The day Umdala Wethu openly wept — with joy
The raising of the new independent Zimbabwe Flag at Rufaro Stadium at midnight on April 18, 1980 saw Dr Nkomo weep with joy as the colours of a free Zimbabwe fluttered in the air
After the landmark March 1980 elections, all that was left was the formal end of British colonialism, which came on the night of April 17. This is a day that so touched the late Vice President Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo that he literally wept tears of joy after having been involved in the struggle for independence for 30 years. In this excerpt from his autobiography, The Story of My Life, Dr Nkomo recounts the joy of the crossover night . . . I HAD been a guest at the birth of many African nations, taking my place to represent the future of my country on the platform.
I had sat with the Queen’s representative, the outgoing governor, the new president and prime minister, the honoured guests, as the troops marched past, the old flag came down and the symbol of a new nationhood broke out at the top of the flagpole.
At midnight on 17 April I980, Zimbabwe’s turn had come at last.
We were a nation as rich as any on the continent, well endowed with natural resources, with an infrastructure second to none in Africa.
Our people, tried in the fire of combat, craved for peace, prosperity and, above all, unity.
Many of those in the crowd at Rufaro stadium, of all parties and all colours, would not have grudged me the name of Father Zimbabwe.
I had struggled for thirty years and more to see this moment come.
The stadium was crammed with people, packed on the rising terraces around the football pitch where the ceremony was to take place.
On the saluting base, built out into the field, were the dignitaries: Prince Charles to represent the Queen; Lord Carrington and Lord Soames, the architects of Britain’s hand-over; Mr Waldheim and Mr Ramphal, from the United Nations and the Commonwealth: the front-line presidents; Mrs Gandhi of India and President Zia of Pakistan; the leaders and the ambassadors of so many countries that wished us well; the representatives of liberation movements that, like ours for so long, were struggling for freedom — the South Africans, the Namibians, the Palestinians.
Behind the saluting base were the benches for the junior ministers, the party officials and the supporting cast. At the back of those rows, in the dark by the radio commentators’ box, where the television cameras could not see us and our supporters in the crowd could not single us out for their applause, places were reserved for maFuyana and myself.
In the stadiums of Zimbabwe I had so often stood up to address the crowds, and found the words to express what they wished to say but had not yet articulated.
Now I was hidden away like something to be scared of. My wife could scarcely restrain her tears at this symbolic humiliation.
Two hours before the midnight ceremony we had to be in our places. The time was passed with marches and demonstrations on the football pitch, transformed for the night into a parade ground.
There was one great show-business attraction too. Michael Manley, the Jamaican prime minister who had helped our cause so much within the Commonwealth and the non-aligned nations, had brought with him the famous Bob Marley and his musicians. Outside the stadium swarms of people struggled to get in.
The police, over-reacting, used tear-gas to repel them.
Coughing and choking in our rear seats, maFuyana and I were helped and supplied with water for our streaming eyes not by the security services, but by a visiting journalist from London — an old friend, who would be embarrassed in this context to be named. But even this squalid confusion could not spoil the ceremony.
Back in the 1940s at Tjolotjo Government School I had been the prize student who hoisted the Union Jack in honour of our visiting prime minister, the disappointingly tiny Sir Godfrey Huggins with his glittering shoes.
Now for the very last time that flag came down, and the colours of free Zimbabwe broke out into the air.
I am not ashamed to say that I wept for joy.