Zimbabwe derives its name from historical stone structures called “Great Zimbabwe” (houses of stone), the largest in Africa after the pyramids of Egypt. The stone sculptures were built in stages between 800 and 1500 A.D. They are the remaining evidence of a past imperial capital of imposing architecture whose wall, made up of millions of hand cut brick sized blocks of granite fitted together without mortar or cement, still stand, about 11 metres high and six metres thick in places. The Great Enclosure is about 250 metres in circumference. Its zenith the city had 20 000 to 30 000 inhabitants. Great Zimbabwe became a citadel, a regional Mecca and famous for world trade centre. Thus as Europe was emerging from the Dark Ages, two centuries before the Norman conquest of England, Great Zimbabwe National Monumentan Africans were founding a great civilization, which lasted for six hundred years. Smaller stone structures were found at Khami, Dhlodhlo, Nalatele and 250 other sites in present day Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Despite difficulties of communication those days, African people developed powerful state formations, extensive administrations and sophisticated socio-economic networks. Historical evidence shows that the people had skills in agriculture, animal husbandry and metal smelting (iron, copper and gold). However the Bantu people did not develop a form of writing, hence little is known of their history before the Great Zimbabwe era. Rather more is known of the period after contact with the Portuguese in the 16th Century, i.e. the Munhumutapa, Torwa and Rozvi empires.
Throughout the centuries, Southern Africa was also inhabited by people with a different life style. The San (Bushmen) people did not live in cities or villages, nor did they cultivate the fields or keep domesticated animals. They were hunters and fruits gatherers. Their history is immortalized on thousands of rock paintings, some of which are more than 30 000 years old. Few San people still remain in Zimbabwe, but groups can still be found in the Kalahari Desert areas of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
By the 19th century, Cave drawing, the great Shona speaking empires had disintegrated into numerous principalities and chiefdoms. At the same time, a powerful kingdom emerged in Kwazulu Natal under King Shaka. Upheavals in that region drove one of Shaka’s generals, Mzilikazi, and his soldiers northwards until they settled in the western part of Zimbabwe about 1836 after subduing the local Shona chiefs. In 1860, his son, Lobengula, became the second and last Ndebele king. He was deposed by British troops in 1893.
European penetration into Zimbabwe began through Christian missionaries who befriended King Mzilikazi in 1858. They were followed by fortune hunters, soldiers, and land grabbing settlers. Cecil John Rhodes and his British South African Company bought the Rudd Concession from King Lobengula ostensibly for mining purposes, but he brought an army and settled at present day Harare in 1890. Thereafter, Rhodes declared war on Lobengula and overthrew him and named the country Rhodesia. As a British colony, Rhodesia was characterized by:
1. A massive land grab exercise, which drove thousands of Africans, often at gunpoint, from 50% of the country into reservations, now called communal lands. Land was taken without compensation to the owner and given to Rhodesian soldiers, or later to veterans of the two world wars of the 20th century, or to any white settler, but not to black persons. This racial land division was consolidated by the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and the Land Tenure Act of 1969, which prohibited blacks to own land in white areas.
2. The exclusion of Africans from the political process. Africans were denied the right to vote or stand for parliament, or to hold high office in the army, police or public service.
3. Africans were excluded from the best schools, residential areas, and other amenities, which were reserved for whites only. Rhodesia was a mirror image of the apartheid policy, which then prevailed in South Africa.
From 1960 onwards, major contradictions developed between colonial policy in London, which now wanted change, and the Rhodesian administration, which opposed majority rule, resulting in the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of 1965 by the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith. Despite judgements by the highest courts in Rhodesia and England that the rebellion was illegal and treasonous, the British government refused to send troops to quell the rebellion, but imposed economic sanctions, which were to last for fourteen years.
Africans resisted British rule from the beginning of European settlement. Although King Lobengula was defeated in 1893, Africans in both Mashonaland and Matabeleland took up arms in the First Chimurenga War of 1896-97, which was led by the famous spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi. The uprising was suppressed by the use of unparalleled brutality and torture of the prisoners of war and civilians. For the following 60 years there was no armed opposition to British minority rule. Political, labour protests and unrest continued.
Following the UDI, the Africans launched the Second Chimurenga (liberation war) with the Chinhoyi Battle in 1966. Up to 1970, freedom fighters fought sporadic battles with Rhodesian security forces. The Rhodesian security forces were largely supported by South African Army. This period was followed by sustained war led by the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) supported by the independent African states, especially Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Botswana, and also by China and the Soviet Union. The liberation war ended in December 1979, following the Lancaster House Conference, at which the Rhodesian regime and the British government conceded defeat and granted independence under a democratic constitution. Zimbabwe emerged as an independent state on 18th April 1980 with Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister and Canaan Banana as ceremonial President.
The first seven years of Independence brought many changes to Zimbabweans. Fearing retribution for the many atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by the former white regimes and ninety years of racial discrimination and oppression on the African people, most whites fled the country in spite of the declaration of the policy of reconciliation by Prime Minister Mugabe and proclamation of a general amnesty. The white population dropped from 250 000 to 100 000. It is now estimated to be 75 000. Significantly however, the white farmer population remained constant and prosperous. Its numbers were reduced from 5 000 to 4 500 farmers, during the first ten years of independence. The racial division of land remained to haunt Zimbabwe.
During this period the government rapidly consolidated African control of the army, police, civil service and other arms of government. The country went through a period of unrest, when rebel soldiers waged a terror campaign in which many civilians in Matabeleland were killed or mutilated. It took government forces three years in which to suppress the revolt during which the security forces were accused of having used excessive force. The bush rebels surrendered their arms when ordered by Joshua Nkomo following the signing of Unity Accord of 1987, which resulted in the merging of ZAPU Party into ZANU (PF) with President Mugabe as President, and Joshua Nkomo and Simon Muzenda as Vice Presidents. The Unity Accord ushered in a period of peace and tranquillity, which lasted until 1999.
Significant constitutional changes occurred in 1987. The post of Prime Minister was abolished in favour of an executive president. The 20 parliamentary seats that had been reserved for whites who constituted less than 1 per cent of the electorate were abolished. Zimbabwe became a fully fledged democracy.
In 1981, Government created the Department of Rural Development (DERUDE) for the purposes of resettling 162 000 families on 9 million hectares within three years. By the end of 1987, only 45 000 families had been settled on 2 million hectares. Slower progress was made in the next 12 years. By the end of 1999, a total of 90 000 families had been settled on 3.5 million hectares. The main reasons for this failure to achieve the stated objectives with respect to land distribution was there restrictive legal framework for land distribution and unfulfilled promises by the international community. The US$2 billion promised for land acquisition/resettlement by the UK and US governments at Lancaster House Peace Conference did not materialise. American money pledged by President Carter was arbitrarily stopped by his successor, President Reagan, and his Assistant Secretary, Chester Crocker. Some British money did come between 1981 and 1995 totalling US$75 million. The British Labour government stopped further payment after 1996, saying they no longer recognized colonial commitments to Zimbabwe. The repudiation of pledges by Britain is the direct cause of the land crisis of the year 2000. The Zimbabwe government amended its laws so as to allow faster resettlement without British money. Over 60 000 liberation war veterans and other landless Africans occupied 1 700 farms owned by white farmers from February 2000 as a demonstration of their anger and frustration at the continuation of racial division of land, which still prevailed 20 years after independence. In July 2000, the government embarked on a “fast track” resettlement programme, acquired over 3 000 farms, and resettled about 100 000 families in six months. The stated target at the beginning of the “fast track” land resettlement programme was to acquire a total of 5 million hectares and resettle approximately 110 000 families. The land resettlement programme is an on-going programme, whose aim is to meet the land desires of Zimbabweans, by targeting the following:
1. Derelict land
2. Underutilised land
3. Land owned by absentee landlords
4. Land owned by a person with more than one farm
5. Land exceeding the prescribed limit in a region
6. Land contiguous to communal lands
These criteria are designed to increase the availability of land for resettlement, and to yield higher levels of agricultural production. The beneficiaries of the resettlement programme are:
1. People living in overpopulated communal lands
2.Displaced farm workers with no home to return to
3. People with special competence in agriculture, e.g. master farmers, agricultural graduates
4. Special disadvantaged groups, e.g. women, charitable organizations, cooperatives
To ensure fairness, government pays farmers for all improvements made on land acquired (estimated to constitute 80% of the farm value) and leave compensation for the farm acquired to the British government. Government has also pledged that anyone who wants to remain a farmer will be accommodated. In the event that farmers loses their only farm, government will allocate the individual farms in suitable areas for them to carry out their farming operations.
Large-scale commercial farming accounts for cash crops like tobacco, cotton, sugar, tea, coffee, etc. These products earn valuable foreign exchange and employ thousands of workers. At the same time, government provides black small-scale and peasant farmers financial and extension services to enable them to undertake large-scale commercial farming as producers of maize (the staple food), cotton, and groundnuts. At independence, commercial farmers produced over 90% of these crops. For the past 15 years, black farmers and peasants have produced over 70% of the maize and cotton annually. In the first ten years of independence Zimbabwe achieved phenomenal success in education, health, housing and social service sectors. The focus of many of the government programmes was in the rural areas where the majority of the people reside. At independence, only 40% of children went to primary school, but by 1985, over 93% were attending school. Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates (87%) and one of the most educated labour force. Following Zimbabwe’s independence there was also rapid expansion in secondary and tertiary education. In the health sector, government achieved a significant shift of facilities and resource allocation from urban to rural areas, and from curative to preventive health care.
Zimbabwe was born in an insecure international environment. Apartheid South Africa was then a hostile and powerful neighbour. It was the biggest trading partner with ability to destabilize Zimbabwe and other neighbouring states. More than 10 000 troops had to be deployed in Mozambique for seven years in support of FRELIMO government in their fight against the rebel movement RENAMO, which was supported by South Africa.
At home, security forces were on constant alert against South African bombs and subversion. The Zimbabwe government remained steadfast in its support of the liberation movement in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe quickly became an active member of the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Non-Aligned Movement. On the regional front, the government joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and COMESA. Aside from the United Nations, Zimbabwe hosted summit meetings for these organizations, and participated in many conferences elsewhere. Zimbabwe is an active member of the United Nations and its soldiers rendered distinguished service in peace keeping duties, in Angola, Bosnia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.