After independence in 1980, the government,
led by Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe, initially invested in
political reconciliation and economic development. But
the contradictions soon intensified and a civil conflict
demanded thousands of lives in a few years. During the
1990s, Zimbabwe was in economic crisis, and organized
opposition to Mugabe emerged. In 2000–2002, the
government forcibly passed a land reform that drove
thousands of whites from their farms. The economy was
shattered, people became without food and work, and the
regime's repression increased. The opposition party MDC
won more and more supporters.
After Zimbabwe's independence, Robert Mugabe was a
supported hero of freedom, with great support both at
home and abroad. As newly elected prime minister, he
appointed a unity government with ministers from both
his own party Zanu-PF (Zimbabwe's
African National Union - Patriotic Front) and from
Joshua Nkomo's Zapu-PF (Zimbabwe
African People's Union; see Older History).
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Zimbabwe. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In his first speech to the nation, Mugabe also
extended an atonement hand to the white minority, which
had previously held power. He kept many whites on
important records. A reconstruction program was started.
The elementary school became public and free of charge.
Poor Zimbabweans were given the right to free health
care and minimum wages were introduced. A program for
redistributing land from white farmers to black small
farmers was launched. However, the reform remained
toothless for a long time, as the landowners themselves
had to choose if they wanted to sell land.
Soon there were contradictions between Zanu-PF, which
was dominated by the country's largest population group,
Shona and Zapu-PF, which had its base with the minority
people ndebele (see Population and language). Zapu-PF
leader Nkomo was dismissed from the post of Interior
Minister in 1982. Many members of the former Zapu-PF
guerrillas deserted from the new army and armed
resistance grew among the Ndebel people in Matabeleland.
Mugabe sent there an elite band consisting solely of
shona, whereupon all resistance was brutally defeated.
About 20,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed
in pure massacres in 1983-86. The violence, called the
gukura dog, put its finger on the historical conflict
between Shona and Ndebele.
Mugabe becomes president
By constitutional amendments in 1987, the Prime
Minister's post was abolished and the presidential power
was strengthened. At the same time, Mugabe assumed the
presidency. In December of the same year, Zapu-PF was
effectively dissolved, formally by joining Zanu-PF. In
return, Nkomo was again given a seat in the government.
The Zapu-PF guerrillas in Matabeleland received
impunity, the soldiers surrendered to the authorities
and the uprising was definitely over.
In the early 1990s, the country was hit by acute
financial problems and the government was forced to turn
to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World
Bank for assistance. Zimbabwe was obliged to tighten
public spending. Wages were lowered for government
employees and cuts were made in health care and
education. Most Zimbabweans saw their living standards
fall, which led to dissatisfaction and protests against
The 1995 parliamentary elections were boycotted by
several opposition parties since they were prevented by
Zanu-PF from freely spreading their political messages.
The boycott made the choice in advance. Zanu-PF won all
but two seats.
Despite poor finances, in 1997 Mugabe granted
veterans from the War of Independence large sums from
the Treasury as compensation for the war efforts. Mugabe
also announced that the hitherto so slow land reform
would be intensified. The white landowners would no
longer receive full compensation for their land and
farms would be forcibly acquired by the state.
Confidence in Zimbabwe among international lenders
was damaged and popular dissatisfaction increased. The
national organization ZCTU announced strikes and
demonstrations, and its Secretary General Morgan
Tsvangirai quickly became one of the country's most
MDC is formed
In 1998, the crisis deepened dramatically. The
government's threat to seize the whites' agriculture
caused the IMF to hold a large loan. In this situation,
the government chose to contribute 11,000 soldiers to
the government side in the ongoing war in
Congo-Kinshasa. The reason is believed to have been that
the political and military elite were attracted by
lucrative contracts in the Congolese mining and weapons
industry. But the war became expensive and for
Zimbabweans life conditions deteriorated rapidly.
The situation gave rise to real opposition for the first
time since independence. In September 1999, the
opposition party was formed the Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC)) with
Morgan Tsvangirai as leader. The party attracted mainly
the middle class of the cities but also union activists,
students, white landowners and academics.
In February 2000, the people voted for the first time
against the government. This was done in an important
referendum on a series of constitutional changes that
would, among other things, give the president more
power. The defeat made the governing body realize that
MDC had the opportunity to win the parliamentary
elections later that year.
The electoral movement became violent. The regime
strengthened its influence over the police and the
judiciary and began to intervene more and more against
the opposition. MDC supporters were threatened and
beaten. Independent and opposition pressures were
prevented from operating. In the countryside, Zanu-PF
staged the long-awaited land reform. Party militia began
to occupy farms owned by whites. Through threats and
beatings - and in the dozen cases of murder - the white
farmers were driven away from their farms. It also led
to about 400,000 black farm workers losing their jobs
and homes. Disruptions occurred in the important tobacco
industry and the tourist flow slowed. Mugabe openly
supported the occupations, despite the courts declaring
When the election was held in June 2000, despite the
harassment, MDC won 57 of the 120 electoral seats.
Zanu-PF received 62 seats. MDC won big in major cities
and in Matabeleland, while Zanu-PF prevailed in the
Agriculture is collapsing
Zanu-PF retained government power and, after the
election, put great effort into quashing the MDC. New
security laws were introduced, and slums around Harare
were transformed into war scenes when military deployed
Milisen continued to occupy farms, businesses and
hospitals. Mugabe allowed to evict white landowners
without judicial review or compensation. The idea was
that the land reform would strengthen the regime's
cards. It was politically popular to seize the large
farms, but it got a high economic price. The important
commercial agriculture collapsed and famine arose. Aid
organizations were banned from distributing food because
the government suspected that they supported the
Before the presidential elections in March 2002,
Mugabe and Tsvangirai were opposed. The number of
polling stations in the cities was reduced, while they
became more rural, which was considered to favor Zanu-PF.
The government was criticized for its actions by human
rights organizations, the EU and the US. The EU decided
to take home its election observers after Mugabe
expelled the group's leader, the Swedish Pierre Schori.
Mugabe was declared victorious with 54 percent of the
vote against Tsvangirai's 40 percent. The EU and the
United States judged the elections either freely or
fairly, and both imposed sanctions on Zimbabwean leaders
(see Foreign Policy and Defense).
After the election, land reform was pushed even
harder. The party militia besieged farms and forced
peasants away. Several hundred white landowners were
arrested. The evictions were unlawfully declared by the
Dependent on food assistance
In November 2002, the government declared land reform
completed. Of the thousands of commercial farms, a few
hundred remained. The small farmers who would replace
the white farmers lacked both agricultural tools and
knowledge and capital. In addition, it turned out that
the seized properties often went to people in the circle
around Mugabe. Instead of a fair redistribution, land
reform became more of a reward system for loyalists. At
the same time, half the population had become dependent
on food aid for their survival. The consequences were
devastating for the country (see Economic overview and
Agriculture and fisheries).
The MDC's activities are even more circumscribed
after the presidential election through, among other
things, a ban on meetings and a host of arbitrary
arrests of oppositionists. Tsvangirai was tried in 2003,
charged with treason and attempted murder at Mugabe.
Despite the compact resistance, MDC managed in 2003 and
2004 to organize a series of strikes and protests. In
October 2004, Tsvangirai was acquitted in the murder
trial and in August 2005 the government withdrew its
allegations of high treason.
Before the March 2005 parliamentary elections, it was
largely calm, although the electoral movement, according
to both the opposition and foreign observers, was
characterized by cheating and harassment by the regime's
opponents. Neither media nor opposition could operate
freely. Zanu-PF won by a good margin.
After the election, the government started operation
murambatsvina ("clear the garbage"). Officially, it was
a campaign against the black economy, aimed not least at
street traders. But not only illegal squares were
demolished, but entire slums in Harare and other cities
were leveled. Church leaders, doctors, teachers and
human rights groups denounced the actions as "a war
against the poor". The majority of the campaign was
oppositional. After just over a month, 700,000 people
were left without a roof. Many were without housing even
several years later, while the black economy was
strengthened as soon as the official economy collapsed.
MDC is shattered
In August 2005, the Zanu-PF-dominated parliament
adopted a series of constitutional amendments. Among
other things, Parliament was given a second chamber, the
Senate. The president was given the right to appoint a
quarter of the senators, while the rest would be elected
in general elections. When the Senate election was
announced in November, a devastating crisis arose within
the MDC. Party leader Tsvangirai called for an election
boycott, but the party leadership voted to stand in the
election. In practice, the party was split into two
factions. MDC candidates got seven seats while Zanu-PF
took the rest. As in previous elections, the Western
world was critical, while most African countries
continued to express their support for Mugabe.
After the Senate elections, Tsvangirai continued as
leader of MDC's largest group. The breaker faction
appointed academic Arthur Mutambara as its leader and
came to be called MDC-M (see Political system).
At the beginning of 2007, political tensions
increased significantly. The regime introduced a
demonstration ban. When the opposition defied it many
were arrested and abused. Among several high-ranking MDC
politicians who were affected were Tsvangirai, who was
arrested several times and at one time had to be
hospitalized after being arrested in the detention
center. So-called war veterans and youth militia devoted
themselves to harassing, threatening and abusing
journalists, human rights advocates and others.
At the same time, the country was in financial
turmoil. Inflation began to surge and the government
tried to parry by constantly printing new banknotes (see
further Economic overview).
With mediation assistance from South Africa's
President Thabo Mbeki - on behalf of South Africa's
collaboration organization SADC - MDC and Zanu-PF agreed
in September 2007 on a series of constitutional changes
ahead of planned elections the following year. The
purpose was to avoid a threatening election boycott from
Zanu-PF loses the majority
But in January 2008, the government announced
presidential and parliamentary elections in March.
Neither a new constitution nor preparation for the
election was clear, and the conditions for a free and
fair election were considered minimal. Despite this,
MDC's two factions decided to participate.
The election resulted in Zanu-PF losing his majority
in the House of Parliament after 28 years in power. The
largest party was the MDC group led by Tsvangirai. And
when the results of the presidential election were
published just over a month after the election, it
turned out that Mugabe lost here too, with 43 percent of
the vote against 48 for Tsvangirai. Since no one got
over half the votes, a second round of voting would be
held. Many observers believe that Tsvangirai without
victory had won in the first round.
The message was followed by an outbreak of violence.
It turned out that Mugabe did not intend to risk losing
power. Now threats and harassment have turned into
brutal attacks against MDC supporters. Tens of thousands
of people were chased from their homes, thousands beaten
and about 200 murdered during the wave of violence.
Tsvangirai himself was arrested on several occasions but
released each time without prosecution.
When only five days remained until the crucial
election day at the end of June, Tsvangirai resigned,
citing the violence. The UN Security Council condemned
the violence against the opposition and ruled that the
conditions for a fair election were lacking. But the
election was held, and as the only candidate Mugabe
Zimbabwe was now in crisis, with an
opposition-controlled parliament, a president-elect on
dubious grounds and a free-fall economy.
Unity government is formed
Under pressure from the outside world, the parties
agreed on a division of power: Mugabe remained as
president and Tsvangirai received a newly created Prime
Minister's post. A transitional government would
implement political reforms, draft a new constitution
and announce new elections within two years.
The co-government works poorly. Soon, the
dissatisfaction within the MDC grew over the fact that
political reforms were going too slowly and that the
supporters of the party were still subjected to
harassment while high posts were added by Zanu-PF
without MDC being asked. At the same time, the
settlement contributed to a clearing of the economic
crisis, not least by halting hyperinflation.
After several years of offensive and bleeding, a
proposal for a new constitution of the electorate was
adopted in a referendum in March 2013. The new
constitution meant certain restrictions on the
president's powers at the same time as the prime
minister's post was abolished. The Constitution came
into force in May.
In July elections were held. The campaign before the
election ran without any more serious outbreaks of
violence, but Tsvangirai accused the government of
cheating and irregularities, including for manipulating
Zanu-PF won both elections. Mugabe received 61
percent of the vote against 34 percent for Tsvangirai in
the presidential election. In the National Assembly,
Zanu-PF gained more than two-thirds majority and thus
the opportunity to independently enforce new
The MDC claimed that extensive cheating was taking
place, and was supported by local election observers and
western countries. However, the regional cooperation
organization SADC and the African Union (AU) found that
the election reflected the voters' will and on the whole
was carried out correctly. In September, Mugabe began
his seventh term.