Stone cities were built in many locations in present-day Zimbabwe. The most impressive structures and the best known of these, Great Zimbabwe, were built in the 15th century, but people had been living on the site from about 400 AD.
The population was overwhelmingly made up of Shona speakers until the 19th century when the Nguni tribe in 1839-40 of the Ndebele settled in what is now Matabeleland, and then in 1890, the territory came under the control of the British South Africa Company under charter from the British Government.
The United Kingdom annexed Southern Rhodesia from the British South Africa Company in 1923, when the country got its own government and Prime Minister. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favoured whites in power. In 1965, the government unilaterally declared independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority. UN sanctions and a guerrilla struggle finally led to both free elections and independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.
Robert Mugabe was the first leader of Zimbabwe and still clings on to power since 1987. He initially pursued a policy of reconciliation towards the white population but severity towards regions which had supported a competing guerilla group. From 2000, Mugabe has instituted a policy of extensive land redistribution and of "national service" camps, which are suspected of political indoctrination. In recent years, the economy has been destroyed, inflation has shot up, informal homes and businesses have been destroyed, and there are severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, together with the disappearance of the professional class and the emergence of mass unemployment. Life has grown miserable for Zimbabweans of all colours, and they have been leaving the country in large numbers. The prospects of change seem remote at present.