Marley wrote the song in support of the Marxist–Leninist and Maoist guerillas fighting against the Rhodesian government in the Bush War. Shortly after Robert Mugabe's victory and ascension to power in the newly renamed Zimbabwe, Marley was invited to perform at the independence celebrations in Salisbury. His concert was briefly delayed while local security forces quelled instances of civil unrest in the city.
"Zimbabwe" was the only song from the Survival album that was regularly performed by Marley on his last Uprising Tour in 1980, other Survival songs having been dropped prior.
The 2006 deluxe edition of the eponymous album Sublime contains an acoustic cover of "Zimbabwe" by Brad Nowell.