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Country Info > Zimbabwe> Visa Info > Travel Tips > Govt & Economy >Zimbabwe National Parks >History & People

ZIMBABWE HISTORY AND PEOPLE

Zimbabwe, formerly called Rhodesia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. Most of the country is a high plateau. Zimbabwe lies in the tropics but has a pleasant climate because of the high altitude. Zimbabwe's beautiful scenery includes the famous Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River along the country's northern border. Zimbabwe is a leading mineral producer. Harare (formerly called Salisbury) is the capital and largest city.

A Short Background

The UK annexed Southern Rhodesia from the South Africa Company in 1923. A 1961 constitution was formulated to keep whites in power. In 1965 the government unilaterally declared its independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded voting rights for the black African majority in the country (then called Rhodesia).

UN sanctions and a guerrilla uprising finally led to free elections in 1979 and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980. Robert MUGABE, the nation's first prime minister, has been the country's only ruler (as president since 1987) and has dominated the country's political system since independence.

PEOPLE AND HISTORY

Primarily of the Bantu group of south and central Africa, the black Zimbabweans are divided into two major language groups, which are subdivided into several ethnic groups. The Mashona (Shona speakers), who constitute about 75% of the population, have lived in the area the longest and are the majority language group.

The Matabele (Sindebele speakers), representing about 20% of the population and centered in the southwest around Bulawayo, arrived in within the last 150 years. An offshoot of the South African Zulu group, they maintained control over the Mashona until the white occupation of Rhodesia in 1890. More than half of the white Zimbabweans, primarily of English origin, arrived in Zimbabwe after World War II. Afrikaners from South Africa and other European minorities, including Portuguese from Mozambique, are also present.

Until the mid-1970s, there were about 1,000 white immigrants per year, but from 1976 to 1985 a steady emigration resulted in a loss of more than 150,000, leaving about 100,000 in 1992.

Renewed white emigration in the late 1990s and early 2000s reduced the white population to less than 50,000. English, the official language, is spoken by the white population and understood, if not always used, by more than half of the black population.
The literacy rate is estimated at 76%. Primary and secondary schools were segregated until 1979 when racial restrictions were removed. Since independence, the educational system had been systematically enlarged by the Zimbabwean Government, which is committed to providing free public education to all citizens on an equal basis.

As of the late 1970s, some 50% of the African children (5-19 years old) were listed officially as attending rural schools. Today, most African children attend primary school. Primary through post-secondary enrollment has expanded from 1 million to about 2.9 million since independence.

About 40% of the rural primary schools were destroyed during the Rhodesian conflict, which delayed improvement of the rural education system. Higher education, offered at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, the new National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, the new Africa (Methodist) University in Mutare, several teacher-training colleges, and three technical institutes, are being expanded with assistance from several donor countries.

Early History
Archaeologists have found stone-age implements and pebble tools in several areas of Zimbabwe, a suggestion of human habitation for many centuries, and the ruins of stone buildings provide evidence of early civilization. The most impressive of these sites is the "Great Zimbabwe" ruins, after which the country is named, located near Masvingo. Evidence suggests that these stone structures were built between the 9th and 13th centuries A.D. by indigenous Africans who had established trading contacts with commercial centers on Africa's southeastern coast.

In the 16th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to attempt colonization of south-central Africa, but the hinterland lay virtually untouched by Europeans until the arrival of explorers, missionaries, ivory hunters, and traders some 300 years later. Meanwhile, mass migrations of indigenous peoples took place. Successive waves of more highly developed Bantu peoples from equatorial regions supplanted the original inhabitants and are the ancestors of the region's Africans today.

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