Zimbabwe Prehistory and History


According to Topschoolsintheusa, the oldest traces left by man are Acheulean-type artifacts, found in the deposits of the Zambezi waterfalls and in Lochard, on the Bembesi river. The subsequent development is known through the excavations made in the caves of Khami Waterworks and Bambata: an industry called Charamiano, a local facies of Sangoano, rich in peaks and scrapers, is followed by Bambatiano, characterized by single- and double-sided tips and blades back, and the Umguzian, which includes many segments. Starting from about 13,000 BC, various microlithic industries are found, which persist in isolated groups even when, at the beginning of our era, they penetrate Zimbabwe, perhaps coming from Mozambique or the Congo basin, the first populations who knew iron, agriculture and cattle breeding. These have left conspicuous traces of inhabited areas, in which the so-called Bambata pottery appears starting from the 1st century. BC: characteristic of the ancient Iron Age, later shows local aspects (Zhizo facies, 9th -10th century; Mambo facies, from 12th century).


  1. Colonization

After the 10th century. the gold trade, spurred by the demands of Arab merchants, led to the development of an autocratic state, the kingdom of Monomotapa, which left impressive ruins of stone buildings. Monomotapa was the title (“lord of the mountain” or “of the mines”) of the priest-king, placed at the head of a confederation of Bantu tribes of Shona stock.

Over the course of the 17th century, the Bantu population was joined by the BaRoswi, coming from the North, who affirmed their supremacy in the central and southwestern provinces of the Monomotapa; from the South came instead (mid 19th century) the Matabele or Ndebele, who settled in the southern region (Matabeleland). In 1888 the British entered into agreements with the king of the Ndebele through CJ Rhodes, whose British South Africa Chartered company (BSAC) obtained in 1889 the right to commercial expansion and mining for 25 years. In 1891 an Anglo-Portuguese convention set the boundaries of the respective spheres of influence; the British occupation of Matabeleland took a few years, also due to the outbreak, in 1896, of a great revolt severely suppressed.

Taking the name of Southern Rhodesia in 1895, the territory was endowed in 1898 with a Legislative Council, reserved for whites, and in 1923 Southern Rhodesia was proclaimed a British colony. The Africans were not granted political rights and subsequently the nationalist parties formed starting in the late 1950s were banned. In 1953 Southern Rhodesia joined, with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the dissolved Federation of Central Africa in 1963. In 1965 the Rhodesian government (led by ID Smith, leader of the Rhodesian front, far right) unilaterally proclaimed independence, which was followed by withdrawal from the Commonwealth.

  1. Independence

The new racist regime proved to be stronger than the sanctions decreed by the UN and was able to count on the declared support of Portugal and the Republic of South Africa, within the so-called ‘white bloc’ of Southern Africa. The nationalist parties then resorted to armed struggle. In 1976 the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU, led by Ja Nkomo) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU, founded in 1963 by Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and then led by RG Mugabe) formed a single organization (Patriotic Front, PF). Smith in 1978 agreed with the moderate nationalists a constitution that finally recognized universal suffrage.

The elections of 1979, boycotted by ZAPU and ZANU and disowned by the OAU and the UN, led to the birth of a government headed by the black bishop Abel Muzorewa. British and Commonwealth pressures led the government and representatives of the PF to new negotiations and in 1980 the elections saw the success of the ZANU and the ZAPU. On April 18, 1980 independence was proclaimed and the country took on its current name. Mugabe, from the previous decade approaching Marxism, formed a government of national unity, which adopted a pragmatic policy to avoid the massive exodus of whites and a fall in production. Strengthened by the 1985 elections, in 1987 he reformed the Constitution: seats reserved for Whites were abolished and the office of executive president was introduced, assumed by Mugabe himself. Confirmed in 1990, the president embarked on the path of economic liberalization and privatization, while references to Marxism were increasingly rare. After his re-election (1996), Mugabe tried to revive land reform by implementing a program of expropriation and redistribution of white estates. At the same time, in the face of growing popular discontent, the government accentuated its illiberal profile. A further problem was the decision to send troops to support the Kabila government in Congo, in spite of N. Mandela’s critical attitude of the South African Republic.

The elements of crisis became evident in February 2000 when, rejected in a referendum the proposal to give the president new powers, Mugabe was faced with strong opposition, represented by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), founded in 1999 and led by the M. Tsvangirai. In a climate of growing tension, veterans of the war of liberation, with the support of the government, occupied numerous farms owned by white people, sparking a spiral of violence. In 2002 Mugabe was re-elected in disputed elections, which took place amid intimidation of voters and attacks on opponents. The numerous electoral irregularities led to the suspension of the Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth, to which Mugabe responded by arresting several political opponents, including Tsvangirai himself. The government justified the state of growing misery of the population with climatic conditions and international ostracism; the critical voices of the regime underlined instead the damages produced by the civil war unleashed in the countryside and by expropriations that had worsened the level of agricultural production.

In the 2008 elections Mugabe did not recognize the victory proclaimed by rival Tsvangirai; the electoral commission agreed with him and set a ballot round, which Tsvangirai decided not to show up. After long negotiations in 2009, a government of national unity was reached, with Mugabe as president and Tsvangirai as prime minister. Through a referendum, some changes to the Constitution were approved in March 2013 to allow for new elections; Held in August, presidential, legislative and administrative consultations sanctioned Mugabe’s re-election for the seventh consecutive term, also conferring absolute power on his party, which won two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, although the opposition led by Prime Minister M. Tsvangirai has reported fraud. Mnangagwa himself in the office ad interim, reconfirmed with a large majority at the general consultations held in July 2018, in which the ZANU party of which he is the leader obtained a majority of 109 seats, sufficient to guarantee him control of Parliament.

Art and architecture

Typical of traditional architecture are the farms, characterized by circular huts in mud and sticks, with conical thatched roofs, grouped together; each hut corresponds to a specific environment (kitchen, sleeping area) with an open space in the center; simple geometric designs, with symbolic meanings, denote the decoration. From the end of the 20th century, the traditional style was replaced by the use of corrugated iron and roofs treated with bright colors; Western-style windows and doors were introduced. The religious buildings (second half of the 20th century) vary in style and materials used: simple rectangular plans, sometimes with towers, round or pointed windows, with frequent use of bricks; fresco decorations or wooden bas-reliefs. Public buildings have suffered from colonial period architecture, while modern effects are due to architects such as H. Montgomerie and P. Oldfield in buildings such as the National Gallery (1957) or the National Heroes Memorial (1981) in Harare. International style buildings characterize the modern center of Harare (eg Sam Nujoma Street).

Sculpture, the most authentic means of expression of Zimbabwe’s art, was rediscovered after the Second World War. An important personality is that of J. Mariga, active in Nyanga, aiming from the end of the 1950s to the renewal of the Shona culture. A supporter of the recovery of the roots of the Shona culture was F. McEwen, director of the National Gallery in Salisbury (1956-73), trained in Paris with H. Focillon and in contact with the exponents of the French and English avant-garde. McEwen also encouraged an informal painting workshop, in which T. Mukarobgwa emerged, author of paintings that he defined as «Afro-German expressionism». McEwen organized important exhibitions that spread the knowledge of Shona culture (1968, Museum of modern art in New York ; 1971, Musée Rodin in Paris; 1972, Institute of contemporary art in London). Also important in supporting the creative potential of local populations were the figures of T. Blomefield and R. Guthrie, creator (since 1970) of the Chapungu sculpture park, which welcomes testimonies of sculptors from the Zimbabwe, from Mariga and Mukarobgwa to H. Munyardzi, A. Supuni, J. Manzi, N. Mukomberanwa, J. Muzondo, G. Nyanhongo.

Zimbabwe Prehistory

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