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Zimbabwe / Rhodesia








Governors and Presidents

Armed Forces



History and Heraldry



On the territory of the modern states Zimbabwe and Mozambique a kingdom called the Empire of Great Zimbabwe (also spelled Munhu mu tapa, Mwene Mutapa,r Manhumutapa, Monomotapa or Mutapa) existed between c.1450-1629.

The empire was established by the Rozvi who are the ancestors of the present Shona people. Great Zimbabwe reached its zenith around the 1440s via the Gold trade. Gold was exported from the empire to the port of Sofala south of the Zambezi delta, where Arab traders waited. The fabrics of Gujarat were traded for gold along the coast. Soon the pressures from European and Arab traders began to change the balance of power in the region.


The Portuguese began their attempts to subdue the Shona state as early as 1505 but were confined to the coast for many years, according to Fernand Braudel until 1513.

The Monomotapa Empire was being torn apart by rival factions, and the gold from the rivers they controlled was exhausted. The trade in gold was replaced by a trade in slaves. Around this time the Arab states of Zanzibar and Kilwa became prominent powers by providing slaves for Arabia, Persia and India.

The empire was finally conquered in 1629 by the Portuguese and never recovered. Remnants of the government established another Mutapa kingdom in Mozambique sometimes called Karanga. The Karanga kings were called Mambos (plural) and reigned in the region until 1902.


Francisco Alvarez (1465-1541) writes in his  “Ethiopian Historie” in th capital Of the Emperour of Monomotapa. - The kings armes :

“This king in his scutcheon or coate of armes hath two signes of maiestie. One is a certaine little spade with a handle of iuorie. The other are two small dartes. By the spade he exhortheth his subiects to husbandrie, that they may not through sloth and negligence let the earth lie vntilled, and so for want be constrained to play the theeues. The one of his darts betokeneth, that he will be a seuere punisher of malefactors; & the other, that he will by valour & force of armes resist all forren inuasions.”  [1]


Arms of the king of Monomotapa

Below the portrait of the Monomotapa, King of the Makaranga tribe.

Nicolas de Larmessin, 1655-’80. Coll. British Museum n° O,3.219

The arms are:

Arms: Azure, an african adze between two arrows per pale.

Crown: A crown of five points


The Monomotapa also had a seal, although only one example of it still survives, affixed to a document of the Dominican Order, now in the Biblioteca Nacional in Lisbon. The exact origin of the seal is not known, but it was most probably made by the Dominicans themselves during their missionary activities in the area, presumably so that the illiterate chief could use it to sign documents drawn up by them on his behalf.

The remaining example of the seal is slightly distorted, but shows a mythical animal with the body and three legs of a lion, the fourth leg having a clove hoof, and with a canine head. An arrow is about to be shot into the beast from a bow. [2]


Monomotapa Seal



In the late 1830s, some 20,000 Ndebele, descendants of the Nguni and Sotho in South Africa and led by Mzilikazi settled on the western edge of the central plateau of modern-day Zimbabwe. The new nation was called Mthwakazi, but called Matabeleland by Europeans. Mzilikazi organised this ethnically diverse nation into a militaristic system of regimental towns and established his capital at Bulawayo. Mzilikazi died on 9 September 1868, near Bulawayo. His son, Lobengula (†1894), succeeded him as king. On the seals of Lobengula is an elephant statant.


Å Lo bengula’s Seal. Entrusted by the King, for safe custody, to the trader Fairbairn, in whose possession the Seal remained on Lobengula's retreat from Bulawayo. It eventually fell into the hands of Dr. Jameson, and is now to be seen at Groote Schuur.






In 1852, the Boer government in Transvaal had made a treaty with Mzilikazi. However, gold was discovered in Mashonaland in 1867 and the European powers became increasingly interested in the region. In exchange for wealth and arms, Lobengula granted several concessions to the British, the most prominent of which is the 1888 Rudd concession giving Cecil Rhodes exclusive mineral rights in much of the lands east of his main territory. Rhodes was able to obtain a royal charter to form the British South Africa Company in 1889. He established a state that held sovereignty over the region between the Limpopo and Zamwbezi rivers to the north and south, and between the desert of the Makgadikwgadi salt pans to the west and the realm of Shoshangana to the east, the Save River.  Rhodes negotiated a territorial treaty with Lobengula, known as the Rudd Concession of 1888, which permitted British mining and colonisation of Matabele lands between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers, and prohibited all Boer settlement in the region. As part of the agreement, the British would pay Lobengula 100 pounds a month, as well as 1,000 rifles, 10,000 rounds of ammunition, and a riverboat.


Flag of Rhodesia


A colony was founded named Rhodesia after its conqueror. The name was first used in public by Mr. F.J. Dormer of the Argus Company in 1891. Dr. Jameson, friend and assistant to Rhodes, proposed adopting this name for the new country in 1894. On 23 April 1895 it was officially adopted. Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of state for the Colonies, issued a proclamation confirming the name to be official in 1897.

In the colony the Union Jack was flown. Rhodes himself had designed a flag to symbolise his dream of a united Africa under British rule, using a combination of the Egyptian flag (white crescent and star on a red field) and the symbol of the Cape (a gold Anchor). Linking the two in the centre was the Union Flag, symbolizing British rule from the Cape to Cairo. Rhodes’dream was never realise, of cours, and the flag was never offcially used. This flag is preserved today in Grote Schuur (S.A).[3]


British South Africa Company

15.10.1889 - 1923


Lobengula had hoped that the Rudd Concession would diminish European incursions, but as white settlers moved in, the “British South Africa Company” set up its own government, made its own laws, and set its sights on more mineral rights and more territorial concessions.

The BSAC governed the territory from 1889 until 1923. The arms of the Company were also used for the colony. The charges of the arms symbolize the trade overseas (the fess wavy with the ships) the cattle-breeding (the oxes), agriculture (the ears of wheat), wealth (the besants) and the abundant wild-life (the elephant) of the country. The crest of the lion with the elephant’s tusk symbolizes the British and the sprinboks are a symbol of South Africa itself. The motto refers to the liberal political and economic point of view from which the colony was exploited.



Arms: Gules per fess bezanty and semée of ears of wheat Or, on a fesse wavy Argent between two bulls statant in chief and an elephant in base all proper, three lymphads with oars Sable.

Crest: On a wreath Or and Gules, a lion passant guardant Or supporting with dexter forepaw an elephant’s tusk erect proper.

Supporters: Two springboks (Antidorcas marsupialis - Bovidæ) proper.

Motto: justice  commerce  freedom.

adopted 15.10.1889


A variant of the arms existed, showing the arms enclosed in a circular band, broken at the base by a ‘national spray’ of the rose, thistle and shamrock. On the band are the words “British South Africa Company and below this is a scroll with the words Ïncorporated Royal Charter”. This basic design, with some small variations,  was used on postage stamps of the BSAC from 1896 onwards.



Southern Rhodesia



In 1923 Rhodesia was divided into North- and South-Rhodesia. The achievement of the Company was abolished and for both parts new arms were designed. After a number of suggestions had been put forward with regard to a coat of arms for Southern Rhodesia (including one proposal to use a BSA Policeman and a Matabele Warrior as supporters) and a suitable motto, a design was decided on and granted by Royal warrant on 11 August 1924


The chief of the new arms referred to the arms of Cecil Rhodes, the pick to the important mining of the country. For the field the color green was chosen, the color of the rhodesian sporting-teams in international matches.

The Great Zimbabwe-bird serving as a crest commemorates Zimbabwe (Monomotapa), Ruins of its capital have been found near Fort Victoria. The sculpture of soap-stone of the bird was found there.

The sable-antelopes serving as supporters of the arms are the national beasts of Rhodesia. The motto “May She be Worthy of the Name” refers to the founder of the nation.




Arms: Vert, a pick Or and on a chief Argent a lion passant Gules between two thistles leaved and slipped proper.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter lambrequined Or and Vert, the Great Zimbabwe Bird Or.

Supporters: Two sableantelopes (Hippotragus niger - Bovidæ) proper.

Motto:  sit nomine digna (May She be Worthy of the Name).

By Royal Warrant 11.07.1924


Federation of Rhodesia and Nyassaland



South Rhodesia was made a part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyassaland in 1953. The achievement of the Federation  was designed by M.J. Morris (later Information Attaché to the Federal High Commission in Pretoria, S.A.) and was granted by Royal Warrant of 22 July 1954. The arms have elements to represent all three territories which comprised the Federation: the rising sun on a blue field in the upper shield and leopard were taken from the arms of Nyasaland; the white wavy lines on a black field at the base of the shield and the eagle are from the arms of Northern Rhodesia. The dovetailed fesse bearing the lion passant symbolizes the the indivisibilty of the three parts of the Federation. The sable antelope supporter is from the achievement of Southern Rhodesia. The leopard supporter and the fish-eagle are from the arms of  Nyassaland.



Arms: Per fess 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: A fish-eagle (Haliaëtus vocifer - Accipitridæ) reguardant Or, perched upon and grasping in the talons a fish Argent.

Supporters: On the dexter a sableantelope (Hippotragus niger - Bovidæ) and on the sinister a leopard (Panthera pardus - Felicidæ) both proper.

Motto: magni esse mereamur (Let us deserve to be great).

adopted 24.081954




Republic of Rhodesia




Southern Rhodesia



The Federation fell apart in 1963. In South-Rhodesia the ancient achievement was restored and it was also used for the sucessor states  until 1980. In October 1963 the name of the country was changed into “Rhodesia”. On 11 November 1965 the colony proclaimed its independence changing its status into a republic on 2 March 1970. After a transitional statute and the country renamed “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia” its name was changed into  “Republic of Zimbabwe” on 18 April 1980.


Throughout the subsequent changes of name and status the use of the achievement of Southern Rhodesia was continued.


Republic of Zimbabwe

18.04.1980- present


On the date of the adoption of a new name a new achievement was also adopted. Arms and chief were replaced by a green field charged with the ruins of Great-Zimbabwe and 15 pales Argent and Azure. The antelopes were replaced by kudus (Tragelaphus strepsiceros, Bovidae) and an adze a and a rifle in saltire were added behind the shield.

The green field represents the fertile soil and the pales wavy the water that makes growth and flowerimg possible. The ruins of Great Zimbabwe commemorates the great history of the country and the adze and the rifle in saltire symbolize the transfer from war to peace. On the shield is a green and yellow wreath symbolizing the agriculture and mining being the foundations of he Zimbabwean economy.

In the crest a red star was added, a symbol of the hope for a better future. The color red commemoirates the suffering of the people in the past and the neceesity to avoid it in the future.

The Great Zimbabwe-bird is the national symbol.

The white, black and brown kudus refer to the different ethnic peoples in the country. Shield and supporters are standing on a grassy ground on which agricultural poreducts are exposed: wheat, maize and cotton.

The motto reads:unity freedom work”. [4]


Arms: Vert, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, Argen and a chief payl wavy of 15 pieces Argent and Azure.

Crest: On a wrearg Or and Vert, a five-pointed star Gules charged with the Great Zimbabwe bird Or,

Supporters: An adze and a rifle in saltire and two kudus (Tragelaphus strepsiceros, Bovidae, proper.

Compartment: The african soil charged with a cotton flower between a sheaf of wheat and a maize-cob proper.


adopted 18.04.1980 


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.




As we have seen the rulers of Monomotapa and Matabeleland had their own emblems.


The arms of Cecil Rhodes were:

Arms: Argent, a bend Argent coticed Gules  charged with a lions passant Gules between two thistles proper

Crest: A cubit arm vested gules and gloved proper, holding a branch of oak Vert.


The original arms of the Rhodes family had: Argent, a lion passant guardant gules between two acorns in bend Azure cotised ermines (listed in Burke's Armory, 1884).


The Royal Arms for Rhodesia


The Royal Arms for Rhodesia consisted of the arms of Rhodesia as adopted in 1924 crested with the imperal state crown.

The arms are between the royal cypher GV R.I, GVI R.I. and EII R, the R.I. meaning Rex et Imperator, and the single R Regina.

King George V (1923-1936)


King George VI (1936-1952)


Queen Elizabeth II (1953-1970)


Queen Elizabeth II, (1953-1963)


Republic 1970-1980


Governors and Presidents



Administrator of the BSAC


Governor’s flag 1928-1951

Governor’s flag 1951-1969

Governor General of the Federation’s flag 1953-1963


Interim 1969-1979


Presidential flag 1979-1980


Presidential flag 1987-1991


Armed Forces





The beginnings of the Rhodesian Army go back to 29 October, 1889, when the Royal Charter was granted by Queen Victoria to the British South Africa Company, authorising it to raise a police force for the territories that were intended to come under its control north of the Limpopo River. The Defence Act of 1927 finally created a Permanent Force and a Territorial Force for the colony, although little progress was made in the period up to 1939, at which time the police were finally separated from the military, and conscription for the latter introduced.

During the period of Federation, the army was totally reorganised and each corps now received the prefix "Rhodesia and Nyasaland".

With the breakup of Federation in 1964 the army again underwent a large- scale reorganization, with the units reverting to their original territories, two of which had now gained independence from Britain. Southern Rhodesia took matters into its own hands in 1965 with a "Unilateral Declaration of Independence" (UDI).

In the end this resulted in the declaration of independence in 1980 and the foundation of the Zimbabwean army.


Rhodesia and Nyassaland Army 1953-1963

Rhodesian Army 1963-1970


Rhodesian Army 1970-



Rhodesian Army -1980


Zimbabwe National Army 1980-

Air Force


The Rhodesian Air Force was established as a regular defence unit in 1947, althoug an Air Unit had existed as early as 1934. In this year an Air Training Unit was established,  a Territorial Force within the Rhodesia Regimant and commenced the training of Pilots in 1939. In 1940 the establishment of an Air Traing Group  (ATG) under the Empire Scheme for the purpose of training pilots for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as part of Rhodesia’s contribution to the war effort.

During the war three squadrons of the RAF were manned by Rhodesians and were then officially designated as Rhodesian Units. The were 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron, 44 (Rhodesian) Squadron and 266 (Rhodesian ) Squadron.

In 1941 Badges prepared by Chester Herald Inspector of Royal Air Force Badges and approved by King George VI, were presented to these squadrons


Crest: A Lion passant guardant charged on the shoulder with an Eagle's Claw and holding in the Forepaw an Elephant's Tusk.

Motto:  PRIMUM AGMEN IN CAELO (The First Flight in the Sky)


The design is based on the Crest of the British South Africa Company.


Crest: On a Mount an Elephant.

Motto:  FULMINA REGIS LUSTA (The King's Thun-derbolts are Righteous).


The design is based on the seal of Lo Bengula, the chief of the Matabele on the conquest.  The seal shows an elephant which, as used by the Squadron, suggests the weight of their attacks.


Crest: A Bateleur Eagle volant.

Motto:  HLABEZULU (The Stabber of the Sky).


The Bateleur Eagle was adopted as it is common all over Southern Rhodesia and is known for its acrobatic propensity.


In march 1970, the form of government being changed into a republic, the prefix “Royal” was dropped  and new badges were designed. The badge of the Rhodesian Air Force itself became an eagle wings spread, on a disc surrounded by the legend RHODESIAN AIR FORCE and crested with the Great Zimbabwe Bird. Motto: ALÆ PRÆSIDIO PATRIA (Wings Protect the Fatherland).
















Cap Badges



Cap Badge until 1953

Cap badge 1963-1970




In 1970 the badges of the squadrons were crested with the new Air Force badge of a lion statant guardant with an elephant’s tusk in his paw, and have their mottoes in english.


Rhodesian Air Force Squadron Crests and Badges

1 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest
2 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest
3 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest
4 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

1 Squadron
Rhodesian Air Force Crest

2 Squadron
Rhodesian Air Force Crest

3 Squadron
Rhodesian Air Force Crest

4 Squadron
Rhodesian Air Force Crest

5 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

6 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

7 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

8 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

5 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

6 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

7 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest

8 Squadron Rhodesian Air Force Crest



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© Hubert de Vries 2006.06.14. Updated 2009.01.19; 2013-10-26



[1] In: Leo Africanus: History  &c. Vol III. Pp. 985-986.

[2] Allport, Richard: Flags and Symbols of Rhodesia. 1890-1980.  In: Sava Journal 31 December 1996. P.43

[3] Allport, Richard: op cit.. P. 12. Illustration from: Smith, Whitney: Flags through the Ages and Across the World. Maidenhead, 1975.

[4] Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles: The Book of Public Arms. London, 1915. Herzog, Hans-Ulrich: Lexicon Flaggen und Wappen. Leipzig, 1990. The History and Description of Africa and of the notable things therein contained, written by Al-Hassan Ibn-Mohammed Al-Wezaz al Fasi, a Moor, baptised as Giovanni Leone, but better known as Leo Africanus. The Hakluyt Society, London 1896. Pama, C.: Lions and Virgins. Heraldic State Symbols, Coats of Arms, Flags, Seals and other symbols of authority in South Africa, 1487-1962. Cape Town, 1965. Pine, L.G.:he Post War Developments in the Heraldry of Britain, in the New Institutions and the New States Formed from the Former British Empire. In: Receuil du VIIme Congrès des Sciences Généalogique et Héraldique. La Haye, 1964 pp. 127-133. Smith, Whitney: Spectrum Vlaggenboek. Amsterdam 1975 (p. 77)

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