Reliving 1980 Uhuru euphoria Cde Peter Nyambera
Cde Peter Nyambera

Cde Peter Nyambera

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Zimbabwe today celebrates 35 years of freedom from colonial bondage that had been an albatross to the development of the local people.

However, April 18, 1980 remains in the memories of many.

It was a special day when people from across the country made a beeline to Rufaro Stadium to celebrate victory over oppressive forces.

The celebrations did not start exactly on April 18 as people virtually camped at the stadium to welcome the new dispensation.

The official preparations started as soon as 1980 general elections were announced.

As soon as April 18 was confirmed as the Independence Day, the excitement swept across Zimbabwe.

For Mbare residents, especially those staying close to Rufaro Stadium, hosting the celebrations next to their homes was an added advantage and their preparations were well in advance.

Mrs Monica Chikerema (69) remembers the day when she was preparing for the momentous occasion.

“I have always been a trader and we wanted to make the most of that day. We started making preparations two weeks in advance and even the prior business arrangements were not enough because our stock was exhausted two days before the celebrations,” she said.

Mrs Chikerema was selling cooked food 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,” she said.

Some like 44-year-old Patrick Rapiyawo were only nine-years -old when Zimbabwe celebrated its independence.

Part of his neck is scarred. He calls it a “birthmark” as his injury coincided with the country’s first independence celebrations.

In a freak accident, he claims, plastics that they were using to warm themselves up on April 17, 1980 burnt him.

“We could not miss the fun and we went to the stadium on April 17 because there were many local and international artistes performing that night.

“I really do not remember what happened but someone scorched me with burning plastics,” he said.

Rapiyawo did not go home though.

“I stayed on until Cde Mugabe arrived and we saw the Union Jack being lowered from the mast paving way for our brand new Zimbabwean flag. I was an amazing moment,” he said.

Mr Eric Nyamudzanga became an instant “celebrity” during the celebrations after his name was repeatedly called on the public address system that same night albeit for unorthodox reasons.

He was just but a five-year-old boy and he got swallowed in the huge crowd that attended the celebrations.

He had attended the celebrations with his father John, mother and uncles.

“My uncle Daniel was carrying me on his shoulders when we got lost because there were so many people.

“My parents became worried and approached the master of ceremonies. My name was called out and they found me in the crowd,” he said.

Eric had the first-ever Zimbabwean version of “crowd surfing” as he was carried across the stadium to the main podium with people passing him on to the next person.

His father, who has stayed in Mbare hostels for decades, also remembers that day as April 17 ushered in Zimbabwe’s independence.

“The crowd was so huge and Rufaro Stadium was packed. We had to hold on to each other and when Eric disappeared we panicked. We found him after the announcement and that was also an advantage because we ended up sitting close to the main podium,” he said.

“The day will always be etched in my memory. We had suffered in the colonial era and when that Union Jack was lowered we heaved sighs of relief and when our dear leader Cde Mugabe took to the podium the stadium erupted,” he recalls.

Nyamudzanga also remembers the reception given to the Frontline State leaders — Presidents Samora Machel, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere and several others who attended the celebrations.

“It was the first time for most to see the leaders who had helped us attain our independence. The mood was euphoric as the whole country was reverberating to the sounds of joy.

“One can only smile when they remember what happened that night. It was like a dream. We are still enjoying that dream,” he said.

Cde Peter Nyambera remembers the night with nostalgia.

“It was an important day for us and I remember we arranged everything to detail. I was in charge of security in Mbare and we deployed youths who stood at Mai Musodzi Hall and also Magaba market.

“We did not want anything to disturb the important day. I am happy things went according to plan and we enjoyed the day without incident,” he said.

Cde Nyambera also enjoyed the honour of accompanying the late President Machel’s entourage.

“I could speak Shangaani and I was deployed to be an interpreter and this gave me an important role in the celebrations,” he said.

The day, according to Cde Nyambera, just flew past because of a host of activities.

“People started arriving at Rufaro Stadium on April 16 and virtually slept around the stadium because no-one wanted to miss the celebrations.

“We had international artistes, Bob Marley, Percy Sledge and our local stars John Chibadura, Zexie Manatsa, Thomas Mapfumo, Marshal Munhumumwe, Patrick Mukwamba, Oliver Mtukudzi and several others,” he said.

Those interviewed said they would want the independence celebrations to come back to Mbare one day.

And today, people like Nyamudzanga will be among the thousands expected to throng the National Sports Stadium for the 35th Independence Celebrations.

“People are still attending the celebrations at the National Sports Stadium but I think the spirit should be upheld where we started celebrating way ahead of the main celebrations,” Nyamudzanga said.

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