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    United States. Department of State. Bureau of Public Affairs

    BACKGROUND NOTES. 1988 Mar; 1-8.

    Zimbabwe is a land-locked plateau country of 151,000 square miles, divided into 8 provinces, in Southeastern Africa, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. Its population consists of 8.8 million blacks, divided between the Shona-speaking Mashona (80%) and the Sindebele-speaking Matabele (19%), 100,000 whites, 20,000 coloreds, and 10,000 Asians. Many of the blacks are Christians. More than 1/2 the whites migrated to Zimbabwe after the Second World War at a rate of about 1000 a year until the mid-1970s; since then 12,000 whites have left the country. The official language is English, and education is free. Most African children 5-19 years old attend school, and literacy is between 40% and 50%. The University of Zimbabwe is located in Harare, the capital, and there are several technical institutes and teacher-training colleges. Zimbabwe has been inhabited since the stone age, and evidence of a high indigenous civilization remains in the "Great Zimbabwe Ruins" near Masvingo. The present black population is descended from later migrations of Bantu people from central Africa. Cecil Rhodes was granted concessions for mineral rights in the area in 1888, and the territory, which administered by the British South Africa Company, was called Rhodesia. Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing entity within the British Empire in 1913. In 1953 Southern Rhodesia was joined with the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the Central African Federation, but this dissolved in 1963, and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland became independent as Zambia and Malawi in 1964. Independence was withheld from Rhodesia because Prime Minister Ian Smith refused to give Britain assurances that the country would move toward majority rule. In 1965 Smith issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the UK. In 1966 the UN Security Council imposed mandatory economic sanctions on Rhodesia. Within Rhodesia the major African nationalist groups -- the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) united into the "Patriotic Front" and began to engage in guerrilla warfare against the minority government. Finally, in 1979, Rhodesia returned briefly to colonial status, during which time a new constitution was written, implementing majority rule; the UN Security Council called off economic sanctions; and elections were held. Robert Mugabe, leader of the victorious ZANU Party, was asked to form Zimbabwe's 1st government. The British Government formally granted independence to Zimbabwe on April 18, 1980. THe new government was to consist of a President (Mr. Mugabe), elected by universal suffrage, and a bicameral parliament. Zimbabwe has followed a policy of national reconciliation at home and "active nonalignment" abroad. In 1982, Zimbabwe was chosen by the Organization of African Unity to hold one of the nonpermanent seats in the UN Security Council, and in 1986, Zimbabwe was the site of the Nonaligned Movement summit meeting, and Mr. Mugabe became chairman of that organization. The years of sanctions, guerrilla warfare, and white emigration, combined with a foreign exchange crisis (the Zimbabwe dillar = US$.60), and the drought of 1987 took their toll on the Zimbabwean economy. Gross domestic product declined between 1974 and 1979, although by 1986, it was $4.7 billion, with per capita income $275. Zimbabwe is rich in natural resources, especially coal and chrome; and industry, which accounts for 69% of the gross domestic product, was forced by the sanctions to diversify. Plentiful coal deposits make the country less dependent on imported oil for an energy source. Agriculture, which constitutes 15% of the gross domestic product, is the backbone of the economy, with corn as the largest crop and tobacco as the largest export crop; both were hurt by the 1987 drought. Another drain on the economy was the money diverted to pay for training and equipping the armed forces. The British Military Assistance Training Team has been the largest source of training, but jet fighters had to be bought from China and helicopters from Italy. The United States, which broke off relations after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence, has contributed $380 million in loans and grants to Zimbabwe in the years between 1981 and 1986.
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