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Zimbabweans Face Another Bleak Independence Day

April 18 is Independence Day in Zimbabwe, and this year the country marks its 27th birthday. But many Zimbabweans say there won't be much to celebrate because of the country's economic and political woes. Tendai Maphosa has this report for VOA from London, where he spoke with a number of people who left Zimbabwe seeking a better life.

Zimbabwe became independent in 1980 after a long guerilla war against British colonial rule. The birth of the new country was greeted with much hope and high expectations, and in the early years Independence Day was a time of celebration. But, Zimbabweans say times have changed.

The economy is beset with an inflation rate of more than 1,700 percent and more than 80 percent of the workforce is now unemployed. An estimated three million Zimbabweans (out of a population of 12 million) have left the country in search of a better life. As a result, many exiles say independence day is now a time of reflection.

Gary, who asked that his real name not be used, is a professional who has been in London for the past five years. He told VOA that he will commemorate the day but will not be celebrating. He blames what he calls misrule by President Robert Mugabe's government.

"I feel very sad in my heart that we have lost the ideals that we actually went to war for, we were supposed to be a prosperous democracy with human rights enshrined in our constitution, with civil liberties; all that has been eroded in the past 27 years," Gary says.

Gary says another reason he and his compatriots in Britain won't celebrate is because the day has been turned into a day to glorify Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party led by the country's leader since independence, President Robert Mugabe.

"Independence ideally should have nothing to do with Mugabe and company because we own independence collectively as Zimbabweans but unfortunately he has hi-jacked it," Gary says.

Maria is another Zimbabwean currently living in the United Kingdom, who like Gary, did not want her real name used. She has memories of attending national events on Independence day and also serious partying during the few years following freedom from British rule. But by the time she left home some three years ago, the jubilation was a distant memory.

"It's been overtaken by other feelings," Maria says. "People are just desperate and when you are desperate, your concerns are all about tomorrow and the next meal and what your children are going to wear, you don't have time or the inclination to stop and think about celebrating something like independence it's just a day off, maybe."

However Maria, who plans a small celebration with her family on the day, feels independence still means a lot to Zimbabweans despite the hard times they are going through.

"Definitely a certain group of people have benefited a great deal more and some people have become very poor in the process but I think the actual concept of independence is still very much alive in people's hearts if not in their consciousness and people value that," Maria says.

Back home in Harare, Nhamo told VOA by telephone that there is nothing to celebrate. Describing the air as "somber" he said people are too busy dealing with the hyperinflation, power outages and fuel shortages to even think of celebrating. Nhamo echoed Gary's sentiments that the day has been used to glorify the ruling ZANU-PF and those who do not support Mr. Mugabe's party feel alienated. He added that people have other priorities.

" How do you celebrate on an empty stomach?" Nhamno asked. "Almost 80 percent of the population is not really gainfully employed in terms of formal employment, they are employed in their own activities those kind of activities are done every day, they cannot have the luxury of not going to sell at the market because it's a national day because they still have to make living on the national day."

Despite their unhappiness with the current situation, the three agree that when and if things were to return to normal, Independence Day will once again regain its position as one of the country's pre-eminent holidays. For the time being, they say, it's all about survival.