Rhodesian passports were issued by the government of Rhodesia to its citizens for purposes of international travel. They are no longer issued, having been superseded by Zimbabwean passports in 1980, with the country’s reconstitution and renaming as Zimbabwe. Rhodesian passports were ostensibly valid for travel by Rhodesians anywhere in the world, but in practice they were accepted by very few countries.
Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain on 11 November 1965, Rhodesia’s predominantly white minority government was unrecognised, causing the legality of its passports to become ambiguous. From 1968, United Nations Security Council Resolution 253 called on all UN member states to refuse entry to Rhodesian passport holders. The passports continued to be accepted by some non-UN countries, such as Switzerland, as well as a few UN members, including Portugal and South Africa, but they were not recognised as legal by most foreign powers. For example, when Rhodesian politicians travelled to the United States on official business during the 1970s, they were issued visas on separate pieces of paper, their passports unstamped.
The dispute surrounding the passports made it difficult for many Rhodesians to travel overseas, and also impacted on Rhodesia’s entry into international sports competitions, such as the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, and the Davis Cup. Because a Rhodesian passport was of little use in practice, many Rhodesian citizens obtained documents issued by other governments, most commonly British passports, which according to a 1978 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross were held by over two-thirds of the country’s white population.
When the country was reorganised under black majority rule in June 1979 as Zimbabwe Rhodesia, its passports were renamed appropriately. Following the Lancaster House Agreement of December 1979, and the imposition of temporary British rule, applications for Zimbabwe Rhodesian passports trebled; Zambia announced in March 1980 that it would start accepting Zimbabwe Rhodesian travellers. These passports continued to be issued for a few months following the recognised independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, stopping only when stocks were exhausted. Since then, Zimbabwean passports have been issued and used by the country’s citizens.
Following Rhodesia‘s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain, which went unrecognised by the international community, the breakaway state’s passport holders faced various difficulties in overseas travel. United Nations Security Council Resolution 253 (passed in 1968) called upon all United Nations members to refuse entry to persons holding passports issued by “the illegal régime in Southern Rhodesia”. However, Portugal (a UN member) as well as Switzerland and South Africa (both non-UN members at the time) accepted Rhodesian passports for travel. There were exceptions for “study and compassionate reasons” as well. The United Kingdom and the United States occasionally permitted entry to Rhodesian passport holders, particularly blacks.
There were a number of instances of refusal of admission to Rhodesian passport holders over the years. The United Kingdom routinely refused admission. In one case in 1969, the Rhodesian government accused the British Home Office of detaining a Rhodesian man, Henry Ncube for three days while he transited in the United Kingdom on the way from the United States due to his refusal to apply for a British passport; Ncube was ill at the time, and reportedly did not want to apply for a British passport because he feared it could bring him trouble with Rhodesian authorities upon his return to the country. Though it was initially speculated that Australia might adopt an unofficial policy of leniency towards Rhodesian passport holders, in fact Australia also routinely refused admission to Rhodesian passport holders. However, some Rhodesians were able to proceed to Australia as migrants, for example 170 such persons in 1977.
The Rhodesian Olympic team was barred from participating in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico. The refusals applied equally to black and white holders of Rhodesian passports. In September 1969, South Korea refused admission to the mostly black Rhodesian national football team, which had been billed to contest a FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament there for nearly a year. The Korean government refused to budge on this, but FIFA was adamant that Rhodesia should play; a compromise was eventually worked out whereby the winner of the series would play Rhodesia in a “neutral” country that would admit the Rhodesians.
The winning team from the Korean series, Australia, ultimately took on and defeated Rhodesia in Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique over three games in November 1969. Attitudes towards Rhodesia‘s participation in the Davis Cup international tennis tournament were varied; having first entered in 1963, it was allowed to play up to and including 1970. Following five years of absence afterwards, it returned for two years during the late 1970s, taking part in the 1975 and 1976 competitions, but thereafter did not play again under the Rhodesian name, returning in 1981 as Zimbabwe.