Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is a landlocked country in southern Africa. It borders South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, and Mozambique. English, Shona, and Ndebele are among the country’s most spoken national languages. The 2019 population is estimated at 17.30 million, an increase from the 2013 estimate of 14.09 million, and the country ranks 68th in the world.
A civilization occupied the area by the Middle Ages. Trade developed in the early 10th century with Muslim merchants. This helped develop the Mapungubwe kingdom in the 11th century.
Pre-Colonial Era (1000–1887)
In the 9th century, Proto-Shona speaking tribes emerged in the Limpopo valley before moving to the Zimbabwe area. Later Shona states were based in the Zimbabwean plateau.
The Kingdom of Zimbabwe dominated the area from 1250 to 1450. This kingdom gave way to the Mutapa, who ruled from 1450 to 1760. This kingdom ruled most of modern day Zimbabwe and parts of Mozambique. It was known for its gold trade routes with Portuguese and Arabs. The Portuguese began a series of wars which left the empire nearly collapsed bt the early 1600s.
The Rozwi Empire emerged in response to the Portuguese attacks. They removed the Portuguese from Zimbabwe and added guns to their arsenals and developed a professional army.
In 1821, a Zulu general, Mzilikazi, rebelled from King Shaka and created the Ndebele tribe. They fought into the Transvaal left a path of destruction. When the Boer settlers arrived in 1836, they attacked the Ndebele and drove them further north. The Ndebele defeated the Shona states, including the Rozwi in 1837-38.
The Ndebele settled in Zimbabwe’s southwest and chose Bulawayo as the capital. Mzilikazi organized a military system of kraals, similar to Shaka, which successfully repelled Boer attacks in 1847-1851. This led to a peace treaty with the South African government in 1852. After Mzilikazi’s death, his son Lobengula succeeded him.
Colonial Era (1888–1965)
The British South Africa Company, led by Cecil Rhodes, arrived in the area in the 1880s. The name Southern Rhodesia was adopted in 1898. Rhodes obtained mineral rights concessions from the Ndebele king.
The concession allowed Rhodes to justify sending white settlers and British police into Shona lands in 1890 to set up Fort Salisbury. With new machine guns, the British defeated the Ndebele in the First Matabele War in 1893-1894. Rhodes then sought concessions from other nearby lands and used them to promote British colonization. BSAC adopted the Rhodesia name in 1895. Southern Rhodesia became the official name of the area south of the Zambezi River in 1898. This later became Zimbabwe. Modern day Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia.
The Second Matabele War began in 1896 and was led by the Ndebele’s spiritual leader, Mlimo. This was not successful and the defeat led the Shona groups to become part of Rhodes’ administration. The subsequent land distribution favored Europeans and displaced the indigenous population.
In 1923, Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony. In 1953, Britain combined the Rhodesian and Nyasaland colonies into the Federation of Rhodesia. Nationalism prompted the British to dissolve the federation in 1963 and form the three colonies. As neighboring colonies Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became controlled by African governments, the white controlled Rhodesian government made a declaration of independence as Rhodesia in 1965. This effectively ended the British plan to make the country a multi-party democracy.
UDI and Civil War (1965–1979)
After the declaration of independence, the British sought sanctions against Rhodesia. A civil war began in Rhodesia with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo, and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) receiving support from neighboring governments.
South Africa was the only country to recognize Rhodesia’s declaration of independence. Guerilla fighting against the government increased and negotiations were opened with the ZAPU and ZANU.
The government, nearing collapse, signed an agreement with the rebel groups who offered white citizens safeguards in 1978. Elections were held in 1979 and the United African National Council (UANC) won a majority. Abel Muzorewa, the UANC leader, became prime minister and the name of the country became Zimbabwe Rhodesia. The police, military, civil service, and judiciary remained in white control. One-third of the parliament seats were also reserved for whites. The U.S. noted to end sanctions on the country that year.
In 1979, Britain invited Muzorewa and the Patriotic Front leaders to take part in a constitutional conference. The aim was to come to an agreement on the terms of a new constitution and election procedures. On December 15, 1979, the British, Patriotic Front, and the Rhodesian government ended the civil war with the Lancaster House Agreement.
The agreement led to Britain’s Lord Soames being appointed governor to ensure rebels were disarmed, elections were held, and a coalition government was formed. Mugabe and the ZANU won the election in 1980 by a landslide. In Matabeleland, the opposition won, which eventually led to an uprising.
A second uprising took place in 1981. ZIPRA troop in other areas of Matabeleland headed to the area to join the battle. Ex-Rhodesian forces arrived to stop the fighting and more than 300 people were killed.
The uprisings from 1982 to 1985 became known as the Matabeleland Massacres. Mugabe used a brigade trained in North Korea to put down the uprising. Estimates shows 20,000 were killed and tens of thousands of others tortured. In 1988, ZANU and ZAPU reached an agreement to merge, which ended the fighting and created the ZANU-PF.
Mugabe and his party won the 1990 elections and took 117 of 120 parliament seats. Observers did not find the elections were fair and turnout was low.
Throughout the 1990s, protests often occurred due to discontent with the government. These were mainly by students, workers, and trade unionists. The overall population’s health suffered as well and in 1997 25 percent of the country was HIV positive.
Land issues were a major problem in the late 1990s. Despite attempts at reforms, the whites, making up less than 1 percent of the population, held 70 percent of the arable land. Mugabe began a compulsory land redistribution program in 2000.
The legality of the process has been regularly challenged in the courts, but the government has not acted in accordance with the rulings. The effect of the land confiscation was also exacerbated be droughts and lack of finance. Agriculture was traditionally a leading export but this fell sharply. A severe currency shortage also occurred which led to hyperinflation and a shortage of goods. Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations in 2003 after being suspended for human rights abuses.
The government initiated a program after 2005 elections to crack down on slums and illegal markets. Opposition and international groups condemned the actions.
Some have described the current food and economic crisis the worst since independence. It is attributed to land confiscations, price controls, HIV/AIDS, and drought.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy a birth for males in Zimbabwe is 56, and 60 for females. The infant mortality rate is high at 90 deaths for every 1,000 live births.
In 2008, presidential and parliamentary elections were held. The Movement for Democratic Change was acknowledged to have won a majority of seats. Mugabe kept control because of a closed door recount without independent monitors. The MDC candidate, Tsvangirai, did not receive the required number of votes after the recount.
In 2008, an agreement to share power was reached between Tsvangirai and Mugabe. Mugabe would remain president and Tsvangirai would become prime minister. The agreement was not fully implemented until 2009. Tsvangirai left office in 2013 and that post has since been abolished. Joice Mujuru was appointed Vice-President in 2004.
Geography and Environment
Zimbabwe, a landlocked country, is mostly elevated in the central plateau at altitudes between 1,200m and 1,600m. The east is mountainous and Mt. Nyangani is the highest point in Zimbabwe at 2,592 meters. 20 percent of Zimbabwe is low veld under 900 meters. Victoria Falls is located in the country. There is a tropical climate with a rainy season from November to March.
Zimbabwe’s population growth, poverty, and lack of fuel have led to deforestation. This has led to erosion and degradation, reducing the amount of fertile soil. Toxic waste has also resulted from poor mining practices.
Zimbabwe has 11 provinces whose names were derived from those at colonization. Each province is led by a provincial governor, appointed by the president. Each province is further subdivided into 59 districts and 1,200 wards. A district administrator heads each district. Rural district councils also exist in non-urban areas. Ward Development Committees govern the ward areas. Wards are further subdivided into villages.
Government and Politics
Zimbabwe is a semi-presidential republic. There is an upper chamber, the Senate, and the lower chamber, the House of Assembly.
The ZANU-PF has been the dominant party since independence. In 1987, Prime Minister Mugabe changed the constitution to make himself president. International observers have criticized elections in the country, particularly those in 1990, as rigged and unfair.
After contested elections in 2008 that many felt were rigged, the opposition leader Tsvangirai and Mugabe agreed to a power sharing deal. Mugabe would remain president and Tsvangirai would become the prime minister. Tsvangirai left office in 2013 and that post has since been abolished.
General elections are scheduled to be held in Zimbabwe in July 2018 to elect the President and members of both houses of Parliament. According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the elections must be held before the official expiry date of the current parliamentary term, which is due to end on 21 August 2018.
The likelihood of the 2018 general elections taking place were called into doubt following the 2017 Zimbabwean coup. On 22 November 2017, a ZANU-PF spokesman said that Emmerson Mnangagwa would serve out the remainder of Robert Mugabe’s term before the elections due to be held during or before September 2018. On 20 March 2018, Mnangagwa said he was looking forward to holding elections in July 2018.
On 18 January 2018, President Mnangagwa spoke to the Financial Times in an interview, in which he invited the EU, UN and the Commonwealth to send missions to Zimbabwe in order to monitor the elections.
Reports of human rights violations are widespread. International groups allege the government violates basic rights to shelter, food, freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly. The media and political organization have been attacked.
Police often attack opposition gatherings. In 2007 and 2008, there were several crackdowns against the MDC during the election campaign which led to 49 activists being beaten and arrested.
The country’s military is known as the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF). It was formed from three forces the ZANLA and ZIPRA on one side and the RSF on the other. The country has an army and an air force as separate entities.
The forces were placed under a single command in 1995. General Vitalis Zvinavashe was the first commander. After he retired in 2003, General Constantine Chiwenga was appointed the new commander.
The army’s active strength is 30,000, with a further 20,000 reported to be in in reserve. The air force has 5,139 men. The Republic Police forces are also part of the defense force and number 25,000.
Crop production has fallen in recent years. Major foreign currency earners are minerals, agriculture, and tourism Mining is still lucrative and the country has one of the world’s largest platinum reserves. There are also large diamond fields. Corruption has largely dissipated these revenues.
There was economic growth through the 1980s and 1990s. the economy declined from 2000. The government has abandoned its efforts to create a market economy. Inflation is soaring and there is a shortage of supplies and foreign exchanges. The 2002 war in the DRC drained hundreds of millions from the economy.
In 1998, inflation was 32 percent and it rose to a high of 11,200,000 percent in 2008 according the government. To compensate, the central bank issued a new 100 billion dollar note. This was the worst inflationary spike in history and even reached an estimated 516 quintillion percent later in 2008, which caused prices to double every 1.3 days.
In 2005, the government started processes to allow white farmers to return. At that point, only 400 to 500 white farmers remained in Zimbabwe and the land that was confiscated was no longer productive. The government later reversed its position and demanded all white farmers leave the country or face imprisonment.
The government points to foreign governments as the cause of the economy’s collapse and the 80 percent employment rate. Critics blame Mugabe’s program to seize land from white commercial farmers.
The population is over 13 million, with a growth rate of 4.36 percent. The the most recent life expectancy is 55.4 years for men and 55.97 years for women. The HIV/Aids prevalence rate among adults is 14.7 percent.
Seventy-five percent of Zimbabweans are Christian, with Anglican, Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Methodist the main Christian churches. Indigenous practices are often mixed with Christianity. 1 percent are Muslim and the remainder practice indigenous religions.
98 percent of Zimbabweans are black ethnic groups. The Shona are 80 percent to 84 percent. At 10 percent to 15 percent, the Ndebele are the second most populous. Other Bantu ethnic groups such as the Venda, Tonga, Kalanga, Shangaan, Sotho, Nambya, and Ndau make up the third largest with 2 percent to 5 percent.
The white population dropped from 296,000 in 1975 to likely no more than 50,000 in 2002. Most left for Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and neighboring countries.
English, Ndebele, and Shona are the main languages. Only 2.5 percent consider English their native language. Shona is spoken by 76 percent and Ndebele 18 percent.
Within five years of the country’s independence, the country saw improvement in immunizations, health care access, and prevalence of contraceptives. These gains were lost in the 1990s due to HIV/AIDS, the economic crisis, and the structural adjustment. The low life expectancy is mainly due to HIV/AIDS. Infant mortality has also risen.
By the end of 2008, three of the four major hospitals in Zimbabwe shut down as did the medical school. The fourth hospital remaining was small. Hyperinflation has kept medical facilities from having medications. Doctors and other medical professionals also left the country due to the economic crisis.
Cholera struck the country in 2008. The government appealed for help from international organizations. In 2009, 4,011 people had died from the disease and the number of cases almost reached 90,000. There are signs the epidemic had abated.
The adult literacy rate is 90 percent. It has steadily decreased since 1995. In 2010, it had climbed and again became the highest in Africa.
In 1980, education was made free, but charges to attend school have increased since 1988.
Zimbabwe has seven public universities and four religious universities. Built in 1952, the University of Zimbabwe is the first and largest.
There have been problems since 2007 with teachers going on strike or leaving the country. Hunger has also impacted the ability of students to attend school and concentrate in general. The high price of uniforms also deters attendance.
The government has recently imposed tight restrictions on the media, despite the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. The country mans a number of major foreign broadcasting stations.
Many private media companies have been shut down in recent years. Several of these companies are setting up in neighboring countries.
Culture and Recreation
The country has several different cultures, the largest of which is the Shona. The Shona are known for sculptures and carvings made out of high quality materials.
Pottery, textiles, basketry, jewelry, and carving are traditional arts. Most Shona sculpture subjects are of birds or human figures. They fuse European influences and African folklore.
Several Zimbabwean writers have become famous as well. These include Charles Mungoshi and Catherine Buckle.
Meat, mainly beef, is an important staple food, but consumption has declined due to falling incomes. Another common meal is a porridge made with cornmeal into a paste. This is usually eaten with greens, meat, or beans. Bota is a thinner porridge made without the cornmeal.
Football is the most popular sport, but cricket and rugby union are popular. Zimbabwe has won a total of eight Olympic medals. It has done well in All-Africa Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Since 2000, tourism has declined as much as 75 percent. This has impacted the economy severely. Several airlines have pulled out of Zimbabwe.
There are several major tourist attractions, including Victoria Falls. This is shared by Zambia and most of the tourists have shifted to the Zambia side to visit the falls. Other attractions include the ancient dry stone cities and the granite kopjes at the Matobo Hills.