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Zimbabwe past and present -- a long, hard road from Rhodes to Mugabe

Newly independent Zimbabwe is a boulder-strewn southern African nation about the size of California. Until April 18, it was one of the last outposts in a British empire that once girdled the globe.

The country was named after Cecil John Rhodes, A British mining magnate who dreamed of British rule over the entire length of Africa. His British South Africa Company financed the first white pioneer column of ox-wagons that entered this country and reached the site of Salisbury in 1890.

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For nearly a century, the white settlers and their descendants -- never more than 4 percent of the total population of Rhodesia -- subjugated the indigenous Shona and Ndebele peoples, first with guns, later with the more sophisticated means of restrictive discriminatory laws. Whites controlled virtually every aspect of black African life here, down to determining the areas in which they were allowed to live.

Black resistance, which flared as early as 1896, was ruthlessly put down. But over the years, some blacks clung to the vision of Zimbabwe -- a black-majority-ruled nation that would be named after mysterious stone ruins in the southern part of the country. To blacks, the ruins were evidence of a flourishing, advanced society long before the arrival of whites.

In 1923, white Rhodesia chose self-governing status as a British crown colony. More than 40 years later, on Nov. 11, 1965, silver-haired Ian Douglas Smith, then prime minister, severed links with the British Crown and declared Rhodesia independent rather than accept black-majority rule.

That action, known as the "unilateral declaration of independence," set the stage for one of Africa's longest and most brutal conflicts. During a seven-year period beginning in 1972, more than 27,000 people lost their lives in a guerrilla war for control of the country. Nearly a million people were made homeless.

The guerrilla war -- and worldwide economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations -- eventually wore down white resistance. Late last year, Britain, reasserted control over its breakaway colony. In February of this year, it sponsored majority-rule elections.

The winning party was headed by one of the leaders of the black guerrilla struggle, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, now Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.


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