Southern Rhodesia was created by acquisitive British colonial entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, after whom landlocked territory south of the Zambesi River was named. The country became a self-governing British colony in 1923, but when majority governments started replacing colonial administrations all over Africa, Rhodesia’s white rulers made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in 1965, joining neighboring South Africa in trying to roll back the advancing tide of black nationalism.
Stakes were high, for the fertile land was ideal for growing maize and tobacco, with white-owned farms producing excellent yields. But the breakaway was doomed. Prolonged armed struggle between Ian Smith’s government and two groups of freedom fighters – Robert Mugabe’s ZANU and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU – ended in defeat for the beleaguered regime, though the war lasted for 15 years.
Robert Mugabe’s ZANU won a landslide victory in free elections held in 1980, then ruthlessly crushed rival ZANU in its Matabeleland power base. Although the newly named Zimbabwe was nominally a parliamentary democracy, and it took some time to erode established institutions like an independent judiciary, Mugabe set about becoming an autocratic dictator.
White farms were seized from 2000 – the best by government high-ups, most of the rest by roaming bands of war veterans. Agricultural production imploded, exports dried up, economic activity stagnated and the country ran out of hard currency. The result was disastrous for Zimbabwe’s population, leading to hyperinflation that ravaged the country. Between 1998 and 2007 the annual inflation rate rose from 32 per cent to 2.31 million per cent in 2008, going off the scale in 2009 with prices doubling every 1.3 days and banknotes reaching dizzying denominations of Z$100 billion and more. It had taken fewer than 30 years for Mugabe’s corrupt regime to destroy Zimbabwe’s economy and turn the prosperous ‘bread basket of Africa’ into a basket case.
When was the Zimbabwe Hyperinflation: 2000-2009
Where was the Zimbabwe Hyperinflation: Zimbabwe
What was the Zimbabwe Hyperinflation death toll: The number of deaths specifically caused by malnutrition and related diseases since Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed and hyperinflation took hold can only be guessed at but best estimates start in the high tens of thousands and don’t stop there. Average life expectancy in Zimbabwe declined to 37 years of age for men and 34 for women, the world’s lowest figures.
You should know: The inflation nightmare eased somewhat – for some – in January 2009 when Zimbabwe citizens were officially permitted to use hard currency to purchase the few goods and services that were available. But this was little consolation for those unfortunate sufferers without relatives abroad who could send back life-saving remittances or helpful contacts in the regime.