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History of Zimbabwe

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 Monomatapas), 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 Mashona[?] (or Shona) people, who make up about 80% of modern Zimbabwe's population. Later they formed the Rozwi Empire[?], which continued until the nineteenth century. In fact, the strict Shona name is Zimbabhwe.

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 entered the 17th century in serious decline. 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.

The minority Matabele (Ndebele) people in the south arrived there in historically recent times (1834). British occupation began in the 1890s, under the leadership of Cecil Rhodes, for 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, now under Matabele rule. The increasing influx of settlers as a result of this treaty led to war with Lobengula[?], King of Matabeleland[?] in 1893. 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) was 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 was a unique case.

The formation of a number of political parties along with sporadic acts of sabotage came as a result of African impatience. At the forefront of this move was the Zimbabwe African People's 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.

As a response to Britain's refusal to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia, Ian Smith, the prime minister, called for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI). In the May 1965 elections, Smith's party picked up every one of the 50 government seats, in December they declared the UDI. This period became known as UDI, as the unilateral period of independence. Rhodesia was unrecognized by any other country and lasted from 1965 to 1979, retaining the Queen as head of state until 1970 at which point Rhodesia became a Republic. Britain declared Smith's action illegal and imposed economic sanctions. 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. The Rhodesian's held new elections in the late 1970s & as a result, gained their first african Prime Minister, Bishop Abel Muzorewa[?]. He introduced many changes, including a new name for the country, the Republic of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.

Both ZAPU and ZANU began campaigns of guerrilla warfare around 1966, and guerrilla raids led to escalation in white emigration from Rhodesia. The coming of independence in Angola and Mozambique in 1975 altered the power balance within Rhodesia greatly as it forced South Africa and the USA 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 pressurize Smith into accepting the nationalists. With Kenneth Kaunda's Zambian support the nationalist groups were convinced to come together under the united front of 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.

Ian Smith, in the face of an exodus of large numbers of settlers, tried to make a deal with Sithole and Muzurewa whereby power would be handed over to them.

In 1979 they finally caved in to international sanctions and guerrilla war,which lead to indepedence. The name Zimbabwe was adopted at independence. In 1980 Robert Mugabe's ZANU party won the election.

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 in 1980 as Zimbabwe.

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 countries independence festivities, and this song, was, of course, included.

There followed a continuing bitter rivalry between ZAPU and ZANU. Guerrilla activity started again. Nkomo (ZAPU) left for England and did not return until Mugabe guaranteed his safety. Soon talks led to the uniting of the two rival parties.

Following independence in April 1980, the new Constitution of Zimbabwe 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. The Constitution was amended in 1986 to provide for an Executive President and the office of Prime Minister was abolished. The Constitutional changes came into effect on 1 January 1987 with Robert Mugabe as President.

From 1982 to 1983, the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade was sent by the government, composed of ethnic Shonas, massacred between 2000 and 8000 Ndebele civillians in Matabeleland (south-western Zimbabwe), according to a 2001 investigative report of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe and the Legal Resources Foundation of Zimbabwe. The mass murders were assisted by Shona militias like the militias now organized by ZANU-PF. The crimes included mass murder of whole villages, mass rape, and widespread torture. The victims were often forced to sing Shona songs before being beaten and killed. No one has ever been prosecuted for these massacres, and commanders who perpetrated them are now at high levels of the Zimbabwe armed forces.

However, Robert Mugabe, the nation's first Prime Minister, has been the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) and has dominated the country's political system since independence for a period of over 20 years. Mugabe has moved to increase his grib on power, and eliminate any political opposition to himself. However, Zimbabwe had since declined economically, after misrule. Mugabe had become increasingly notorious in Southern Africa for his flagrant freedom of speech and human rights abuses, the near-destruction of his country's economy and for the paranoid way in which he has gone about eliminating the opposition to his rule. His government did not hesitate to jail political opponents and independent journalists.

Robert Mugabe, (February 2000) once again tried to change the constitution widely believed to give him more sweeping powers, by holding constitutional referendum. Mugabe would have been allowed to serve two more terms (another 10 years) as president, and would have been given authority to dissolve Parliament without cause. However, the victory for the No vote in Zimbabwe's constitutional referendum had stunned the ruling party and thrown it into chaos. The governments many vested interests that had grown up under 20 years of virtual one-party rule make an easy and democratic transition far from certain.

The present crisis really began in 1997 when Mugabe made two crucial 'errors'. First, panicked by demonstrations by Zanla ex-combatants (war veterans), who had been the heart of the liberation struggle 20 years before, he agreed to pay them large gratuities and pensions a wholly unproductive and unbudgeted financial commitment. Secondly, as if infuriated by the thought that he might see his government with its growing difficulties outlived by the white farmers he had so long inveighed against, Mugabe raised the spectre of land expropriation without compensation. Both steps brought the government into headlong conflict with the International Monetary Fund, for it was difficult to see how Zimbabwe could ever attract investment if it confiscated the assets of investors who had put their money into creating productive farms.

In 1999 Robert Mugabe facing decreasing support, he orchestrated the invasion of the minority white Zimbabwean's farm's despite the severe drought in the region for redistribution to his supporters (http://www.swradioafrica.com/pages/farms.htm) by the war veterans and youth militia (green bombers). This is a familiar political tactic: consolidate your power under the guise of fighting an unpopular racial minority. The police and military were instructed not to protect the farmers or their workers against violence. This lead to the destruction of much of Zimbabwe's agricultural base and over 100,000 farmers, farm workers and their families losing their homes and jobs through the often violent seizing of farms throughout 1999 and to date resulting in the decimation of the Zimbabwean economy. The political situation makes it unlikely that the western countries will be inclined to do much more than provide sustenance assistance. Certain African leaders were reluctant to criticize Mugabe for fear of helping the former colonial powers.

Some of the white farmers were murdered. Also, the same activists who had taken over the white farms spread out to kill, rape and maim supporters of the political opposition Movement for Democratic Change[?]. It was black oppositionists who were the real target of the takeovers. By terrorizing the opposition into submission, Mugabe got a Parliamentary majority for ZANU-PF (he also got to appoint 30 of the parliamentarians). The presidential elections (held on the 9th and 10th of March 2002) were of critical importance to the entire Southern African region. The main concern was that if the elections were not free and fair it would have a destabilizing effect on the region causing more economic turmoil in countries like South Africa and Botswana. After pressure by the European Union (which eventually led to travel sanctions being imposed on Mugabe and his inner circle ZANU-PF ellite).


See Also: Zimbabwe



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