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Zimbabwe History, Language and Culture
History of Zimbabwe
Present-day Zimbabwe was the site of a large and complex African civilisation in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was populated by descendants of the Bantu tribes, who had migrated from the north around the 10th century. Evidence of their mainly pastoral lifestyle may still be seen in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, near the town of Masvingo.
The first contact with Europeans was with the Portuguese at the end of the 15th century. Relations between the two were fairly stable until the 1830s, when the region was thrown into upheaval by the northward migration of the Ndebele people from South Africa.
At this point, a new aggressive breed of colonists arrived in the form of British mining interests led by Cecil Rhodes's British South Africa Company (BSAC). The BSAC took control of the country – which they called ‘Southern Rhodesia' – until 1923, when it became, nominally, a British colony.
Between 1953 and 1963, Southern Rhodesia formed part of the Central African Federation with neighbouring Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi). In 1965, to resist decolonisation, the settlers – with South African support – issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).
This triggered a bitter civil war between the white minority government and fighters for African independence, ending only in 1980, with the granting of independence and the holding of a general election under British auspices, which was won decisively by Robert Mugabe's ZANU party.
Modern Zimbabwe has seen its fair share of suffering and instability. The economy all but collapsed in the wake of the forced and often violent removal of farmers during a violent land redistribution programme.
Still today, there is widespread famine, which has been cynically manipulated by the government so that opposition strongholds suffer the most. The government lacks the resources or machinery to deal with the ravages of the AIDS pandemic, which affects roughly a quarter of the population.
All of the above has provided fodder for increasing international scorn towards the aging and dictatorial President Mugabe, who was previously considered a great liberation hero.
A historic power-sharing deal signed in 2008 between President Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai put an end to pre-election violence and pledged to improve the country’s economy and the lives of Zimbabweans. It has since ushered in a new spell of peace and relative stability that has seen tourists slowly coming back to Zimbabwe.
Did you know?
• In 2008, Zimbabwe recorded a monthly inflation rate rise of roughly 96.6 billion %.
• Robert Mugabe is the world’s oldest living head of state. He is 91.
• Contrastingly, Zimbabwe’s life expectancy is around 41 years old, almost the lowest in the world.
Religion in Zimbabwe
Christianity, with traditional beliefs in rural areas, and some Hindu, Muslim and Jewish minorities.
Social Conventions in Zimbabwe
Urban culture in Zimbabwe is greatly influenced by Western culture and education but, in rural areas, traditional values and crafts continue. Shaking hands is the customary form of greeting. European courtesies and codes of practice should be observed when visiting someone's home. Return invitations are appreciated. Giving a token of appreciation is optional. It is an offence to make derogatory or insulting comments about President Mugabe. Visitors should be aware that an open hand is the political symbol of the main opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and that a friendly wave may therefore be interpreted as a provocative political gesture. Casual wear is suitable for daytime and men are only expected to wear suits and ties for business meetings. Smart restaurants or hotel bars require male guests to wear a jacket and tie. Smoking is common, although it is prohibited on public transport and in some public buildings. There are laws against indecency which equates to homosexual activity being illegal.
Photography: The local authorities are very sensitive about taking pictures of governmental buildings, military installations and embassies. A permit can be granted by the government office.
Language in Zimbabwe
The official language is English, with Shona and Sindebele dialects.