Just as in 1980, Zimbabwe’s Celebration May Be Short-Lived
By the thousands upon thousands, the people thronged the streets, waving banners, chanting slogans. A long-awaited future was fast approaching their land, Zimbabwe. One name was on all their lips: Robert Mugabe.
But this was not the huge crowd that flowed through Harare, the country’s capital, on Saturday, clamoring for Mr. Mugabe and his wife, Grace, to go. It was a jubilant crowd of 150,000 that welcomed Mr. Mugabe as a hero from his headquarters-in-exile in neighboring Mozambique in January 1980.
His return came at the start of a roller-coaster transition from white minority rule in Britain’s last African colony to an independent Zimbabwe.
In the weeks that followed his return, Mr. Mugabe survived assassination attempts, threatened to walk away from the peace deal reached under British auspices in London in late 1979 and won a landslide victory in elections that paved the way for independence on April 18, 1980.
On that night, working for the Reuters news agency, I stood with an open telephone line, ready to announce Zimbabwe’s birth on the stroke of midnight at a ceremony in Rufaro Stadium serenaded by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, was among the foreign dignitaries in attendance.
The pageantry ended an era that began in 1890, when the first colonial settlers arrived in the so-called Pioneer Column to take over farmland and prospect for gold and other mineral riches. They gave the country new borders and a new name, Rhodesia, for Cecil John Rhodes, the British arch-colonialist. Some arrived in such expectation of riches that they called it Africa’s El Dorado.