Environment in Zimbabwe Essay

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Zimbabwe coversover 390,000 square kilometers (about the size of Montana), and is bordered by South Africa on the south, Mozambique on the east, Botswana on the west, and Zambia on the north. Its environment varies from semi-arid regions to moist mountainous areas. It is home to most of the large African mammals, many of which are located in its 11 national parks. Victoria Falls, located along the Zambezi River and the border with Zambia, is one of these parks; during the rainy season, it contains one of the world’s largest waterfalls.

Zimbabwe is home to over 12 million people and the population is made up primarily of two ethnic groups-Shona (about 82 percent) and the Ndebele (about 14 percent)-in addition to a small white minority. Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia until it declared independence from Great Britain in 1980. The British South Africa Company, owned by Cecil Rhodes, colonized the area in the 1880s and the new colony was named in Rhodes’s honor. The mission of the company was to exploit the natural resources of Rhodesia for Britain. From the 1880s until independence in 1980, a white-led government ruled Zimbabwe, and the racial segregation in place during that time has been compared to South Africa’s apartheid system. Blacks were forbidden to own land outside of reserve areas, and as a result, the limited land in the reserves grew crowded. Until recently, the white minority owned over 70 percent of the arable land, which led to a land redistribution campaign as this system of unequal land access persisted through independence in 1980.

Robert Mugabe was elected the first prime minister in 1980, and in 1987, he declared himself president. When elected, he began a program of land reform based on the “willing seller/willing buyer” system. This continued until 1999 and at this time, he began to use force to remove white farmers from their land to redistribute it to black farmers, a system that was highly criticized by Western countries. Zimbabwe’s agricultural base has not recovered since the redistribution and food aid has been needed to feed the country. Mugabe was reelected in 2002 in what most international observers considered a fixed election. Since then, the inflation rate has risen almost 600 percent, with the unemployment rate at 80 percent.

Before the collapse of the agricultural sector, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of southern Africa. Agricultural products included wheat, corn, tobacco, and cotton. The country also contains large deposits of gold and chromite. Before 2000, tobacco-followed by cotton-accounted for the largest export earnings; with the collapse of the agricultural sector, however, gold and cotton now are bigger earners. Complicating Zimbabwe’s food shortage and the chaos of the land reform policies is an extremely high rate of HIV/AIDS; it is estimated that about 25 percent of the adult population is HIV positive. The labor shortages due to illness have also contributed to a negative 5 percent gross domestic product growth rate.


  1. Kalipeni, S. Craddock, J. Oppong, and J. Ghosh, eds., HIV & AIDS in Africa: Beyond Epidemiology (Blackwell Publishing, 2004);
  2. Moyo, “The Political Economy of Land Acquisition and Redistribution in Zimbabwe, 1990-1999,” Journal of Southern African Studies 2000 (v.26, 2000).

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