Zimbabwe Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Zimbabwe is a country located in Eastern Africa. With the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe has a population of 14,862,935 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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).

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Zimbabwe.

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 government.
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 popular leaders.

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 them illegal.

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 other countryside.

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 against protesters.

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 opposition.

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 judiciary.

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 the opposition.

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 easily won.

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 voting lengths.

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 constitutional changes.

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.

Zimbabwe Modern History