Iron AgeBantu-speaking peoples began migrating into the area about 2,000 years ago, including the ancestors of the Shona, who account for roughly four fifths of the country's population today. Ruins at Great Zimbabwe, a Shona-speaking state, attest the existence of a medieval Bantu civilization in the region. Linked to the establishment of trade ties with Muslim merchants on the Indian Ocean coast around the early 10th century CE, Great Zimbabwe began to develop in the 11th century. The state traded gold, ivory, and copper for cloth and glass. It ceased to be the leading Shona state in the mid-15th century.
In 1837 the Shona were conquered by the Ndebele, who forced them to pay tribute. Later in the 19th century British and Boer traders, hunters, missionaries, and hunters stated encroaching on the area.
In 1888 British imperialist Cecil Rhodes extracted mining rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele. In 1889 Rhodes obtained a charter for the British South Africa Company, which conquered the Ndebele and their territory (named "Rhodesia" in 1895 after Cecil Rhodes) and promoted the colonization of the region and its land, labor, and precious metal and mineral resources. Both the Ndebele and the Shona staged unsuccessful revolts against white colonialist encroachment on their native lands in 1896-1897.
In 1911 the territory was divided into Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia, the latter becoming a self-governing British colony in 1922. In 1953 the two parts of Rhodesia were reunited in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and after its dissolution in 1963 the whites demanded independence from Southern Rhodesia (Rhodesia from 1964).
As African majority governments were assuming control in neighboring Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland, the white-minority government, led by Ian Smith, declared unilateral independence on November 11, 1965. The United Kingdom called the declaration an act of rebellion but did not reestablish control by force. When negotiations in 1966 and 1968 proved fruitless, the UK requested UN economic sanctions against Rhodesia. The white-minority regime declared itself a republic in 1970. It was not recognized by the UK or by any other nation.
Muzorewa, who not only had the support of Smith but with the white-minority regime in South Africa as well, lacked credibility among significant sectors of the African population. The Muzorewa government soon faltered. In 1979 the British Government asked all parties to come to Lancaster House in an attempt to negotiate a settlement in the civil war.
Following the conference, held in London (1979-1980), Britain's Lord Soames was appointed governor to oversee the disarming of revolutionary guerrillas, the holding of elections, and the granting of independence to an uneasy coalition government with Joshua Nkomo, head of Zimbabwe African People's Union. In the free elections of February1980, Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) won a landslide victory. Mugabe has won reelection ever since.
In 1982 Nkomo was ousted from his cabinet, sparking fighting (known as the Gukurahundi) between ZAPU supporters in the Ndebele-speaking region of the country and the ruling ZANU. A peace accord was negotiated in 1987, resulting in ZAPU's merger (1988) into the ZANU-PF.
The drought in southern Africa, perhaps the worst of the century, affected Zimbabwe so severely that a national disaster was declared in 1992. The drought confounded the country's debt crisis. The ensuing IMF-backed economic adjustment and austerity program caused further widespread hardship.
Despite majority-rule, whites made up less than 1% of the population but held 70% of the country's commercially viable arable land. Land redistribution reemerged as the vital issue beginning in 1999.
In the aftermath of Mugabe's handling of the land crisis, which moved to redistribute land to blacks, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations on charges of human rights abuses and of election tampering in 2002. Later, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth.
The UN has recently estimated that 34% of the population has HIV/AIDS.
The government of Zimbabwe faces a wide variety of difficult economic problems as it struggles to consolidate earlier progress in developing a market-oriented economy. Its involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, has already drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. Badly needed support from the IMF suffers delays in part because of the country's failure to meet budgetary goals. Inflation rose from an annual rate of 32% in 1998 to 59% in 1999 and to 208% in February2003, expected to reach 350% by the end of the year. The economy is being steadily weakened by AIDS; Zimbabwe has the highest rate of infection in the world.
The destruction of much of Zimbabwe's agricultural base through the seizing of mainly white-owned farms throughout 1999 and 2000 has decimated the Zimbabwean economy. The political situation makes it unlikely that the West will be inclined to do much more than provide sustenance assistance.
The lack of foreign currency, as well as the difference between the official exchange rate (officially 55 to the US$, while 1600 to the dollar is available on the black market) have resulted in fuel shortages and a lack of basic supplies. Libya supplied fuel, partially in exchange for land, but Zimbabwe could not meet the basic payments, and supplies have been stopped. Without fuel, the demise of the economy continues apace.