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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
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.
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.