8.6 5,792 1.7 209,092 59.7 8 3,387 1.0 UNFP 1,330 (0.4%)
Victoria (11) 2,448 0.7 2,070 0.6 6,107 1.9 14,615 4.5 8,938 2.7 285,277 87.3 11 7,262 2.2

White roll constituency results[edit]

Polling day was 14 February 1980. A dagger (†) indicates a member of the Zimbabwe Rhodesia House of Assembly for that constituency. A double dagger (‡) indicates a white non-constituency member.

Constituency Candidate Party Votes %
Avondale John Landau Rhodesian Front unopposed
Borrowdale David Colville Smith Rhodesian Front unopposed
Bulawayo Central Patrick Francis Shields Rhodesian Front unopposed
Bulawayo North Denis Walker Rhodesian Front unopposed
Bulawayo South Wally Stuttaford Rhodesian Front 3,715 92.0
Francis Robert Bertrand Independent 289 7.2
Jan (John) Francis Betch Independent 36 0.9
Central Rowan Cronjé Rhodesian Front unopposed
Eastern Desmond Butler Rhodesian Front unopposed
Gatooma/Hartley P. K. van der Byl Rhodesian Front unopposed
Hatfield Richard Cartwright Rhodesian Front unopposed
Highlands Robert Gaunt Rhodesian Front unopposed
Kopje Dennis Divaris Rhodesian Front 1,999 65.5
Timothy Stamps Independent 1,053 34.5
Lundi Donald Goddard Rhodesian Front unopposed
Makoni Arthur Tapson Rhodesian Front 1,396 76.4
Petrus Christophel van der Merwe Independent 431 23.6
Marlborough William Irvine Rhodesian Front unopposed
Mazoe/Mtoko André Sothern Holland Rhodesian Front unopposed
Midlands Henry Swan Elsworth Rhodesian Front unopposed
Mount Pleasant Jonas Christian Andersen Rhodesian Front 2,683 79.4
Nicholas John McNally Independent 698 20.6
Northern Esmond Meryl Micklem Rhodesian Front unopposed
Southern Ian Smith Rhodesian Front 2,253 93.8
Johannes Jacobus Hulley Independent 113 4.7
Donovan Peter Speedie Independent 37 1.5
Western Alexander Moseley Rhodesian Front 1,579 92.7
Lawrence Alastair Bronson Independent 124 7.3


"The Election Commissioner concluded that, despite some distortion of voting as a result of intimidation in certain areas, the overall result would broadly reflect the wishes of the people."[15]

"These Commonwealth observers also knew that intimidation could be overt, or subtle and covert; but there was a limited amount they could do about this. "[16]


  1. ^ Gregory, Martyn. "The 1980 Rhodesian Elections — A First-Hand Account and Analysis" The World Today 36, no. 5 (1980): 180-188.
  2. ^ Gregory, Martyn. "The Zimbabwe election: the political and military implications" The Journal of South African Studies 7, no. 1 (1980): 17-37.
  3. ^ Kwashirai, Vimbai Chaumba, ed. (2023), "Violence, a Colonial Curse: The 1980 General Elections", Election Violence in Zimbabwe: Human Rights, Politics and Power, Cambridge University Press, pp. 8–34, doi:10.1017/9781108120265.003, ISBN 978-1-107-19081-8
  4. ^ Nicholas Ashford, "Guerillas flock in as deadline passes", The Times, 7 January 1980, p. 5.
  5. ^ Frederick Cleary, "Tumultuous Salisbury welcome for guerillas", The Times, 27 December 1979, p. 1.
  6. ^ BBC News online 'On this Day', 26 December 1979.
  7. ^ "Military chief of Mugabe forces dies in collision", The Times, 28 December 1979, p. 4.
  8. ^ Nicholas Ashford, "Nkomo returns to a hero's welcome", The Times, 14 January 1980, p. 1.
  9. ^ Nicholas Ashford, "Mr Mugabe calls on whites to stay in Rhodesia", The Times, 28 January 1980, p. 1.
  10. ^ BBC News online 'On this day', 27 January 1980.
  11. ^ a b Nicholas Ashford, "Mugabe party 'will win most seats in poll'", The Times, 31 January 1980, p. 6.
  12. ^ Nicholas Ashford, "Rhodesia reservists called up to stand by in election", The Times, 7 February 1980, p. 6.
  13. ^ a b Frederick Cleary, "Nkomo party is Patriotic Front now", The Times, 15 January 1980, p. 7.
  14. ^ Nicholas Ashford, "Arrests fuel charges of official bias against Mr Mugabe", The Times, 15 February 1980, p. 8.
  15. ^ "RHODESIA ELECTIONS: NEW GOVERNMENT". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 4 March 1980. Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  16. ^ Palut, Martin (31 July 2013). "Zimbabwe's elections – lessons from 1980". Martin Palut. Retrieved 15 June 2021.