Zimbabwe observes independence on 18 April. The Southern Africa nation gained independence from Britain in 1980, following an intense war of liberation.
As the country celebrates this significant day, we take a look at the history and activities that led to independence, the country’s Independence Day traditions, and why the day means nothing to some Zimbabweans.
1How freedom was attained
The Zimbabwean Independence in 1980 marked the end of more than 90 years of white minority rule after a long liberation struggle that claimed many lives. Independence was achieved through nationalist movements – such as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), United African National Congress (UANC), and the National Development Party (NDP) – that fought for the freedoms that had been taken away from black Africans by the colonial powers. Power was transferred to the new nationalist government through the Lancaster House Agreement, a series of negotiations between the nationalist parties and the colonial government between September and December 1979.
Formerly known as Rhodesia, Zimbabwe got its new name in 1980. The country was named after the Great Zimbabwe monument, an ancient stone city that was occupied by the ancestors of the Shona people between the 11th and 15th centuries. The name Zimbabwe is derived from Shona words “dzimba dzemabwe,” which translate to “houses of stone.”
The country wasn’t the only thing that got a new name. In 1982, many towns, cities, streets, and other places were renamed in a bid to reflect the new times and remove remnants of colonialism. Salisbury, the capital city – which had been named after a former British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury – was renamed Harare after a Zimbabwean chief, Neharawa. Roads that bore names of colonial figures were renamed after liberation war heroes, and historical figures, including Joshua Nkomo, Herbert Chitepo, Leopold Takawira, Jason Moyo, Robert Mugabe, Kagubi, and Nehanda. Other streets were named after regional leaders, such as Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Samora Machel of Mozambique, and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah.
3Independence Day traditions
On the 18th of April each year, Zimbabweans gather at Harare’s National Sports Stadium, the country’s biggest stadium with a capacity of 60,000, to celebrate one of the most important days on the country’s calendar. The president customarily presides over the guard of honour before proceeding to light the Independence flame and say a speech. Celebrations also take place in other provinces across the country, where ministers read the President’s speech.
Each year since 1983, Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebrations culminate in a football match between two local teams who battle it out for the coveted Independence Day Trophy.
4Nothing to celebrate
As Zimbabwe’s economy remains in a grim state, many Zimbabweans at home and in the diaspora question whether it’s worth celebrating anything in a country that went from being the breadbasket of Africa to a basket case. To the millions who live in poverty, Independence Day has ceased to mean anything and has become an ordinary day that’s no different from other days. As those who are loyal to the Zanu PF dance, sing, and ululate, other Zimbabweans continue with the daily hustle, looking for ways to feed their families. For many, Independence Day is marked by emotions of anger, disillusionment, and hopelessness.
5Military coup and elections
In November 2017, the dictator Robert Mugabe, whose 37-year rule was marked by brutality, rigged votes and economic collapse, was overthrown in a military coup. With the coup leaders’ support, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) quickly announced that Mugabe’s right-hand man and former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa – always ambitious, occasionally insubordinate and widely loathed as the regime’s ruthless enforcer – would assume the presidency he had long coveted.
In 2018, Mnangagwa won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote — just enough to meet the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off against Movement for Democratic Change leader Nelson Chamisa, who scored 44.3 percent. That percentage was eventually reduced to 50.6 percent by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission before the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of Mnangagwa. Chamisa maintains that he won the presidential election.
Article updated on March 29, 2019