This paper provides the first comprehensive population based cancer survival estimates from the African continent. Five-year absolute and relative survival estimates are presented for black and white Zimbabwean patients diagnosed with cancer in Harare, Zimbabwe between the years 1993 and 1997. The survival of black Zimbabwean cancer patients are among the lowest ever reported from population based cancer registries. For most cancer sites, white Zimbabwean patients have much higher survival than black Zimbabweans, except for lung and colorectal cancer, for which the estimates are similarly poor. Race specific comparisons to cancer patients in the United States show that Zimbabwean patients have much lower survival than American cancer patients and that the gap between black Zimbabwean patients and black American patients is broader than between white Zimbabwean and white American patients. Access to and the ability to pay for medical care may be a very important barrier to better survival for the majority of black Zimbabwean patients and the most important cause for the very low cancer survival in this population. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.