Zimbabwe’s Road to Independence

By Walter Muchinguri
Senior Researcher & Writer, Zimpapers Knowledge Centre

1200-1600s: Rise and decline of the Monomotapa Empire, which was associated with the Great Zimbabwe Monument, believed to have been involved in gold mining and international trade.

1830s: Ndebele people fleeing Zulu wars and Boer invasion in present-day South Africa move north and settle in what becomes known as Matabeleland.

1830-1890s: European hunters, traders and missionaries explore the region from the south. They included David Livingstone and Cecil John Rhodes.

1889: Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSA) gains a British mandate to colonise what becomes Southern Rhodesia.

1890: Pioneer Column of white settlers arrives from South Africa and sets up fort at a site of the future capital Harare.

1893: Ndebele uprising/Umvukela against BSA rule is crushed.

1896-1898: First Chimurenga/Umvukela revolt against the British South Africa Company’s administration of the territory. The First Chimurenga is now celebrated in Zimbabwe as the First War of Independence. Mlimo, the Matabele spiritual leader, is credited with fomenting much of the anger that led to this confrontation.

In June 1896, Mashayamombe led the uprising of the Zezuru (Shona) people located to the south-west of the capital Salisbury. Mashayamombe worked with the local spiritual leaders Nehanda Nyakasikana (Mbuya Nehanda) and Sekuru Kaguvi (Gumboreshumba), and during this period a British farmer, Norton and his wife are killed at Porta Farm in Norton.

On April 27, 1898, Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Zindoga, Hwata and Gutsa are arrested for allegedly killing a brutal native commissioner Henry Hawkins Pollard of the BSAC in Manzou.

Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi are executed on April 27, 1898.

1897: Mlimo is assassinated in his temple in Matobo Hills, forcing people to lay down their arms. The First Chimurenga thus ended in October 1897. Matabeleland and Mashonaland were unified under company rule and the territory named Southern Rhodesia.

1922: BSA administration ends; the white minority opts for self-government.

1930: Land Apportionment Act restricts black access to land, forcing many into wage labour (Chibharo).

1930-1960s: Black opposition to colonial rule grows. Emergence in the 1960s of nationalist groups and later political formations: the National Democtatic Party, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).

1953: Britain creates the Central African Federation, made up of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi).

1963: Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, breaks up when Zambia and Malawi gain independence.

1964: Ian Smith of the Rhodesian Front (RF) becomes prime minister; tries to persuade Britain to grant independence.

1965: November 11, Smith unilaterally declares independence under white minority rule, sparking international outrage and economic sanctions.

1966: On April 28, 1966, the Battle of Sinoia (Chinhoyi), marks the start of the Second Chimurenga, also known as the Zimbabwe war of liberation, giving meaning to Mbuya Nehanda’s final words before execution: “Mapfupa angu achamuka!” (“My bones shall rise again!”)

1972 onwards: The war intensifies with Zanu and Zapu operating from Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

On December 21, 1972 — Attack on Altena Farm, owned by Marc de Borchgrave, signified the seriousness of liberation war fighters in waging the war.

1978: Smith yields to pressure for negotiated settlement. Elections for a transitional legislature are held but boycotted by the Patriotic Front made up of Zanu and Zapu. A new government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa is formed but fails to gain international recognition. The war of liberation continues.

1979: Commonwealth Heads of State and Government meet in Lusaka, Zambia from August 1-7 and reaffirm their commitment to genuine black majority rule for the people of Zimbabwe and that the British Government should grant legal independence to Zimbabwe on the basis of majority rule. They also agreed that the search for a lasting settlement should involve all parties to the conflict.

1979: Lancaster House conference is held in the British capital London from September 10 to December 15 with Zanu and Zapu delegations in attendance under the banner of the Patriotic Front. It was agreed that Zanu and Zapu would be allowed to participate in the impending elections on condition that the ceasefire holds.

1979: Lord Soames arrives in the country to take up the post of Governor on December 11, ending 14-year UDI rebellion as Zimbabwe Rhodesia returned to legality under British law as the colony of Southern Rhodesia..

1979: December 26, Zanla Commander General Josiah Magama Tongogara dies in a car accident in Mozambique while on his way to co-ordinate the ceasefire.

1979: On December 28- The first Zanla forces arrive at Assembly Point Foxtrot through St Anne’s Goto in Wedza.


January 3: At least 7,000 Patriotic Front forces are accounted for in Assembly Points as the seven day announced for them to move into the points lapses. 3,000 more were expected to have made a late entry before the deadline.

January 13: Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo returns home from Zambia and calls for reconciliation while claiming the mantle of leadership of the Patriotic Front alliance.

January 27: Zanu leader Robert Gabriel Mugabe returns home after being in exile for five years. He is welcomed by a cheering crowd of approximately 200 000 at the grounds in Highfields. He tells his supporters there would be no more injustice based on race and colour.

January 31: Cde Mugabe meets with Lord Soames for the first time; political intimidation tops the agenda. Victoria Falls Bridge is re-opened to traffic after seven years and first train to cross into Zimbabwe-Rhodesia from Mozambique since the border was reopened on January 12 rolls into Umtali (Mutare).

February 1: Multi-party election campaigns hot up.

February 3: Zambian Prime Minister Mr Daniel Lisulu visits Victoria Falls bridge, expresses hope for re-introduction of good relations between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Deputy Governor Sir Anthony Duff bans 27 publications, including books and posters published in Mozambique by Zanu (PF).

February 7: Cde Mugabe survives an assassination attempt after a grenade is thrown at his Mount Pleasant home. The grenade explodes against a garden wall.

February 8: All nine parties contesting in the election agree to a peace pledge. Lieutenant General Peter Walls urges army to look ahead and prepare to join hands with their adversaries.

The UN indicates that 16 435 refugees had so far returned to Zimbabwe.

February 10: A roadside bomb explodes near Cde Mugabe’s motorcade as he leaves a Fort Victoria (Masvingo) rally.

Cde Nkomo indicates that the nucleus of a Zimbabwe army composed of members of the security forces and former guerrillas will start taking shape in a few days.

February 14: Cdes Mugabe and Nkomo meet for the first time since their return to the country. OAU pledges US$10 million towards Zanu (PF) and PF-Zapu campaigns.

Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere asks UN Secretary- General Dr Kurt Waldeheim to visit Zimbabwe to observe the pre-election period. Britain indicates it will send 500 policemen armed with umbrellas to observe voting. Salisbury hit by a series of bomb blasts.

Airlink between Nairobi and Salisbury established.

February 19: British Election Commissioner Sir John Boynton announces that the results from votes cast from February 29 will be announced on March 4.

Britain invites the UN to observe elections.

February 20: 30 000 refugees are reported to have returned to the country. Thousands of police reservists report for duty across the country as voting draws near.

February 22: UN Secretary-General sends his under-secretary-general for special political affairs Mr Javier Perez de Cuellar and a four-member delegation to observe the election. British policemen start arriving in the country.

February 24: Mambo Press, publishers of MOTO magazine is bombed in Gwelo (Gweru).

February 25: First step to integrate guerrilla forces into the new national army starts with a former Zipra battalion from assembly point Lima at Madlambudzi reporting for training at High Acres, a 1 Brigade battle school near Essexvale (Esigodini) Bulawayo. Deployment of security forces to vital installations begins.

February 26: Campaigning ends. Polling stations to open from 7am to 7pm in town, and 7am to 4pm in rural areas.

Singing, dancing, chanting of slogans and political posters banned within 100 metres from polling stations. Employers asked to allow their employees time to go and vote. Small units of Rhodesian security forces start moving into seven of the 12 assembly points.

The Charing Cross flyover near Pioneer Cemetery in Salisbury is opened. Political leaders have their final say on eve of polls.

February 27: Three million Zimbabweans begin to vote. Lord Soames assures the electorate of the security of their vote. UN delegation demands free election.

886 482 people cast their vote on the first day of polling. Leaders cast their votes at different polling stations across the country.

Cde Mugabe leaves for talks with Presidents Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere. General Walls assures Mozambican authorities that there would be no coup if Cde Mugabe wins the elections.

February 28: Voter turnout tops 2 million; political parties and journalists claim irregularities. British PM Margaret Thatcher indicates that Lord Soames will decide on which leader will form the next Government.

Lord Soames visits polling stations in rural areas north-east of Salisbury.

February 29: Voting starts at Foxtrot Assembly Point with 6 000 Zanla soldiers casting their votes led by General Rex Nhongo.

Rhodesian forces move into Papa assembly place at Rukomechi in Zambezi valley as opposing forces in the liberation war reach new stage of co-operation.

Voting ends with voter turnout of over 93,6 percent of the estimated 2,9 million voters.

March 1: Face down counts to verify the number of votes cast, starts in 56 districts in the presence of representatives from political party scrutinisers and candidates.

March 2: The ballots in batches of a hundred are placed in sealed boxes and moved to eight provincial centres. Observers declare polls as free and fair; Muzorewa cries foul.

March 3: Counting starts. Lord Soames and political leaders call for calm as votes are being counted

March 4: Cde Mugabe and Zanu (PF) announced winner of the elections after a massive win, garnering 57 of the 80 seats reserved for blacks. A jubilant Cde Mugabe hosts reporters at his Mt Pleasant home is invited to Government House for a tête-à-tête with Lord Soames.

Cdes Nkomo, James Chikerema accept election results. Muzorewa is shocked and puzzled by the results but congratulates Cde Mugabe. Wild scenes of people singing and dancing on the streets as jubilant Zanu (PF) supporters celebrate their victory.

March 5: Prime Minister designate Mugabe meets with Cde Nkomo and they agree on a coalition government. Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole pledges support for Government despite having earlier denounced Zanu (PF) victory. Cde Mugabe also meets the director of Overseas Military Assistance in the British Ministry of Defence Major Gen Ken Perkins and asks for British soldiers to stay on and help form a united army.

March 9: Cde Mugabe lashes at dictatorships during an interview with Time magazine and rules out borrowing political models from other countries but adopting principles that ensure that the majority are their own masters and owners of their resources and that peasants are organised into collective units. He says the country’s ultimate goal is socialism.

March 11: Lord Soames appoints Cde Mugabe as Prime Minister. Hours later Cde Mugabe’s official spokesperson Eddison Zvobgo, announces a new 22-member Cabinet (including two whites Mr Dennis Norman and Mr David Smith) and 13 deputy ministers. Teurai Ropa Nhongo (Joice Mujuru) makes history as the country’s youngest and first female Cabinet Minister at 25. Cde Nkomo is appointed Home Affairs Minister.

March 12: The PM says his administration will take immediate steps to abolish discrimination in the public service, acquire land to resettle the masses and also take an active part in international forums and supporting other people fighting for their independence.

Cde Nkomo issues last call for remaining Zanla and Zipra combatants to move into Assembly Points.

March 14: Cde Mugabe unveils priorities for his Government that include the acquisition of land to resettle refugees, the establishment of co-operatives and collective farms, unification of local administrative systems, restructuring of the civil service, training of key staff and setting up foreign missions.

Lord Soames agrees to stay on until April 17 after a request from Cde Mugabe. His spokesperson announces that the country will become independent at midnight on April 17 (a compromise date fixed by Lord Soames and Cde Mugabe) and that Queen Elizabeth will be represented by her son Prince Charles.

March 16: Lord Soames leaves for London for discussions with British Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet on future aid plans for Zimbabwe. Prior to his departure he had an hour long meeting with Cde Mugabe.

March 17: 25 people successfully submit their papers to contest 14 Senate seats.

March 18: Cde Mugabe moves into his new offices in Milton Building (Munhumutapa Building). He then presides over his first Cabinet meeting.

Discussions centred on ways of making elections a success, the ministers’ new roles, their transportation and housing.

Cde Mugabe says they also discussed the issue of a new flag and a new national anthem and the issue of the new President, which he said was meant to be a surprise although rumours were already pointing to Reverend Canaan Banana.

Lord Soames winds up his three-day visit and engagement with Mrs Thatcher, who congratulated him on the free and fair election in Zimbabwe. Zanu (PF) makes a clean sweep of Senate seats.

March 21: The PM is shown the designs of the new flag. April 18 and 19 declared public holidays. Governor gazettes the lifting of martial law throughout the country and extension of the amnesty to all people convicted of politically motivated crimes up to March 1, 1980.

Read the full story on www.herald.co.zw

March 23: The Federation of the International Football Association lifts 10-year ban on the country. The move paves way for the country’s national soccer team to contest in qualifiers for the 1982 World Cup.

March 26: PM approves new flag subject to the enlargement of the Zimbabwe bird and star with mass production expected to start immediately.

March 27: Cde Mugabe asks Lord Soames to invite 96 countries excluding South Africa. A national dress featuring a picture of the Prime Minister and a cock is unveiled marking the beginning of a new cultural identity.

Air Zimbabwe is born and unveils its new livery on its latest acquisition and flagship the VP-WGA, a special long-range version of the Boeing 707 jetliner that will operate its inaugural flight to London.

March 28: Zimbabwe-Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation drops the name Rhodesia and becomes the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. The new name is unveiled during the 4pm news bulletin.

The name change coincides with the arrival of a four- man BBC advisory team led by Mr Austen Kark and invited by the PM to help revamp television and radio networks.

March 30: Mounted BSA police recruits ride through Salisbury as independence preparations gather momentum

April 2: Municipal workers start working on erecting four tower lights, a wall with turnstiles around Rufaro stadium.

Air Zimbabwe launches inaugural flight to London using its new flagship Boeing 707.

Government announces strict controls for Independence ceremony; majority to watch event via live broadcast, local authorities directed to put up decorations.

April 8: Hectic schedule for Prince Charles released. His Royal Highness to arrive in Salisbury on April 16 and tour townships, research centres among other places and engagements.

Zanu (PF) advocates for change of names of towns, streets, rivers and buildings before independence.

April 10: Council begins construction of an Independence arch along airport road. Lord Soames’ spokesman announces that British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, his wife and the minister of State in the Foreign Office Lord Trethgowan will arrive in the country on April 17.

Rhodesian Printing and Publishing Company Limited announces plans to set up a $100 000 trust that will offer bursaries to train young people in the newspaper business as part of its efforts to mark independence day.

Minister Teurai Ropa Nhongo conducts the draw for an Independence soccer tournament involving the country’s national team and those of Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

April 11: Reverend Canaan Banana becomes president-elect after he is declared the sole nominee when nomination for the presidency closed.

Southern Rhodesia’s former Prime Minister Garfield Todd, Mrs Sunny Takawira (Cde Leopold Takawira’s widow), Mr Joseph Culverwell and former freelance radio and television personality Mrs Tsitsi Munyati appointed to the Senate.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs releases lists of invited countries and international organisations; indicates that it has received 90 acceptances out of the 114 invites sent out.

Most towns record satisfactory preparations for Independence. Rufaro Stadium ready, while $2 million worth of Independence souvenirs — T-shirts, bags, scarfs and car stickers — go on sale.

Mrs Joana Nkomo returns home from exile greeted by 500 supporters at her Highfields home.

April 13: Zimbabwe makes all out bid for 1980 Olympics in Moscow from July 19-August 3.

April 14: Roman Catholic Archbishop for Salisbury Patrick Chaikaipa to bless the national flag at Independence.

Official programme for Independence unveiled including plans to set up a permanent Independence flame on top of Salisbury Kopje.

The Herald to carry out a four-page souvenir supplement in colour on Thursday including a full colour portrait of the Prime Minister, Mr Robert Mugabe and the national flag.

Lord Soames makes his farewell address broadcast in which he predicts prosperity for the new Zimbabwe and announces the British Government’s intention to offer an immediate grant for reconstruction and aid for military assistance as a new national army is being welded together.

He also advocates for unity and peace. Cde Nkomo rules out the release of 25 000 ex-combatants from assembly points before Independence.

Harare Mambos Band performs in First Street.

April 15: Britain announces a three-year aid programme for Zimbabwe totalling 75 million pounds (about $115 million) the bulk of which will be devoted to bilateral aid programme.

Seven million pounds earmarked for post-war reconstruction. Guests led by the Russian delegation start arriving for the independence celebrations.

The PM’s office issues a statement indicating that Lieutenant General Peter Walls has been asked to take responsibility for the amalgamation of the armed forces.

This was after the command and headquarters of the Ministry of Combined Operations and those of Zanla and Zipra had been absorbed into a joint high command.

Flag party rehearsal conducted at Rufaro. Galo records announces that Bob Marley and the Wailers are headed for Zimbabwe ahead of the independence celebrations.

April 16: Prince Charles arrives in the country to a fly-past and royal salute. Constant stream of arrivals continues, throughout the day. Schedule for MPs Flag duties for the whole country is released.

Cde Mugabe tells a news conference that his Government is working on introducing free education and medical service as well as expediting the creation of a single army under one command and moving ex-combatants to properly established areas.

He also emphasised the need to reopen schools and hospitals that were closed during the war and the need to secure land to resettle displaced people and refugees returning to the country.

April 17: Heads of States arrive. Independence festivities start. Zimbabwe is abuzz with activity and excitement.

April 18: Zimbabwe is born after the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the new Zimbabwe flag by the late National Hero Lieutenant General Norbert Chingombe (Agnew Kambeu or Sparrow Kanyama. Cde Mugabe is sworn in as PM. Zimbabwe wins international recognition with the UN sending an invite for the new nation to join its ranks.

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