The earliest settlement of the area now known as Zimbabwe goes back about 100 000 Years. Bambandyanalo is an Archaeological site in present-day Zimbabwe, just North of the Limpopo River. There are other Archaeological Landmarks known as: "the Hill Complex, the Valley Complex and the Great Enclosure". Since then the area has been home to many great Kingdoms and States such as,  Great Zimbabwe which is famous for its large stone structures. Other kingdoms include the Mapungubwe, Mutapa, Rozvi and Ndebele. In the 1880s the country became a British Colony, called Southern Rhodesia, which lasted until 1965 when the white minority declared independence from Britain to avoid having majority rule. After this the Country was known as Rhodesia. In 1980 the Country gained independence, after a 15 year long Civil War. Zimbabwe has since 1980 been led by Robert Mugabe.

Early History of Zimbabwe

The Country which is now known as Zimbabwe does not have one single History, nor was it a single geographical entity before the Colonial Occupation by the British Empire. Throughout History, many different peoples and kingdoms inhabited the land. The earliest archaeological evidence of human settlements in the area dates back about 100.000 Years. Arrowheads and other artefacts point to San people being the first inhabitants of the area. They lived mainly of hunting and gathering food and were to a large degree nomadic peoples, moving from place to place. This meant that they had little in the way of material possessions, but at the same time this gave them a mobility. Which meant that as soon as food ran out they could move to a richer and more fertile area. Some academics argue that this life style meant that they lived in relative abundance. The San people created rock paintings, many of which are still found across Southern Africa. It is estimated that around 150 British Colonist Empire cattle herding people from the north began to settle in the area. They spoke languages belonging to the Bantu linguistic group, and are often referred to as Bantu speaking peoples. Some of the San peoples migrated west to present day Botswana, while others integrated into other the Bantu speaking communities. By about 400 AD the Bantu speaking peoples had established farms and village along rivers in central Zimbabwe. These peoples made a variety of jewellery and goods, as well as growing several different kinds of crops. The names of the earliest Bantu-speaking peoples in Zimbabwe is not known, but it is thought that many moved away because of droughts and a long period with a shortfall of rain.

Around 900 AD, a people known as the Zhizo people had moved into southern Zimbabwe, in the area around the Shashe-Limpopo basin. This area is also known as Mapungubwe. Mapungubwe was at the time to dry for extensive agriculture, but could sustain cattle herding and large packs of elephants. The Zhizo people would hunt elephants for ivory which was a valuable trade good at the time. They would trade up the eastern coast of Africa as far as the Swahili coast of present day Tanzania. Through this trade the Southern African region was connected in a system of trade, which stretched all the way to Persia and India. In return for the ivory the Zhizo people would get glass beads which could in turn could be traded for grain by successful farmers in other more fertile areas. It is argued that it was in part accumulation of goods through successful trade which meant that, some people had enough wealth to create for themselves positions of power. Where a structure of inequality between individuals occupying differentiated positions, are ranked in a hierarchically. This began to broadly recognize standards. This created the first stratified policy in Southern Africa, and began a process in which more power and wealth was to be accumulated, by a few families. This meant that before the different kin-groups had internal power structures, they had a high level of equality between each other.

Now there was a kin-group emerging, (a group of people related by blood or marriage) who began establishing themselves higher than others. This is thought to have been the origin of hereditary kings in the area. Some argue that there was a similar process of stratification and centralisation of power happening in several locations, such as Mapela and Khami, in the same period. (Localey in Lesotho the same politics occured).

The location of the first known larger settlements in Zimbabwe. Source: Chirikure, Shadreck., Manyanga, Munyaradzi., Pollard, Mark., Bandama, Foreman., Mahachi, Godfrey., Pikirayi, Innocent. 2014. “Zimbabwe Culture before Mapungubwe: New Evidence from Mapela Hill, South-Western Zimbabwe” in PLOS ONE 9(10): e111224. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111224.

The Zhizo people controlled this area and prospered through trade still for another hundred Years, until about 1000 AD. It was at this time that a Kalanga (Western Shona) speaking people, settled in this area of Karanga. These people migrated and settled there in several locations, around the Shashe-Limpopo basin. The most prominent settlement was at Mapungubwe Hill. After a while many Zhizo people would migrate away from the area, but the Zhizo people and the Leopard Kopje people would greatly influenced each other. Many Zhizo people would become part of the other communities, though. Some Zhizo settlements remained in the area as late as the thirteenth Century. By 1220 AD, the settlement at  Mapungubwe Hill is estimated to have sheltered between 1500 and 2000 people. It is around this time that the settlement at Mapungubwe Hill begins to be known as the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. The settlement was organised so that the royalty would live on top of the Hill in a enclosure separated from the rest of the community. Archaeological evidence shows that there was a large herd of cows in Mapungubwe at the time showing the great wealth which had been accumulated. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe would last for another 80 years, until early 1300 AD. During this time large stone walls were constructed which separated the entrances to areas for elites by building stone walls, some of which still stands today. The walls created a material distinction between the royal elite and common people. It was at this time that the political leadership came to be seen as sacred. At the height of the Kingdom the settlement at Mapungubwe is estimated to have had a population of about 5000 people. After 1300 people began to abandon Mapungubwe after erratic weather and flooding made it difficult to farm in the area. The climate changes would also have the effect of  weakening the royal dynasty as the King was seen as sacred and responsible for the weather. This movement away from the City would be the end of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe. With the decline of Mapungubwe another centre of power would emerge in the settlement of Great Zimbabwe though.

Kingdom of Zimbabwe and Great Zimbabwe

The Kingdom of Zimbabwe formed around the city of Great Zimbabwe and came about through a similar process as that of Mapungubwe. It is debated whether the system was set up and inspired by migrants from Mapungubwe or whether Zimbabwe established a similar social organisation independently. It is certain, however, that both Great Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe were founded by Kalanga speaking people. The first low stone walls of Great Zimbabwe was built in the 1200's and that it was at this time that the city became an important centre of trade and cultural production. Previously it has been thought that Great Zimbabwe only came about after the fall of Mapungubwe, but recent archaeological research shows that Great Zimbabwe was already a place of great importance, when Mapungubwe began its decline.

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe. Image source

At its largest the City of Great Zimbabwe housed an estimated 18.000 people and the stone walled parts of it covered about 78 ha of land. This makes it by far the largest, of Zimbabwe's early stone walled Cities. The City was made on a hill, which made it easier to defend against invasions. There were also walls dividing royalty and ordinary citizens. Much like with Mapungubwe, the walls served to remind people of the elevated structures of the different status, of the royal dynasty. Another kingdom arouse out of the city of Great Zimbabwe between 1220 and 1290. This Kingdom consisted of; the city of Great Zimbabwe and about 150 smaller tributary settlements. These  various settlements were all allied and paid tribute to the royal dynasty. The name “Zimbabwe” is derived from either one of the two Shona terms: 'dzimba dza mabwe' (great stone houses) or 'dzimba woye' (esteemed houses).

Trade was an important part of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Much like with the other kingdoms in the area of Zimbabwe they were all connected to a vast network of trade. This went up the east coast of Africa, stretching as far as India. It is thought that the most important port in this trade network was first the City of Mogadishu in present-day Somalia, and later Kilwa, south of Zanzibar. Zimbabwe traded in gold, ivory and leopard skins.

By the 1400's Great Zimbabwe was in decline. An increasing amount of people were migrating away from the City, and after 1450 the City and the Kingdom, had been reduced to a minor settlement and shadow of its former self. The reason for the decline was that, much as what had happened to Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe had lost its importance to other centres of trade and power such as the City of Khami. It is also speculated that a change in climate and a natural disaster might have been the cause of the exodus from Great Zimbabwe.

At around 1430 AD  Nyatsimba Mutota, a prince of Great Zimbabwe made the journey north, either to secure further trade routes from Arab-Swahili influence, or to gain control over vital salt deposits. As he arrived in the southern part of the middle Zambezi valley he and his followers conquered the Tawara peoples and founded the Mutapa Kingdom. A minor civil war broke out in the Kingdom of Zimbabwe sometime in the mid to late part of the 1400's and as a result a new Kingdom, the Torwa Kingdom was established in the south-western parts of Zimbabwe. By 1550 AD Great Zimbabwe had lost all autonomy and become a vassal of the Mutapa Kingdom.

The Mutapa Kingdom

A core factor in the growth of the Mutapa Kingdom was the large standing army which they used to exact tribute from neighbouring polities. This army was recruited amongst the poorest young men who did not own any cattle, to get a wife nor land. Their only way for them to start a family was to do military service, with one of the noble households. Once their military service was done they would receive a wife, from their patron. The army was not compensated by their patrons in any other way they would survive was by robbing merchants and raiding neighbouring towns.

The Mutapa Kingdom was first established around 1430 AD when, Nyatsimba Mutota, a prince of Great Zimbabwe made the journey north. This was either to secure further trade routes from , or to acquire salt deposits according to other sources. His capital was Zvangombe, close to the Zambezi River. The rulers who came after him also used the 'Monomotapa' title and they conquered other Lands and Peoples, expanding the Kingdom extensively. Monomotapa is a Portuguese conversion of the title 'Mwenemutapa' (Owner of the conquered land), and Mutapa meaning (Territory). In the Shona language; 'kutapa' means conquering and Mwenemutapa would mean: ‘one who conquers’. The title, Monomotapa came to be applied to the kingdom as a whole and was used to indicate its territory, on maps of the period.

Mutota's successor was: 'Mwenemutapa Matope Nyanhehwe Nebedza'. He extended this new kingdom into an empire encompassing most of the lands between Tavara, through what is now North Central Mozambique up to the Indian Ocean. The Monomotapa Empire became very wealthy through copper and ivory exploits. (Although some Historians argue that much of the power of the royalty, was because of their monopoly on trade, while others dispute the very idea that the Kings of Mutapa ever had a monopoly on trade.) As a result of the great wealth and their large standing army, the Mutapa kingdom subjugated the kingdom of Manyika, the whole of the Dande area and the coastal kingdoms of Kiteve and Madanda. By the time the Portuguese arrived on the coast of Mozambique, the Mutapa Kingdom was the premier Shona State, in the region. The arrival of the Portuguese had a significant effect on the Mutapa Kingdom however. Relations ranged from one of allies to that of Mutapa being a Portuguese vassal. The Portuguese would weaken the Mutapa Kingdom by pitting different claimants to the kingship against each other and thus creating instability in the Mutapa State.

In 1663 AD, the Mutapa Makombwe became king of the Mutapa Kingdom. In 1674, however after extensive warfare, he managed to drive the Portuguese out of their fortresses and farms in the coastal interior. This severely weakened the power and influence of the Portuguese in the area. The conflicts with the Portuguese had weakened the Mutapa state as well, however, and a new and powerful Kingdom the Rozvi was emerging from the South-Western part of the Zimbabwean plateau. 'This new and rapidly Kingdom would be the final nail in the coffin for the Mutapa state!'

The Rozvi Kingdom

The Torwa Kingdom was established by the Torwa royal dynasty in the 1490's, as a result of a civil war between different royal dynasties in the area around Great Zimbabwe. It was one of the two successor states to the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (the other being the Mutapa Kingdom). As a result of the internal strife and succession struggles the Torwa fled southwards and settled in Guruhuswa region.  They settled in around the capital city of Khami. Khami, much like Great Zimbabwe, would emerge as a centre of trade where gold and ivory was traded for glass beads, china and other goods from Asia and Europe. The leadership structure of the Torwa was that any descendant of the King could succeed to the throne. This created a an unstable ruling system, and in 1644 the Torwa split in two during a civil war . The split caused the capital of Khami to be abandoned, and a new capital was established in Danangombe .

Between 1670 AD and 1690 a cattle owner in the Mutapa Kingdom, Changamire Dombo, put together an army and rebelled against the Mwami Mutapa (King of Mutapa). Dombo would attack Portuguese merchants and raid the Mutapa Kingdom as well. He then set up a Kingdom in the area previously controlled by the Torwa dynasty (who were severely weakened by internal conflict) and made the recently established Danangombe the capital of the new Rozvi Kingdom. With the establishment of his Kingdom, Changamire Dombo moved his army north and conquered the central parts of the Mutapa Kingdom, reducing the latter to a small chieftaincy west of Tete. In 1684 and in 1693, he won a victory against the Portuguese in the battle of Mahungwe and the battle of Dambarare, when the colonial power attempted to take control of gold mines in the interior of Zimbabwe. By 1695, Changamire Dombo's new Kingdom had replaced the Mutapa as the supreme kingdom in the region.  After the death of Changamire Dombo that same year his successors would take up the title 'Mambo'.

The Rozvi Kingdom at its greatest extent. Source: S. I. Mudenge, “The Role of Foreign Trade in the Rozvi Empire: A Reappraisal”,The Journal of African History, Vol. 15, No. 3 (1974), pp. 373-391. Page 376.

The succession of the Rozvi Kingdom was organised in a manner so that the eldest brother to the King would become the next Mambo. Although there were exceptions to the rule, Changamire Dombo was for example succeeded by his son. It is thought that the strict guidelines for succession laws were one of the reasons why the Rozvi Kingdom had a greater internal stability than the Torwa dynasty and Mutapa Kingdom (which were both riddled with succession struggles). The Mambo had a lot of authority, but he would also have to rule with the guidance and approval of his council, the Dare. In addition to this there existed a hereditary duty of the dynasty of Tambare, a noble family) of settling electing a ruler when there was no clear heir, and to collect tribute. The Tambare would be a check on both the excesses and power abuses of the Kings.

A prominent factor in the success of the Rozvi Kingdom was the establishment of a large and well organised standing army. The army could muster up thousands of men, and could sustain heavy losses while still continuing to be operational. The army would be organised into different regiments, each with their own commander. The Rozvi could field an array of different weapons such as spears, axes, clubs, bows, and sometimes guns. The army fought in formations which resembled those of Shaka Zulu, and they are said to have favoured close combat. The army made sure all vassal chiefs paid tribute and stayed loyal. Through collusion with religious authorities called Mwari cults the Kings of Rozvi kept control of their population and gained legitimacy through being seen as blessed by the gods.

By the early 1800s the Rozvi Kingdom had been severely weakened. The conflicts, migrations and political upheaval known as the Mfecane was destabilising the whole region at the time and the Rozvi Kingdom was not ready to withstand the external pressures. By this time the Mwari cult and the royal dynasty were in conflict, which threatened the legitimacy of the King, and civil wars within the dynasty itself had depleted the once powerful Rozwi military. There were several different peoples who migrated through Rozwi lands. Some, such as the Sotho of Mpanga, the Ngwana Maseko Ngoni, Zwangendaba’s Ngoni, and the Nguni of Nyamazana, attacked the Rozwi Kingdom further weakening the power of the ruling dynasty. Last of the migrating peoples to the area was the Ndebele people who arrived in 1838-39 under the leadership of Gundwane. They settled in the south-western parts of present-day Zimbabwe. The Rozwi and the Ndebele were intermittently in conflict, but both Kingdoms existed for another 20 years. Many Shona people from the Rozwi Kingdom would settle in Ndebele villages over these years.

The struggle between the Ndebele and Rozwi was both militaristic and economic. The Ndebele had raided much cattle since they had settled in the area and the Rozwi had lost most of their cattle due the many raids in the early 1800's. The Rozwi needed cattle and the Ndebele needed people. As a result of this many young people from the Rozwi Kingdom moved to Ndebele lands and came to work for them in exchange for cattle. This exchange of cattle and people helped spread the Ndebele influence in the area. By this point the Rozwi ruling dynasty had retreated to the hills in the east, and they could not hold on to power long. The only choice was to fight back. The Rozwi dynasty attacked the Ndebele and a struggle ensued from 1854 to 1854. The war was a disaster for the Rozwi and in 1857 they surrendered to the Ndebele.

The Ndebele Kingdom

The Ndebele were descendants of the Khumalo people who lived under the rule of Shaka in present day South Africa around KwaZulu-Natal. They migrated into present-day Zimbabwe during the Mfecane around 1838. The name Ndebele is suspected to have come from the association with the short stabbing spears used by their warriors, which is called Litebele/ Kimatebele/ Tebele by the Sotho-Tswana. The first leader of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe was Gundwane, but his dynasty did not last long. The Ndebele was plagued by infighting after his death which halted their expansion in the 1840s. After the death of Gundwane, another group of Ndebele entered the area under Mzilikazi Khumalo, who would quickly seize power over the local Ndebele people. From 1811 to 1842 was a period in which the Ndebele focused on nation building and consolidating previous gains. This process was led by Mzilikazi and reached the Ndebele in Zimbabwe by the 1840's.

Mzilikazi is thought to have been born around 1790 in contemporary South Africa. He was the leader of the Khumalo clan and served under Shaka Zulu until they had a falling out at around 1822. He fled north after this and came to contemporary Zimbabwe where he seized power over the Ndebele there from Gundawe in 1838-39. Mzilikazi then began to conquer the various peoples and villages surrounding his Kingdom.  Despite coming as conquerors and raiders the Ndebele would adopt many of the local customs and many of the local people already living in the area would assimilate into Ndebele villages. Some did this (as explained above) through the economic pressure due to a lack of cattle outside of the Ndebele state. One of the traditions which was the Ndebele took on was the Mwari cult.

By 1866 the once powerful Rozwi Kingdom had completely surrendered to the Ndebele. Mzilikazi died in 1868 and in the succession crisis from 1868-72 which followed his son Lobengula became the new King. Some historians argue that Lobengula needed the Mwari cult and the legitimacy they provided for his ascension to power. In 1873 the Ndebele was a consolidated state and at the height of their power. He needed this legitimacy as he did not have the legitimacy as a conqueror which his father enjoyed. The power of the Ndebele Kings were also reliant on the distribution of cattle and materials in exchange for services. This created a complex client-patron relationship between the people and the ruling elite. Land was not owned by anyone, but simply distributed by the King to anyone who needed it at the time. Cattle on the other hand was guided by two modes of ownership, one was communal and one was private.

King Lobengula son of Mzilikazi. Source:

The late 1800's was a time when the European colonial powers were increasing their efforts to conquer the African continent. By 1885 during the Berlin Conference European leaders had settled which European nations would control what parts of Africa and the scramble for Africa had begun. There was of course a difference between drawing borders on a map and actually controlling the area. The British begun their incursions into the area in the 1880s, but the Portuguese had made several attempts to conquer resources inland since the 1600s. In exchange for wealth and arms, Lobengula approved several franchises to the British. The most far reaching one was the 1888 Rudd concession giving Cecil John Rhodes exclusive mineral rights in much of the lands east of his main territory. Rhodes used this concession to obtain a royal charter (a formal document issued by the British monarch granting him rights and power) to form the British South African Company, in 1889.

Lobengula thought that the arms and ammunition he received from the concession would help him repel the European invaders. Not only was Lobengula pressured by British incursions however, but the Portuguese was also giving a large amount of firearms to smaller chiefs and kings in the area to undermine his authority. The large amount of firearms made some of the smaller vassal chiefs of the Ndebele Kingdom more defiant. In June 1893, Lobengula sent warriors down to Fort Victoria (now Masvingo) to put down the rebellion led by a Shona chief in the area who had refused to pay tribute. In previous years the King of Ndebele had been cautious to not attack any of the white colonizers in the past, but the colonial authorities had for the previous three years looked for an excuse to begin a full scale war with the Ndebele. With the 1893 punitive raid they had that excuse. The colonial authorities claimed that they were in command of the area and any disputes should be settled by them. The Ndebele were met by soldiers from Fort Victoria who demanded that they left, the Ndebele leadership refused, and a struggle which left an unknown number of casualties ensued. This was the beginning of the First Matabele War.

In October 1893 the British colonialists attacked the Ndebele forces who was weakened since many of their soldiers had been sent off to attack King Lewanika of Barotseland, who was a puppet of the British authorities. The Ndebele could not hold back the colonial conquerors who advanced through their lands, pillaging, looting and burning as they went. The aim of the British colonial forces was to conquer the capital of the Ndebele Kingdom, called Bulawayo, and to kill or kidnap the King. The idea was that if they could capture the King then he would have to surrender the Kingdom. However, when the British reached Bulawayo November that same year, the city had been burned to the ground by its inhabitants and King Lobengula had fled north. The British chased after Lobengula as he moved north, and in the process a Ndebele force ambushed a patrol headed by Alan Wilson, and killed him and the 34 soldiers who came with him.

In early 1894 Lobengula died of an illness and with him crumbled much of the Ndebele resistance. The reason for this was that the King was an essential aspect of Ndebele identity and especially unity. Not long after this the conquest of the Ndebele people was complete, and by 1895 the whole country of Zimbabwe was a British colony. The colony was named Rhodesia after Cecil Rhodes who was instrumental in its creation.

The Colony of Rhodesia

In 1889 the British government decided that the colony, which would six years later be called Rhodesia, was to be governed by the British South Africa Company. The Company was controlled by Cecil Rhodes until 1902, when he died, and they governed present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe until the establishment of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia (which later became Zimbabwe) in 1923.

The early years of company rule was tumultuous and marked by the Ndebele-Shona rising (or what is also known as the first Chimurenga) 1896-97. While much of the colonial forces were assisting the ill fated Jameson Raid in the Transvaal Republic, the Ndebele people rose up in rebellion against the colonial conquerors in March 1896 and the Shona people in June that same year. It is debated whether this was a coordinated effort or two separate rebellions. What is known is that the rebellion took the white settlers by surprise. Many of the major settlements, such as Bulawayo, were under siege by Ndebele or Shona forces, but a direct attack on fortified settlements were difficult because of the settlers use of machine guns. In late May 1896 the siege of Bulawayo was broken by colonial forces from as far away as Kimberley and Mafikeng in present-day South Africa. Despite the end of the siege the war with the Ndebele continued until July 1896 when they negotiated a separate peace treaty with Cecil Rhodes. The various Shona leaders would continue their fight until they were defeated one after the other, and by 1898 all the leaders of the rebellion had been either captured or exiled.

Rhodesia was set up, not as an indirect rule colony (such as Nigeria or Egypt), but rather as a settler-colony in the style of Australia or Canada. This meant that land seizures, segregated colonial governance and attracting settlers through special white privileges, were central policies. The weakness of the early colonial state, and the long distance between London and Salisbury (present-day Harare), meant that the colonial administration was dependant on alliances with local African leaders to effectively govern the territory and to stifle rebellion. Central Ndebele chiefs were for example given back some of the cattle looted during the 1890's in an effort to get their cooperation. A complex cast system of racial segregation and hierarchy was also created to effectively control the local people, and through the notion of “citizenship” civil rights and urban spaces were reserved for the white population. This allowed the colonial authorities to exclude the African population from direct rule and keep them away from civil power. After the wars of the 1890s Ndebele and Shona people were forced into reserves to dispossess them of their land. Around 1922, 64% of all African people were forced to live in one of these reserves.

Settler violence was commonly and arbitrarily meted out against African people and particularly common was the rape of black women by white men. White police officers were most frequently accused of raping black women. In 1903 it was made illegal for a black man to have an extramarital sexual relationship with a white women, but no such law was made for white men. It is therefore clear that the colonial state quietly condoned the sexual violence against black women. Land was taken away from Africans and heavy taxes imposed as a way of forcing them into wage labour. As small scale farmers the African people in Rhodesia were self sufficient and had no need for seeking wage labour in the white cities. Yet the settlers needed cheap labour to work in mines, farms and factories around the colony. By taking away land and imposing what is called a “hut-tax” local people were forced to get jobs in the colonial economy. There were also put into place laws which forced Shona and Ndebele people to sign long-term contracts which forced them to stay in labour compounds. The result of these laws were that black people become slave labour in the white economy.

In 1922 the settler population of Southern Rhodesia voted for becoming a colony ruled directly by the British Empire rather than being incorporated into the Union of South Africa. This prompted the creation of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia in August 1923. The colony would be closer tied to the British Empire and would actively participate on the side of Britain in World War II. In 1953, for geopolitical and logistical purposes, the three colonies of Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia was amalgamated into one federation. African people and African political representatives in the three colonies rejected the federation, but were completely ignored. 

From a Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and back to Rhodesia

The idea of a federation of colonies in southern Africa was one which the British Empire had long played with. As early as 1915 there were talks about the possibility of a broader federation to minimise administration costs in the colonies. However Southern Rhodesian settlers desired a self-government and only after this was achieved in 1923 did they entertain the idea of a larger federation of colonies. By the time a commission began to work on how a federation could be a practical reality in 1927 it was Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia who was against it on the basis that they rejected the strict racial segregation of Southern Rhodesia. However, after decades of negotiations the federation became a fact on 3 September, 1953.

The various African political movements for national liberation were divided on the question of a federation. In Southern Rhodesia the African Voice Association (Voice), the Reformed Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (RICU) and the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC) were all deeply opposed to the federation. To begin the struggle against the federation they organised the All African Congress to mobilise the opposition. Robert Mugabe, then a school teacher and a member of the African National Congress (ANC), denounced the federation as an instrument to suppress self-determination. On the other side future struggle icons such as Joshua Nkomo and Jasper Savanhu participated in the talks which made the federation a possibility, and black members of the United Rhodesia Party (URP) worked in the federation structures. The reason for their support was that it was thought that the legislation of the new federation would bring an end to the segregationist laws particular to Southern Rhodesia.

In the late 1950's the various movements for national liberation in Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) were gaining momentum. Organisations such as the Zambian African National Congress (ZANC) was banned and their leader Kenneth Kaunda was arrested, but this did little to deter the African people struggling for liberation. In Southern Rhodesia in 1957 the SRANC merged with the African Youth League, and elected Joshua Nkomo their new leader. The independence of Ghana in 1957 became an inspiration to other liberation movements on the continent. In 1962 the British government relented to the demands of national independence for Zambia and Malawi. The two countries would become independent states in 1964 thus effectively ending the Federation of Rhodesia. The British government had demanded that they would not grant independence to any country which would not accept majority rule, which Southern Rhodesia refused. This caused Southern Rhodesia, under the leadership of Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Front  (RF) to declare independence without British consent. The new country took the name Rhodesia and was ruled by a white minority government and was immediately condemned by both the United Nations (UN) and the British government.

Rhodesia and Zimbabwe: The Struggle for National Liberation

The late 1950's saw an increased amount of resistance to colonial rule in Southern Rhodesia and the other Southern African countries. New political parties fighting for the liberation from white minority rule were getting increasingly organised and militant. The SRANC led by Joshua Nkomo started mass resistance campaigns, but was based on a philosophy of non-violence. The colonial authorities, frightened by the momentum towards independence, began to arrest struggle leaders and ban organisations. Between 1960 and 1965 over a thousand activists were arrested by the Rhodesian state police. With the banning of SRANC the National Democratic Party (NDP) was formed to replace it that same year. In 1961 the NDP was banned by the government and a new party, still under the leadership of Joshua Nkomo, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) was formed. In 1963 ZAPU had a split and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was formed and lead by Ndabaningi Sithole. Robert Mugabe was elected as General Secretary, although he was in Ghana at the time. It is debated whether the split between ZANU and ZAPU was originally because of ethnic tensions between Shona and Ndebele members of ZAPU, but it was as a part of this rift that ethnicity became a factor in Zimbabwean politics for Africans themselves.

As stated above in 1964 Ian Smith was elected Prime Minister, and declares Rhodesia an independent country under white minority rule in 1965. The election of Smith and his Patriotic Front brought with it more and increasingly severe repression. After the murder of a white farmer the Rhodesian security forces attempted to arrest the leadership of both the major liberation parties. After this incident and the increased oppression of their political activities both ZANU and ZAPU decided that they could only achieve national liberation through armed struggle. Joshua Nkomo was that same year arrested and imprisoned by the Rhodesian government until 1974. Another way for the Rhodesian regime to punish black people who took part in the organisations struggling for national liberation was to confiscate their property and make their families homeless.

In 1964 Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) was founded as the armed wing of ZAPU, and in 1965 the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) was founded as the armed wing of ZAPU. For the next 15 years the two liberation armies would fight the Rhodesian security forces in what is known either as the Rhodesian Bush War or as the second Chimurenga.

The first larger military engagements between Zimbabwean and Rhodesian forces was in 1966. In the beginning the war went well for the Rhodesian security forces. They won most engagements and the liberation armies did not have a major impact on the economy nor could they take and hold significant territories. There was a strong cooperation between the colonial regimes in South Africa, Mozambique and Rhodesia, and in 1971 they formally created an alliance in what is called; 'the Alcora'. Exercise. After 1972 the armed struggle intensified and the Rhodesian state was beginning to struggle. The conscription of white men was extended in age and in the amount of time each man had to serve. This also became a drain on the Rhodesian economy as such a large part of the white work force was fighting in the war.

By the mid-1970's, as Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal and South Africa was withdrawing most of its military support, it was impossible to win for the Rhodesian forces. ZANLA made little progress until 1976, however, as the whole of 1975 was marked by infighting in ZANU/ZANLA. ZANLA had two major internal insurrections by mainly the young and educated members of the organisation who joined up in the early 1970's. After the internal struggles of ZANLA was over in 1976 they were back on the offensive. After 1976 the main mission of the Rhodesian regime was now to gain a negotiated settlement which would allow for the white people of Rhodesia to hold on to their privileges. This meant that in 1977 the conflict escalated further so that ZANU and ZAPU would be forced to come to the negotiating table.

The Rhodesian security forces launched several operations into Mozambique to attack ZANLA and ZIPRA camps in the country. In return a Woolworth's department store in Salisbury was bombed by liberation forces in September of 1977. The Rhodesian government also began to support the Mozambican rebel group called Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) which would help fuel the Civil war in that country. In 1977 and 1978 over a thousand Zimbabwean refugees in Mozambique were killed by Rhodesian forces. ZIPRA forces, in return, shot down two civilian planes one in 1978 and one in 1979 killing 107 people in total.

In March 1978 some of the so-called moderate black political leadership such as Abel Muzorewa and Ndabaningi Sithole, made what was called “the Internal Settlement” with Ian Smith and the Rhodesian regime. The agreement basically stated that there would be national elections held where all white people and some black people could vote for a new national government. This election was held about a year after the agreement was made. In March 1979  Abel Muzorewa and his United African National Council (UANC) won the elections and Muzorewa became Prime Minister, although the new country remained unrecognised internationally. The entire Internal Settlement was condemn by the United Nations.

After the elections the new government began negotiations with the various parties fighting for national liberation. The most important of which where ZANU and ZAPU. These negotiations led to what is called the “Lancaster House Agreement” which was signed on 21 December 1979. All the various militias would return to Zimbabwe and stay in camps supervised British soldiers and as soon as possible Zimbabwe would hold new national elections. In return for independence the new government would wait ten years before beginning any land reforms in Zimbabwe, and that all land transfers would be on the basis of a willing buyer/willing seller principle. Elections were held in February 1980 and ZANU won a decisive victory. Robert Mugabe then became the first Prime Minister of an independent Zimbabwe. ZAPU under Joshua Nkomo came in second with about a third of ZANU's votes. The two parties decided to enter into a coalition to ensure national cohesion and to avoid any violence between ZANU and ZAPU.

The First two Decades After Independence

The years after independence was politically turbulent in Zimbabwe. Already in 1982 tensions arose after ZAPU and ZIPRA leaders were being arrested by the Zimbabwean government. Joshua Nkomo and all other ZAPU leaders had to step down from their government positions. The reason for the arrests and the sackings was that arms-caches had been discovered on ZAPU owned properties. In all the police stated that they found 31 arms caches hidden in the Gwaai area and around Bulawayo. Robert Mugabe accused ZAPU, and Joshua Nkomo, of wanting to overthrow the government, but Nkomo denied this. He later explained that the existence of ZAPU arms storage around the country was because a large amount of ZANLA weapons had disappeared, and that both ZIPRA and ZANLA did not seem to trust each other. The exit of ZAPU members from the government meant the end of the National Unity government and more trouble was brewing on the horizon.

Several arms caches was found in Matabeleland on 30 April, 1982, and on 23 July several American and Australian tourists were kidnapped by “dissidents”. The army was called in to put down any dissidents in the area in an operation called Gukurahundi. The infamous Fifth Brigade, trained by North Korean instructors and answerable only to the Prime Minister, was sent to Matabeleland. The army killed civilians which they claimed harboured dissidents, but it soon became obvious that it had become a campaign of indiscriminate killings of the Ndebele people in the area. Mugabe was seen as supporting these killings when he, on 8 April, 1983, proclaimed Matabeleland to be a “war-zone” and that they “cannot select who they fight in this kind of war because we cannot tell who is a dissident and who is not”. He also stated that anyone who fed or hid dissidents was part of the war. These statements were understood as any person in Matabeleland was potentially a dissident and therefore a target for war. The killings continued until 1987 and by that time an estimated 20.000 civilians had been killed in the conflict, most of them by government troops. The conflict was settled when ZAPU and ZANU signed the unity agreement in 1987. In the agreement the two parties were merged to create a new party called Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

However the 1990's would be no less politically turbulent. In the late 1980's and early 90's there were protests by university students against corruption and there was large scale pressure for an increased inclusion of black Zimbabweans into the economy. There had been few attempts at land reform so most of the arable land was still in the hands of white Zimbabweans. On top of all of this Zimbabwe is forced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to go through Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAP) in 1991. These structural adjustment programs came as a demand if developing countries wanted more loans from the international financial institutions. They included cuts in public spending, opening up the boarders for free trade, cutting of taxes, democratisation of the political system and privatising the economy. The measures were supposed to bring economic growth, but usually had disastrous effects. They also had serious protests and strikes by particularly public sector employees,which led to a great effect on their salaries. The effects of the government cut would lead to protests and discontent amongst most Zimbabweans.

To deal with the land issue, and for ZANU-PF to regain some popularity amongst the people, a land act was passed in 1992 which meant that the government could forcefully seize land for resettlement. The act was also introduced after accusations by the Zimbabwean government that the British government had never lived up to their part of the Lancaster House Agreement, in which they would fund a much larger part of the land reform program than they did. Zimbabwe could not afford to do land redistribution on a willing buyer/willing seller principle. There was also an issue that by 1985, most of the white farmers were no longer interested in selling any land, and as such driving the prices of land upward. The white farmers argued that they were a major driver in the economy and the largest employers in the country and that driving them out would have disastrous effects. ZANU-PF won a resounding victory in the 1990 elections and took this as popular support for land reform.

Land Reform and the Movement for Democratic Change

The land issue would however lay relatively dormant until 1997 when war veterans began to demand more monetary compensation for their part in the liberation struggle. The late 1990's was also marked by increasing civil society activities, general strikes, and rioting over increasing food prices. The government begins to print money to pay the war veterans and by 1999 they can no longer cover their loans to the IMF and the World Bank. That same year the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is formed under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai.  Meanwhile between 1997 and 2000 in the face of droughts, food price increases and a nation wide economic meltdown, many black Zimbabweans and war veterans had begun to occupy farm land on their own accord. International backers promised to support the program for land reform financially, and on 16 April, 2000, Mugabe decried the land invasions as a “problem”. The parliamentary elections on 24 and 25 of June, 2000,  went badly for ZANU-PF however, and the MDC won 47% of the vote against ZANU-PF's 48,6%. The elections were marred by violence against the opposition including the killing of several MDC members.

On June 28 that same year the government announced that it would begin to seize white owned farms. 3000 white owned farms were seized and thousands of black Zimbabweans were resettled on the land.  This program of farm seizures became known as the third Chimurenga. Protests erupted in the capital city of Harare, and in return there was extensive violence against members of the opposition party. The political turmoil, the bad economic planning and the printing of money led to runaway inflation, and by 2010 Zimbabwean dollars were practically worthless. In 2005 whole neighbourhoods in Harare were demolished in what the government called slum clearance, but the opposition claimed that it was targeted violence against their supporters.

The March 2008 the elections saw ZANU-PF loosing their majority in parliament for the first time since the country's independence. The election was again marred by political violence against the opposition. ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe refused to accept the results and a new election was held, but it was boycotted by the opposition parties. Because of the economic problems in the country the living standard for average Zimbabweans were plummeting in 2008, people did not have enough to eat and at the same there was a  major cholera outbreak. In August 2009 ZANU-PF and MDC sign a power sharing agreement, and formed an inclusive government. The new government brought an halt to some of the major issues facing Zimbabwe and 2008-2013 saw an increase in the general living standard in the country. 

After the 2013 elections in which there were suspicions of election fraud ZANU-PF again took power alone as they won 61,09% of the votes. In March 2013 there was a referendum on constitutional changes which would allow Robert Mugabe to remain as Head of the Government until 2023. In August 2016 major protests broke out all across Zimbabwe against the ZANU-PF government. The protesters were demanding electoral reform and was a reaction to low economic growth, bad governance, and persistent high unemployment. Another reason for the protests was attempts at bringing back the Zimbabwean dollar and attempting to block imports coming in from South Africa.

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela were political leaders and contemporaries whose backgrounds, stories, and ascents to power initially mirrored each other. Close in age, both were educated in Christian missionary schools, earned law degrees at the University College of Fort Hare in South Africa, became political activists, rose to prominence in their respective national liberation movements, and were sent to prison for their roles, Mugabe for 11 years and Mandela for 27. Upon emerging from prison, however, their paths diverged. Both were elected the first modern black leaders of their countries based on similar visions of freedom, reconciliation, and a “rainbow nation,” but while Mandela led South Africa out of the Apartheid era into an effectively functioning multiracial democracy, Mugabe devolved into a despot who divided Zimbabwe by race and by tribe and led the country to ruin. 

-18° 59' 29.9569", 26° 30' 39.6"

Alpers, Edward A. 1970. “Dynasties of the Mutapa-Rozwi Complex”, in The Journal of African History Vol. 11, No. 2, Problems of African Chronology (1970), pp. 203-220.| Beach, D. N. 1974. “Ndebele Raiders and Shona Power” in The Journal of African History, Vol. 15, No. 4 (1974), pp. 633-651.| Boston, Thomas D. 1981. “On the Transition to Feudalism in Mozambique” in Journal of African Studies; Washington D.C, 8.4, (winter 1981): 182.| Bowman, Larry W. 1973. Politics in Rhodesia: White Power in an African State. Harvard University Press | Chadya, Joyce M. 2016. “Ethnicity in Zimbabwe: Transformations in Kalanga and Ndebele Societies, 1860?1990”, Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne desétudes africaines, 50:1, 144-14.| Chanaiwa, David. 1972. “Politics and Long-Distance Trade in the Mwene Mutapa Empire during the Sixteenth Century” in The International Journal of African Historical Studies Vol. 5, No. 3 (1972), pp. 424-435.| Chikuhwa, Jacob Wilson. 2004. A Crisis of Governance: Zimbabwe, (2004), Algora Publishing: New York.| Chirikure, Shadreck., Manyanga, Munyaradzi.,  Pikirayi, Innocent and Mark Pollard. 2013. “New Pathways of Sociopolitical Complexity in Southern Africa” in The African Archaeological Review Vol. 30, No. 4 (December 2013). Page 342.| Chirikure, Shadreck., Manyanga, Munyaradzi., Pollard, Mark., Bandama, Foreman., Mahachi, Godfrey., Pikirayi, Innocent. 2014. “Zimbabwe Culture before Mapungubwe: New Evidence from Mapela Hill, South-Western Zimbabwe” in PLOS ONE 9(10): e111224. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111224. | Chung, Fay. 2006. Re-living the Second Chimurenga: Memories from the Liberation Struggle in Zimbabwe. THE NORDIC AFRICA INSTITUTE, 2006 Published in cooperation with Weaver Press. | Huffman, Thomas N. and Vogel, J. C. 1991. “The Chronology of Great Zimbabwe” in The South African Archaeological Bulletin Vol. 46, No. 154 (Dec., 1991).| Huffman, Thomas N. 2009. “Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe: The origin and spread of social complexity in southern Africa” in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 37–54. | Kalley, Jacqueline Audrey. 1999. Southern African Political History: A chronological of key political events from independence to mid-1997. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.| Maudeni, Zibani. 2004. “Why the African renaissance is likely to fail: the case of Zimbabwe” in Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 22:2, 189-212.| Mlambo, Alois S. 2014.  A History of Zimbabwe. Pretoria: Cambridge University Press.| Mudenge, S. I. 1974. “The Role of Foreign Trade in the Rozvi Empire: A Reappraisal”,The Journal of African History, Vol. 15, No. 3 (1974), pp. 373-391.| Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J. 2008. “Mapping Cultural and Colonial Encounters, 1880s – 1930s” in Becoming Zimbabwe: A history from the pre-colonial period to 2008, (Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo eds.). Published by Weaver Press: Harare.| Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S. J. 2009. The Ndebele nation: Reflections on hegemony, memory and historiography. Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers.| Oliver, R. & Atmore, A. 1975. Medieval Africa 1250-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.| Owomoyela, Oyekan. 2002. Culture and Customs of Zimbabwe, (2002), Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut. London. | Pikirayi, Innocent.  & Chirikure, Shadreck. 2011. “Debating Great Zimbabwe”, (2011), Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 46:2, 221-231, DOI: 10.1080/0067270X.2011.580149. | Raftopoulos, Brian. 1999. “Nationalism and labour in Salisbury, 1953–1956”, in Raftopoulos &| Yoshikuni (eds), 1999, Sites of Struggle, Essays on Zimbabwe’s Urban History. Harare: Weaver Press.| Sahlins, Marshall 1974. Stone Age Economics, (1974), Taylor & Francis Group.| Zvobgo, Chengetai J. M. 2009.  A History of Zimbabwe, 1890-2000 and Postscript, Zimbabwe, 2001-2008. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Further Reading

Emmerson Mnangagwa – the man behind Zimbabwe’s ‘coup’, PETER FABRICIUS ,16 November 2017, Daily Maverick

Botswana: SADC leaders meet to discuss Zim ‘coup’, PETER FABRICIUS ,16 November 2017, Daily Maverick