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Modern History of Zimbabwe

Amazingly, the Ndebele and Shona natives weren't overly delighted about the colonists coming in and telling them what was what, even though the Brits were ever so reasonable about everything and had jolly nice safari suits. Jihad-like revolts, raids and razzing in the last years of the 19th century became known as Chimurenga, the War for Liberation, but the fight stalled in 1897 when the crusade leaders were captured and hanged.


After 1923, European immigrants concentrated on developing Rhodesia's rich mineral resources and agricultural potential. The settlers' demand for more land led in 1934 to the passage of the first of a series of land apportionment acts that reserved certain areas for Europeans.

Conflicts between black and white came into sharp focus during the 1920s and '30s through referenda and legislation which excluded black Africans from ownership of the best farmland and from skilled trades and professions. The effect was to force Africans to work on white farms and in mines and factories. Poor wages and poor conditions led to rebellion and the emergence of African political parties.

By the 1950s the political future of all African colonies is under intense discussion. Among the European population of the two regions first settled by Rhodes's company there is a general assumption that sooner or later Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia will merge to form a single independent nation.

But this is resisted by the Africans, now beginning to find a political voice. Black opposition is strongest in the northern colony, with its much smaller white minority. Here, from the African point of view, the danger of union seems all too evident. Northern Rhodesia will be overshadowed by the strong European culture of Rhodesia, postponing perhaps indefinitely the ideal of independence under black majority rule.

In September 1953, Southern Rhodesia was joined in a multiracial Central African Federation with the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in an effort to pool resources and markets. Although the federation flourished economically, the African population, who feared they would not be able to achieve self-government with the federal structure dominated by White Southern Rhodesians, opposed it.

In the early 1960s African politicians in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland win increasing power in their legislative councils. The pressure grows to break up the federation. This political pressure from Rhodesia's African majority, combined with support for their cause from the United Nations, causes the federal government in 1961 to introduce a new constitution, allowing for African representation in Rhodesia's parliament.In March 1963, by which time all three colonies are demanding independence, the British government finally concedes. The federation is formally dissolved on 31 December 1963 after much crisis and turmoil. Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became the independent states of Zambia and Malawi in 1964.

The European electorate in Rhodesia, however, showed little willingness to accede to African demands for increased political participation and progressively replaced more moderate party leaders. In April 1964, Prime Minister Winston Field, accused of not moving rapidly enough to obtain independence from the United Kingdom, was replaced by his deputy, Ian Smith. Prime Minster Smith led his Rhodesian Front Party to an overwhelming victory in the 1965 elections, winning all 50 of the first roll seats and demoralizing the more moderate European opposition.

On April 1964, four months after the end of the federation, Smith replaces Field as prime minister of Rhodesia, now once again a separate self-governing colony. His first act in office is to order the arrest of Nkomo and Mugabe. Each remains in detention until 1974 (Sithole joins them from November 1965).

Although prepared to grant independence to Rhodesia, the United Kingdom insisted that the authorities at Salisbury first demonstrate their intention to move toward eventual majority rule. Desiring to keep their dominant position, the white Rhodesians refused to give such assurances. When he realised that Britain's conditions for cutting the tether wouldn't be accepted by Rhodesia's whites, he made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11, 1965, after lengthy and unsuccessful negotiations with the British Government.

The country resisted the demands of black Africans, and Prime Minister Ian Smith withstood British pressure, economic sanctions, and guerrilla attacks in his effort to uphold white supremacy.

The Declaration was declared illegal by Britain, and the UN for the first time in history imposed mandatory economic sanctions on a state (mostly ignored) on December 16, 1966. The British Government imposed sanctions on Rhodesia and requested other nations to do the same.

Rhodesia's primary exports including ferrochrome and tobacco, were placed on the selective sanctions list, as were shipments of arms, aircraft, motor vehicles, petroleum, and petroleum products to Rhodesia.

On May 29, 1968, the Security Council unanimously voted to broaden the sanctions by imposing an almost total embargo on all trade with, investments in, or transfers of funds to Rhodesia and imposed restrictions on air transport to the territory.

The sanctions take a long time to bite. Meanwhile guerrilla activity by separate ZAPU and ZANU forces from across the borders is having rather more unsettling effect - particularly after Nkomo and Mugabe settle their differences in 1976 and form a united Patriotic Front.

The two major African nationalists groups--the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which split away from ZAPU in 1963--were united into the "Patriotic Front" and combined their military forces, at least nominally.

The African parties opted for increasingly fierce guerilla warfare (known as the Second Chimurenga) and whites began to abandon their homes and farms. Smith tried ceasefires, amnesties, secret talks and sneaky assassinations, all of which failed to curb the fighting. Finally, he was forced to call a general non-racial election and hand over leadership to Abel Muzorewa, an African National Congress member.

In return for guarantees securing white political and economic interests, multi-racial elections will be held in 1979. With the Patriotic Front banned from participating, Muzorewa emerges as prime minister of a transitional government. But nothing is solved. The Patriotic Front continues its guerrilla campaign.

Shortly after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's conservative government took power in May 1979, the British began a new round of consultations that culminated in an agreement among the Commonwealth countries as the basis for fresh negotiations among the parties and the British involving a new constitution, free elections and independence.

The British and the African parties began deliberations on a Rhodesian settlement at Lancaster House in London on September 10, 1979. On December 10, 1979, in preparation for the transition under British authority to officially recognized independence, the "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia" reverted de facto to colonial status. On December 12, British Governor Lord Christopher Soames arrived in Salisbury to reassert British authority over the colony. His arrival signaled the end of the Rhodesian rebellion and the "internal settlement," as well as the beginning of Zimbabwe's transition to independence. The United Kingdom lifted all remaining sanctions against Zimbabwe that day. The United States lifted sanctions effective December 16.

On December 21, after 3 months of hard bargaining, the parties signed an agreement at Lancaster House calling for a cease-fire, new elections, a transition period under British rule, and a new constitution implementing majority rule while protecting minority rights. The agreement specified that upon the granting of independence, the country's name would be Zimbabwe. The same day, the UN Security Council endorsed the settlement agreement and formally voted unanimously to call on member nations to remove sanctions.

UDI is overturned and Rhodesia reverts briefly to the status of a British colony. Elections are organized for February 1980. A constitution was painfully thrashed out between Smith, Muzorewa, and other high-ranking nationalists such as Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe.

During the transition period, nine political parties campaigned for the February 27-29 pre-independence elections. The elections were supervised by the British Government and monitored by hundreds of observers, most of whom concluded that, under the prevailing circumstances, the elections were free and fair and reflected the will of the people. Robert Mugabe's ZANU (PF) party won an absolute majority and was asked to form Zimbabwe's first government.

Mugabe, a committed Marxist, has hung on to power ever since. He's survived resurgent rivalry and guerilla activity through a canny combination of dirty government, gerrymander and intimidation.

In a series of public statements during the transition period, Prime Minister Mugabe indicated that he was committed to a process of national reconciliation and reconstruction as well as moderate socioeconomic change. His priorities were to integrate the various armed forces, reestablish social services and education in rural areas, and resettle the estimated one million refugees and displaced persons. Mugabe also announced that his government would begin investigating ways of reversing past discriminatory policies in land distribution, education, employment, and wages.

It seems unlikely that Mugabe will ever get his one-party state - especially after the collapse of the USSR, the landslide defeat of Kaunda (a very mixed-up Marxist) in neighbouring Zambia, and the increasingly strident demands by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and aid donors for the introduction of greater democratic measures in return for loan or aid.

In seeking national reconciliation, Prime Minister Mugabe's first cabinet comprised members of ZANU-PF, PF-ZAPU, and independent white members of parliament (MPs) and senators. The government embarked on an ambitious reconstruction and development program and instituted increases in minimum wages. Land redistribution proceeded under four experimental models on land that the government had purchased at market rates from willing sellers.

Zimbabwe's citizens became increasingly impatient with Mugabe as his large-scale mismanagement filtered down as hip-pocket pinch. In Harare in early 1998, the dissatisfaction spilt over into open hostility, riots and looting.

The spirit of anarchy escalated during wide-scale seizures of white-owned farmland by squatters in 2000, followed in 2002 by a goverment imposed land-acquisition law that dispossesed a further 3000 white farmers of their land. The resultant production shortfalls led to desperate food shortages, famine and an economy left shattered. Most recently, the government amended the constitution which cancels all freehold title to property and bars those whose property has been expropriated from appealing to the courts.

Last Updated on Monday 4th August 2008