Mugabe, Marley and Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence celebrations

Bob Marley

Zimbabwe, Britain’s last African colony, marked 40 years of independence this month. Its colonial experience was complicated when White settlers headed by Ian Smith, in 1965, unilaterally declared Rhodesia independent, against the aspirations of the black majority.

By Amb Kintu Nyago

While, it’s liberation catalysed when Smith, in 1974, released political prisoners, including Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, and Edger Tekere. The latter two Immediately escaped to Mozambique!

Here, Mugabe galvanized, ZANU and its armed wing ZANLA, behind him.  And garnered the support of Samora Machel’s Mozambique and Mao Zedong’s China. Then launched a ferocious, but successful protracted peoples war, against the intransigent Rhodesian regime, till when in 1979, it negotiated for a peaceful transfer of power.

Tekere, as ZANU’s Secretary-General, was instrumental in organising Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations. Invited dignitaries included Mwalimu Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel, and Indira Gandhi. The departing colonial master, Britain was represented by Prince Charles and Uganda by the youthful Vice Chairman of its Military Commission, Yoweri Museveni.

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Amb Kintu Nyago

The Jesuit educated Mugabe had also recommended the invitation of renowned Jamaican Gospel artist, Jimmy Cliff. However, the idiosyncratic Tekere, upon arriving in Kingston Town, also invited Bob Marley! The Rastafarian King of Reggae. This was to transform the independence gala!

Marley, who had campaigned against Southern Africa’s White racist regimes, upon receiving his invitation, decided to attend with his band, the Wailers! By the late 1970s his Pan Africanist liberation-oriented music that opposed racism and capitalist exploitation had grown popular among Zimbabwe’s revolutionaries.

Enroute to Salisbury, Marley detoured to London. And at his expense, hired 21 tons of equipment; a full 35,000-watt PA system plus blackline equipment. Additionally, he chartered a Boeing 707, to transport all this to the new Zimbabwe!

Upon arrival, on April 16, Marley received a hero’s welcome from Tekere and the ordinary folk. On the April 17, Marley travelled to Mutoko, 143 kilometers outside Salisbury, to meet marijuana growers and to sample their herb! A practice encouraged amongst Rastafarians.

That evening, at midnight, at Salisbury’s Rufaro Stadium, the new Zimbabwe was born and Salisbury was named Harare. Britain’s last Governor, Lord Soames, in the presence of Prince Charles, Nyerere, Machel, Gandhi, Museveni, and other dignitaries, handed over the instruments of power to the newly elected Prime Minister Mugabe who was in his element. For in his visionary speech, he called for reconciliation. This united both Zimbabwe and the international community behind his new regime.

Crucially, Mugabe’s reconciliatory tone also had positive geopolitical implications. For it conditioned Pretoria’s Apartheid regime, to eventually set Namibia free and later allow for a negotiated transfer of power in South Africa.

Right after Mugabe’s speech, Marley and the Wailers took to the stage shouting “Viva Zimbabwe” to the ululating crowds! These swelled towards them, leading to the trigger-happy Rhodesian police firing tear gas into them. This neither diminished the crowd’s enthusiasm nor stopped this historic concert! It climaxed when Marley sang his newly composed tunes; “Zimbabwe” and the Pan Africanist “Africa Unite”!    

Literally, the tune “Zimbabwe”, became the newly independent country’s second anthem! And in it, Marley in part sings” Every man gotta right to decide his destiny/And in his judgement there is no partiality/So arm in arms, with arms we’ll fight this little struggle… Africa shall liberate Zimbabwe…”  The crowd was ecstatic, and demanded for more! Which he did, the following evening of the 18th of April, when he provided an enthusiastic encore for free! It’s estimated that his mammoth audience, consisted of approximately 100,000 people!

Unfortunately, a year later, in 1981, aged merely 36 years, Marley, the visionary Pan Africanist philosopher artist succumbed to cancer and died. His short life’s impact was such, that in 2015, when Barack Obama, the first African American President of the USA, descended from Airforce One, in Jamaica, he immediately paid homage to Marley’, at his grave, and visited his home, which now is a museum.

The writer is Uganda’s deputy High Commissioner to Pretoria, South Africa. The New Vision

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