Formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, the country was a self-governing British colony from 1923. In 1965 the white minority government of the colony (then called Rhodesia) issued a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) under its Prime Minister, Ian Smith. Despite UN sanctions, illegal independence lasted until 1979, when the Lancaster House Agreement led to all-party elections (1980) and black majority rule under Robert Mugabe. The country then became an independent republic and a member of the Commonwealth. In 2002, following controversial land reforms, Mugabe was returned to power in a presidential election widely regarded as undemocratic: as a result Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth for twelve months, and then chose to withdraw.
From Shona dzimbabwe 'walled grave', originally referring to Great Zimbabwe, a complex of stone ruins in one of the country's fertile valleys, the remains of a city at the centre of a flourishing civilization in the 14th and 15th centuries.
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