History of Zimbabwe

From Academic Kids

This is the History of Zimbabwe. See also the History of Africa and History of present-day nations and states.


Ancient civilizations

Archaeologists have found Stone-Age implements and pebble tools in several areas of Zimbabwe, a suggestion of human habitation for many centuries, and the ruins of stone buildings provide evidence of early civilization. The most impressive of these sites is the "Great Zimbabwe" ruins, after which the country is named, located near Masvingo. Evidence suggests that these stone structures were built between the 9th and 13th centuries A.D. by indigenous Africans who had established trading contacts with commercial centers on Africa's southeastern coast.

There have been many civilizations in Zimbabwe as is shown by the ancient stone structures at Khami, Great Zimbabwe and Dhlo-Dhlo. The first major civilization to become established was the Mwene Mutapa (or Monomotapas), who were said to have built Great Zimbabwe, in the ruins of which was found the soapstone bird that features on the Zimbabwean flag. By the mid 1440s, King Mutota's empire included almost all of the Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) plateau and extensive parts of what is now Mozambique. The wealth of this empire was based on small-scale industries, for example iron smelting, textiles, gold and copper, along with agriculture. The regular inhabitants of the empire's trading towns were the Arab and Swahili merchants with whom trade was conducted.

The Gokomere people, a Bantu-speaking group of migrant farmers, inhabited the Great Zimbabwe site from about 500, displacing earlier Khoisan people. From about 1000 the fortress took shape, reaching its peak by the fifteenth century. These were the ancestors of the Shona (or Mashona) people, who make up about 80% of modern Zimbabwe's population. Later they formed the Rozwi Empire, which continued until the nineteenth century.

Arrival of the Portuguese

In the early 16th century the Portuguese arrived and destroyed this trade and began a series of wars which left the empire so weakened that it was near collapse in the early 17th century. Several Shona states came together to form the Rozwi Empire which covered more than half of present day Zimbabwe. By 1690 the Portuguese had been forced off the plateau and the Rozwi controlled much of the land formerly under Mwene Mutapa. Peace and prosperity reigned over the next two centuries and the centres of Dhlo-Dhlo, Khami, and Great Zimbabwe reached their peaks. As a result of the mid-19th century turmoil in Transvaal and Natal, the Rozwi Empire came to an end.

Ndebele invasion

The Matabele (Ndebele) people in the south arrived in 1834 - Mzilikazi fleeing Shaka.

British Conquest

British occupation began in the 1890s, under the leadership of Cecil Rhodes, after whom the area was renamed Rhodesia. A treaty was signed with the British South Africa Company in 1888 allowing them to mine gold in the kingdom and to use force to enforce the terms of the treaty, now under Matabele rule. The increasing influx of settlers as a result of this treaty led to war with Lobengula, King of Matabeleland in 1896-97. Lobengula died while fleeing north, and the Ndebele were defeated and European immigration began in earnest.


Rhodesia became a self-governing colony with responsible Government in 1923. What this meant was that there was a local parliament although some powers (notably relating to African political advancement) were retained by London. Southern Rhodesia (as it was called then) was ruled via the Dominions Office (and not the Colonial Office) although strictly speaking the country was not a Dominion (like Canada, Australia, South Africa etc.). This however was a unique case.

From 1953 to 1963, Southern Rhodesia was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The federation fell apart in 1963 when white minority rule collapsed in the other members of the federation who were granted independence as Zambia and Malawi. Southern Rhodesia reverted to its status as a crown colony in Britain but was now known as Rhodesia.

From 1953 to 1958, the Southern Rhodesian government of Garfield Todd attempted to introduce liberal reforms to increase educational rights for the Black majority but Todd was forced from power when he attempted to expand the number of Blacks eligible to vote from 2% to 16%. The governments that followed Todd's became increasingly repressive introducing laws such as the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act of 1960 and the Emergency Powers Act which restricted the rights of the Black African majority.

The formation of a number of political parties along with sporadic acts of sabotage came as a result of African impatience with the pace of reforms and then in opposition to increased repression. At the forefront of this move was the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), mostly Ndebele, led by Joshua Nkomo. It was shortly joined by the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), mostly Shona, a breakaway group under Ndabaningi Sithole. After the collapse of the federation in 1963, both ZAPU and ZANU were banned and the majority of their leaders imprisoned.

Unilateral independence

Britain adopted a policy known as NIBMAR (No Independence Before Majority African Rule), but in 1965 Ian Smith's hardline Rhodesian Front (RF) party won every one of the 50 seats in the Legislative Assembly, which was controlled by the white minority. On 11 November, 1965, Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Initially, Smith claimed loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, although he refused to recognise the authority of her Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs. He declared Rhodesia a republic in 1970.

Britain declared Smith's actions illegal, and the Commonwealth imposed economic sanctions. The UDI was not recognised by any other country, even by the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1968 the UN voted to make the sanctions mandatory but they were largely ineffective. The measures taken by the British government to force Smith to revoke UDI seemed useless, as the economic sanctions imposed actually saw Rhodesia's economy grow. Most of the infrastructure still in the country today was developed during this period.

Guerrilla warfare

Both ZAPU and ZANU began campaigns of guerrilla warfare around 1966, and guerrilla raids led to escalation in white emigration from Rhodesia. Warfare continued through 1979, leaving 27000 dead.

The coming of independence in Angola and Mozambique in 1975 altered the power balance within Rhodesia greatly as it forced South Africa and the United States to rethink their attitudes to the area, in order that they could protect their economic and political interests. Attempts were made by both countries to pressure Smith into accepting majority rule. With Kenneth Kaunda's Zambian support the nationalist groups were convinced to come together under the united front of Abel Muzorewa's African National Council. The imprisoned nationalist leaders were released.

Continuing talks failed to bring the two sides to an agreement, despite changes to the nationalist "line-up", now called the Patriotic Front (PF), a union of ZANU and ZAPU. Muzorewa had since formed a new party, the United African National Council (UANC), as had Sithole, who had formed a breakaway party from ZANU, called ZANU Ndonga. In the face of a white exodus, Ian Smith made an agreement with Muzorewa and Sithole, known as the Internal Settlement. This led to the holding of new elections in 1979 in which black Africans would be in the majority for the first time. The country was renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, with Muzorewa as Prime Minister.

However, the new state was not recognised by the international community, which continued to press for a settlement involvinng the Patriotic Front. Finally in 1979 under the Lancaster House Agreement, its legal status as the British colony of Southern Rhodesia was restored, in preparation for free elections and independence as Zimbabwe.

Majority rule

In elections in March 1980, Robert Mugabe's ZANU party won the election, with 53 out of 80 seats reserved for black voters, with Joshua Nkomo's ZAPU gaining 27, and Muzorewa's UANC only three. The Republic of Zimbabwe came into being on April 18, 1980, in a ceremony attended by Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales. A song was written and sung by Bob Marley to celebrate the independence of Zimbabwe also called 'Zimbabwe'. He was invited to perform a concert at the country's independence festivities, and this song, was, of course, included.

As well as changing the name of the country, the new government changed numerous place names in 1982, starting with the capital, Salisbury, which was renamed Harare. The main street in the capital, Jameson Avenue, was renamed in honour of Samora Machel, President of Mozambique.

Constitution and parliamentary system

The new Constitution provided for a non-executive President as Head of State with a Prime Minister as Head of Government. The first President was Rev. Canaan Banana with Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister. In 1987, the Constitution was amended to provide for an Executive President and the office of Prime Minister was abolished. The constitutional changes came into effect on 1 January 1988 with Robert Mugabe as President.

The Parliament was bicameral, with the House of Assembly being directly elected and the Senate consisting of indirectly elected and nominated members, including tribal chiefs. Under the Constitution, there were two separate voters rolls, one for the black African majority, who had 80 per cent of the seats in Parliament and the other for whites and other ethnic minorities, such as Coloureds (people of mixed race) and Asians, who held a 20 per cent.

This gave whites disproportionate representation, and in 1986 the Constitution was amended to scrap this, replacing the white seats in with seats filled by nominated members. Many white MPs joined ZANU, which then reappointed them. In 1990, the Senate was abolished, and the House of Assembly's membership was increased to include members nominated by the President.

After independence

Following independence, there was increasingly bitter rivalry between ZAPU and ZANU, with guerrilla activity starting again, in Matabeleland (south-western Zimbabwe). Nkomo (ZAPU) left for exile in Britain, and did not return until Mugabe guaranteed his safety. On February 17, 1982 Nkomo, accused of plotting a coup, was dismissed. Armed resistance in his stronghold of Matabeleland, in the west, was met with bloody government repression. At least 20000 die in the ensuing massacres, known in Zimbabwe as the Gukurahundi.

A peace accord was negotiated, and on December 30, 1987 Mugabe became head of state after reforming the constitution to usher in a presidential regime. On December 19, 1989 ZAPU merged with ZANU under the name ZANU-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Although most whites had left Zimbabwe after independence, mainly for neighbouring South Africa, those who remained continued to wield disproportionate control of some sectors of the economy, especially agriculture. In the late-1990s whites accounted for less than 1% of the population but owned 70% of arable land.

On December 9, 1997 a national strike paralysed the country. Mugabe was panicked by demonstrations by Zanla ex-combatants (war veterans), who had been the heart of the liberation struggle 20 years earlier. He agreed to pay them large gratuities and pensions, which proved to be a wholly unproductive and unbudgeted financial commitment.

Mugabe also raised the issue of land ownership by white farmers. In a populist move, he began land redistribution, which brought the government into headlong conflict with the International Monetary Fund. Amid a severe drought in the region, the police and military were instructed not to stop the invasion of white-owned farms by the war veterans and youth militia.

In February 2000, Mugabe tried to change the constitution by holding a constitutional referendum, in a move that would have allowed the president to serve two more terms (another 10 years) and the power to dissolve Parliament. The defeat of the referendum weakened the ruling party.

Mugabe won a parliamentary majority for ZANU-PF. He was also able to appoint 30 of the Members of Parliament. The presidential elections in March 2002 were critical to the Southern African region. An important concern was that if the elections were not free and fair, this would have a destabilizing effect on the region, causing more economic turmoil in countries like South Africa and Botswana. Mugabe won a controversial victory against Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change. It is alleged that violence was used in anti-Mugabe strongholds to prevent citizens from voting.

International criticism

Amnesty International has made numerous allegations of Mugabe committing human rights abuses against his political opponents, minority groups such as homosexuals, and white landowning families and their farm workers.

The European Union imposed travel sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle of ZANU-PF elite, while the United States imposed economic sanctions which froze his assets and made any business dealings with him illegal.

In 2002 Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations. This suspension was extended at the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Soon afterwards, Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth.

External links

fr:histoire du Zimbabwe fr:histoire de la Rhodésie du sud


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools