Zimbabwe History

The area that is today Zimbabwe had been populated by bantams for hundreds of years when European settlers began to arrive in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1923, the country became a British colony named Southern Rhodesia. In 1965, the white minority government in Rhodesia declared the country to be independent, but the secession from Britain was not internationally recognized.

After a liberation war, the country became an independent nation in 1980, taking the name Zimbabwe, after the ruin city of Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the historic kingdom of Zimbabwe.

Older history

Zimbabwe is one of the most populous parts of Africa. Archaeological finds from around 500,000 years ago probably originate from the ancestors of the hunter and sanctuary people who found refuge in the country about 20,000 years ago and for which there are many finds in the form of cave paintings. They belonged probably san – the people who lived throughout southern Africa. They were later displaced, including to the Kalahari Desert, where they are still living. Bantu-speaking peoples immigrated from Central Africa from the 400s AD and are probably the ancestors of today’s Shona speechfolk. With the boom migration, tools of iron, better cultivation methods and permanent settlement were introduced. Significant gold discoveries were made and trade with Arab merchants on the East African coast began. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Zimbabwe.

From the 1100s, economic progress laid the groundwork for state formation that partly existed side by side, and partly followed one another, until the 1830s. The largest of these is the Zimbabwe dynasty (c. 1100–1450), from which the well-preserved Great Zimbabwe ruins originated, and which has given the modern state its name. This kingdom was followed by the Torwa dynasty, which ruled for about 200 years.

According to oral tradition, a Bantu-speaking people known as rozvi moved into Zimbabwe in the 1300s. Their leader took the title Munhu Mutapa, and in the 1400s, the Munhu Mutapa kingdom reached its greatest extent and controlled most of Zimbabwe as well as parts of today’s Mozambique. The kingdom entered into agreements with the Portuguese, who were allowed to travel and trade in the country. The Portuguese established trading stations, and conflicts arose. The Munhu Mutapa empire disintegrated after Portuguese military action against the empire in 1628-1629. Portuguese trade continued and even the eastern parts of Zimbabwe were haunted by slave traders.

A clan that erupted from Munhu Mutapa, from the 1680s, formed another significant state, the Rozvi Empire, gradually with a center of gravity in the south and southwest, including by subjugating the Torwa state. New strong state formation did not emerge after Rozvi was weakened in eastern and southern parts of the country, but the Shona people organized themselves into smaller chiefs. Buhera, an ancient state established in the 13th century, continued to exist, but was fragmented. A number of small states joined the Duma Confederation.

A larger movement of Bantu-speaking people from present-day South Africa took place from 1830, and also affected Zimbabwe. In the early 1800s, Venda and Sotho- speaking people came from the south and settled in the south and southwest. In the early 1830s, ngoni people moved through Zimbabwe. They helped to weaken the Rozvi Empire, but wandered further and settled further north and east. Greater influence had the Ndebele invasion in 1837, when Zulu General Mzilikazi went north and settled in Matopos in western Zimbabwe. He was subservient to the Rozvi Empire, which after an attempted military uprising in 1857 was defeated – and disintegrated.

At the same time, an Ndebele state emerged, which, from the 1870s, had its heyday under Mzilikazi’s successor Lobengula, with attacks against the smaller Shona states, which towards the end of the century had better access to weapons and were better able to defend themselves. The immigration and state formation of the Ndebele has had a lasting impact on Zimbabwe, with contradictions between the Ndebele minority and the Shona majority being a political conflict dimension in modern times as well.


From the 1850s, European hunters, traders and missionaries visited Zimbabwe, and formed ties with Mzilikazi and Lobengula. Of greatest importance was the group of colonists from South Africa who settled in the future capital of Salisbury (Harare) in 1890. The invasion was part of the construction of the British Empire from Cape to Cairo, and was staged by Cecil Rhodes, businessman and prime minister of the Cape Colony. He, with British diplomatic support, used his British South Africa Company(BSAC) to the invasion, which ended with King Lobengula being deposed in 1893, after he had tried to fight the invaders, and white rule was also introduced in Matabeleland.

Faced with the European threat, with the seizure of land and cattle, as well as forced labor, both the Ndebeles and Shona groups in 1896–1997 revolted against the occupation, in what is referred to as the first liberation struggle (chimurenga). The Ndebeles signed a peace agreement with the colonists; the Shonas were beaten without any deal. Prior to this, in 1889, Portuguese interests had made efforts to gain a foothold in eastern Zimbabwe. The rebellion of the 1890s gained long-term political significance, both by strengthening the position of the whites, until the country became a British colony of internal autonomy in 1923, and by fueling the War of Liberation (the Second Chimurenga) in the 1970s.

BSAC continued to rule Rhodesia after the uprising, and increased European immigration, establishment of farms and mining. After World War I, the demand for self-government increased, and a vote among the country’s 34,000 European citizens in 1922 gave a majority for self-government rather than association with the South Africa Union. When the country subsequently became independent as a self-governed British colony (1923), it was ruled by a white minority of about 5 percent of the population. Discriminatory laws from the BSAC board were continued, and an apartheid regime was institutionalizedwhich ensured European control over land and cheap African labor. The land was divided into zones and distributed between Africans and whites, the latter receiving a disproportionate share and in addition the parts most suitable for agriculture.

World War II led to economic upswing in Southern Rhodesia, and after 1945 the white population increased from 80,000 to 205,000 in 1958 – and with that demand for independence. At the same time, urbanization increased, even with a large influx of Africans, which promoted political organization and demands for equal rights. In 1953–1563 Southern Rhodesia was part of the Central African Federation along with Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi). The federation collapsed when Zambia and Malawi became independent in 1964.

The white minority in Southern Rhodesia opposed independence with majority rule, and after the Rhodesian Front (RF) won the election in 1965, the new government, led by Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared Rhodesia an independent state on November 11, 1965. Smith’s regime was illegal and was condemned by the United Nations, which in 1968 adopted financial sanctions against the country. The British colonial power did not want to intervene against the rebels, although Rhodesia was still formally British. Under Smith’s rule, racial segregation was tightened, and earlier attempts at liberalization were reversed. On March 2, 1970, Smith declared Rhodesia a republic.