The Sunday Mail
This week, the nation celebrates 39 years of freedom from colonial bondage.
Whilst the main activities will be on Thursday, the very first celebrations of April 18, 1980 will remain etched in the memories of many for years to come.
Nhamo Chikomo, who witnessed the euphoria at Rufaro Stadium back then, says everytime April approaches, he re-experiences the mood he felt almost four decades ago. He was an informal trader at that time working for a local cool drink company and as he recollects the past, he has his hopes for the future.
Now 59 years old, Chikomo was just in his prime that year, living in Mbare’s bachelors flats when a free Zimbabwe was born. He vividly remembers the week that preceded 1980’s Independence Day and how people made a beeline to Rufaro Stadium to celebrate victory from the colonial white minority rule.
The Independence celebrations did not start on April 18, as might be the perception of many. According to Chikomo, people had practically camped at Rufaro Stadium days before April 18, as the celebrations gathered momentum.
And for residents from the surrounding suburbs like Mbare and Highfield hosting the celebrations “next door” had an added advantage.
“People sold various goods as the mood was for merry-making. The preparations started as soon as the results of the general elections were announced. And as soon as April 18 was confirmed as Independence Day, the excitement swept across Zimbabwe,” recollects Chikomo.
As an ice cream vendor, the heavens opened up for him and his stuff sold out before the actual day.
“We started making preparations two weeks in advance and even the prior arrangements were not enough because our stock was exhausted two days before the celebrations,” he remembers. He sold ice cream and snacks to thousands of Zimbabweans who held night vigils at Rufaro Stadium ahead of the celebrations.
“Some were camped at the stadium from April 16. They were in a party mood and we could not even cope with their food demands,” he says.
And he has a scar to show for it, as part of his leg is injured as he scurried for customers. Rightly so, he calls it a “birthmark” as the injury coincided with the country’s birth.
“I got injured from the chains of my tri-cycle as I was running to the stadium to secure a place to sell my things. We could not miss the fun because there were many local and international artistes performing that night. The mood was euphoric as the whole country was reverberating to the sounds of joy,” he says.
His brother, who has stayed in Mbare hostels for decades, also remembers April 17, the night before the main celebrations.
“The crowd was so huge and Rufaro Stadium was packed. We had to hold on to each other as musicians sang to the birth of a new Zimbabwe and everyone was happy. We had several international artistes who included Bob Marley, and our local stars like Zexie Manatsa, Thomas Mapfumo, Marshal Munhumumwe, Patrick Mukwamba, Oliver Mtukudzi and several others,” he said.
Comparing the Zimbabwe of then and now, one would noitce lots of differences as there has been a population explosion since Independence. Apart from the experience and euphoria of 1980, Chikomo says they had a disciplined society unlike most rowdy youths of today.
“If there is something we need to take back from the past in order to move forward, it is the disciplined life, a life that is dedicated more to the fear of God and development of our country,” he said.
He added that discipline, hard work, and honesty of purpose, which were the hallmarks of those days, are gone.
“While growing up, there was no get-rich-quick syndrome and fraudulent manipulations that are rife now. We have more of religion than spirituality now which has now changed the behavioural pattern of the citizenry. I will want to see more of the spiritual essence of life and the youth must realise that the ethos of success is hard work. There is no short cut to success,” he explains.
Despite the odds, Chikomo opines: “I think we have all cause to rejoice because of the development over the years such as advancement in technology which we are enjoying. This can be counted as a good indicator of progress. Then, it was difficult to send information.”
For Chikomo, the day the Union Jack was lowered will always be engraved in his memory and every April 18 brings a sigh of relief knowing that they live in a free society unlike what happened before Independence.
And on Thursday this week, people like Chikomo will be among the thousands expected to throng the National Sports Stadium for the 39th Independence Celebrations, themed “Embracing Devolution for Vision 2030”.