pronounced zihm BAH bway, is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Most of the country
is a high plateau. Zimbabwe lies in the tropics but has a pleasant climate because of the
high altitude. Zimbabwe's beautiful scenery includes the famous Victoria Falls on the
Zambezi River along the country's northern border. Zimbabwe is a leading mineral producer.
Harare is the capital and largest city.
Since the late 1800's, the area that is now the
country of Zimbabwe has had a troubled, often violent, political history. The vast
majority of Zimbabwe's people are black Africans, but whites controlled the government
from about 1890 to 1979. During the last years of white rule, black nationalists in
Zimbabwe--then called Rhodesia--engaged in guerrilla warfare against the government. At
the same time, the nation's economy was crippled by international trade sanctions
In the face of mounting opposition both at home and abroad, white Rhodesians finally
agreed to hand over political power to the blacks. The first black-majority government was
elected in 1979. However, many blacks rejected this government because they felt it was
unrepresentative and that it allowed whites to retain many special privileges.
Widespread guerrilla violence continued until
late 1979, when the government and the rebels signed a peace treaty. In return for a
cease-fire, the government agreed to hold new elections in February 1980. The political
party of Robert Mugabe, one of the principal rebel leaders, won a large majority of votes
in these elections. Mugabe then became prime minister of the independent republic of
Government. An executive president heads Zimbabwe's government. The executive president is
elected by the people to a six-year term. The executive president appoints two vice
presidents and a Cabinet to carry out government operations.
Zimbabwe's laws are made by a parliament that consists of a 150-member House of Assembly.
Of the members, 120 are elected by the people, 20 are appointed by the president, and 10
are held by the traditional chiefs of Zimbabwe. The members of the House serve six-year
People. About 98 percent of Zimbabweans are blacks. About 1 percent are whites. The rest
are Asians and Coloreds (people of mixed ancestry). About three-fourths of the blacks live
in rural areas. Most of the whites, Asians, and Coloreds live in cities and towns. The
largest black ethnic group in Zimbabwe is the Shona (often called the Mashona). The
Ndebele (often called the Matabele) is the second largest group. The Shona speak a
language called Chishona, and the Ndebele speak Sindebele.
Most blacks in Zimbabwe are farmers. Most of them raise only enough food for their
families. Their main crop, corn, is pounded into flour to make a dish called sadza.
Many blacks in Zimbabwe work on commercial farms owned by whites. Other blacks work in
cities and towns. The whites include farmers, who own most of the high veld (grasslands),
and business and professional people.
Land. Most of Zimbabwe is a high, rolling plateau from 3,000 to 5,000 feet (910 to 1,500
meters) above sea level. The High Veld, a central plateau, crosses the country from
northeast to southwest. The Middle Veld lies on either side of the High Veld. The Low Veld
consists of sandy plains in the Zambezi, Limpopo, and Sabi river basins. Mount Inyangani
(8,514 feet, or 2,595 meters) is Zimbabwe's highest point.
Zimbabwe's summer lasts from October to April and is hot and wet. The winter, from May to
September, is cool and dry. Temperatures in the country range between 54 and 85 °F (12
and 29 °C), and rainfall varies from 15 inches (38 centimeters) a year in the west to 50
inches (130 centimeters) in the east.
Economy. Zimbabwe is an important producer of gold, asbestos, and nickel. A smelter at
Kwekwe removes iron from ore mined in the area. Coal comes from the Hwange region. The
country also has deposits of chromite, copper, tin, and gems. Crops include coffee, corn,
cotton, peanuts, sugar, sunflower seeds, tea, tobacco, and wheat. Cattle raising on large
ranches is also important.
The Kariba Gorge hydroelectric complex on the Zambezi is one of the world's largest. Its
dam forms Kariba Lake, which covers 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers). Its
power plant supplies electricity to most of Zimbabwe. It is operated by Zimbabwe and
History. Ancient paintings and tools made by the San (Bushmen) people have been found in
Zimbabwe. These discoveries indicate that people have lived in the region for thousands of
years. By the A.D. 800's, people were mining minerals for trade. Shona people began their
rule about A.D. 1000. They built a city called Zimbabwe, or Great Zimbabwe. The word
zimbabwe means house of stone in the Shona language. The city's ruins lie near Masvingo.
They include a tower 30 feet (9 meters) high and part of a wall 800 feet (240 meters)
around. The structures were made of huge granite slabs, most of which were fitted together
During the 1400's, a branch of the Shona, called the Karanga, established the Mwanamutapa
Empire. This empire included most of what is now Zimbabwe. At eastern African ports, the
Karanga traded ivory, gold, and copper for porcelain from China and cloth and beads from
India and Indonesia.
The Rozwi, a southern Karanga group, rebelled in the late 1400's and founded the
Changamire Empire. This empire became stronger than the Mwanamutapa Empire, and the Rozwi
took over the city of Zimbabwe. The Rozwi built the city's largest structures. The
Changamire Empire was prosperous and peaceful until Nguni people from the south defeated
much of the empire in the 1830's. The city was abandoned after the fall of the Changamire
Portuguese explorers introduced Christianity to what is now Zimbabwe in the 1500's. But
few people accepted Christianity until the late 1800's. In 1888, the Ndebele granted
mineral rights in the area to Cecil Rhodes, a British financier. By 1893, Rhodes's British
South Africa Company occupied most of the region. In 1895, this company named its
The British South Africa Company crushed black African uprisings in 1896 and 1897, and
reports of gold brought more Europeans to the area. In 1897, Britain recognized Southern
and Northern Rhodesia as separate territories. In 1922, the white settlers of Southern
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) voted for self-government, and Southern Rhodesia became a
self-governing British colony in 1923. In 1953, Britain set up the Federation of Rhodesia
and Nyasaland, which included Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and
Nyasaland (now Malawi).
In 1961, Britain and Southern Rhodesia approved a new constitution. But the leading black
African party boycotted the first election, because it felt too few blacks could vote.
Later, the government banned two black parties, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU)
and the Zimbabwe African National Union. Both demanded a greater part in government for
The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved in 1963. In 1964, Northern Rhodesia
became the independent nation of Zambia, and Nyasaland became independent as Malawi.
Southern Rhodesia became known as Rhodesia. Its government demanded independence in 1964.
Britain declared that Rhodesia must first guarantee the black majority a greater voice in
the government. Rhodesian talks with Britain finally broke down. On Nov. 11, 1965, Prime
Minister Ian Smith declared Rhodesia independent. Rhodesia was the first colony to break
with Britain without consent since the American Colonies did so in 1776. Britain called
Rhodesia's action illegal and banned all trade with Rhodesia. Rhodesia rejected British
proposals for a settlement. In 1966, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions against
Rhodesia. Most countries then stopped or reduced their trade with Rhodesia.
In 1969, Rhodesian voters--mostly whites--approved a new constitution designed to prevent
the black African majority from ever gaining control of the government. The Constitution
took effect in 1970. Rhodesia declared itself a republic on March 2, 1970. But no country
recognized its independent status. Led by the United Nations, many countries continued to
apply political and economic pressure to end white rule in Rhodesia.
In 1971, Britain and Rhodesia reached an agreement that included provisions to gradually
increase black representation in the government. But most Rhodesian blacks opposed the
pact, and it did not take effect. In the early 1970's, fighting erupted between government
troops and black guerrillas in Rhodesia. In 1974, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire.
In 1976, fighting again broke out between Rhodesian government troops and black
guerrillas. Mozambique and other black African nations joined in the demand for an end of
white rule in Rhodesia. Clashes between Rhodesian government troops and troops of
Mozambique broke out near the border between the countries.
In the mid-1970's, Rhodesia's white rulers, led by Prime Minister Smith, began making
plans to establish a new government with a majority of black leaders. In 1978, the whites
reached an agreement with moderate Rhodesian blacks to form a government. Voting
procedures were changed to allow all people 18 years old or over to vote. Previously,
strict economic and educational requirements had prevented most blacks from voting.
Elections in April 1979 resulted in a government with a majority of black leaders. Abel T.
Muzorewa, a Methodist bishop, became the first black prime minister. But many blacks
rejected the new government as unrepresentative, and no other country officially
Widespread fighting between black guerrillas and the government went on until September
1979, when Britain arranged a peace settlement between the government and the rebels. Both
sides finally agreed to the formation of a new government. In elections held in February
1980, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party won a majority
of the seats in the House of Assembly. Robert Mugabe, the party's leader, became prime
minister. On April 18, 1980, Britain recognized the country's independence, and Rhodesia's
name was officially changed to Zimbabwe. Most countries and the United Nations soon
recognized the new government and lifted the remaining trade sanctions against the nation.
Since the blacks gained control of the government, many whites have left.
In 1981, fighting broke out in southwestern Zimbabwe between the national army and
guerrilla forces formerly aligned with ZAPU. Some members of ZAPU claimed their party did
not receive a fair share of power after the country gained independence. In 1982, Prime
Minister Mugabe dismissed ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo from his Cabinet. Clashes between the
guerrilla groups and the army continued until early 1984. By that time, the army had put
down most of the rebellion.
Mugabe's party won the 1985 national elections. In 1987, the office of prime minister was
abolished. The office of executive president was created to replace it as the highest
government post. Parliament elected Mugabe to the new office. Negotiations begun in 1986
between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Nkomo's ZAPU led the parties to formally merge in 1989. The
new party uses the name ZANU-PF. In 1990 and 1996, the voters reelected Mugabe executive