Promoted Alex N’gonga scored after four minutes and substitute Kabaso Chongo sealed success two minutes into stoppage time in the Zambian mining city of Ndola.
But the scoreline was cruel to Zimbabwe, who won far more possession only to be foiled by some great goalkeeping from Danny Munyau and their own poor finishing.
It was the fourth southern African national team championship title for Zambia, matching Zimbabwe’s record.
And France-born Zambia coach Herve Renard got the revenge he craved for 2005 and 2009 final defeats by Zimbabwe.
It was his second trophy in charge of the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets), having defied the odds to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
N’gonga, elevated to the starting line-up after making a big impact when he came on against South Africa in the semi-finals, struck on four minutes.
The position of the free-kick — 25 metres out near the touchline — hardly spelt danger to Zimbabwe.
But as the kick flew goalwards, the defensive wall pushed forward and the ball bounced once before flying over Maxwell Nyamupangedengu into the corner.
A wonderful start for the hosts almost got even better on the quarter-hour mark when a Bornwell Mwape back-header rebounded off the crossbar.
Zimbabwe slowed gained the ascendancy and a purple patch midway through the opening half came close to delivering an equaliser.
Tendai Ndoro headed wide from close range, Munyau acrobatically tipped away a Last Chibwiro drive, and an Eric Chipeta header off a corner flew just over.
There were more substitutions than scoring chances in a second half Zimbabwe often controlled, and Munyau did superbly to keep out a Ronald Chitiyo header.
Zambia substitute Moses Phiri went close with a shot across the goalmouth before Chongo landed the killer blow.
His goal was a carbon copy of the first as he glided the ball across the face of the goal and into the far corner.
In a curtain-raiser, captain Wayne Sandilands saved a penalty as South Africa defeated tournament giantkillers Lesotho 2-1 to finish third.
The goalkeeper guessed right as defender Tlali Maile took his second spot kick of the match, diving left and making a one-handed block.
With Ralekoti Mokhahlane absent, Maile took over the penalty-taking duties and converted one midway through the opening half for the Likuena (Crocodiles).
Mandla Masongo levelled close to half-time and fellow midfielder Hlompho Kekana nudged Bafana Bafana (The Boys) ahead on 53 minutes.
It was the second goal of the 15-day tournament for Kekana, whose industry and finishing earned him the man-of-the-match award.