Today, Zimbabwe marks 39 years of independence from British colonial rule.
This year’s commemoration falls on the backdrop of debate amongst citizens about whether the white farmers who were evicted from Zimbabwean farms in the 2000s deserve to be compensated as announced by government earlier this month.
The second big issue on Zimbabwe’s agenda is the Gukurahundi genocide. Zimbabweans are mounting increased pressure on the government to create programs for healing and reconciliation for the families of victims.
These key issues, coupled with a sudden increase in bread price to $3.50, and the general increase in prices of all basic commodities, mean that citizens have high expectations from the President’s inaugural address on the day.
Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebrations have customarily become opportunities for the government to communicate policy positions.
The official celebration itself takes place at Harare’s 60,000 capacity National Sports Stadium. The festivities usually kick-off with a military parade including the Zimbabwe National Army, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Air Force of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Prisons Services.
This is followed by the arrival of the President, and the inspection of the Guard of Honour, concluded by the lighting of the “Eternal Flame of Freedom”. A Bible reading and prayer before the President’s highly anticipated speech normally follow on the itinerary.
Once formalities are out of the way, the fan-fare of the celebrations kick-start with a military parade, acrobatics, artist performances and a soccer match.
It is a full day event open to the public. However, the themes and political undertones over the years have taken center-stage and become the biggest talking points.
Here is a timeline of some of the most talked about Independence Days over the years.
1980 – The first Independence Day celebration was marked with a performance by Bob Marley. He performed his song, “Every Man’s Gotta Right to His Own Destiny” which was symbolic of the mood.
2001 – The 2000s marked an era with a focus on economic freedom and national pride on the back of the land reforms. The Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo introduced a 75% local content policy on all media platforms. This saw a rise in popularity of local music and the addition of massive concerts, Independence Day Galas, to the annual celebrations.
2002 – At the peak of the land reforms, the West imposed political and economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. The mood was anti-West, with a “More Fire” themed Independence Gala. This included a performance by Tambaoga, who sang his song, titled ‘Agirimendi’. The song contained lyrics such as “the Blair that I know is a toilet” (a play on words referring to Tony Blair and pit latrines, commonly referred to as blair toilets).
2003 – President Robert Mugabe delivered one of his most talked about speeches. He stated that “Africa is for Africans, and Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans. Our dear Zimbabwe will never again fall into foreign hands.
Never, never, never, never again will Zimbabwe be a colony.”
2004 – With increasing international pressure on Zimbabwe about the ongoing land reforms, members of the public who attended the ceremony carried placards written, “Our land is our prosperity” and “Support agrarian reform.”
2005 – At this point, the main opposition party, MDC, had gained significant support and impact in Zimbabwe, and so, they used the Independence Day as an opportunity to emphasize their stance against the government and ruling party by boycotting national events and encouraging their supporters to do the same.
2008 – Anti- opposition and anti- West rhetoric continued, with the key message delivered by President Mugabe being “Zimbabwe is no place for sellouts, we are our own liberators”.
2009 – Following the creation of the Government of National Unity that included all major political parties, MDC rejoined Independence Day celebrations and wearing party regalia to national events was banned. The emphasis this year was on a united Zimbabwe.
2018 – After the coup that removed him from presidency in November 2017, this was the first Independence Day without Robert Mugabe.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa introduced the campaign telling the world that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’.