Background on Zimbabwe

Against the Current, No. 39, July/August 1992

David Finkel

UNDER BRITISH COLONIAL rule, Zimbabwe was called “Southern Rhodesia” and part of “Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland” (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi).

In 1965, the whites in Southern Rhodesia issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for white-ruled state called Rhodesia. It was led by Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front party from 1965-79, in defiance of United Nations declarations and despite (widely busted) international sanctions.

The national liberation movement in Zimbabwe consisted mainly of two armed movements, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) led by Joshua Nkomo. ZANU enjoyed support from the majority Shona tribes, presented a more radical program and gained some support from China, while ZAPU was based among the Ndebele peoples, received military-political support from the Soviet Union and African National Congress and was generally favored by western capital (although the latter also cultivated ties with ZANU).

During the course of the liberation war ZANU and ZAPU formed (mainly on ZANU’s initiative) a shaky alliance called the Patriotic Front, after which ZANU usually called itself ZANU(PF). Following an international settlement of the liberation war called the Lancaster House accords, ZANU won a sweeping victory in the 1980 elections and has dominated the politics of independent Zimbabwe, absorbing ZAPU in the late 1980s to consolidate a single-party state.

Further background and analysis appears in Zimbabwe’s Independence Without Socialism by John Pape, Against the Current 21 (July-August 1989).

July-August 1992, ATC 39