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‘We celebrate as one united, peaceful family’

IT’S 8am on a Saturday and some people are still in bed in Harare’s Mabelreign residential suburb.

The sound of a vehicle hooter wakes up some residents and draws the attention of pedestrians along Sherwood Drive.

“Handeyi kuIndependence mahara,” shouts a young man sticking out his head out of the Mazda Swaraj minibus carrying a handful of passengers. Out of curiosity and interest joining the free ride was inevitable.

Seated on the front seat of the minibus was a police officer who ordered the young man to turn away anyone with party regalia.

The bus continued to head towards Greencroft shopping centre where it parked for about 15 minutes before a middle-aged woman shouted: “Kwaenda gogo vaye vemusika (One elderly woman at the vegetable market has gone to the Independence celebrations).” Seemingly bothered by the reluctance of the vegetable vendors to join the trip, other women seated at the back seats quipped, “vamwe havadi kuenda kuTotal Independence”, before a man seated behind us asked if there was a register for attending the celebrations.

Along the way, a woman seated in front asked for permission to sing “revolutionary” songs that do not praise any political party. The permission was granted.

The bus headed for Lomagundi road and turned into Old Mazoe road where it took a left turn to Chirera plot outside Marlborough.

Residents at the plot stood still, in clear suspicion of the sound of singing women in the white bus emblazoned with national colours that was approaching their compound.

At the centre of the compound were two men seated under a tree busy preparing fish sourced from a nearby dam. Ignoring the passengers’ invitation to the celebrations, the men continued with their early chores.

Watching from the safety of their homes were some women and children standing at doorsteps.

This did not go down well with some passengers who responded by insulting the farm workers accusing them of being “unpatriotic”. The political slurs were refrained after the police officer intervened and the subsequent U-turn of the bus, with no one from the compound having boarded it.

“This is a national event and no one should be forced to attend,” said the junior police officer to the abusive women. A moment of silence ensued only to be broken at Westgate shopping complex where a handful of people boarded the then half-full bus.

Thereafter, a quarrel ensued over the route to take to the National Sports Stadium. The driver wanted to go past Westlea, while other passengers wished to go back to Mabelreign to fill the bus.

This was resolved after more people who were making their way to the celebrations on foot were picked up along the way and in no time the bus was full to the brim. This was a reprieve for passengers who were anxious and fearful that they might fail to secure space at the historic event that was attended by Mugabe’s former archrival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister in the new coalition government.

This year’s 29th independence celebrations will be historic in many aspects. Not only did Tsvangirai’s attendance make the event different. But the “independence” to attend such an event without traditional coercion from Zanu PF supporters made the event different. Information gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent showed that unlike last year, no one was forced to attend the celebrations.

In previous years, Zanu PF youths closed people’s markets in the high density suburbs, especially Mbare Musika and Mupedzanhamo, to coerce vendors and shoppers to attend the liberty celebrations.

Again to celebrate the unison of the seemingly fragile inclusive government, the three main political parties represented in the inclusive government barred party activists from attending the event in party regalia.

On arrival at the Chinese-built stadium, pro-liberation struggle songs could be heard thumping out while the precincts of the stadium told a tale of how not to run a public structure. The formerly neatly manicured turf of the 1984-built stadium is now filled with weeds.

The seating arrangements at the stadium seemed to have been organised on party lines. Out of the 15 000 attendees, a third of them were members of the uniformed forces.

The arrival of dignitaries drew various responses from the public.

Already seated when the Independent news crew arrived at the stadium were deputy prime ministers Arthur Mutambara and Thokozani Khupe.

The arrival of service chiefs was greeted by ululations from suspected Zanu PF women’s league members who were clad in white blouses and black skirts. It was also hyped by a commissioned officer who was one of the masters of ceremony who described the parade mounted by the army, police and prison officers.

From the executive, first to arrive was vice-president Joseph Msika who walked into the ground surrounded by a half dozen of security details.

Following him was second vice-president Joice Mujuru who emerged from the bays behind the VIP sheds. Thereafter, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu –– who co-acted as master of ceremonies  –– announced the arrival of Tsvangirai to a frenzy from supporters seated at the bays opposite government officials.

As Tsvangirai was walking to the VIP enclosure, service chiefs who had just finished inspecting the joint forces parade paced to one of the main gates reserved for “VIPs”. While journalists were still curious about the sudden walk of the chiefs from the stadium, the president’s motorcade arrived.

“Shasha yeAfrica, mutungamiri anoona zviri mberi, ndivo vari panyanga muZimbabwe (One of Africa’s greatest leaders, a visionary leader…the one at the helm of the government),” shouted Shamu as Women’s League members continued to dance and ululate.

For Tsvangirai and other government officials, the arrival of the veteran leader was a moment for a standing ovation. But for his supporters across the stadium, the octogenarian’s leader’s arrival did not draw much attention. They remained glued to their concrete seats.

After inspecting the guard of honour, Mugabe –– commander-in-chief of the defence forces –– delivered a speech that marked a shift from his traditional rhetoric and taunts against rivals, Western Europe and the United States.

Following the events from the giant big screen beaming the event live, Tsvangirai’s supporters cheered whenever cutaway shots of the former trade union leader appeared during the speech that interchanged between the vernacular Shona and English.  

“This year’s Independence celebrations are indeed unique because they gave us an opportunity to celebrate as one united and peaceful family, gathered here at the National Stadium and, no doubt, at other venues, in provincial, district or small local clusters,” said Mugabe. “This is as it should be; for a while we may hold different beliefs in other aspects of our lives, the liberation of country should be an achievement we should cherish.”

Mugabe’s remarks mark a paradigm shift from his previous address at the height of political violence after the March general elections he lost to Tsvangirai. Back then Mugabe vowed that nothing would change in national politics.

Mugabe finished his speech at 13.00hrs before other activities scheduled for the day followed. Scores of people started trickling into the stadium to watch the Independence Cup soccer match that pitted Dynamos against Njube Sundowns.


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