When the people in the area now known as Zimbabwe chose the name of their country, they expressed a desire to reconnect with a magnificent history.
About six decades, it mattered what former colonies on the African continent called themselves after they had fought for independence from Europeans.
If the Shakespearean query “what is in a name?” was put up, many of Africa’s founding leaders would tell you, “a lot”. Robert Mugabe and the rest of the political and military forces who wanted a free country understood what is in a name.
The name of the new country had to embody the aspirational spirit of the people. And for many of these territories that had been arbitrarily carved by European imperialists, a new name had to be an idea different groups could get behind.
Before 1980, the area called Zimbabwe was known as Southern Rhodesia, infamously named after Cecil Rhodes, a politician and private benefactor of Britain’s imperial ambitions.
Indeed, Rhodesia itself was a British colony that covered territories in southern Africa which included today’s Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Before European colonization, the area was the home of the Bantu people. The Bantu are a collection of natives in the southern and central parts of Africa whose languages and cultures are similar.
Research shows different Bantu groups have been autochthonous to the region as far as the 3rd millennia BC.
The Shona, a Bantu people, constitute the majority of the people in Zimbabwe. Theirs is a language that is one of the most widely spoken among Bantu people in southern Africa.
Independence in 1980 was an opportunity for Zimbabwe’s freedom fighters to celebrate indigeneity. And that is why they chose the Shona dzimba-hwe, which means “venerated houses”, as the country’s name.
Zimbabwe was not just a beautiful Shona name. It was also the name of a great but shortlived ancient kingdom in the 13th century.
Historians identify the old Zimbabwe as an apogee of Bantu civilization. Critical history perspectives would argue that ancient Zimbabwe could have been greater had European intrusion not happened.
In a simplified way, what Mugabe and others chose to call their country was a salutation to a golden past.