The area we know today as Zimbabwe from the third century A.D. was the home of multi-ethnic societies which included, as the official government website states, “Shangni/Tsonga in the south-eastern parts of the Zimbabwe plateau, the Venda in the south, the Tonga in the north, the Kalanga and Ndebele in the south-west, the Karanga in the southern parts of the plateau, the Zezuru and Korekore in the northern and central parts, and finally, the Manyika and Ndau in the east”.
Perhaps the most important state to exist in pre-colonial Zimbabwe was the Great Zimbabwe State which is renowned today for its ancient stone city in the south-eastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe. The state was at its zenith from around 1290 to 1450.
Great Zimbabwe was not the only state in existence though; there were also the Mutapa, Rozvi, Torwa, and Ndebele states. With the decline of Great Zimbabwe there followed a period of readjustment with the Mutapa Empire becoming more important from around 1450 to 1760. The Mutapa were the first to come across the Portuguese. Portuguese settlers were not satisfied with the trade alone and started a series of wars. This led to the growth of the Rozvi state which eventually removed the Portuguese from the Zimbabwe plateau by 1694.
The Rozvi state in turn declined and there followed a period when there were as many as five different groups living, such as the Ndebele and Gaza, or migrating through the Rozvi state. By the 1850s the Ndebele ruled most of present day Zimbabwe, but it in turn was put under pressure by the Shona in the late 1870s.
In the 1880s the British arrived in the form of Cecil Rhode’s and his British South Africa Company (BSAC). After obtaining concessions for mining rights Rhodes oversaw the colonisation of the land and in 1898 the region south of the Zambezi became known as Southern Rhodesia with the northern territories becoming Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia).
Inevitably the Shona were none too happy about this and conducted a series of revolts in 1896-1897, all of which were put down leading to the mass settlement of Europeans along with land distribution in their favour.
By 1923 Southern Rhodesia had become a self-governing British colony. In 1953 the British attempted an ill-considered merger of Rhodesia with Nyasaland (now Malawi). It failed and was dissolved in 1963. Two years later, on 1th November 1965 the white-minority Rhodesian government led by Ian Smith anounced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and in 1970 Rhodesia was declared a ‘Republic’ against the wishes of the British government.
There then followed a well-documented civil war between the white-minority government and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union). With both sides ground down by guerrilla warfare the British were able to bring them to the negotiating table and on 21st December 1979 Lancaster House Agreement was signed which led to a new constitution and full independence for Rhodesia.
On 18th April 1980 Zimbabwe Rhodesia became fully independent and became known as Zimbabwe. In the first general election after the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won 57 of the 100 seats in the newly formed House of Assembly and on 18th April Robert Mugabe became the first prime minister of Zimbabwe.
In 1985 fresh elections gave ZANU-PF an even bigger majority with 64 of the 100 seats in the House of Assembly and in 1987 they amended the constitution to allow for an Executive President and abolished the position of Prime Minister. They also got rid of the bicameral structure by abolishing the Senate or upper house. The constitutional changes came into effect on 1st January 1988 and on 31st December 1987 Robert Mugabe became the first president of Zimbabwe.
The ZANU-PF went on to win the 1990, 1995 and 2000 general elections whilst Mugabe won every presidential election. Opposition to Mugabe and the ZANU-PF started to grow in the mid-1990s as the economy faltered and human rights were violated. The government had lost much support in Matabeleland between 1983 and 1987 when they sent in the 5th brigade known as the Gukurahundi to quell the Ndebele people and an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 people were killed.
The so called ‘bread basket’ of Africa suffered a further blow when, in the late 1990s, the government began a land redistribution by forcing many white farmers from their farms. Agricultural production dropped dramatically and today Zimbabwe has to import much of its food.
The growing opposition to ZANU-PF and Mugabe resulted in the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999 led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. In the next elections in 2000 the MDC won 57 of the elected 120 seats in the House of Assembly and ZANU-PF dropped from 118 seats to 62 seats. Robert Mugabe also had an unpleasant shock when he won the presidential election in 2002 with just 56.2% of the vote.
In 2005 ZANU-PF managed to claw back a few extra seats to take 78 seats in the 150 seat House of Assembly whilst the MDC won 41 seats. The Senate was also restored in 2005.
Although the MDC had split in the intervening years into the MDC–T supporting Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC–M supporting Arthur Mutambara, the real shock came in 2008 when the MDC-T took 100 of the 210 seats available in the House of Assembly and the MDC-M took 10 seats. ZANU-PF was left with 99 seats and out of government, or so it seemed.
However, the level of violence in the presidential election led Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from the second round of the presidential election even though he had won the first round; more than 250 of his supporters had been killed in violence. Mugabe eventually won the presidential election with 85.5% of the vote.
The two parties were forced to enter into a power sharing agreement with Robert Mugabe as President and Morgan Tsvangirai in the new post of Prime Minister. The MDC led government dramatically improved the economy but the power games continued along with a debate over a new constitution. In early 2013 a new constitution was finally agreed but elections were called for 31st July, too soon for most democratic elements of the new constitution to come into effect.
Amazingly ZANU-PF won a more than two thirds share of the seats in the House of Assembly, taking 160 of the 210 seats in the House of Assembly. The MDC-T won 49 seats and there was one independent win. In the presidential election, at the age of 89 years, President Robert Mugabe won a fifth term in office with 61.09% of the vote.
The President is elected for a five year term and the number of terms has been limited to a maximum of two terms whether continuous or not under the 2013 constitution.
The bicameral parliament has a Senate with 93 seats of which 60 members are elected by popular vote for a five-year term and 10 provincial governors are nominated by the President and the Prime Minister. 16 traditional chiefs are elected by the Council of Chiefs, 2 seats are held by the President and Deputy President of the Council of Chiefs, and 5 members are appointed by the President. The House of Assembly has 210 members elected by popular vote for five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Zimbabwe at joint 154th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 22 (where 100 is least corrupt).