Original Articles

‘Zimbabwe will never be a colony again’: changing celebratory styles and meanings of independence

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 36, issue 1-2, 2013 , pages: 22–33
DOI: 10.1080/02580144.2013.10887021
Author(s): Wendy WillemsDepartment of Media and Communications, United Kingdom


As part of a revival of cultural nationalism, state-led national-day celebrations intensified in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s through the introduction of popular music events alongside the traditional official, militarised ceremony. Independence Day, in particular, provided ZANU-PF with an excellent opportunity to mediate a narrow version of the ‘party-nation’ that defined ‘Zimbabweanness’ in terms of everything that the growing opposition Movement for Democratic Change was not. The appropriation of national-day celebrations for party-political purposes turned these events into highly controversial and contested ceremonies. In this article, I focus both on the changing aesthetics, modes and styles of Independence Day celebrations in Zimbabwe, and the way in which meanings of independence have been rewritten and contested in recent years. The malleability of national days made it possible for ZANU-PF to adjust both the style and meaning of Independence Day to suit a new context. In the early 1980s, ‘independence’ referred to the struggle to escape from the Rhodesian colonial yoke, but in the early 2000s ZANU-PF began to interpret ‘independence’ primarily as economic freedom and as the continuing battle to remain free from the intervention of external actors such as the MDC—a party it considered to be driven by the interests of the United States, Europe and white farmers. While the protocol of the official Independence Day ceremony was tightly controlled, a number of spaces opened up in the early 2000s that enabled Zimbabweans to debate their history and heritage via alternative channels, such as political party websites and in private newspapers, which underlines the crucial role of both old and new media in collective memory.

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