The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in S Africa. Most of the country lies on a high plateau between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, between 900 and 1,500m [2,950-4,920ft] above sea level.
The principal land feature is the High Veld, a ridge that crosses Zimbabwe from NE to SW. Harare lies on the north E edge, Bulawayo on the SW edge. Bordering the High Veld is the Middle Veld, the country's largest region and the site of many large ranches. Below 900m [2,950ft] is the Low Veld. The country's highest point is Mount Inyangani, which reaches 2,593m [8,507ft] near the Mozambique border. Zimbabwe's best-known physical feature, Victoria Falls, is in the NE. The Falls are shared with Zambia, as too is the artificial Lake Kariba which is also on the River Zambezi.
Wooded savanna covers much of Zimbabwe. The Eastern Highlands and river valleys are forested. There are many tobacco plantations.
The subtropical climate varies greatly according to altitude. The Low Veld is much warmer and drier than the High Veld. November to March is mainly hot and wet. Winter in Harare is dry but cold. Frosts have been recorded between June and August.
Bantu-speakers migrated to the region in ad 300. By 1200 the Shona established a kingdom in Mashonaland, E Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe was the capital of this advanced culture. Portugal formed trading links in the early 16th century. In 1837 the Ndebele displaced the Shona from W Zimbabwe and formed Matabeleland. In 1855 David Livingstone made the first European discovery of Victoria Falls. In 1888 Matabeleland became a British Protectorate. In 1889 the British South Africa Company, under Cecil Rhodes, received a charter to exploit the region's mineral wealth. In 1896 the area became Southern Rhodesia. In 1923 it became a British Crown Colony. European settlers excluded Africans from the government and economy. In 1953 Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and Nyasaland (Malawi) were joined as the Central African Federation. In 1961 Joshua Nkomo formed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). In 1963 the federation dissolved and Zambia and Malawi acquired African majority governments. Southern Rhodesia became simply Rhodesia. Robert Mugabe formed the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1964 the white nationalist leader Ian Smith became prime minister. Nkomo and Mugabe were imprisoned.
In 1965 the European government of Southern Rhodesia (then known as Rhodesia) declared their country independent. However, Britain refused to accept this declaration. Finally, after a civil war, the country became legally independent in 1980.
After independence, rivalries between the Shona and Ndebele people threatened its stability. Order was restored when the Shona prime minister, Robert Mugabe, brought his Ndebele rivals into his government. In 1987 Mugabe became the country's executive president and, in 1991, the government renounced its Marxist ideology. In 1990 the state of emergency that had lasted since 1965 was allowed to lapse - three months after Mugabe had secured a landslide election victory. Mugabe was re-elected in 1996. In the late 1990s Mugabe began to seize white-owned farms without paying compensation to owners. His announcement caused much disquiet among white farmers. The situation worsened in the early 2000s when landless 'war veterans' began to occupy white-owned farms, resulting in violence and deaths. Food shortages have become a major problem, with aid agencies blaming the land reform programme while the government blames drought.
In 2002, amid accusations of electoral irregularities, Mugabe was re-elected president. Mounting criticism of Mugabe led the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe's membership. Zimbabwe declared that it had pulled out of the Commonwealth permanently. In 2004 the European Union renewed sanctions against the country. In 2006-7 the country's problems worsened as economic mismanagement led to crippling hyperinflation, and rising political opposition was brutally suppressed.
The World Bank classifies Zimbabwe as a 'low-income' economy. Its economy has become significantly more diverse since the 1960s, having evolved to virtual self-sufficiency during the days of international sanctions between 1965 and 1980. After independence the economy underwent a surge in most sectors, with successful agrarian policies and the exploitation of the country's mineral resources. However, a fast-growing population continues to exert pressure both on land and resources of all kinds.
Agriculture employs approximately 30% of the people. Maize is the chief food crop, while cash crops include cotton, sugar and tobacco. Cattle ranching is another important activity. Gold, asbestos, chromium and nickel are mined and the country also has some coal and iron ore. Manufactures include beverages, chemicals, iron and steel, metal products, processed food, textiles and tobacco. The principal exports include tobacco, gold, other metals, cotton and asbestos.
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