BIG READ: The night Mugabe seized power

ON APRIL 17, 1980, Robert Mugabe was sworn in as prime minister of the new and independent Zimbabwe.

Thirty-seven years later, he is resigning after a week of immense pressure from the military, the ruling party and the people.

But even in 1980 the main challenge Mugabe faced was clear.

RHODESIA, Britain's last African colony, became the independent black-ruled nation of Zimbabwe at midnight Thursday, born in the blood of civil war and the hope of a hard-won peace.

Under the brilliant floodlights of the Rufaro soccer stadium, the British Union Jack, first planted in the territory nine decades ago at the height of Victorian expansion, was ceremoniously lowered for the last time.

In its place, Comrade Kambeu, a former black nationalist guerrilla, raised the new Zimbabwean flag, a multi-coloured banner representing the land's races and riches.

People celebrate after hearing the news that President Robert Mugabe resigned in Harare, Zimbabwe.
People celebrate after hearing the news that President Robert Mugabe resigned in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Wild cheers erupted at midnight, from the 40,000 mainly black guests at the stadium. Four presidents, seven prime ministers and envoys from some 100 countries were also on hand.

Prince Charles of Britain handed over power - in the form of a scrolled act of the British Parliament granting independence - to the titular president of the southern African country, Canaan Banana.

Banana, as constitutional head of state, then swore in Robert Mugabe as prime minister.

Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Mugabe, the former black guerrilla chief who is now Zimbabwe's top political leader, paid tribute to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in replying to a pledge of aid to Zimbabwe read by British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.

"It is universally acknowledged that the initiative which led to the achievement of our final goal was made possible through her determined efforts," Mugabe said amid cheers.

He welcomed offers of British aid, saying: "We ... will strive for the closest possible ties."

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe lights up the independence flame, during the country's 29th Independence celebrations, in Harare. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe lights up the independence flame, during the country's 29th Independence celebrations, in Harare. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

In a national broadcast on independence eve, Mugabe reached out to his white countrymen: "If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you."

Mugabe faces a daunting task: patching up an economy and a society shattered by a seven-year war that cost 20,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Keeping the 250,000-member white minority from abandoning the effort and leaving Zimbabwe will be a key to his success.

The ceremony was a striking blend of British pomp and African tradition - a 21-gun salute from weapons used in the long and bitter bush war, tribal dancing by young women who had fought as guerillas, brass bands and talking drums.

Robert Mugabe in 2007. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Robert Mugabe in 2007. Picture: AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

The delegation representing the United States included elder statesman W Averell Harriman, former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young and Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson.

Absent was Ian Smith, the former prime minister who led Rhodesia's whites to their unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 and symbolised their defiant stand against black-majority rule for 14 years. He was in South Africa on what aides said was a speaking tour.

Guerillas loyal to the 56-year-old Mugabe and to black nationalist Joshua Nkomo waged their war first against Smith's white government and then against an interim administration headed by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the country's first black prime minister. Muzorewa watched the ceremony on television at home, friends said.

In 2017, crowds celebrate the resignation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Picture: AFP/Jekesai Njikizana
In 2017, crowds celebrate the resignation of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Picture: AFP/Jekesai Njikizana

The guerrilla leaders signed a peace treaty and constitutional agreement with Muzorewa last year, restoring British rule on December 12 and climaxing years of failed attempts at negotiation. Mugabe then won a landslide victory in British-supervised elections last February.

Lord Christopher Soames, the burly 59-year-old governor who brought back British control of the mutinous colony for four months, returns to England Friday, leaving the country independent and fully in the hands of its 7 million blacks for the first time.

"I was one of those who originally never trusted him," Mugabe said of Soames in his radio-television talk.

"And yet I have now ended up not only implicitly trusting but fondly loving him as well."

Zimbabweans celebrate outside the parliament building immediately after hearing the news that President Robert Mugabe had resigned, in downtown Harare. Picture: AP Photo/Ben Curtis
Zimbabweans celebrate outside the parliament building immediately after hearing the news that President Robert Mugabe had resigned, in downtown Harare. Picture: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Addressing the white minority that held power in Rhodesia for nine decades, Mugabe struck a chord of conciliation: "If yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend and ally with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself. If yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you."

He asserted that the "wrongs of the past now stand forgiven and forgotten" and vowed that past white oppression must not be replaced with black oppression.

"An evil remains an evil whether practised by white against black or by black against white," he said.

Mugabe has played down the Marxist image that won him arms from communist nations in the war, and is pursuing a policy mixing socialism with capitalism in a bid to prevent a flight of moneyed, skilled whites.

He has sought to establish a national-unity government, taking two whites and several opposition blacks into his Cabinet.

Nkomo, his ally and rival in the nationalist movement, is the home affairs minister, in charge of police.

The new administration must resettle up to a million victims of the conflict and follow through on pre-election promises of free health care and education, more jobs and better homes.

Mugabe has said one of his first goals is to help blacks achieve greater parity with whites in pay and job opportunities, but he has said private ownership of land, homes and businesses is guaranteed.

The economy was badly damaged by the costs of war and by more than a decade of punitive trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Mugabe has already won pledges of more than $200 million in aid, mostly from Britain, the United States, Europe and the United Nations.

The new nation's name, Zimbabwe, stems from an ancient African kingdom that flourished in the region.

The green of its flag represents the land, the yellow its mineral riches, the red the blood spilt in the war, the black its native people and the white its one-time colonists.


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