Welcome to Zimbabwe


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Geography and Climate

The country of Zimbabwe is 390,580 sq km and is bordered on all sides by other countries.  Zambia lies to the northwest with the Zambezi river and its Victoria Falls forming the border.  Mozambique lies to the northeast with its border formed by the Eastern Highlands.   Botswana lies to the southwest and South Africa to the south (its border formed by the Limpopo River).  

The northwest portion of the country consists mainly of plateaus interspersed with giant granite outcroppings (many of these are covered with rock art from the early San people).  The northeast is where the Eastern Highlands with their forests and lakes lie.  The southern portion of the country consists of the level savannah of the Save Basin.

The months from May - October on the plateau are very pleasant with little rain.  The days are warm and the nights cool.  The lower areas and the Zambezi Valley are warmer and more humid, but still with little rain.  The months from November - April are the rainy months and the temperatures can be much warmer.

What is the weather like today in Zimbabwe?  Follow this link for the weather.

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

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Zimbabwe's temperate climate and abundant natural resources contribute to its ability to sustain itself.  Mining accounts for 40% of the exports with gold being primary but coal, copper, nickel and tin are also mined.  Agriculture is important with tobacco providing 23% of exports.  66% of Zimbabwe's population depends on agriculture, but it is mostly subsistence farming.  The main crops are corn, cotton, wheat, coffee, sugarcane and peanuts.  Cattle, sheep, goats and pigs are also raised.  

Other industries include steel, wood, cement, chemicals and fertilize.  Manufactured goods such as clothing, shoes, leather goods and furniture also contribute to the economy as does tourism. 

However the government's recent involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has depleted millions of dollars from the economy and rising inflation and the highest AIDS infection rate in the world are taxing the economy.  This all contributes to an inability to further develop the country's agricultural and mineral resources.

Read about how AIDS is devastating the teaching population in Africa.  AIDS in the Classroom.

Find out how much your money is worth in Zimbabwean dollars.  Click here!

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After the decline of Great Zimbabwe (see Archaeology below) the fragmented Shona tribes allied themselves and created the Rozwi state and encompassed over half of present day Zimbabwe.  This state lasted until 1834 when it was invaded by Ndebele warriors and came under the rule of Lobengula.  Lobengula soon found himself having to deal with Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and signed a contract giving up mineral rights to his land in exchange for guns, ammunition and money.  A series of misunderstandings followed this agreement and the Ndebele found themselves fighting the BSAC.  In the early 1890's the losing  Ndebele allied themselves with the Shona and continued a guerilla war but eventually an agreement was reached to end the fighting.   This resulted in the formation of the state of Rhodesia with its white legislature and huge influx of colonists.

By 1896, it was apparerent to the Shona and Ndebele peoples that the Rhodesian government was not interested in their problems, thus the first Chimurenga (fight for liberation) was begun.  Though this resulted in moderate success, it ended only a year later when the leaders were arrested and hanged.

During the next 60 years, conflicts between blacks and whites continued.  Laws were passed guaranteeing rights to whites and stripping them from blacks.  Land was redistributed to whites and working conditions and wages declined.  By the late 50's two black political parties, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) had sprung up but just as quickly they were banned and their leaders imprisoned.

In 1964 Ian Smith became president and started pressing for independence from Britain.  The British imposed strict rules before they would grant independence and they included greater equality for blacks.  Since Smith knew the whites would never agree to the conditions, in 1965 he made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).  Sanctions imposed by Britain were ignored by most other western countries and the economy of Rhodesia actually improved.  Conditions for blacks did not improve however and a resurgence of ZANU & ZAPU guerilla warfare began to strike deeper and deeper.  Whites began abandoning their farms.  This became known as the second Chimurenga.

Smith finally began to realize that something needed to be done.  Negotiations between Smith and the black political parties began and broke down.  Parties disagreed and fragmented.  Years of negotiations continued as did white emigration.  Finally in 1979 negotiations in London resulted in the Lancaster House Agreement even though it guaranteed whites (3% of the population) 20% of the seats in parliament.

Elections were held in March of 1980 and Robert Mugabe was elected president.  Optimism reigned for a while but tensions soon arose.  Corruption and scandal threatened the government and rivalries and assassination attempts on government officials occurred on a regular basis.  By 1996 Mugabe was embroiled in scandals of his own and in an attempt to retain power he unveiled his land reform program.

Land reform in Zimbabwe had long between a topic of discussion as the minority white population owned the vast majority of farm land.  The Lancaster House Agreement had stipulated that land transfers would take place with adequate compensation, but as Zimbabwe became deeper involved in helping Congo (Zaire) with their war, less money was available for compensation.  In 1998 the government began seizing white owned farms and compensating owners only for improvements made to the land, such as houses, but not for the land itself.  Land owners refused to move and this has resulted in some cases of violence where the homeowners were forcibly removed and murders have occured to intimidate other landowners.  This situation continues today. 


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The walls and structures known as Great Zimbabwe have stood the ravages of time and weather for almost 2 thousand years.  Sitting on an open plain surrounded by hills, it was begun in the 13th century by the Shona people and is considered the greatest ancient structure in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Great Zimbabwe (meaning houses of stone) was finished in the 14th century and housed as many as 20,000 people.  This religious center's influence spanned an area from Mozambique, across Zimbabwe, through Botswana and to South Africa.

Known by the first European explorers to have been built by Africans, Great Zimbabwe's history took a detour when the first colonists arrived.  Confronted with people who appeared to have no stone building tradition, the early colonists refused to believe that Africans had built the great structures.  Nearly 100 years of "mystery" and speculation followed until British archaeologist  Gertrude Caton-Thompson spent three years examining the ruins and artifacts to  conclusively prove that Great Zimbabwe had in fact been built by Africans.

Stretching over 4km, most of the people at Great Zimbabwe lived outside the perimeter walls.  The king lived on a hill in a series of ritual and royal enclosures called the Hill Complex.  This was the first set of structures to be completed, therefore the oldest.  The Valley Enclosures, where lesser officials would have lived, is a series of walls and platforms, and containing a high conical tower.  The Great Enclosure, thought to have housed the royal family, is the structure most identified with the site.  It is 100m across and 255m in circumference and had mortar-less walls rising 11m and in some places, they are 5m thick.   Another Conical Tower rises 10m and connects to a 70m long Parallel Passage.  This passage is considered the most architecturally advanced structure in Great Zimbabwe with stone tapering to adding stability to the wall.  It also includes three rings of decorative chevron patterns.  The entire complex covers almost 1,800 acres.

Great Zimbabwe, as well as being a religious center, was also a great trade center and items from China, Persia and India have been found there.  Herds of cattle were also kept at Great Zimbabwe and further illustrate the wealth accumulated over the years.

In the end, Great Zimbabwe's success was probably its downfall.  By the 15th century, too many people and animals had depleted the natural resources.  By the 16th century, Great Zimbabwe was deserted.

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People and
Ethnic Groups

There are 11 million people living in Zimbabwe today.  The largest group of them are the Shona people (comprising 71% of the population.)  They are descendents from the San and Bantu and live mostly in the north, center and eastern portions of the country.  The Ndebele people comprise 16% of the population and live in the western portion of the country.   Other ethnic groups including the Tonga, the Shangaan and the Venda make up 11% of the people, with the remaining 2% being of European or Asian descent.

A third of the people live in the cities, with the remainder living in rural areas.

Nearly everyone in Zimbabwe speaks English (the official language) but 67% also speak Shona and 16% speak Ndebele.

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Arts and music are the backbone of Zimbabwean culture.  Pots and baskets are finely detailed.  Cloth is intricately woven.  Everyday items carved from wood are intricately patterned.  Stone carvings are lovingly etched and many of the ideas for designs are inspired by designs found at Great Zimbabwe.  

Music can emphasize both individuality and unity.  Shared song can communicate a desire for love and happiness or a need for perseverance and struggle.  Music has the power to connect people and virtually all societies have some form of music making.  For a description of traditional Zimbabwean music and musical instruments click here.

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Faith and Values

Religion plays an important role in Zimbabwe as it does in most southern African countries.  A mixture of traditional beliefs and Christianity is the preference of 50% of the population.  This blending of beliefs called syncretism combines beliefs such as ancestor worship (the belief that prayers to ancestors will affect outcomes), animism (the belief that all objects such as trees and mountains have spiritual power) and the use of mediums with traditional Christian beliefs.  25% of the population are traditional Christians while 24% have solely indigenous beliefs.  The remaining 1% are Muslim and other beliefs.

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Flora and Fauna The diversity of the animal kingdom is Zimbabwe is evident in the 300 species of mammals that live there.  You can find everything from elephant, lion, buffalo and leopard to shrew, bat, porcupine and pangolin.  These and many more can be found in the country's 40 wildlife parks and private sanctuaries.  Unfortunately the black rhino has been wiped out due to poaching but fortunately the other animals are being protected by ecologists and conservationists.

There are 153 reptile species including snakes, tortoises, lizards and crocodiles.  There are also 640 species of birds including 17 species of eagle.  There are 131 species of fish including the fighting tigerfish of Lake Kariba which can reach a size of 33lbs.  There are even several hundred species of spiders.

All of these animals are dependent upon having enough food, water and shelter which Zimbabwe's fauna helps to provide.  The central plateau with its abundant rainfall supports msasa, munonodo and acacia trees which average 20ft tall.  In the lower areas that are hotter and drier the dominant tree is the mopane but there are also baobab, aloes, cycads and palms..  The Highlands support montane forests.

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Sources: CIA World Fact Book, Lonely Planet Publications, ABC News Country Profile, Zimbabwe by Paul Tingay

Kim and Don Greene, Authors; publication date May 1 2001