Zimbabwe's economy continued its implosion during 2006, and the Ndebele people, prominent among the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and distrusted by the government of President Robert Mugabe, continued to bear the brunt of his regime. The Ndebele make up around 16 per cent of the country's population. Shortly after his 1980 election, following the ouster of white supremacist Ian Smith's regime, Mugabe summoned nationalism among the Shona people – comprising about 70 per cent of the population – to consolidate his power and sideline his greatest liberation rival, the Ndebele tribesman Joshua Nkomo. It is estimated that Mugabe's 'Gukurahundi' pogrom in the Ndebele heartlands of Matabeleland and the Midlands from 1983 to 1987 resulted in 10,000–20,000 killings. In recent years, Mugabe has discriminated against opposition supporters, and thus many Ndebele, in distribution of food aid necessitated by his economic policies. In October 2006, Mugabe's party spokesman resurrected bitterness over Gukurahundi, saying he had no regrets about the atrocities.

In 2006, it was estimated that 85 per cent of Zimbabweans lived in poverty and in 2007 the country's inflation rate has reached 1,600 per cent. An estimated 3–5 million impoverished Zimbabweans have fled the former breadbasket of southern Africa to South Africa, where they have become targets of resentment and face the prospect of grim migrant holding camps.

South African whites have expressed nervousness that Jacob Zuma, a leading candidate to succeed current President Thabo Mbeki, has not sufficiently distanced himself from Mugabe's policies of land redistribution, which, beginning in 2000, stripped some 4,000 white Zimbabweans of their farms and precipitated Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. Many among South Africa's black majority are impatient with the pace of economic improvement after Apartheid, and the continued white ownership of most fertile land. They clamour for land redistribution, although in Zimbabwe most confiscated land ended up in the hands of elites or unskilled and largely unsuccessful subsistence farmers, all regime supporters.

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