Zimbabwe country profile

The struggle for independence, land and power runs throughout Zimbabwe’s history. Veteran President Robert Mugabe has dominated the country’s political scene since independence from Britain in 1980.

Landlocked, the southern African country is bordered by Zambia in the north, Mozambique in the east, Botswana in the west and South Africa in the south.

Once the bread basket of the region, since 2000 Zimbabwe has struggled to feed its own people due to severe droughts and the effects of a land reform programme which saw the seizure of white-owned farms redistributed to landless black Zimbabweans which led to sharp falls in production.

Cash-strapped and impoverished, Zimbabwe’s economy faces severe challenges. Unemployment and poverty are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace. Many Zimbabweans have left the country in search of work in South Africa.


  • Population 13 million

  • Area 390,759 sq km (150,873 sq miles)

  • Major languages English (official), Shona, Sindebele

  • Major religions Christianity, indigenous beliefs

  • Life expectancy 54 years (men), 53 years (women)

  • Currency Multi-currency system; US dollar and South African rand predominate

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President: Robert Mugabe

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Veteran leader Robert Mugabe has presided over Zimbabwe for the last three decades.

Born in 1924 in the village of Kutama, south-west of the capital Harare, he was educated by Jesuits and went on to become a teacher before joining the liberation struggle.

He became a key figure in the fight for independence from white minority-rule as leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union and spent 11 years in prison before becoming Zimbabwe’s first post-independence prime minister in 1980.

In December 2015, Mr Mugabe was endorsed once more as the ruling party candidate for the 2018 presidential elections but media continue to speculate about a potential successor.


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Control over the land has been a major issue in Zimbabwe

All broadcasters in Zimbabwe, and many of the main newspapers, toe the government line.

Its draconian media laws require journalists to be accredited by a state-appointed commission. Police regularly arrest and deport foreign journalists for working in the country without clearance.

In its 2015 report, US-based Freedom House said “journalists have traditionally faced verbal intimidation, physical attacks, arbitrary arrest and detention, interception of communications, and financial pressure at the hands of the police, government officials, and supporters of both political parties.”


Some key events in Zimbabwe’s history:

1200-1600 – Era of the Monomotapa Empire, noted for international trade, gold mining and the construction of Great Zimbabwe, now a World Heritage site.

1889-23 – Cecil Rhodes and his British South Africa Company uses British mandate to colonise what becomes Southern Rhodesia.

1965 – Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally declares independence from Britain under white-minority rule, leading to international isolation.

1980 – Independence following lengthy guerrilla war. Zanu party wins elections and Robert Mugabe becomes prime minister.

1983-87 – Gukurahundi campaign, in which 20,000 are thought to have been killed in Matabeleland by Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade. The violence ends following a unity accord, when the Zapu party is absorbed into the renamed governing Zanu-PF party.

1998-2002 – Zimbabwe intervenes in civil war in DR Congo.

2000s – Land redistribution: White farmers forced off land.

2002 – Commonwealth suspends Zimbabwe after disputed presidential election.

2008 – Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beats Mugabe in the presidential election but is forced to withdraw from a run-off after his supporters become the target of increased violence.

2009 – Mugabe’s Zanu-PF loses parliamentary majority forcing power-sharing deal with Tsvangirai’s MDC which lasts until 2013.

2017 November – Military announces that it is taking over.

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The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are the remains of a lost civilization

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