President: Robert Mugabe (1980)
Land area: 149,293 sq mi (386,669 sq km); total area: 150,804 sq mi (390,580 sq km)
Population (2007 est.): 12,311,143 (growth rate: 0.6%); birth rate: 27.7/1000; infant mortality rate: 51.1/1000; life expectancy: 39.8; density per sq mi: 82
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Harare, 2,331,400 (metro. area), 1,919,700 (city proper)
Other large cities: Bulawayo, 965,000; Chitungwiza, 411,700
Monetary unit: Zimbabwean dollar
Languages: English (official), Shona, Ndebele (Sindebele), numerous minor tribal dialects
Ethnicity/race: African 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%), mixed and Asian 1%, white less than 1%
Religions: syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs) 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs 24%, Muslim and other 1%
Literacy rate: 91% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2006 est.): $25.36 billion; per capita $ $2,100. Real growth rate: –4%. Inflation: 976.4% official data; private sector estimates are much higher (yearend 2006 est.). Unemployment: 80%. Arable land: 8%. Agriculture: corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, peanuts; sheep, goats, pigs. Labor force: 3.96 million; agriculture 66%, services 24%, industry 10% (1996). Industries: mining (coal, gold, platinum, copper, nickel, tin, clay, numerous metallic and nonmetallic ores), steel; wood products, cement, chemicals, fertilizer, clothing and footwear, foodstuffs, beverages. Natural resources: coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, platinum group metals. Exports: $1.766 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): cotton, tobacco, gold, ferroalloys, textiles/clothing. Imports: $2.055 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): machinery and transport equipment, other manufactures, chemicals, fuels. Major trading partners: South Africa, Switzerland, UK, China, Germany, Botswana (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 331,700 (2006); mobile cellular: 832,500 (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 7, FM 20 (plus 17 repeater stations), shortwave 1 (1998). Radios: 1.14 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 16 (1997). Televisions: 370,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 6 (2000). Internet users: 1 million (2005).
Transportation: Railways: total: 3,077 km (2002). Highways: total: 97,440 km ; paved: 18,514 km ; unpaved: 78,926 km (2002 est.). Waterways: the Mazoe and Zambezi rivers are used for transporting chrome ore from Harare to Mozambique. Ports and harbors: Binga, Kariba. Airports: 430 (2002) .
International disputes: dormant dispute remains where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe boundaries converge.
Zimbabwe, a landlocked country in south-central Africa, is slightly smaller than California. It is bordered by Botswana on the west, Zambia on the north, Mozambique on the east, and South Africa on the south.
The remains of early humans, dating back 500,000 years, have been discovered in present-day Zimbabwe. The land's earliest settlers, the Khoisan, date back to 200 B.C. After a period of Bantu domination, the Shona people ruled, followed by the Nguni and Zulu peoples. By the mid-19th century the descendants of the Nguni and Zulu, the Ndebele, had established a powerful warrior kingdom.
The first British explorers, colonists, and missionaries arrived in the 1850s, and the massive influx of foreigners led to the establishment of the territory Rhodesia, named after Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company. In 1923, European settlers voted to become the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia. After a brief federation with Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the post–World War II period, Southern Rhodesia (also known as Rhodesia) chose to remain a colony when its two partners voted for independence in 1963.
On Nov. 11, 1965, the conservative white-minority government of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain. 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. On March 1, 1970, Rhodesia formally proclaimed itself a republic. Heightened guerrilla war and a withdrawal of South African military aid in 1976 marked the beginning of the collapse of Smith's 11 years of resistance.
Black nationalist movements were led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the African National Congress and Ndabaningi Sithole, who were moderates, and guerrilla leaders Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), who advocated revolution.
On March 3, 1978, Smith, Muzorewa, Sithole, and Chief Jeremiah Chirau signed an agreement to transfer power to the black majority by Dec. 31, 1978. They formed an executive council, with chairmanship rotating but with Smith retaining the title of prime minister. Blacks were named to each cabinet ministry, serving as coministers with the whites already holding these posts. African nations and rebel leaders immediately denounced the action, but Western governments were more reserved, although none granted recognition to the new regime.
The white minority finally consented to hold multiracial elections in 1980, and Robert Mugabe won a landslide victory. The country achieved independence on April 17, 1980, under the name Zimbabwe. Mugabe eventually established a one-party socialist state, but by 1990 he had instituted multiparty elections and in 1991 deleted all references to Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism from the constitution. Parliamentary elections in April 1995 gave Mugabe's party a stunning victory with 63 of the 65 contested seats, and in 1996 Mugabe won another six-year term as president.
In 2000, veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence in the 1970s began squatting on land owned by white farmers in an effort to reclaim land taken under British colonization—one-third of Zimbabwe's arable land was owned by 4,000 whites. In Aug. 2002, Mugabe ordered all white commercial farmers to leave their land without compensation. Mugabe's support for the squatters and his repressive rule has led to foreign sanctions against Zimbabwe. Once heralded as a champion of the anticolonial movement, Mugabe is now viewed by much of the international community as an authoritarian ruler responsible for egregious human rights abuses and for running the economy of his country into the ground.
In March 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations. That month Mugabe was reelected president for another six years in a blatantly rigged election whose results were enforced by the president's militia. In 2003, inflation hit 300%, the country faced severe food shortages, and the farming system had been destroyed. In 2004, the IMF estimated that the country had grown one-third poorer in the last five years.
Parliamentary elections in March 2005 were judged by international monitors to be egregiously flawed. In April, Zimbabwe was reelected to the UN Commission on Human Rights, outraging numerous countries and human rights groups. In mid-2005, Zimbabwe demolished its urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 people homeless in an operation called “Drive Out Trash.” In 2006, the government launched “Operation Roundup,” which drove 10,000 homeless people out of the capital.
Since 2000, Zimbabwe has experienced precipitous hyperinflation. By 2007, inflation had reached nearly 7,000%, by far the world's highest. Unemployment ranges from 70% to 80%. According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy. The opposition, clearly emboldened by the economic collapse and the lack of available necessities in Zimbabwe, attempted to hold an antigovernment rally in March 2007. Police arrested and beat dozens of activists, including Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe banned political meetings and forbid political opponents from leaving the country.
Representatives from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and the governing ZANU-PF party met in South Africa in September 2007 and agreed to constitutional changes that will allow presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously in 2008. The opposition, however, said the changes did little to dilute Mugabe's hold on power.