Robert Mugabe was considered a revolutionary and visionary when he became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe after its independence in 1980. Previously known as Rhodesia, the newly independent country saw the Union Flag of British rule taken down by Prince Charles on April 17, 1980. It was a historic moment, also marking the end of white minority rule in the country, witnessed by dignitaries from across the world, including India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (video below).
As the Union Flag was brought down and replaced by the green, gold and black flag of Zimbabwe at the strike of midnight, thousands celebrated at Rufaro Stadium in Harare (previously Salisbury). Soon after, Bob Marley and the Wailers took the stage.
The already enraptured crowd were overwhelmed to see the reggae singer, whose song Zimbabwe had been adopted as the unofficial anthem of the Black African struggle. The crowds outside, which consisted of a large number of freedom fighters, realised they were missing out on the concert. They rushed into the stadium, flattening the fences, leading to panic amongst the police, who were ordered to fire teargas into the crowd.
As the video below shows, the crowd – panicked and in pain – dispersed and fled, as did some of the performers and musicians from the stage. Yet Bob Marley, seemingly oblivious, continued to sing. Rita Marley, his wife and one of the backup singers who fled backstage, said in a documentary, “Bob was still in his element. He didn’t realise what was happening around him. So when we got back on stage, this is what Bob said to us – ‘Now I know who are the true revolutionaries.’”
The story behind Bob Marley’s independence concert wasn’t an everyday one either. He accepted the offer to perform against his manager’s advice, because he had been following events and the struggle in Zimbabwe for years. He hired and paid for his own PA system, chartered a Boeing 707 with the equipment, and paid his way through to Zimbabwe.
On arriving, it turned out that the crew were to stay in a run-down guest house out of town, with Marley sharing his room with the crew, as the major hotels were already booked. Marley then met some local marijuana farmers and tested their herb before heading to that legendary concert, which you can watch in full, below. The next day, he played another concert for people who missed the previous one.
Zimbabwe, released in 1979, was written in support of the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist guerillas who fought the Rhodesian government. Mugabe held similar views. However, after decades of a progressively authoritarian regime, closely resembling a dictatorship, under his rule, Zimbabwe is waking up to uncertainty, after a military takeover of state broadcaster ZBC on Tuesday, amounting, effectively, to a coup d’etat.