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.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to attempt colonization
of south-central Africa, but the hinterland lay virtually untouched by Europeans
until the arrival of explorers, missionaries, ivory hunters, and traders some
300 years later.
Meanwhile, mass migrations of indigenous peoples took place. Successive waves
of more highly developed Bantu peoples from equatorial regions supplanted the
original inhabitants and are the ancestors of the region's Africans today.
British Settlement And Administration
In 1888, Cecil Rhodes obtained a concession for mineral rights from local chiefs.
Later that year, the area that became Southern and Northern Rhodesia was proclaimed
a British sphere of influence.
The British South Africa Company was chartered in 1889, and the settlement of
Salisbury (now Harare, the capital) was established in 1890. In 1895, the territory
was formally named Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes under the British South Africa
Following the abrogation of the company's charter in 1923, Southern Rhodesia's
white settlements were given the choice of being incorporated into the Union of
South Africa or becoming a separate entity within the British Empire.
The settlers rejected incorporation, and Southern Rhodesia was formally annexed
by the United Kingdom that year. Until 1980, Rhodesia was an internally self-governing
colony with its own legislature, civil service, armed forces, and police.
Although Rhodesia was never administered directly from London, the United Kingdom
always retained the right to intervene in the affairs of the colony, particularly
in matters affecting Africans.
After 1923, European immigrants concentrated in developing Rhodesia's rich
mineral resources and agricultural potential. The settlers' demand for more land
led in 1934 to the passage of the first of a series of land apportionment acts
that reserved certain areas for Europeans.
In September 1953, Southern Rhodesia was joined in a multiracial Central African
Federation with the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in
an effort to pool resources and markets.
Although the federation flourished economically, it was opposed by the African
population, who feared they would not be able to achieve self-government with
the federal structure dominated by White Southern Rhodesians.
The federation was dissolved at the end of 1963 after much crisis and turmoil,
and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became the independent states of Zambia and
Malawi in 1964.
Unilateral Declaration Of Independence (UDI)
The European electorate in Rhodesia, however, showed little willingness to accede
to African demands for increased political participation and progressively replaced
more moderate party leaders.
In April 1964, Prime Minister Winston Field, accused of not moving rapidly enough
to obtain independence from the United Kingdom, was replaced by his deputy, Ian
Smith. Prime Minster Smith led his Rhodesian Front Party to an overwhelming victory
in the 1965 elections, winning all 50 of the first roll seats and demoralizing
the more moderate European opposition.
Although prepared to grant independence to Rhodesia, the United Kingdom insisted
that the authorities at Salisbury first demonstrate their intention to move toward
eventual majority rule.
Desiring to keep their dominant position, the white Rhodesians refused to give
such assurances. On November 11, 1965, after lengthy and unsuccessful negotiations
with the British Government, Prime Minister Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration
of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom.
The British government considered the UDI unconstitutional and illegal but made
clear that it would not use force to the rebellion. On November 12, 1965, the
United Nations also determined the Rhodesian government and UDI to be illegal
and called on member states to refrain from assisting or recognizing the Smith
regime. The British government imposed sanctions on Rhodesia and requested other
nations to do the same.
On December 16, 1966, the UN Security Council, for the first time in this history,
imposed mandatory economic sanctions on a state. Rhodesia's primary exports including
ferrochrome and tobacco, were replaced on the selective sanctions list, as were
shipments of arms, aircraft, motor vehicles, petroleum, and petroleum products
On May 29, 1968, the Security Council unanimously voted to broaden the sanctions
by imposing an almost total embargo on all trade with, investments in, or transfers
of funds to Rhodesia and imposed restrictions on air transport to the territory.
In the early 1970s, informal attempts at settlement were renewed between the
United Kingdom and the Rhodesian administration. Following the April 1974 coup
in Portugal and the resulting shifts of power in Mozambique and Angola, pressure
on the Smith regime to negotiate a peaceful settlement began to increase.
In addition, sporadic antigovernment guerilla activity which began in the late
1960s, increased dramatically after 1972, causing destruction, economic dislocation,
casualties, and a slump in white morale. In 1974, the major African nationalists
groups--the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), and the Zimbabwe African National
Union (ZANU), which split away from ZAPU in 1963--were united into the "Patriotic
Front" and combined their military forces, at least nominally.
In 1976, because of a combination of embargo-related economic hardships, the
pressure of guerilla activity, independence and majority rule in the neighboring
former Portuguese territories, and a U.K.-U.S. diplomatic initiative, the Smith
government agreed in principle to majority rule and to a meeting in Geneva with
black nationalist leaders to negotiate a final settlement of the conflict.
Blacks represented at the Geneva meeting included ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo, ZANU
leader Robert Mugabe, UANC chairman bishop Abel Muzorewa, and former ZANU leader
Rev. Nadabaningi Sithole. The meeting failed to find a basis for agreement because
of Smith's inflexibility and the inability of the black leaders to form a common
On September 1, 1977 a detailed Anglo-American plan was put forward with proposals
for majority rule, neutrally administered with pre-independence elections, a democratic
constitution and the formation of an integrated army. Reactions were mixed, but
no party rejected them.
In the interim, on March 3, 1978, the Smith administration signed the "internal
settlement" agreement in Salisbury with Bishop Muzorewa, Rev. Sithole, and Chief
Jeremiah Chirau. The agreement provided for qualified majority rule and elections
with universal suffrage.
Following elections in April 1979, in which his UANC party won a majority, Bishop
Muzorewa assumed office on June 1, becoming "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia's" first black
prime minister. However, the installation of the new black majority government
did not end the guerilla conflict that had claimed more than 20,000 lives since
Shortly after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's conservative government
took power in May 1979, the British began a new round of consultations that culminated
in an agreement among the Commonwealth countries as the basis for fresh negotiations
among the parties and the British involving a new constitution, free elections
The British and the African parties began deliberations on a Rhodesian settlement
at Lancaster house in London on September 10, 1979. On December 10, 1979, in preparation
for the transition under British authority to officially recognized independence,
the "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia" reverted de facto to colonial status.
On December 12, British Governor Lord Christopher Soames arrived in Salisbury
to reassert British authority over the colony. His arrival signaled the end of
the Rhodesian rebellion and the "internal settlement," as well as the beginning
of Zimbabwe's transition to independence. The United Kingdom lifted all remaining
sanctions against Zimbabwe that day. The United States lifted sanctions effective
On December 21, after three months of hard bargaining, the parties signed an
agreement at Lancaster House calling for a cease-fire, new elections, a transition
period under British rule, and a new constitution implementing majority rule while
protecting minority rights.
The agreement specified that upon the granting of independence, the country's
name would be Zimbabwe. The same day, the UN Security Council endorsed the settlement
agreement and formally voted unanimously to call on member nations to remove sanctions.
During the transition period, nine political parties campaigned for the February
27-29 pre-independence elections. The elections were supervised by the British
government and monitored by hundreds of observers, most of whom concluded that,
under the prevailing circumstances, the elections were free and fair and reflected
the will of the people. Robert Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party won an absolute majority
and was asked to form Zimbabwe's first government.
In a series of public statements during the transition period, Prime Minister
Mugabe indicated that he was committed to a process of national reconciliation
and reconstruction as well as moderate socioeconomic change.
His priorities were to integrate the various armed forces, reestablish social
services and education in rural areas, and resettle the estimated one million
refugees and displaced persons. Mugabe also announced that his government would
begin investigating ways of reversing past discriminatory policies in land distribution,
education, employment, and wages.
Mugabe stated that Zimbabwe would follow a non-aligned foreign policy while
seeking assistance from all actions and would pursue a pragmatic relationship
with South Africa. He noted that while Zimbabwe opposed apartheid and would support
democratic change in South Africa, it would not provide bases for anti-South African
The British Government formally granted independence to Zimbabwe on April 18,
1980. Most nations recognized Zimbabwe following independence. The United States
was to first nation to open an embassy in Salisbury on that day. Parliament convened
for the first time on May 13, 1980. Zimbabwe became a member of the United Nations
on August 25, 1980.
In seeking national reconciliation, Prime Minister Mugabe's first cabinet comprised
members of ZANU-PF, PF-ZAPU, and independent white members of parliament (MPs)
and senators. The government embarked on an ambitious reconstruction and development
program and instituted increases in minimum wages.
Land redistribution proceeded under four experimental models on land that the
government had purchased at market rates from willing sellers.
Zimbabwe Since Independence
Prime Minister Mugabe's policy of reconciliation was generally successful during
the country's first two years of independence, as the former political and military
opponents began to work together.
Although additional blacks were hired to fill new places in the civil service,
there was no retribution for those whites who had worked for the Smith regime.
Smith and many of his associates held seats in the parliament where they participated
freely in debates.
Likewise, Joshua Nkomo, Mugabe's rival as leader of the nationalist forces, was
included in the first cabinet along with several other members of PF-ZAPU.
Splits soon developed, however. In 1981, several MPs from Smith's party left
to sit as "independents," signifying that they did not automatically accept his
More importantly, government security officials discovered large caches of arms
and ammunition on properties owned by ZAPU, and Nkomo and his followers were accused
of plotting to overthrow Mugabe's government. Nkomo and his closest aides were
expelled from the cabinet.
As a result of what they perceived as persecution of Nkomo (known as "Father
Zimbabwe") and of his party, PF-ZAPU supporters, some of them deserters from the
army, began a loosely organized and ill-defined campaign of dissidence against
Centering primarily in Matabeleland, home of the Ndebeles who were PF-ZAPU's main
followers, this dissidence continued through 1987 and involved attacks on government
personnel and installations, armed banditry aimed at disrupting security and economic
life in the rural areas, and harassment of ZANU-PF members.
Occasionally, some demanded the Nkomo and his colleagues be reinstated in the
cabinet. More frequently, however, dissidents called for the return of farms and
other properties seized from PF-ZAPU.
Because of the unsettled security situation immediately after independence
and the continuing anti-government dissidence, the government kept in force a
"state of emergency," which was first declared before UDI. This gave government
authorities widespread powers under the "Law and Order Maintenance Act," including
the right to detain persons without charge.
In 1983-84, the government declared a curfew in areas of Matabeleland and sent
in the army in an attempt to suppress dissidents. Credible reports surfaced of
widespread violence and disregard for human rights by the security forces during
these operations, and the level of political tension rose in the country as a
The pacification campaign, known as the Gukuruhundi, or strong wind, resulted
in as many as 20,000 civilian deaths. Nkomo and his lieutenants repeatedly denied
any connection with the dissidents and called for an all-party conference to discuss
the political problems facing the country.
In the 1985 elections, ZANU-PF increased its majority, holding 67 of the 100 seats.
ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU agreed to unite in December 1987, and the parties formally
merged in December 1989.
In October 1987, in accordance with the Lancaster House Accords, the constitution
was amended to end the separate roll for white voters and to establish an executive
presidency to replace the whites whose reserved seats had been abolished; among
the new members were 15 whites in the Senate and House of Assembly. Elections
in March of 1990 resulted in another overwhelming victory for Mugabe and his party,
which won 117 of the 120 election seats.
However, voter turnout was only 54% and the campaign was not free and fair although
the actual balloting was. Not satisfied with a de facto one-party state, Mugabe
called the ZANU-PF Central Committee to support the creation of a de jure one-party
state in September 1990 and lost. The state of emergency was lifted in July 1990.
However, though control of the media, the huge parastatal sector of the economy,
and the security forces, the government has managed to keep political opposition
Beginning in 1999, Zimbabwe has experienced a period of considerable political
and economic upheaval. Opposition to President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government
has grown quickly in recent years, in part due to worsening economic and human
The opposition is currently led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), established
in September 1999.
The first opportunity to test opposition to the Mugabe government came in February
2000, when a referendum was held on a draft constitution proposed by the government.
Among its elements, the new constitution would have permitted President Mugabe
to seek two additional terms in office, granted government officials immunity
from prosecution, and sanctioned government seizure of white-owned land.
The referendum was handily defeated. Shortly thereafter, the government, through
a loosely organized group of war veterans, launched an aggressive land redistribution
program often characterized by forced expulsion of white farmers and violence
against both farmers and farm employees.
Parliamentary elections held in June 2000 were marred by localized violence,
and claims of electoral irregularities and government intimidation of opposition
supporters. Nonetheless, the MDC succeeded in capturing 57 of 120 seats in the
Local and international human rights monitors have noted a marked increase
in human rights abuses since the February 2000 constitutional referendum. Presidential
elections in March 2002 in which Mugabe emerged victorious were marred by disenfranchisement
of urban voters, violent intimidation against opposition supporters, intimidation
of the independent press and the judiciary, and other irregularities. The intimidation
of opposition supporters, political dissenters, the press, and the judiciary continued
Zimbabwe has inherited many traits from its colonial past. Zimbabwe
has important cultural traditions that distinguish it from other
African states, notably its history of architecture. The central
granite plateau was traditionally home to various Shona peoples
who built elaborate and precisely constructed stone structures.
Traditional dance and music, which makes use of the mbira (a hand-held
board with mounted metal strips that are plucked with the thumbs)
and the marimba (a type of xylophone), were neglected during the
colonial period. Since independence, however, there has been a revival
of traditional style.