18th April

Zimbabwe Independence Day

Zimbabwe is named after the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, and may mean ‘large stone houses’.

From c.1450 Zimbabwe was called the Mutapa Empire and provided trade routes to Arabs and the Portuguese. The Portuguese decided they wanted to own the routes and began to war with them until the empire collapsed.

It then became the Rozwi Empire, expelling the Portuguese. A Zulu clan called the Ndebele conquered the Rozwi empire by 1838.

In the 1880s Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company arrived, gradually took over using some very British treaties and soldiers, and named the country Rhodesia after Cecil.

The BSAC tried to raid the South African Republic, expecting British ex-pats there to rise up and help fight off their Dutch rulers, but it failed, and this inspired the Ndebele to rebel, but this was quashed.

In WWII Southern Rhodesia contributed more (per white person) to the war effort, particularly in East Africa fighting Italian Axis forces, than any other part of the British empire, including Britain.

Northern and Southern Rhodesia were combined (by Britain, without anyone wanting them to) with Nyasaland (now Malawi) into the Central African Federation, which didn’t last long.

Northern Rhodesia then became Zambia, and independent, so Southern Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, who led the Rhodesian Front, claimed independence too. Britain was reluctant as usually we only allowed colonies to become independent once they had a majority rule (i.e., they weren’t being governed solely by the white minority).

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National  Union started a guerilla war against the white Rhodesian Front.

In 1978 Ian Smith agreed that maybe actual Africans could run for election too, and the United African National Council won, with African bishop Abel Muzorewa becoming Prime Minister.

Britain helped negotiate to end the guerilla war. In 1980 Mugabe’s ZANU won a landslide victory. The Ndebele thought this was a Shona takeover; Mugabe killed and tortured tens of thousands of Ndebele to shut them up in the Matabeleland Massacres.

Other problems emerged: around 1 in 4 Zimbabweans were infected with HIV by 1997, and in 2006 Zimbabwe had the shortest life expectancy in the world (about 35 years).

70% of the land was owned by white people. Mugabe forcefully redistributed the land to his friends in 2000. In 2002 Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth.

60% of Zimbabwe’s wildlife has died since 2000 due to excessive poaching and deforestation (people use trees for fuel as electricity is unreliable).

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River is one of the biggest waterfalls in the world.

Zimbabwe is also proud of its Balancing Rocks – can you build something like this?

The Shona people are famous for their sculptures.

Did you know Boy Scouting began here when Baden-Powell was fighting in the second Matabele War with Frederick Burnham, the Chief of Scouts for the British Army, and they started planning…


Japan Invention Day

They’ve invented such things as the novel, the idea of time travel, many different martial arts and video games, the digital synthesiser. They also have a special category of inventions, chindogu, which is those ‘unuseless’ inventions that seem like a good idea but actually cause more problems.


Sechselaeuten (Zuerich, 2016) – older kids may enjoy making an effigy of Winter and then burning it, especially if you’re having a cold April.


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