Stone cities were built in many locations in present-day Zimbabwe. The most impressive structures and the best known of these, Great Zimbabwe, were built in the 15th century, but people had been living on the site from about 400 AD. The Khami Ruins just outside Bulawayo are also a wonderful example.
The population was overwhelmingly made up of Shona speakers until the 19th century when the Nguni tribe (in 1839-40) of the Ndebele settled in what is now Matabeleland, and then in 1890, the territory came under the control of the British South Africa Company under charter from the British Government.
The United Kingdom annexed the land, then called Southern Rhodesia, from the British South Africa Company in 1923, when the country got its own government and Prime Minister. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favoured whites in power. In 1965, this white supremacist government unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded voting rights for the black majority. UN sanctions and a guerrilla struggle finally led to both free elections and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980.
Robert Mugabe became the first black leader of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, he turned into a dictator and has remained in power since 1980 (1980-1987 as Prime Minister, and thereafter as President). Starting in 2000, the government unilaterally expropriated some very productive farms, which were in the hands of white Zimbabweans, and handed them over to members of Mugabe's ZANU Party who were inexperienced in farming, resulting in a drastic falloff in local food production. In 2005, he started a program which cleared slums, forcing hundreds of thousands of people onto the street. Rigged elections and human rights abuses led to the country's departure from the Commonwealth and international sanctions. Eventually, misrule and sanctions triggered massive, runaway inflation and an exodus from the country. Following widespread protests, a power-sharing agreement was signed between President Mugabe and the leader of the main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai, in 2008. Since then, the situation has stabilized, though Mr. Mugabe remains President and has been accused of further vote-rigging to stay in power.