Complete History of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Flag
Zimbabwe Flag

The Complete History of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is one of the most important nations in Africa. It is located in the southern portion of the continent, perched between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers, and it shares its borders with Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, and Zambia. Harare is the capital city and also the largest in the country. Zimbabwe has a fascinating history, and we will explore the same below. 

Prehistoric Era

Studies by archaeologists show that humans have settled in the area that is now Zimbabwe as far back as 100,000 years ago. The first set of inhabitants of the region are believed to be the San people, and they left artifacts like cave paintings and arrowheads. Then the first set of farmers speaking Bantu migrated to the area during the famed Bantu expansion about 2,000 years ago.

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Stoneage paintings by the San located near Murewa, Zimbabwe.

Pre-Colonial Era (1000-1887)

The Bantu speakers who came with the migration were the ones behind the Early Iron Age pottery of the Matola or Silver Leaves tradition, all from the 3rd to 5th centuries AD in the southeastern portion of Zimbabwe. 

With time, the Shona speakers also migrated to the area. With time, the Kingdom of Mapungubwe became the first trade states formed in Zimbabwe around the time the first set of European explorers arrived from Portugal. Commerce was done involving glass, ivory, copper, and gold. However, from 1250 to 1450, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe became more prominent than Mapungubwe. From around 1450 to 1760, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe itself became eclipsed by the Kingdom of Mutapa. 

Colonial Period (1888 – 1980)

The colonial period proper began in the late 19th century when the British South Africa Company owned by diamond tycoon Cecil Rhodes started making incursions into the area. By 1898, the place was named after him and was called Southern Rhodesia. 

In 1888, Rhodes got a concession to mine from King Lobengula of the Ndebele tribes, and he forwarded the privilege to allow the government of Britain to give a royal charter to his company all over Matabeleland and even other states like Mashonaland. He would later be able to establish mines for the extraction of diamond ores, and with time, Southern Rhodesia would come to mean the area to the south of the Zambezi River. 

The Shonas did not find it funny with the colonialists and launched a series of wars called the Chimurenga against Cecil Rhodes and his company. They failed in their insurrection, and by the end of the 19th century, the Shona and Ndebele tribes became subjugated by Rhodes, thus paving the way for more European settlers. This would continue until October 1923, when Southern Rhodesia got a new status as a self-governing colony of Britain following a referendum that was organized in 1922. 

Subsequently, the British forces took absolute control of Rhodes’ company, but Southern Rhodesia was able to govern itself to a good extent. The land became a hot issue when the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 divided land between the people, with an overwhelming proportion of the land going to the minority European settlers. 

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Southern Rhodesia stamp: princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on the 1947 royal tour of South Africa

In the early 1950s, the British colonial government decided to combine Rhodesia’s colonies with Nyasaland, which is now Malawi in the doomed Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, as the people of Nyasaland rejected the move. To make things worse, there was a growing wave of African nationalists. By 1962, Britain announced that Nyasaland could secede from the Federation and Northern Rhodesia did the same too later on. 

The coming of African-majority powers in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia amplified the calls for independence. In response, the white minority government controlling Southern Rhodesia led by Ian Smith made a unilateral move for independence, and this led to a civil war with the black nationalists led by Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. 

Independence and the 1980s

On the 18th of April, 1980, Zimbabwe officially became an independent nation, and many world leaders like President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, and President Seretse Khama of Botswana graced the event. Robert Mugabe became the first leader of post-independence Zimbabwe in his position as the prime minister, and he quickly changed the name of the capital from Salisbury to Harare. Zimbabwe’s economy grew tremendously until it became one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. 

However, tensions between blacks and whites and even among the different ethnic groups, especially the Shonas and Ndebeles, broke out. Things became so bad that from 1983 to 1984, Mugabe deployed the military to several parts of Matabeleland to suppress the Ndebele people. This campaign is called the Gukurahundi massacre, and over 20,000 civilians were killed. 

Mugabe consolidated his grip on power and dominated the country’s political landscape until he became one of the world’s longest-serving rulers. Mugabe’s government faced stringent sanctions from the West, and the economy was wrecked. 

The 1990s till Date

Robert Mugabe dominated the nation through the 1990s until he was forced from office in November 2017 after spending more than 30 years in office. Emmerson Mnangagwa took office as president following the ouster of Mugabe. Zimbabwe is very rich in natural resources, but it is still struggling with several complicated challenges. 

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