· February, 2023

Great Zimbabwe ruins still standing strong. Image by Simonchihanga, from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED).

Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, is a nation with a rich history, diverse cultures, and a promising future. Zimbabwe has a complex history that encompasses ancient civilizations, colonization, independence, and a period of political turmoil under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, who served as the nation's president for more than three decades.

The country is located between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the north, and Mozambique to the east. The capital and largest city is Harare, and the second largest is Bulawayo.

Since 2008, Zimbabwe has been a multi-currency country, using various currencies to combat hyperinflation. This period of hyperinflation experienced during the early 2000s, caused severe economic hardships for its citizens. However, the Zimbabwe dollar was reinstated in 2019  as the local currency by the government. 

Zimbabwe has potential for economic growth and improved living standards due to its strong human capital and abundant mineral resources. However, according to a recent report by the World Bank, the country faces challenges such as triple-digit inflation and skill shortages. Despite a high GDP growth rate driven by agriculture and mineral exports, the parallel market exchange rate remains unstable.

The country has a diverse linguistic and cultural landscape. Worldometers estimates that the current population is over 16 million, with Shona the largest ethnic group, making up 80 percent of the population, followed by the Northern Ndebele and other smaller minorities. As outlined in its constitution,  the country also has 16 official languages. However, according to World Atlas only approximately 2.5 percent of the population speak English as their native language, while Shona is spoken by over 70 percent of the population, and Ndebele, spoken by roughly 20 percent.

A brief history of Zimbabwe

The history of Zimbabwe is marked by the migration of different ethnic groups, including the Khoisan, Mashona (Shona people), and Matebele people. The discovery of rock or ”bushman” paintings across Zimbabwe dating back over 5,000 years confirms that Zimbabwe was home to some of the earlier art and civilizations. The Khoisan people created these paintings, and their language is known for its click consonants. The Mashona people migrated to the area in 300 AD and traded with the Phoenicians. The Shona people built the ruins of Great Zimbabwe; a medieval stone city of astounding wealth and prestige. The city became one of the major African trade centers by the 11th century but was abandoned by the mid-15th century.

Portuguese settlers arrived in the 17th century and significantly disrupted trade in the region. The Matebele people, an offshoot of the Zulu Kingdom, conquered the Mashona in 1834 and established the Matebele Kingdom. In 1888, Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman and imperialist, obtained mining rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele peoples and used this concession to persuade the United Kingdom to grant a royal charter to his company, British South Africa Company (BSAC) over Matabeleland and Mashonaland. In 1890, he justified sending the Pioneer Column, a group of well-armed Europeans protected by the British South Africa Police (BSAP), into the region to establish Fort Salisbury (now Harare) and institute company rule. With the aid of their new Maxim guns, the BSAP defeated the Ndebele in the First Matabele War in 1893 and 1894.

Rhodes also sought permission to negotiate similar concessions covering the territory between the Limpopo River and Lake Tanganyika, known as “Zambesia” at the time. These concessions and treaties encouraged mass settlement, with the British maintaining control over labor, as well as valuable minerals and other resources.

In 1898, the BSAC adopted the name Southern Rhodesia for the region in honor of Rhodes. The country became a British colony in 1923 and later gained independence from Britain in 1980. Robert Mugabe, the leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), became the first president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe's rule was characterized by political repression and economic mismanagement. He was ousted from power in a coup in 2017. Mugabe resigned in 2017 after the coup, and Emmerson Mnangagwa became the president.

Recent years and the promise of a better tomorrow

In recent years, Zimbabwe has faced a series of economic and political challenges. These include the hyperinflation that affected the country during the early 2000s. In addition, land reform policies implemented to address historical imbalances in land ownership stirred controversy and had significant implications for the nation's agricultural sector. In August 2023, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was reelected in a contentious presidential contest, triggering post-election tensions and allegations of state reprisals against perceived adversaries.

However, amidst the challenges Zimbabwe has faced, the country remains a land of natural beauty and diverse culture. The country boasts an abundance of wildlife, attracting tourists to its national parks and reserves. Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, is a prominent natural wonder drawing visitors from around the globe.

Zimbabwe is a nation with immense potential. Through its rich history, the struggle for independence, and the challenges faced in contemporary times, Zimbabwe stands as a testament to human endurance and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Read our Special Coverage below to learn more.

Stories about Remembering the Great Zimbabwe from February, 2023

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