Zimbabwe celebrated 30 years of independence on 18 April, with a rather subdued speech by the normally fiery President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who has been at the helm of the country for the past 30 years. Times have changed, and Zimbabwe's president has changed too. Thus the "normal" Comrade R.G. Mugabe stayed at home; the one who led the independence festivities at the national stadium in Harare was certainly not the R.G. Mugabe everyone has come to know--especially in the last 10 years.
Thirty years in the life of a nation is a big deal, especially in Zimbabwe's unique situation of the last decade, during which the country has been subjected to economic and political warfare by foreign powers. Most people therefore expected a tougher 30th anniversary of independence speech by the man who has been the target of all those regime change attempts.
But President Mugabe surprised everybody. The nearest he came to his old self in his nearly 2,000-word prepared speech was in two mere paragraphs, one at the beginning and the other at the end. "Yes, today, we are happy that the difficulties and challenges which have manifested themselves through unremitting opposition to our freedom from some unrepentant and incorrigible racist quarters, have helped sharpen our sensibilities as a nation by making us more determined in demonstrating that no challenge or hardship can overcome our sense of freedom, independence and sovereignty," he said four paragraphs into the speech.
Then towards the end: "We extend our profound gratitude to the African Union and other progressive nations which remain committed and genuine friends of a free and sovereign Zimbabwe. We call for the lifting of the illegal, declared and undeclared sanctions on Zimbabwe. Surely the legitimate national aspirations of the Inclusive Government [formed in February 2009 by the three main parties in the country] should be allowed to evolve without the burden of sanctions and undue interference from our detractors. We take heart in the SADC pledge to partner us in calling for the immediate removal of these heinous sanctions, which threaten to derail our economic recovery efforts. As a nation, and from across the political spectrum, we need to continue speaking with one forceful voice against these evil sanctions."
By his side on the VIP dais, sat Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister and leader of the larger MDC party, and Prof Arthur Mutambara, the deputy prime minister and leader of the smaller MDC formation. The three men have been running the country together since February 2009 in an Inclusive Government which cynics call "a marriage of convenience". But, so far, it has been working despite the occasional hiccups.
It is perhaps the reason why the normally fiery Mugabe was so conciliatory in his 30th anniversary of independence speech. Otherwise, the greater part of the speech was about economic and social issues. "We are aware of the inadequacies of our multi-currency regime, but these will be revised through our economic policies of the future," Mugabe told the nation. "Stabilisation in the macro-economic environment in 2009 resulted in increased economic activity, and ultimately, in the growth of revenue inflows from as little as $4m in January 2009 to an average of $100m per month by the end of the year. This allowed the financing of critical public investments, particularly in the sectors of education, health, roads and water. Consequently, the delivery of public services in those areas significantly improved. …