In recent years, under the despotic rule of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe became a byword for chaos, corruption and cruelty, but when a German geologist discovered gold there in the 1860s it was touted as the home of the biblical King Solomon’s mines or the domain of the Queen of Sheba. So what really is the true nature of the country?
In Martin Meredith’s important and definitive new study of the country we follow its story across more than 600 years, from a period of relative stability when local kings ruled from Great ZimbabweÂ to the modern era. The greatest change came when Cecil Rhodes led a small band of settlers north of the Limpopo river from the Cape and created a new country he named Rhodesia. Granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria in 1889, the British South Africa Company was the vehicle used by Rhodes to exploit the people and resources of the country. White rule became entrenched, even as decolonisation spread across the rest of the continent, with Ian Smith its uncompromising face.
Eventually, in 1980, white supremacy came to an end as Mugabe won an election held under British auspices before turning against his black opponents, killing thousands in Matabeleland. The country, once one of the most prosperous in Africa, soon descended into chaos and poverty, until finally in 2017 he was overthrown in a military coup. Meredith’s brilliant account brings together key themes throughout Zimbabwe’s history to create a sweeping narrative of a country that has so much potential but has been so badly led.