• Indigenous peoples in Zimbabwe

    Indigenous peoples in Zimbabwe

    There are two peoples that self-identify as in indigenous in Zimbabwe, the Tshawa and the Doma. However, the Government of Zimbabwe does not recognise any specific groups as indigenous to the country.

The Indigenous World 2024: Zimbabwe

The Republic of Zimbabwe celebrated its 43rd year of Independence in 2023. While the Government of Zimbabwe does not recognize any specific groups as Indigenous to the country, two peoples self-identify as such: the Tshwa (Tjwa, Cua) San found in western Zimbabwe, and the Doma (Vadema, Tembomvura) of Mbire District in north-central Zimbabwe. Population estimates indicate that there are 3,207 Tshwa and 1,579 Doma in Zimbabwe, representing approximately 0.0031% of the country’s population of 15,418,764 in 2023. The government uses the term “marginalized communities” when referring to such groups.

Many of the Tshwa and Doma live below the poverty line in Zimbabwe and together they comprise some of the poorest people in the country. Socio-economic data is limited for both groups, although a survey was done of the Doma in 2021. Both the Tshwa and Doma have histories of hunting and gathering, and their households now have diversified economies, including informal agricultural work for other groups, pastoralism, mining, small-scale business enterprises, and working in the tourism industry. Remittances from relatives and friends both inside and outside the country make up a small proportion of the total incomes of the Tshwa and Doma. As is the case with other Zimbabweans, small numbers of Tshwa and Doma have emigrated to other countries in search of income-generating opportunities, employment, and greater social security.

The realization of core human rights in Zimbabwe continues to be challenging. Zimbabwe is party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Reporting on these conventions is largely overdue but there were efforts in 2023 to meet some of the conventions’ requirements. Zimbabwe also voted for the adoption of the UNDRIP in 2007. Zimbabwe has not signed the only international human rights convention addressing Indigenous Peoples: ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of 1989. The government has indicated its wish to expand its programmes and service delivery to marginalized communities but there are no specific laws on Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Zimbabwe. However, the “Koisan” language is included in Zimbabwe’s 2013 revised Constitution as one of the 16 languages recognized in the country, and there is some awareness within government of the need for more information and improved approaches to poverty alleviation and improvement in the well-being of minorities and marginalized communities. Work was done on the Tjwao language by the Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust in 2023. Zimbabwe also participated in the 22nd annual meetings of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York from 17-28 April 2023.

Political landscape

The marginalized communities in Zimbabwe, including the Tshwa and the Doma, have not benefitted from the land reform programme that Zimbabwe has initiated. There were no land distributions in 2023 that went to Tshwa or Doma. Government budgets were expended mainly on services and infrastructure. While a relatively optimistic view of the state of the Zimbabwe economy was presented by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his State of the Nation Address on 3 October 2023,[1] the country continued to deteriorate economically, socially, and politically. The number of Zimbabweans whose livelihoods have become more difficult increased in 2023, both in rural and urban areas. Income levels of Tshwa and Doma dropped by 17-20%, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust.[2]

The ruling party (the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, ZANU-PF) continued its crackdown on dissidents, and numerous journalists and members of non-governmental organizations were detained, arrested, and jailed. Demonstrations against the Mnangagwa government continued and even intensified in the run-up to the elections on 27 August 2023. Particular concerns were voiced about the honesty of the elections.

Land rights, reforms and area management

Land rights continued to be a central concern of Indigenous and marginalized communities in Zimbabwe in 2023. The Fast Track Land Reform Programme did not have as many positive benefits as anticipated for marginalized communities throughout the year. There were also complaints about the ways in which the land reform programmes were affecting women, the poor, and minorities.[3] Particular concerns were expressed about the Fast Track Land Reform Programme.[4]

There were evictions from land declared as mines in Tsholotsho North and Tsholotsho South, two districts where the Tshwa are located.[5] Tshwa employees in some of the mines found themselves out of work as the ownership of the gold, diamond, and platinum mines changed hands from government-owned to privately-owned. Artisanal mining continued to be practised in western Zimbabwe, with health and other effects on miners being ongoing problems.

Conversely, one programme in which both the Tshwa and Doma benefitted, at least to some extent, was the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). CAMPFIRE-related activities were ongoing in 2023 in Tsholotsho and Bulalimamangwe districts where the Tshwa reside, and in Mbire District in north-central Zimbabwe where the Doma reside. Tshwa and Doma both said in interviews that, while they appreciated the CAMPFIRE programme, they felt that individuals should receive direct cash benefits instead of the Rural Development Councils getting to use the funds for their own purposes.

Declining food security

The nutritional status of both Tshwa and Doma deteriorated in 2023, due in part to rising prices caused by international events such as the Ukraine-Russia War and the slowing of shipping through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean as well as internal economic problems. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society both noted problems in the availability of food in Zimbabwe.[6] The water development efforts – including the drilling of boreholes – did not offset the problems of access to water in Tsholotsho to any significant degree. A number of Tshwa and Doma said that their livelihoods were deteriorating in 2023, due in part to drought and other climatic processes and the economic downturn in Zimbabwe’s economy.

Human-wildlife conflicts

Human-wildlife conflicts affected Indigenous and minority populations in western and central Zimbabwe in 2023. There were problems with elephants, in particular, which were destroying water points and crops. The Indigenous and minority groups were hopeful that changes in government legislation on wildlife conservation would be to their benefit, including compensation payments for livestock and crop losses as part of a newly-proposed Human-Wildlife Conflict Relief Fund mentioned by President Mnangagwa in his State of the Nation report for 2023.[7] The relief fund was only recently set up in 2023 but no benefits were provided to Tshwa or Doma for livestock losses to predators during this year.

Participation at international and regional events

Zimbabwe attended the COP 28 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai from 30 November to 10 December 2023. Zimbabwean non-government organizations that attended the climate change meeting noted the impacts of climate change on Zimbabwe, which they said were particularly problematic because of its land-locked position and the variations in precipitation that were occurring there.

A Tshwa representative attended a conference on minority youth held in Windhoek, Namibia in November 2023. A few Zimbabweans attended a UNESCO-sponsored meeting on Cultural Heritage held in December in Kasane, Botswana. Tshwa pointed out that the cultural heritage of the people residing in Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces was important, and included rock art and ancestral Tshwa sites which they hoped tourists would visit as the numbers picked up again after the end of the COVID-19-related decline in tourism. Indigenous women were able to generate some additional income through craft sales to the expanded number of tourists in 2023.


Indigenous Peoples in Zimbabwe felt that they were worse off in 2023 than they had been previously. Much of the country’s attention was captured by the August 2023 elections. Statements about how marginalized communities were going to be served more effectively by the President and his cabinet turned out to be mainly lip service aimed at obtaining votes. At the same time, the poorest of the poor Indigenous and marginalized community members believed that they were worse off, especially in terms of land access, employment, and income.



Davy Ndlovu is the director of the Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust (TSDT) in Bulawayo, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Benjamin Begbie-Clench is a freelance consultant who has worked extensively on San issues throughout Southern Africa, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Robert K. Hitchcock is an anthropology professor at the University of New Mexico and a member of the Board of the Kalahari Peoples Fund, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Melinda C. Kelly works with the Kalahari Peoples Fund and does research with San peoples in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] Mnangagwa, Emmerson. E. President “Zimbabwe State of the Nation Address.” First Session of the Tenth Session of the Tenth Parliament of Zimbabwe, 3 October 2023.

[2] Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) Annual Report for 2023. Tsororo-o-tso San Development Trust Annual Report 2023

[3] Mujeyi, Kingstone and Jackqeline Mutambara. “Redistributive Land Reform and Women Nutritional Status in Zimbabwe.” Social Sciences and Humanities Open 7 (2023): 100380.

[4] Nwayo, Vongai Z.  “The fast track land reform of Zimbabwe read through the lens of Ubuntu.” Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, 8(4-6) (2023):189-204.

[5] Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust Annual Report for 2023. Bulawayo: TSDT.

[6] Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2023; Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, Harare, Annual Report 2023.

[7] Mnangagwa, Emmerson. E. President “Zimbabwe State of the Nation Address.” First Session of the Tenth Session of the Tenth Parliament of Zimbabwe, 3 October 2023. P. 7.

Tags: Land rights, Human rights, Conservation, International Processes



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