total: 390,757 sq km
land: 386,847 sq km
water: 3,910 sq km
Total: 3,229 km
border countries (4):
Botswana 834 km,
Mozambique 1,402 km,
South Africa 230 km,
Zambia 763 km
Coastline: 0 km
Total: 3229 km
moderated by altitude;
rainy season (November to March)
mostly high plateau with a higher central plateau (high veld); mountains in east
mean elevation: 961 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: junction of the Runde and Save Rivers 162 m
highest point: Inyangani 2,592 m
coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, platinum group metals
agricultural land: 42.5%
arable land 10.9%; permanent crops 0.3%; permanent pasture 31.3%
other: 18% (2011 est.)
1,740 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
Aside from major urban agglomerations in Harare and Bulawayo, population distribution is fairly even, with slightly greater overall numbers in the eastern half
floods and severe storms are rare
People and Society
Zimbabwe’s progress in reproductive, maternal, and child health has stagnated in recent years. According to a 2010 Demographic and Health Survey, contraceptive use, the number of births attended by skilled practitioners, and child mortality have either stalled or somewhat deteriorated since the mid-2000s. Zimbabwe’s total fertility rate has remained fairly stable at about 4 children per woman for the last two decades, although an uptick in the urban birth rate in recent years has caused a slight rise in the country’s overall fertility rate. Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence rate dropped from approximately 29% to 15% since 1997 but remains among the world’s highest and continues to suppress the country’s life expectancy rate. The proliferation of HIV/AIDS information and prevention programs and personal experience with those suffering or dying from the disease have helped to change sexual behavior and reduce the epidemic.
Historically, the vast majority of Zimbabwe’s migration has been internal – a rural-urban flow. In terms of international migration, over the last 40 years, Zimbabwe has gradually shifted from being a destination country to one of emigration and, to a lesser degree, one of transit (for East African illegal migrants traveling to South Africa). As a British colony, Zimbabwe attracted significant numbers of permanent immigrants from the UK and other European countries, as well as temporary economic migrants from Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Although Zimbabweans have migrated to South Africa since the beginning of the 20th century to work as miners, the first major exodus from the country occurred in the years before and after independence in 1980. The outward migration was politically and racially influenced; a large share of the white population of European origin chose to leave rather than live under a new black-majority government.
In the 1990s and 2000s, economic mismanagement and hyperinflation sparked a second, more diverse wave of emigration. This massive out-migration– primarily to other southern African countries, the UK, and the US – has created a variety of challenges, including brain drain, illegal migration, and human smuggling and trafficking. Several factors have pushed highly skilled workers to go abroad, including unemployment, lower wages, a lack of resources, and few opportunities for career growth.
African 99.4% (predominantly Shona; Ndebele is the second largest ethnic group), other 0.4%, unspecified 0.2% (2012 est.)
Shona (official), Ndebele (official), English (official), 13 minority languages (official; includes Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa)
Protestant 74.8% (includes Apostolic 37.5%, Pentecostal 21.8%, other 15.5%), Roman Catholic 7.3%, other Christian 5.3%, traditional 1.5%, Muslim 0.5%, other 0.1%, none 10.5% (2015 est.)
There have been many civilizations in Zimbabwe, evidence being the ancient stone structures at Khami, Great Zimbabwe and Dhlo-Dhlo. The “Great Zimbabwe” ruins have been radiocarbon dated to approximately 600 A.D. Historic findings suggest that the ancestors of modern-day Shona people built Great Zimbabwe and hundreds of other stone walled sites in Zimbabwe. Bantu-speaking farmers, either Khoisan settlers or Iron Age migrants from the north, were the first occupants of the Great Zimbabwe site in the south of the country. Between 500 and 1000AD, the Gokomere (a Bantu group) enslaved and absorbed San groups in the area. As early as the 11th century, some foundations and stonework were in place at Great Zimbabwe and the settlement, generally regarded as the burgeoning Shona society.
Africans make up 98% of the total population in Zimbabwe and are mainly related to the two major Bantu-speaking groups, the Shona (about 82% of the population) and the Ndebele (about 14%). Of the former group, the Korekore predominate in the north; the Zezuru are in the center around Harare; the Karanga is in the south; the Ndau and Manyika in the east; the Kalanga in the west; the Rozwi are spread throughout the country. The various clans of the Ndebele, more recent immigrants from the south, occupied the area around Bulawayo and Gwanda. Europeans are almost entirely either immigrant from the United Kingdom or South Africa or their descendants; those from South Africa include a substantial number of South African Dutch (Afrikaner) descent. There are small groups of Portuguese, Italians, and other Europeans. Asians and peoples of mixed ancestry make up the remaining 1%.
The Shona speak dialects of the same Bantu language, Shona. There are six major dialects: Karanga, Zezuru, Korekore, Manyika, Ndau, and Kalanga. The Ndebele speak modified versions of Ndebele (or Sindebele), which belongs to the Nguni group of southeast Bantu languages. English, the official language, is spoken by most Europeans and by an increasing number of Africans.
Historically, Christianity brought into the region by Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests in the late 1500s have been the dominant religion of the nation. About 60–70% of the total population belong to various Christian denominations, with the largest being Roman Catholic (between 17–27% of the population). There is a small Muslim community, estimated at less than 1% of the population. They are primarily immigrants from South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. There are also small numbers of Greek Orthodox, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists.
When Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, the majority of its people did not have access to quality schooling. Most only finished seven years of primary schooling. During the first 25 years of independence, the government in partnership with local communities made great strides in the building of schools, teacher training, and resource improvement. As a result, Zimbabwe boasts of one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa.
Zimbabwe’s education system consists of 7 years of primary and 6 years of secondary schooling before students can enter tertiary institutions. Most Zimbabweans children, between 4-6 years, attend pre-schools and begin Grade 1 during the year in which they turn six. On average pupils enter Secondary school at the age of 13 years and complete Form 4 or Form 6 at 16 and 18 respectively.
At secondary school there are two terminal examinations: The “Ordinary Level Certificate Examination” taken after four years of secondary education and the “Advanced Level Certificate Examination” taken after six years. At Ordinary Level pupils required to pass a minimum of (5) subjects which should include, English, Mathematics, Science, History or one of the Technical/Vocational subjects so as to earn a full certificate.
Schools in Zimbabwe are run by Rural District Councils, Government, Churches, Mining Companies, Urban Councils, Trust Boards, and privately. The government contributes through per capita grants. Private Schools charge high fees in the form of levies. School Development Associations also fundraise in order to support the funding of extra teaching staff, the building of additional facilities and equipment.
Zimbabwe has witnessed a major expansion in the of tertiary institutions now offering Diplomas, degrees and post-graduate qualifications. At independence, Zimbabwe had one national university offering diplomas and degrees. Zimbabwe currently has 7 public universities, including a University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo; four church-related universities, and a women’s university, that are fully internationally accredited. Zimbabwe also has an Open University for those who cannot attend residential university programmes. A number of teacher training and technical colleges offer diplomas and degrees in business and technical subjects.
Zimbabwe has in the last few years seen a mushrooming of private institutions also offering diplomas and degrees. All such institutions have to be registered with the Ministry of Higher Education before they can operate. A successful adult literacy programme was launched in 1982, in order to provide functional literacy to adults who did not have an opportunity to attend school. Zimbabwe has a literacy rate of 96 percent, one of the highest in the Southern African region.
Zimbabwe’s economy depends heavily on its mining and agriculture sectors. Following a decade of contraction from 1998 to 2008, the economy recorded real growth of more than 10% per year in the period 2010-13, before falling below 3% in the period 2014-17, due to poor harvests, low diamond revenues, and decreased investment. Lower mineral prices, infrastructure and regulatory deficiencies, a poor investment climate, a large public and external debt burden, and extremely high government wage expenses impede the country’s economic performance.
Zimbabwe’s economic freedom score is 44.0, making its economy the 174th freest in the 2018 Index. Its overall score has not changed, with significant improvements in scores for the trade freedom and judicial effectiveness indicators exactly offset by a plunge in fiscal health. Zimbabwe is ranked 44th among 47 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, and its overall score is below the regional and world averages.
Zimbabwe’s economy is characterized by instability and volatility, both of which are hallmarks of excessive government interference and mismanagement. Massive corruption and disastrous economic policies have plunged the country into poverty. An inefficient judicial system and general lack of transparency severely exacerbate business costs and entrepreneurial risk. The government will likely adopt desperate short-term measures to stave off economic collapse, possibly including a unilateral de-dollarization that would reopen the door to hyperinflation, further crippling the private sector and severely undermining macroeconomic stability.
Trade is significant for Zimbabwe’s economy; the combined value of exports and imports equals 60 percent of GDP. The average applied tariff rate is 5.4 percent. Nontariff barriers significantly impede trade. Foreign ownership levels are capped, and sectoral restrictions impede foreign investment. Extensive state involvement in financial decisions and ongoing political instability have caused a notable contraction of the financial sector in recent years.
In January 2015, as part of the government’s effort to boost trade and attract foreign investment, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) announced that the Chinese renminbi, Indian rupee, Australian dollar, and Japanese yen would be accepted as legal tender in Zimbabwe, though transactions were predominantly carried out in US dollars and South African rand until 2016, when the rand’s devaluation and instability led to near-exclusive use of the US dollar. The government in November 2016 began releasing bond notes, a parallel currency legal only in Zimbabwe which the government claims will have a one-to-one exchange ratio with the US dollar, to ease cash shortages. Bond notes began trading at a discount of up to 10% in the black market by the end of 2016.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$33.87 billion (2017 est.)
$32.94 billion (2016 est.)
$32.73 billion (2015 est.)
$17.11 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
2.8% (2017 est.)
0.7% (2016 est.)
1.4% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$2,300 (2017 est.)
$2,300 (2016 est.)
$2,300 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
15.4% of GDP (2017 est.)
15.5% of GDP (2016 est.)
4.9% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 60.6% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
tobacco, corn, cotton, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, peanuts; sheep, goats, pigs
mining (coal, gold, platinum, copper, nickel, tin, diamonds, clay, numerous metallic and nonmetallic ores), steel; wood products, cement, chemicals, fertilizer, clothing and footwear, foodstuffs, beverages
Population below poverty line:
72.3% (2012 est.)
revenues: $3.6 billion
expenditures: $4.8 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture is the backbone of Zimbabwe’s economy and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Although agriculture contributes only 11-14 percent of GDP, the sector provides employment for some 70 percent of the population, and about 60 percent of all raw materials for the industry. About 45 percent of the country’s exports are of agricultural origin.
While most rain falls during summer months (November to March), some parts of the country, particularly in the Eastern Highlands, receive some rain during the winter months and this widens production possibilities. A considerable potential exists for the production of irrigated crops during dry months in areas where stored water supplies are available. Recent droughts have caused the agricultural sector to experience crop failure and livestock losses, this greatly undermining the national herd now stands at 4,9 million, a figure well below the pre-drought situation.
About 6000 hectares are under citrus cultivation in Zimbabwe. Citrus fruits grown include grapefruits, lemons, naartjie, nectarines, and oranges. Types of oranges grown are in line with what the consumers want, which is a fruit of the right size, a color which must be orange, skin texture and good external and internal qualities.
Potential export markets for Zimbabwean mushroom include Japan, SA, France, Italy, Germany and the USA. In Zimbabwe, Soya beans contribute 30 % of all the cooking oil production while cottonseed contributes 50%. Tea is one crop that can be grown on a very small scale because of the productivity and its resistance to pests and diseases. Some farmers even plant it in the backyard of their homes.
Zimbabwe is the second largest producer in Africa after Kenya and is the fifth producer in the world. There is a potential to expand the industry to three or four times larger and still remain profitable. This is based on the fact that the industry produces the cheapest flowers in Africa due to cost-effective production; the markets for the products are available.
Makoni District of Manicaland province, there are over 600 registered beekeepers, each with a minimum of four beehives. One beehive can yield 20 liters of honey per harvest. Harvesting is done three times a year for well-managed hives. This translates to z$144 million per annum. After harvesting, honey can be further processed into clear syrup.
population without electricity: 8,500,000
electrification – total population: 40%
electrification – urban areas: 80%
electrification – rural areas: 21% (2013)
Electricity – production:
9.384 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
7.63 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
1.239 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
1.139 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
2.129 million kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
58% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 368,243
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 93 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 23.1% (July 2016 est.)
The industry has a high potential for growth since Zimbabwe is ideally suited to poultry production due to the favorable mild climate that is ideal for chickens and for growing both maize and Soya which are main sources for the industry. Wheat is the second staple food in Zimbabwe after maize. Barley is used for the production of clear beer. There is barley malt.
Zimbabwe’s industry sectors employ 10% of the country’s labor force and contribute 23.9% of the GDP, according to the 2009 estimates of the CIA World Factbook. The nation has a large and diverse manufacturing segment, which is in part a result of the international sanctions that were imposed on Zimbabwe for five years before the nation attained independence. The most prominent industries in Zimbabwe include Mining – including coal, gold, platinum, copper, nickel, tin, as well as various metallic and nonmetallic ores.
This sub-Saharan nation does not have any proven oil and natural gas reserves and needs to import all its oil consumption requirements. On the other hand, it produced 8.89 billion kWh of electricity per year, putting Zimbabwe in the 95th position worldwide. It is able to export about 32 million kWh of energy while importing 2.69 billion kWh.
Zimbabwe has huge wealth in terms of rich deposits of more than forty types of minerals. At present, however, only half these deposits are being actively mined. The nation’s unusually diverse geology gives it great potential to earn substantial revenues from exporting minerals.
The mining sector does contribute the maximum amount of foreign earnings, as compared to the other sectors of the economy. The power-sharing government that was formed in February 2009 has introduced some economic reforms, including tackling the hyperinflation witnessed by the country during the earlier part of the decade. After years of political instability, Zimbabwe now is registering economic growth for the first time in more than a decade.
Coal is the country’s primary energy source. A growing percentage of the coal utilized is transformed first into electricity by thermal generating plants fueled by coal. Its principal users are industries, mines, and farms. Electrification of the railways was begun in 1980 (coal and diesel remain the major energy sources for rail transport, however), and there has also been considerable electrification of low-cost housing in urban townships.
Electric power is also generated at the huge Kariba Dam, which Zimbabwe shares with Zambia, on the Zambezi River. Although Zimbabwe has great hydroelectric potential, it has not been realized, and the country imports about two-fifths of the electricity it consumes. Energy shortages in the 2000s resulted in frequent blackouts throughout the country.
Banking and Finance
Zimbabwe has a well-developed banking sector which is modeled on the British system. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) is the central bank which, until dollarization, was responsible for exercising monetary policy. Following dollarization, however, the RBZ is now solely responsible for banking supervision. The government has re-established the RBZ’s lender-of-last-resort function with the support of the African Export-Import Bank, which established a facility of $200 million for this purpose.
The rest of the banking system is composed of commercial banks, which are the largest subsector; merchant banks, whose function is to finance trade, underwrite rights offerings of listed companies, and assist in mergers and acquisitions; building societies, which provide mortgages for real estate transactions; the People’s Own Savings Bank and development financial institutions; and micro-finance institutions. Other key players in Zimbabwe’s financial sector include insurance companies, pension and provident funds, investment trusts, and offshore portfolio investors.
As of December 2009, the banking sector consisted of 27 institutions, including 17 commercial banks, 4 merchant banks, 4 building societies, 1 discount house and 1 savings bank. 16 asset management companies also operated in the country. The banking sector remains heavily concentrated; with the three largest banks accounting for over 90 percent of total deposits in 2006… Latest available figures put foreign ownership of private banks at 35 percent. Hyperinflation exerted a heavy toll on the balance sheets of banks which hedged against inflation risks through real assets investments.
After the adoption of the multi-currency regime, the RBZ introduced a phased implementation plan to recapitalize banking institutions, with the goal that these meet newly adjusted prudential requirements by March 2010. Bank deposits tripled between March and December 2009 and lending activities expanded by a factor of 6, with a particular focus on lending to the agricultural sector. This rapid expansion of balance sheets helped shore up economic activity but also contributed to a rising current account deficit in 2009 and increased vulnerabilities in the country’s banking system.
The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) is active, with about a dozen members, over 65 listed securities, and two indices. The ZSE is an active member of the South African Development Cooperation Stock Exchange Committee. Listed companies cannot be more than 40 percent foreign-owned, and no single overseas shareholder can possess more than 10 percent of corporate shares. Up until 2008, the ZSE was outperforming exchanges in the South African region; it was effectively the sole place in the market where local assets had been able to provide returns ahead of inflation. In November 2008, the ZSE was closed after the RBZ accused traders of using fraudulent checks. When it reopened in February 2009, trades were conducted exclusively in US dollars.
Zimbabwe boasts several tourist attractions, located in the North West of the country. Before the economic changes, much of the tourism for these locations came to the Zimbabwean side but now Zambia benefits from the tourism. The Victoria Falls National Park is also a tourist attraction in this area and is one of the eight main National Parks in Zimbabwe, largest of which is Hwange National Park.
The Eastern Highlands are a series of mountainous areas near the border with Mozambique. The highest peak in Zimbabwe, Mount Nyangani at 2593 meters is located here as well as the Bvumba Mountains and the Nyanga National Park. World’s View is in these mountains and it is from here that places as far away as 60–70 km are visible and, on clear days, the town of Rusape can be seen.
Zimbabwe is distinctive in Africa for its large number of medieval era city ruins built in a unique dry stone style. Possibly the most famous of these are Great Zimbabwe ruins in Masvingo which survive from the Kingdom of Zimbabwe era. Other ruins include Khami Ruins, Zimbabwe, Dhlo-Dhlo, and Naletale.
The Matobo Hills are an area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys commencing some 35 kilometers south of Bulawayo, southern Zimbabwe. The Hills have formed over 2000 million years ago with granite being forced to the surface. Although the economy is slowly improving, mass unemployment is still rife. The Victoria Falls are Zimbabwe’s most popular tourist destination and one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
The Victoria Falls’ mile-wide (2 km) curtain of water plunges deep into the Zambezi Gorge creating a cloud of mist that can be seen up to 20 miles (32 km) away. They can be seen on a short trip from Botswana or South Africa but in doing so travelers will be missing some fascinating areas.
Highlights are the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the beautiful Lake Kariba and also the two biggest cities of Zimbabwe are worth a visit: Harare and Bulawayo. Last but not least, to the east are the so-called Eastern Highlands, fine walking and fishing country, so cool that at certain times of the year, the grass in the morning can be trimmed with frost. In the west is the other-worldly jumble of granite rocks that make up the Matopos National Park.
Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife sanctuary is Hwange National Park, situated on the western border with Botswana. Hwange is home to one of Africa’s largest elephant populations and myriad other species. Other excellent game viewing areas are Matusadona, Mana Pools, and Zambezi National Parks
Evidence of Stone Age cultures dating back 100,000 years has been found, and it is thought that the San people, now living mostly in the Kalahari Desert, are the descendants of Zimbabwe’s original inhabitants. The remains of ironworking cultures that date back to ad 300 have been discovered. Little is known of the early iron-workers, but it is believed that they were farmers, herdsmen, and hunters who lived in small groups.
Prior to the arrival of Bantu speakers in present-day Zimbabwe the region was populated by ancestors of the San people. The first Bantu-speaking farmers arrived during the Bantu expansion around 2000 years ago. These Bantu speakers were the makers of early Iron Age pottery belonging to the Silver Leaves or Matola tradition, third to fifth centuries A.D., found in southeast Zimbabwe. This tradition was part of the eastern stream of Bantu expansion (sometimes called Kwale) which originated west of the Great Lakes, spreading to the coastal regions of southeastern Kenya and northeastern Tanzania, and then southwards to Mozambique, southeastern Zimbabwe and Natal.
The earliest important trading center is at Mapungubwe, on the bank of the Limpopo. The settlement is established by a cattle-herding people, whose increasing prosperity leads to the emergence of a sophisticated court and ruling elite. In 1075 the ruler of Mapungubwe separates his own dwelling from those of his people. He moves his court from the plain to the top of a sandstone hill, where the rules from a palace with imposing stone walls.
It is the first example of the Zimbabwe of this region – a word in Shona, the local Bantu language, meaning literally ‘stone houses’. Zimbabwe becomes the characteristic dwellings of chieftains, and about 100 hilltop ruins of this kind survive. Easily the most impressive is the group known as Great Zimbabwe, which in the 13th century succeeds Mapungubwe as the dominant Shona power – with a kingdom stretching over the whole region between the Limpopo and the Zambezi.
Proto-Shona-speaking societies first emerged in the middle Limpopo valley in the 9th century before moving on to the Zimbabwean highlands. The Zimbabwean plateau eventually became the center of subsequent Shona states, beginning around the 10th century. Around the early 10th century, trade developed with Arab merchants on the Indian Ocean coast, helping to develop the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in the 11th century. This was the precursor to the more impressive Shona civilizations that would dominate the region during the 13th to 15th centuries, evidenced by ruins at Great Zimbabwe, near Masvingo, and other smaller sites. The main archaeological site uses a unique dry stone architecture.
The Different kingdoms
A later phase of the Gokomere culture was the Zhizo in southern Zimbabwe. Zhizo communities settled in the Shashe-Limpopo area in the tenth century. Their capital there was Schroda (just across the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe). Many fragments of ceramic figurines have been recovered from there, figures of animals and birds, and also fertility dolls. The inhabitants produced ivory bracelets and other ivory goods. Imported beads found there and at other Zhizo sites, are evidence of trade, probably of ivory and skins, with traders on the Indian Ocean coast.
From about 1300 until 1600, Mapungubwe was eclipsed by the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. This Shona state further refined and expanded upon Mapungubwe’s stone architecture, which survives to this day at the ruins of the kingdom’s capital of Great Zimbabwe. From c. 1450 to 1760, Zimbabwe gave way to the Kingdom of Mutapa. This Shona state ruled much of the area that is known as Zimbabwe today, and parts of central Mozambique. It is known by many names including the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwene Mutapa or Monomotapa as well as “Munhumutapa”, and was renowned for its strategic trade routes with the Arabs and Portugal. The Portuguese sought to monopolize this influence and began a series of wars which left the empire in near collapse in the early 17th century.
Although the western stream Kalundu tradition was ancestral to Shona ceramic wares, the closest relationships of the ancestral Shona language according to many linguists were with a southern division of eastern Bantu – such languages as the southeastern languages (Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Tsonga), Nyasa and Makwa. While it may well be the case that the people of the western stream spoke a language belonging to a wider Eastern Bantu division, it is a puzzle which remains to be resolved that they spoke a language most closely related to the languages just mentioned, all of which are today spoken in southeastern Africa.
After the Shona speaking people moved into the present day Zimbabwe many different dialects developed over time in the different parts of the country. Among these was Kalanga. The Zimbabwean plateau eventually became the center of subsequent Kalanga states. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe was the first in a series of sophisticated trade states developed in Zimbabwe by the time of the first European explorers from Portugal. They traded in gold, ivory, and copper for cloth and glass. From about 1250 until 1450, Mapungubwe was eclipsed by the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. This Kalanga state further refined and expanded upon Mapungubwe’s stone architecture, which survives to this day at the ruins of the kingdom’s capital of Great Zimbabwe. From circa 1450–1760, Zimbabwe gave way to the Kingdom of Mutapa. This Kalanga state ruled much of the area that is known as Zimbabwe today, and parts of central Mozambique. It is known by many names including the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwenemutapa was known for its gold trade routes with Arabs and the Portuguese.
The Portuguese, who arrived on the east coast of Africa at the end of the 15th century, dreamed of opening up the interior and establishing a route to connect their eastern settlements with Angola in the west. The first European to enter Zimbabwe was probably António Fernandes, who tried to cross the continent and reached the neighborhood of Que Que (now Kwekwe). Nearly 50 years later the Mwene Matapa (“emperor”), Negomo Chirisamhuru Mupunsagutu, was baptized by a Jesuit father, and in 1569 an abortive Portuguese military expedition entered the interior in search of gold.
As a direct response to Portuguese aggression in the interior, a new Kalanga state emerged called the Rozwi Empire. Relying on centuries of military, political and religious development, the Rozwi (which means “destroyers”) removed the Portuguese from the Zimbabwe plateau by force of arms. The Rozwi continued the stone building traditions of the Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe kingdoms while adding guns to its arsenal and developing a professional army to protect its trade routes and conquests. Around 1821, the Zulu general Mzilikazi of the Khumalo clan successfully rebelled from King Shaka and created his own clan, the Ndebele. The Ndebele fought their way northwards into the Transvaal, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake and beginning an era of widespread devastation known as the Mfecane.
A second great movement of the Bantu peoples began in 1830, this time from the south. To escape from the power of the great Zulu chief Shaka, three important groups fled northward. One of them, the Ndebele, carved out a kingdom. When Dutch trekboers converged on the Transvaal in 1836, they drove the tribe even further northward. By 1838, the Rozwi Empire, along with the other petty Shona states were conquered by the Ndebele and reduced to vassaldom. The Ndebele were warriors and pastoralists, in the Zulu tradition, and under their formidable chief Mzilikazi they mastered and dispossessed the weaker tribes, known collectively as Shona (Mashona), who were sedentary, peaceful tillers of the land. For more than half a century, until the coming of European rule, the Ndebele continued to enslave and plunder the Shona. During this period, however, British and Afrikaner hunters, traders, and prospectors had begun to move up from the south, and with them came the missionaries. Robert Moffat visited Mzilikazi in 1857, and this meeting led to the establishment in 1861 of the first mission to the Ndebele by the London Missionary Society.
By the time the British began arriving in the mid-19th century, the Shona people had long been subjected to slave raids. The once-powerful Urozwi Empire had been destroyed in the 1830s by the Ndebele, who, under Mzilikaze, had fled from the Zulus in South Africa. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, and explorer were chiefly responsible for opening the whole region to European penetration. His explorations in the 1850s focused public attention on Central Africa, and his reports on the slave trade stimulated missionary activity. In 1858, after visiting Mzilikaze, Robert Moffat, Livingstone’s father-in-law, established Inyati Mission, the first permanent European settlement in what is now Zimbabwe.
In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company. In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted. In 1888, British colonialist Cecil Rhodes obtained a concession for mining rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele peoples. Cecil Rhodes presented this concession to persuade the government of the United Kingdom to grant a royal charter to his British South Africa Company (BSAC) over Matabeleland, and its subject states such as Mashonaland. Rhodes sought permission to negotiate similar concessions covering all territory between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika, then known as ‘Zambesia’. In 1895 the BSAC adopted the name ‘Rhodesia’ for the territory of Zambesia, in honor of Cecil Rhodes.
In 1898, ‘Southern Rhodesia’ became the official denotation for the region south of the Zambezi, which later became Zimbabwe. The region to the north was administered separately by the BSAC and later named Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony in October 1923, subsequent to a referendum held the previous year. Many Rhodesians served on behalf of the United Kingdom during World War II, mainly in the East African Campaign against Axis forces in Italian East Africa.
In 1953, in the face of African opposition, Britain consolidated the two colonies of Rhodesia with Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the ill-fated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland which was dominated by Southern Rhodesia.
Growing African nationalism and general dissent, particularly in Nyasaland, persuaded the UK to dissolve the Union in 1963, forming three colonies. As colonial rule was ending throughout the continent and as African-majority governments assumed control in neighboring Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland, the white-minority Rhodesian government led by Ian Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965. The United Kingdom deemed this an act of rebellion but did not re-establish control by force. The white minority government declared itself a republic in 1970. A civil war ensued, with Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU using assistance from the governments of Zambia and Mozambique.
During the years of federation, the parties are formed which will subsequently fight the bitter struggle for the future of an independent Rhodesia. On the African side, the first leader to emerge is Joshua Nkomo. In 1957 he is elected president of the local branch of the African National Congress. After this is banned in Rhodesia, he founds in 1960 the National Democratic Party. When this, in turn, is prescribed, in 1961, he replaces it with ZAPU (the Zimbabwe African People’s Union). His colleagues in ZAPU include Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe. Together they split from ZAPU in 1963 and form the rival ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union).
This political pressure from Rhodesia’s African majority, combined with support for their cause from the United Nations, causes the federal government in 1961 to introduce a new constitution, allowing for African representation in Rhodesia’s parliament. But the proposal creates its own backlash, prompting Ian Smith to found a new party, the Rhodesian Front, committed to white supremacist policies and offering the promise of an independent Rhodesia governed by the European minority. In elections in 1962, the new party wins a surprise victory, replacing the more moderate United Federal Party. Winston Field becomes prime minister, with Ian Smith as his deputy.
Smith now tries to persuade the British government to grant the Rhodesian Front’s single overriding demand – independence on the basis of white minority rule. Meeting a flat refusal on this issue, he takes matters into his own hands. On 11 November 1965, he publishes a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). In the election, Mugabe’s ZANU party wins a decisive victory over Nkomo and ZAPU. The newly independent nation takes the ancient name Zimbabwe. Mugabe rules at the start in a conciliatory manner.
The first response of the British government is patient diplomacy (including two meetings between Harold Wilson and Smith on warships off Gibraltar, the Tiger in 1966 and the Fearless in 1968), but this is met by intransigence on Smith’s part. The result is economic sanctions, imposed by the United Nations with British approval in 1968. The sanctions take a long time to bite. Meanwhile, guerrilla activity by separate ZAPU and ZANU forces from across the borders is having rather more unsettling effect – particularly after Nkomo and Mugabe settle their differences in 1976 and form a united Patriotic Front.
By 1978 Smith recognizes the need for concessions. He comes to an agreement with a moderate African leader, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, leader of the UANC (United African National Council). In return for guarantees securing white political and economic interests, multi-racial elections will be held in 1979. With the Patriotic Front banned from participating, Muzorewa emerges as prime minister of a transitional government. But nothing is solved. The Patriotic Front continues its guerrilla campaign. The situation is finally resolved at talks in London in December 1979, attended by all three African leaders. UDI is overturned and Rhodesia reverts briefly to the status of a British colony. Britain agrees to provide funds to purchase the land of British farmers willing to sell, for a much-needed land distribution programme. Elections are organized for February 1980.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe
Mugabe was born to a poor Shona family in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia. Following an education at Kutama College and the University of Fort Hare. Angered that Southern Rhodesia was a British colony governed by a white minority, Mugabe embraced Marxism and joined African nationalist protests calling for an independent black-led state. After making anti-government comments, he was convicted of sedition and imprisoned between 1964 and 1974.
On release, he fled to Mozambique, established his leadership of ZANU and oversaw ZANU’s role in the Rhodesian Bush War, fighting Ian Smith’s predominantly white government. He reluctantly took part in the peace negotiations brokered by the United Kingdom that resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement. The agreement dismantled white minority rule and resulted in the 1980 general election, at which Mugabe led ZANU-PF to victory.
Mugabe’s initial calls for racial reconciliation failed to stem deteriorating race relations and growing white flight. Relations with Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) also declined, with Mugabe’s government crushing ZAPU-linked opposition in Matabeleland during the Gukurahundi between 1982 and 1985; at least 10,000 people, mostly Ndebele civilians, were killed by Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade.
Internationally, he sent troops into the Second Congo War and chaired the Non-Aligned Movement (1986–89), the Organisation of African Unity (1997–98) and the African Union (2015–16). Pursuing decolonization, Mugabe’s government emphasized the redistribution of land controlled by white farmers to landless blacks, initially on a “willing seller-willing buyer” basis. Frustrated at the slow rate of redistribution, from 2000 Mugabe encouraged the violent seizure of white-owned land. Food production was severely impacted, leading to famine, drastic economic decline, and international sanctions. Opposition to Mugabe grew, although he was re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2013 through campaigns dominated by violence, electoral fraud and nationalistic appeals to his rural Shona voter base. Following a 2017 coup, Mugabe resigned the presidency.
Having dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for nearly four decades, Mugabe has been a controversial and divisive figure. He has been praised as a revolutionary hero of the African liberation struggle who helped to free Zimbabwe from British colonialism, imperialism and white minority rule. Conversely, he has been accused of being a dictator responsible for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, anti-white racism, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.