On this day in 1980, Southern-Rhodesia gained independence from the British, taking the name Zimbabwe.
The day marked the end of racial segregation after a prolonged war of liberation that claimed many lives. In the ninety year span that Zimbabwe was a colony, it was administered by the British South African Company (BSAC) under the name Rhodesia and the responsible Government under the name Southern Rhodesia. Both administrative systems were under the British monarchy.
In 1965, Zimbabwe became autonomous and was led by a white segregationist government after Ian Douglas Smith made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain. This was after the British government had made majority rule a condition for the independence of Rhodesia from Britain. Smith followed the UDI by declaring Rhodesia a Republic, which however, did not have international recognition.
The history of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean history can be traced as far back as perhaps the first Bantu speakers to arrive in present-day Zimbabwe. These Bantu speakers were the makers of early Iron Age pottery belonging to the Silver Leaves or Matola tradition, third to fifth centuries found in southeast Zimbabwe. This tradition was part of the eastern stream of Bantu expansion (sometimes called Kwale) which originated west of the Great Lakes, spreading to the coastal regions of south-eastern Kenya and north eastern Tanzania, and then southwards to Mozambique, south eastern Zimbabwe and Natal.
The Kingdom of Mapungubwe was the first in a series of stylish trade states developed in Zimbabwe by the time of the first European explorers from Portugal. They traded in gold, ivory and copper for cloth and glass. From about 1250 until 1450, Mapungubwe was eclipsed by the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. This Karanga state further refined and expanded upon Mapungubwe’s stone architecture, which survives to this day at the ruins of the kingdom’s capital of Great Zimbabwe. From around 1450–1760, Zimbabwe gave way to the Kingdom of Mutapa. This state ruled much of the area that is known as Zimbabwe today, and parts of central Mozambique. It is known by many names including the Mutapa Empire, also known as Mwenemutapa was known for its gold trade routes with Arabs and the Portuguese.
However, Portuguese settlers destroyed the trade and began a series of wars which left the empire in near collapse in the early 17th century. As a direct response to Portuguese aggression in the interior, a new Karanga state emerged called the Rozvi Empire. Relying on centuries of military, political and religious development, the Rozvi (which means “destroyers”) removed the Portuguese from the Zimbabwe plateau by force of arms.
The Ndebele fought their way northwards into the Transvaal, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake and beginning an era of widespread devastation known as the Mfecane. When Dutch trekboers converged on the Transvaal in 1836, they drove the tribe even further northward. By 1838, the Rozvi Empire, along with the other petty Shona states were conquered by the Ndebele.
The arrival of the British
In the 1880s, the British arrived with Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC). In 1898, the name Southern Rhodesia was adopted. In 1888, British colonialist Cecil Rhodes obtained a concession for mining rights from King Lobengula of the Ndebele people. Cecil Rhodes presented this concession to persuade the government of the United Kingdom to grant a royal charter to his British South Africa Company (BSAC) over Matabeleland, and its subject states such as Mashonaland.
Early liberation fights
The Shona staged unsuccessful revolts (known as Chimurenga) against invasion upon their lands, by clients of BSAC and Cecil Rhodes in 1896 and 1897. Following the failed rebellions of 1896–97 the Ndebele and Shona groups became subject to Rhodes’ administration thus precipitating European settlement which led to land distribution disproportionately favouring Europeans, displacing the Shona, Ndebele, and other indigenous people.
Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony in October 1923, subsequent to a 1922 referendum. Rhodesians served on behalf of the United Kingdom during World War II, mainly in the East African Campaign against Axis forces in Italian East Africa.
Zimbabwe Rhodesia gained official independence as Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. The government held independence celebrations in Rufaro stadium in Salisbury, the capital. Lord Christopher Soames, the last Governor of Southern Rhodesia, watched as Charles, Prince of Wales, gave a farewell salute and the Rhodesian Signal Corps played “God Save the Queen”.
A number of foreign dignitaries also attended, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, President Seretse Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser of Australia, representing the Commonwealth of Nations. Bob Marley sang ‘Zimbabwe’, a song he wrote, at the government’s invitation in a concert at the country’s independence festivities
Political and economic upheaval
Opposition to President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF government grew considerably after the mid-1990s in part due to worsening economic and human rights conditions. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was established in September 1999 as an opposition party founded by the late trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. Zimbabwean independence is celebrated on 18 April each year and Robert Mugabe has been at the helm since 1980. Although initially, the ceremony used to attract large numbers of people, gradually, the numbers have been decreasing as more and more people are becoming disillusioned as the promises made during the war for independence are yet to be realised. And as of now it’s more of a ruling party congregation than a national event.
Hoping for the best in the future for Zimbabwe!
Author: Gesture Chidhanguro