During the 1980 independence elections, ZANU allied itself with the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) in the Patriotic Front (PF), the two parties adopting the names ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU respectively, but they split after achieving majority rule.
In December 1987, after five years of low-level civil war termed Gukurahundi, the opposition ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo, was absorbed through the unity accord into ZANU-PF, in what was seen as a step towards a one-party state.
Their common goal was achieved in 1980 with the formal independence of Zimbabwe. During the 1980 election campaign the Patriotic Front alliance partners split into their respective factions and competed separately as ZANU-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Patriotic Front-ZAPU (ZAPU-PF). The election was won by Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF, with Joshua Nkomo and his PF-ZAPU retaining a stronghold in the province of Matabeleland.
In December 1987 a Unity Accord was signed between the two parties; PF-ZAPU was merged into ZANU-PF, effectively establishing a one-party state dominated Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF. Joshua Nkomo became one of two vice-presidents of Zimbabwe.
Officially, ZANU-PF is socialist in ideology, and is modeled on communist parties in other countries. The party maintains a politburo. However, the party had abandoned much of the egalitarian aspects associated with conventional Communist Party practice, instead choosing to pursue a mixed economy. But Mugabe has since pursued a more populist approach on the issue of land redistribution: encouraging seizure of large farms - usually owned by members of the white minority - "for the benefit of landless black peasants." Nevertheless, critics of this policy argue that it is to maintain his grip on power as supporters of his government directly benefit from their personal gains of land redistribution far more than the landless population.
At the December 2004 five-year conference, Joyce Mujuru, a Zezeru Shona like Mugabe and whose husband Solomon Mujuru is the retired head of the armed forces, was elevated to the post of vice-president of the party (the first woman to hold that office) at the expense of contender Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and his backer Jonathan Moyo the information minister and Emmerson Mnangagwa the former speaker of parliament.
The 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections were held on March 31, 2005. The party won 59.6 % of the popular vote and 78 out of 120 elected seats. Later that year, 26 November, it won 43 of 50 elected senators. The parliamentary election was disputed as being unfair. The leader of the opposition MDC party said, "We are deeply disturbed by the fraudulent activities we have unearthed," and various human rights groups reported that hundreds of thousands of 'ghost voters' had appeared on the electoral roll of 5.8 million people.
In the 2008 parliamentary election, the ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time, holding 94 seats out of the expanded 210 seats.
In the 2008 presidential election, Morgan Tsvangirai the MDC candidate received the most votes but didn't receive an absolute majority, thus a runoff was necessary. The election process that followed was marred by violence against and intimidation of voters and party workers. Morgan Tsvangirai initially stated he intended to contest the second round but pulled out of the run off saying a free and fair election was impossible in the current climate. The elections were held on June 27 with a single candidate, Robert Mugabe, who was reelected.