State and politics
Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has, according to
the constitution, been a democratic, parliamentary republic.
However, the country has since been ruled by ZANU-PF and
functioned as a one-party state that seriously violated
civil rights. The party and the country were led by Robert
Mugabe until the fall of 2017, when he was forced to step
down in favor of Emmerson Mnangagwa. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how ZW can stand for Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's first constitution as an independent country
was adopted in 1980 and was a compromise between Britain and
the liberation movement. The constitution guaranteed a
multi-party system but introduced a special quota for whites
for ten years, which meant that 20 of the 100 parliamentary
mandates acceded to them. The law also prohibited
confiscation of land without compensation. When the
Constitution was revised in 1987, the white quota was
abolished to Parliament.
The post of prime minister was also abolished and the
role of head of government transferred to the president,
which meant that Mugabe, the prime minister since 1980, took
over the presidency. The violent situation that arose since
the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) won the parliamentary elections in 2008 finally led to
a power-sharing agreement. The post of Prime Minister was
reintroduced during a transitional period and went to MDC
leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
New constitution regulates re-election of president
A proposal for a new constitution was approved in a 2013
referendum. The president, who again became head of
government and commander-in-chief, is elected in direct
elections for a term of five years and can be re-elected.
The legislative power lies with Parliament, which consists
of two chambers (1989–2005 there was only one chamber): the
Senate and the National Assembly, both with a five-year
Of the 80 members of the Senate, 60 are elected in
general elections, 16 are chiefs appointed by regional
assemblies, two represent the country's disabled and two
seats are reserved for chairman and vice-chairman of the
National Chiefs Council. The National Assembly has 270
members. 210 of these are elected by majority vote in
one-man constituencies while 60 are reserved for women (six
representatives from each of the country's ten provinces).
The total number of women after the 2013 elections was 85.
ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and its
leader Robert Mugabe have dominated the country's political
scene during independence and both won big in the last
elections, held in 2013. A few years before independence,
ZANU entered into a tactical alliance with the other
movement from the liberation struggle, Zimbabwe African
People's Union (ZAPU) under Joshua Nkomo. The Alliance
was named Patriotic Front (PF). Following the
negotiations for a new constitution in the autumn of 1979,
PF dissolved in ZANU-PFand ZAPU-PF. ZAPU-PF became the only
credible opposition, but in 1987 after the war in
Matabeleland was forced to join ZANU-PF. For a decade, there
was hardly any political opposition. Radio and TV were
controlled by ZANU-PF and the few independent newspapers
were threatened by censorship and distribution bans.
However, an autonomous civil society emerged, and the
judiciary was strikingly independent for a long time.
In the mid-1990s, the economy deteriorated significantly.
The trade union association Zimbabwe Federation of Trade
Unions (ZFTU) was at the forefront of the protests
against the deterioration. A new party, Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC), under the trade union leader
Morgan Tsvangirai was founded in 1999. During the 2000s, MDC
seriously threatened ZANU-PF's position of power.
Electoral cheating and low turnout
None of the elections held during the 2000s could be
described as free and fair. The regime has systematically
abused its position and has used cheating, violence and
threats of violence to influence election results and
turnout. Prior to the 2002 presidential election, all
Zimbabweans abroad (between 2 and 3 million) were deprived
of their voting rights. In 2005, the Public Order and
Security Act (POSA) was used to prohibit several of MDC's
The political violence escalated in 2008 when the
opposition - two factions of the MDC - received more seats
than ZANU-PF in the parliamentary elections and Tsvangirai
in the presidential elections received more votes than
Mugabe. One week before the second round, which was demanded
because none of the candidates got an absolute majority,
Tsvangirai withdrew from the election. The reason was a
marked increase in political violence directed at MDC's
supporters with around 200 dead and Mugabe's statement that
only God can set him apart. In the second round, Mugabe
received over 90 percent of the vote, but the turnout was
only about 20 percent.
The years 2008-13 represented a political exception
period when the MDC factions, of which the largest (MDC-T)
is led by Tsvangirai, and ZANU-PF formed a national unity
government with Tsvangirai as prime minister. The
cooperation worked far from satisfactory and regime
opponents have also subsequently been subjected to violence
and harassment. However, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed on a
new constitution that was approved in a 2013 referendum. In
July of that year, presidential and parliamentary elections
were held. Mugabe and ZANU-PF won big but were also accused
of serious irregularities.
Africanization of former white companies
Zimbabwe's domestic policy during the 2000s was largely
dominated by land issues, that is, the transfer of land from
white farmers with large land areas to black formerly
landless peasants. Frustrated that the reform had gone too
slowly, war veterans and unemployed youth began to occupy
farms by often violent methods in 2000. The occupations
received Mugabe's open support, but land reform, which was
also implemented through, among other things, forced
redemption of land, caused the collapse of commercial
agriculture. This in turn led to food shortages in a country
that was previously a major agricultural producer. In 2001,
as an Africanization method, occupations of domestic and
foreign companies owned by whites were also initiated.
The EU introduced limited "smart sanctions" in 2002,
which banned the political leaders of Zimbabwe from entering
the EU. The US introduced a similar list that in 2008
included 200 Zimbabweans. The EU has later removed most of
the people on the sanctions list, but sanctions remain
against Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace Mugabe (born 1965) and
the state arms manufacturer Zimbabwe Defense Industries.
After the 2002 elections, Zimbabwe was excluded from the
Commonwealth. Zimbabwe has sought new alliances with China,
among others. Together with Namibia and Angola, Zimbabwe in
1998 sent troops to Congo (Kinshasa) to support President
Foreign policy Zimbabwe participates in SADC cooperation
in southern Africa and in the African Union.
Power struggle caused Mugabe's departure
During the 10th century, the domestic political situation
was marked by speculation as to who would succeed the aged
Robert Mugabe. The power struggle within the ruling party
was at times fierce and in 2014, Vice President Joice Mujuru
(born 1955) was dismissed, hitherto seen as a possible heir,
and the following year she was excluded from ZANU-PF. In
2016, the Mujuru party formed Zimbabwe People First
(ZPF), which the following year changed its name to the
National People's Party (NPP).
Mugabe's position of power rests largely on the support
of war veterans, but dissatisfaction with the dictator's
rule and widespread corruption also grew among them. The
turning point came when the country's vice president and
Mugabe's employees ever since the liberation struggle,
Emmerson Mnangagwa, was dismissed in November 2017.
Mnangagwa had been seen as a likely successor to Mugabe
and the decision to fire him was considered to favor the
president's wife Grace Mugabe, who also claimed to succeed
her husband after his death or resignation. Mnangagwa has
great support from the defense force, and just over a week
after he was fired, the military took control of a number of
state institutions. Mugabe was placed under house arrest and
his wife was also exonerated.
ZANU-PF dismissed Mugabe as party leader and appointed
Mnangagwa instead. Mugabe tried to cling to the presidential
post but resigned following threats of national law on
November 21, 2017. Mnangagwa, who has moved to South Africa,
returned to his home country and was sworn in on November 24
as Zimbabwe's second president.
Mnangagwa was challenged in the 2018 election by the new
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa (born 1978), who succeeded the
deceased Tsvangirai. The president secured the electoral
victory already in the first round, when he received 50.8
percent of the vote. ZANU-PF also triumphed in the
parliamentary elections and captured 145 of 210 the
electoral seats in the National Assembly and 35 out of 60
electoral seats in the Senate against 63 and 24 respectively
for the MDC. Chamisa and MDC accused the regime of electoral
fraud, but the appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court.
The legal system in Zimbabwe is based mainly on Roman law
as it was produced by classical Dutch writers (Roman-Dutch
law), English law, domestic law and local customary
law. The highest courts are the High Court and the
Supreme Court. The death penalty can be punished
for some serious crimes.
Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has been controlled
by Robert Mugabe's authoritarian regime. With the help of
security forces, the political process in the country is
controlled and manipulated, effectively counteracting the
citizens' right to choose their government.
Opposition members and activists in civil society are at
great risk of being subjected to torture and arrests.
Reports also show that members of NGOs have been arrested,
imprisoned and prosecuted on loose grounds. Long awaiting
trial, denial of bail and inadequate access to legal
representatives are other major problems. New or amended
laws to increase respect for human rights in accordance with
the Constitution have been discussed but have not yet been
Although the Constitution itself prohibits torture and
other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, such methods
are used by security forces and police. The impunity is
widespread for security forces, police and government
In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for
2015, the country is ranked 130 out of 180 documented
states, that is, among those states with alarming
deficiencies in respect for freedom of the press and
opinion. News media practice self-censorship is common as
the risk of threats and prosecution is imminent.
Gender-related violence is a widespread problem. A large
part of the country's women have been subjected to physical
violence and sexual abuse and a widespread perception is
that a spouse is in her full right to abuse her husband. A
quarter of the large group of HIV-infected women is reported
to have been subjected to sexual violence as a child.
Heads of state