Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
ZIMBABWE’S 35th independence celebrations are one of the occasions when every Zimbabwean should feel a serious sense of self-respect as a part of a sovereign national community. Before April 18, 1980, the people of this country were under British tutelage. We were in law and fact “owned” by the British Head of State, and that was why our national anthem was titled “God Save our Gracious Queen,” a British national hymn.
During the armed struggle for our country’s independence, those of us who were in exile used British passports which described us a “British protected persons.”
It is the considered opinion of the author of this article that the happiest day of most Zimbabweans who were old enough to understand what was happening to this country was on April 18, 1980 when the British flag was lowered, and that of Zimbabwe was raised. That signified the birth of a new nation for which hundreds of thousands had laid down their lives, and others had sacrificed limb and property since Cecil John Rhodes’ Pioneer Column pegged camps and stands in what they named Fort Salisbury on September 12, 1890, officially called Occupation Day.
The struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence had been bitter, and protracted. The media throughout the whole world had carried news items about the freedom struggle of the people of Zimbabwe, especially from February 1959 when the Southern Rhodesian colonial administration outlawed the African National Congress (ANC) and detained its leaders and prominent members.
Those media that did not regard the issue as newsworthy changed their stance in 1962 when the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo presented the Southern Rhodesia question before the United Nations.
The British government argued that Southern Rhodesia was “a self-governing” territory in whose internal affairs the British government could not get involved.
However, the UN Colonialism Committee examined the matter and concluded that Southern Rhodesia was a British colony, and that the British government was duty bound to decolonise it in the same way as it had handled the Indian sub-continent, the Gold Coast (Ghana) and all other former British colonies.
The issue assumed major world interest, and the media kept their ears very close to it right up to the country’s attainment of nationhood on April 18, 1980.
Media representatives from most nations descended on Salisbury, now Harare and sought interviews with President Robert Mugabe and Cde Nkomo, Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu leaders respectively. When Cde Nkomo came from exile on January 13, he was accompanied by a large public media group from Zambia. It represented The Zambia Daily Mail, The Times of Zambia, The Zambia Broadcasting Service (ZBS) and The Zambia News Agency (Zana).
President Mugabe returned from Mozambique on January 27 and a large number of media personnel were with him. They included Mozambique’s radio broadcasting and television transmission journalists as well as those from the country’s newspapers.
Many of these media people remained in the country and covered the election campaign with Salisbury as their base.
Pre-independence elections were held on February 27, 28 and 29 and President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF won 57 seats when results were announced on March 4, 1980. That figure represented slightly more than 63 percent of the total votes cast.
Cde Nkomo’s PF-Zapu won 20 seats, representing 24 percent of the votes cast.
Zanu-PF won all the 14 elective Senate seats voted for by the House of Assembly on March 19.
Other political parties that were registered to contest in those historic elections were Henry Chihota’s National Democratic Union (NDU), Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s United African National Council (UANC), Chief Kaiser Ndiweni’s United National Federal Party (UNFP), Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole’s Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), James Robert Dambaza Chikerema’s Zimbabwe Democratic Party ((ZDP), Peter Mandaza’s The National Front of Zimbabwe (NFZ), Chief Jeremiah Chirau’s Zimbabwe United People’s Organisation (Zupo) which, however, later pulled out of the electoral contest.
The atmosphere in Salisbury at that time was electrifying with excitement.
Happiness was visible on virtually every black person’s face, but gloom was written on those of white people, understandably because their life of racial privileges was coming to an end, and that of democratic freedom, opportunities and personal dignity beginning.
The media were internationally represented. Algeria’s El-Moudjahid and An Nasr sent their reporters and photographers, so did Angola’s A Journal De Angola, and Nigeria’s Nigerian Chronicle, Nigerian Standard, New Nigeria, National Concord, Daily Star.
From South Africa, there were journalists from the Citizen, Die Burger, The Natal Mercury, The South African Press Association (Sapa) and a few other print media. Tanzania had its news teams from the Daily News as well as Ngurumo.
Some Japanese journalists were prepared to give “presents” to President Mugabe and Cde Nkomo if they could give them interviews. They were strongly advised by Eddison Zvobgo for Zanu-PF, and Willie Dzawanda Musarurwa for PF-Zapu to keep their “gifts” as President Mugabe and Cde Nkomo would feel insulted by such obviously corruption-tainted offers.
From the United States and Canada, Australia, India and China, the then Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (the GDR), from Cuba and Brazil, Chile and Mexico, journalists descended on Salisbury, turning the city into what some Americans would describe as “the place where every newsman was at.”
Ethiopia and Somalia were also represented by journalists from the Ethiopian Herald and Addis Zemen, and from Somalia, there was a photo-journalist from Ziddigta Oktobar.
At that time, Somalia was under General Siad Barre’s presidency and Ethiopia was headed by the famous anti-imperialist Lt Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Morocco was also represented by a journalist who, having failed to meet and interview Cde Nkomo in Salisbury, followed him all the way to Pelandaba (Number Six) in Bulawayo.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734328136 or through email. [email protected]