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Zimbabwe: key country facts


Key facts about Zimbabwe, which on Saturday votes on a new constitution designed to underpin democratic reforms.

- GEOGRAPHY: Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa, bounded by Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.

Surface area: 390,308 square kilometres (150,700 square miles).

- POPULATION: 13 million in 2012 (official).

- CAPITAL: Harare.

- LANGUAGES: English (official), shona, ndebele. If the new constitution is approved, 16 languages would be recognised including sign language.

- RELIGION: Christian (50 percent, mainly Anglican), Animists (40 percent)

- HISTORY/POLITICS: British settlers arrived in 1890 from South Africa, attracted by mineral wealth and later by farming. In the late 19th century, the mining magnate Cecil Rhodes was to give his name to what became the British colony of Southern Rhodesia.

In 1965, when most remaining European colonies in Africa were obtaining independence under black majority rule, the tiny white minority in Southern Rhodesia broke away from Britain, forming a racist regime similar to that in neighbouring South Africa.

This led to a bloody liberation war from 1972, culminating in independence, negotiated under British auspices, in April 1980.

Robert Mugabe, who has led the country ever since and who changed its name to Zimbabwe, was the leader of one of the two main nationalist groups, today known as the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

In March 2008, general elections the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the main opposition party led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won control of parliament from Mugabe's party.

Tsvangirai also beat Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election, but dropped out in response to violence against his supporters in the run-up to the second round. Mugabe, unopposed, was re-elected.

The former rivals set up a unity government in early 2009 after the violent polls tipped the country into crisis. Mugabe remained president under the deal, while Tsvangirai became prime minister.

In January 2013, the rival political parties agreed on a final draft of a constitution that was put to a referendum on Saturday ahead of elections expected in July.

- ECONOMY: Farming (tobacco and cotton) and minerals (platinum, gold and tin).

Zimbabwe, southern Africa's former bread basket, went through a decade of economic stagnation, characterised by hyperinflation which in late 2008 stood at millions of percent.

Recovery began after the government of national unity abandoned the local dollar in favour of the US dollar in 2009. But progress has been hindered by sanctions against the regime and the policy of indigenisation that forces foreign-owned companies to sell 51 percent of shares to locals.

In 2000, Mugabe began a process of expropriating farms from the white minority and giving the land to blacks, in a process that led to accusations of corruption and cronyism.

EXTERNAL DEBT: $5 billion in 2009 (World Bank)


- ARMED FORCES: 29,000 military personnel, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (2012) and 21,800 paramilitaries.