The 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 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 (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) following World War II, Southern Rhodesia chose to remain a colony when its two partners voted for independence in 1963.
A constitution was formulated in 1961 that favored whites in power. In 1965, the government declared its independence, but the United Kingdom did not recognize the act and demanded voting rights for the black African majority. On March 1, 1970, Rhodesia formally proclaimed itself a republic.
On March 3, 1978, Prime Minister Ian Smith, Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the African National Congress, Ndabaningi Sithole, and Chief Jeremiah Chirau signed an agreement to transfer power to the black majority by December 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 co-ministers with whites.
The white minority consented to hold multi-racial elections in 1980, and Robert Mugabe won a landslide victory. The country achieved independence on April 17, 1980, under the name Zimbabwe. Mugabe established a one-party socialist state. By 1990, he instituted multi-party elections and in 1991, deleted all references to Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism from the constitution. In 1996, Mugabe won another term as president.
In 2000, veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence began squatting on land owned by white farmers in an effort to reclaim land taken under British colonization. One-third of Zimbabwe's farmable land was owned by 4,000 whites. In August 2002, Mugabe ordered all white commercial farmers to leave their land without compensation. Mugabe's land redistribution campaign caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities.
In March 2002, Mugabe was re-elected president 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.
Parliamentary elections in March 2005 were judged by international monitors to be flawed. In mid-2005, Zimbabwe demolished 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, Harare.
In June 2007, Mugabe instituted price controls on all basic commodities causing panic buying and leaving store shelves empty for months. By the end of 2008, inflation skyrocketed to 231,000,000%, unemployment reached 80%, and the Zimbabwean dollar was basically worthless.
Zimbabweans expressed anger at the polls in March 2008 elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a majority of the seats in Parliament, a defeat for Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF. Four days after the vote, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Movement for Democratic Change, declared himself the winner. Mugabe refused to concede until the vote count was complete. Zimbabwe's High Court dismissed the opposition's request for the release of election results. In April, police raided the offices of the opposition and election monitors. After the election, supporters of Mugabe began a campaign of violence that left more than 30 people dead and hundreds wounded. Tsvangirai fled the country, fearing assassination attempts. He returned to Zimbabwe in late May.
On May 2, election officials released the results of the vote, with Tsvangirai defeating President Robert Mugabe. A runoff election was necessary because neither candidate won more than 50% of the vote. Leading up to the runoff election, police intensified their crackdown on Tsvangirai and members of his party. At least 85 supporters of the MDC were killed in government-backed violence. Officials banned rallies and repeatedly detained Tsvangirai for attempting to do so. Tsvangirai's top deputy, Tendai Biti was arrested on charges of treason. Biti denied he committed treason and several members of Parliament alleged the charges were trumped up.
In June 2008, Mugabe barred humanitarian groups from providing aid, a move that aid organizations estimated would deny about two million people much needed assistance. The ban was lifted in September, and aid groups were correct in their prediction that the suffering would intensify under the ban.
The presidential election took place in late June and Mugabe was elected to a sixth term, taking 85% of the vote. President George W. Bush joined Nelson Mandela and other world leaders who condemned the election and the government-sponsored crackdown on the opposition. China and Russia blocked the U.S. led effort in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. Bush responded in July by expanding existing U.S. sanctions against Mugabe, companies in Zimbabwe, and individuals.
In August 2008, Lovemore Moyo, national chairman of the opposition party was elected to the post of speaker of Parliament, prevailing over the candidate of President Mugabe's party. It is the first time a member of the opposition held the post since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.
In September, President Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to a power-sharing deal that called on the leaders to share executive authority. Tsvangirai would serve as prime minister. Mugabe would continue as president. Both sides balked at suggestions by negotiators that Mugabe and Tsvangirai share control over the Ministry of Home Affairs, which controls the police force, stalling implementation of the agreement. Talks dragged on for the remainder of 2008, but the two sides failed to reach consensus.
With Zimbabwe residents facing hunger, empty store shelves, a non-existent health system, rampant unemployment, inflation at 231 million percent, and political instability, a cholera epidemic broke out in August 2008. At least 565 people died from the disease, and another 12,000 were infected.
Tsvangirai agreed in January 2009 to enter into a power-sharing government with Mugabe, and he was sworn in as prime minister in February. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change will control 13 of the 31 ministries in the new government, while Mugabe's ZANU-PF was allocated 15. The parties would share responsibility for the contested Ministry of Home Affairs.
In March 2011, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled that the election of Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo, as head of the House of Assembly was null and void. Moyo's election to the top legislature post was challenged by Jonathan Moyo, who argued that the ballot process was marred by irregularities. Lovemore Moyo was re-elected on March 29, 2011 as Speaker of Parliament defeating Khaya Moyo.
Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) produced a draft constitution in January 2013. Voters approved the document in a referendum in March 2013. The constitution imposed term limits on future presidents, eliminated the president's veto power, and devolved power to the provinces. President Mugabe signed the new constitution into law in May 2013.
Mugabe took 61% of the vote in presidential elections on July 31, 2013. Mugabe's Zanu-PF party also won 158 out of 210 seats in parliament. The opposition alleged the election was rigged.
In April 2014, Morgan Tsvangirai was suspended from the MDC. In June, the high court blocked the suspension until the legitimate leader is determined.
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