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Atlas Zimbabwe

Country (long form)
Republic of Zimbabwe
Total Area
150,803.78 sq mi
390,580.00 sq km
11,342,521 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
English (official), Shona, Sindebele (the language of the Ndebele, sometimes called Ndebele), numerous but minor tribal dialects
85.0% total, 90.0% male, 80% female (1995 est.)
syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs) 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs 24%, Muslim and other 1%
Life Expectancy
39.18 male, 36.34 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
parliamentary democracy
1 Zimbabwean dollar (Z$) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$2,400 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 66%, services 24%, industry 10% (1996 est.)
mining (coal, gold, copper, nickel, tin, clay, numerous metallic and nonmetallic ores), steel, wood products, cement, chemicals, fertilizer, clothing and footwear, foodstuffs, beverages
corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, peanuts; cattle, sheep, goats, pigs
Arable Land
tobacco 23%, gold 14%, ferroalloys 7%, cotton 6% (1997 est.)
machinery and transport equipment 39%, other manufactures 18%, chemicals 15%, fuels 10% (1997 est.)
Natural Resources
coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, platinum group metals
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation; soil erosion; land degradation; air and water pollution; the black rhinoceros herd - once the largest concentration of the species in the world - has been significantly reduced by poaching
Telephones (main lines in use)
212,000 (1997)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
70,000 (1999)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
10 (1999)

Southern Africa's human history extends back through the millennia to the first rumblings of humanity on the planet. The first upright-walking 'hominids' established themselves in the savannas of southern and eastern Africa nearly 4 million years ago. These human-like creatures slowly developed into persons-as-we-know-'em as more sophisticated tools were produced and climatic conditions became more favourable. By the middle Stone Age, which lasted until 20,000 years ago, organised hunting and gathering societies had been established, and by 8000BC, late Stone Age people occupied rock shelters and caves all over southern Africa. The first inhabitants of Zimbabwe were probably nomadic, adaptable San groups, gradually absorbed by Khoi-Khoi grazier tribes, and slowly transmuting into a culture known as Khoisan.

Bantu-speaking farmers, either Khoisan settlers or Iron Age migrants from the north, were the first occupants of the Great Zimbabwe site in the south of the country. Between 500 and 1000AD, the Gokomere (a Bantu group into gold-mining and cattle ranching) enslaved and absorbed San groups in the area. As early as the 11th century, some foundations and stonework were in place at Great Zimbabwe and the settlement, generally regarded as the nascent Shona society, became the trading capital of the wealthiest and most powerful society in south-eastern Africa. The hilltop acropolis at Great Zimbabwe came to serve not only as a fortress but as a shrine for the worship of Mwari, the pre-eminent Shona deity. By the 15th century, Great Zimbabwe's influence had begun to decline, due to a heady cocktail of overpopulation, overgrazing, popular uprisings and political fragmentation.

The Shona dynasties fractured into autonomous states, many of which later formed the Rozwi state, which encompassed over half of present-day Zimbabwe well into the 19th century. In 1834, Ndebele raiders invaded from the south, assassinated the Rozwi leader and established a Ndebele state with the capital at Bulawayo. Meanwhile, European gold seekers and ivory hunters from the Cape were moving into Shona and Ndebele territory. The best known of these was Cecil John Rhodes who envisioned a corridor of British-style 'civilisation' stretching all the way from the Cape to Cairo. Sanctioned by Queen Victoria, white settlers swarmed in, led by the heavy-handed Rhodes. By 1895, the new country was being referred to as Rhodesia and a white legislature was set up. By 1911 there were some 24,000 settlers.

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. 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 conditions led to rebellion and African political parties emerged.

Ian Smith became Rhodesia's president in 1964 and began pressing for independence. 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. The Declaration was declared illegal by Britain, and the UN imposed sanctions (mostly ignored) in 1968. 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.

Internationally, Muzorewa was taken about as seriously as the Spice Girls, and when Margaret Thatcher became British PM in 1979, she applied steely fix-it attention to the situation. A constitution was painfully thrashed out between Smith, Muzorewa, and other high-ranking nationalists such as Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. In the carefully monitored election of March 1980, Mugabe prevailed by a wide margin and Zimbabwe joined the ranks of Africa's independent nations.

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. 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.

Zimbabwe's citizens have become increasingly impatient with Mugabe as his large-scale mismanagement has filtered down as hip-pocket pinch. In Harare in early 1998, the dissatisfaction spilt over into open hostility, riots and looting. Although the country is recovering from the catastrophic drought of the early 1990s, the economy remains in dire straits. Zimbabwe, and Mugabe in particular, have come under increasing scrutiny due to the worrying increase in politically motivated human rights abuses and general climate of fear.

Mugabe was reelected in March 2002, but the election was controversial and marred by scandal. The rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has united with other civic organizations in continuing protests for a new constitution and against Mugabe's dictatorial tactics. Mugabe has accused his rivals of treason and clamped down on journalists who dare criticize his regime. International leaders are keeping a close watch on the situation and hoping to stave off further chaos through negotiations.