Zimbabwe declared its independence from Britain in 1965 under the name of "Rhodesia", led by a white regime under Ian Smith. However, this independence was not internationally recognized. The ensuing civil war between Smith’s military forces and two rival black liberation movements (ZANU under Robert Mugabe and ZAPU under Joshua Nkomo) led to a regime change in 1978 followed by the country’s full independence in 1980 under the name of Zimbabwe. At the same time the capital’s name Salisbury was changed to Harare. Since then the country has been governed almost exclusively by the ZANU-PF party (a merger between ZANU and ZAPU) under Robert Mugabe, who served as Prime Minister of the country until 1987. After relinquishing this post, Robert Mugabe became President of Zimbabwe during the same year, a position he has held ever since.
The last parliamentary and presidential elections took place on 31 July 2013 and resulted in a clear victory of President Mugabe (61% compared to 34% of his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai) as well as a 2/3 majority of ZANU-PF in Parliament. The party’s dominance in Parliament was strengthened even further after it won 16 more parliamentary seats through by-election in June 2015, following a boycott by the political opposition. At the 16th conference of the ZANU-PF in Masvingo in December 2016, Robert Mugabe was elected as presidential candidate for 2018 once again.
Continuing human rights violations as well as the situation of human rights defenders remain a matter of concern in Zimbabwe.
The Austrian Embassy in Harare was closed end of 2011. Since then Zimbabwe has been covered by the Austrian Embassy in Pretoria, supported by an Austrian Honorary Consulate in Harare since 13 June 2013. The bilateral relations between Austria and Zimbabwe are focusing mainly on development cooperation and cultural exchange.
In 1995 President Mugabe paid an official visit to Austria, which was followed by the opening of an Embassy in Vienna during the same year. However, in 2015 the Embassy had to be closed again due to budgetary constraints.
In November 2000, a bilateral investment protection agreement was signed. President Mugabe attended the Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries in Vienna in November 2014.
On 25 February 2016, Ambassador Öppinger-Walchshofer presented her credentials in Harare. During her visit the Ambassador had the opportunity to talk to Foreign Minister Honorable Dr. S. S. Mumbengegwi,
President Mugabe and Vice-President Mphoko. President Mugabe emphasized the strong ties between Zimbabwe and Austria, referring to, inter alia, the participation of Austria in a trade fair in Zimbabwe in 2014.
Around 85 Austrians live in Zimbabwe, significantly less than in previous years.
In 2014 Austrian entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe founded the Austrian Business Club in Harare.
In 2016 the Austrian exports amounted to EUR 2.27 million, consisting mainly of rail machinery and mechanical appliances as well as plastics, whereas imports stood at EUR 0.88 million and consisted predominantly of ferroalloys and fruits.
On the 18th of May, 2017, President Mugabe commissioned the Harare-Beitbridge Road project, which is aiming to upgrade the motorway between the South African Border and the capital city. This undertaking is based on a contract concluded between the Austrian company Geiger International and Zimbabwe.
Austria stopped its bilateral development cooperation in 2008. Nevertheless, the country still benefits from regional Austrian initiatives mainly in the field of on renewable energy, such as Soltrain, which offers training in solar thermal technology or the SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, based in Windhoek, Namibia. In addition Austria also supports the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre in Harare, which, amongst others, produces publications on the renewable energy sector in the region.
Furthermore Austrian NGOs keep on supporting individual projects in the country, such as SOS Children's Village (in Bindura, Bulawayo, and Waterfalls) or Diakonie Austria, which launched a project on 1 January, 2014, together with a Zimbabwean (Jairos Jiri Association) and a Palestinian partner organization, to promote the right to education for persons with intellectual disabilities. The program had a budget of EUR 950,000 and ended on 31 December, 2016.
Zimbabwe has been a member of UNESCO since 1980. The Zimbabwean Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture supports several institutions in the country, including the National Council of the Arts, which in turn wants to contribute to "national identity".
Based in Linz, ARGEZIM (Austria Zimbabwe Friendship Association) regularly organizes projects for cultural exchange between Austria and Zimbabwe, including through mutual visits.
In April 2015, the Austrian cellist Oskar Erich Hütter participated in the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).
At the opening of the 66th Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) in 2017, the Zimbabwean vocalist quartet MoZuluArt presented their music, which is a fusion of Mozart’s compositions with traditional African vocal styles.