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 on 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 to Rhodesia. 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 political front.
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 1972.
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 and independence.
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 December 16.
On December 21, after 3 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
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 nonaligned 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 guerillas.
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 2 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
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 antigovernment posture. 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 the government. 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
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 result. 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 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, through control of the media, the huge
parastatal sector of the economy, and the security forces, the government
has managed to keep political opposition to minimum.
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 rights conditions. 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 National Assembly.
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