|President Robert Mugabe speaks at a ceremony in Harare |
Zimbabwe celebrated 25 years of independence Monday with a colorful ceremony in the capital, Harare, attended by several African heads of state and tens of thousands of spectators. Mr. Mugabe's speech to mark the event recalled Zimbabwe's bitter anti-colonial struggle and rejected western criticism of his government.
About 40,000 people in the National Sports Stadium on the outskirts of Harare attended ceremonies that included four new Chinese-built jets from the air force of Zimbabwe screaming across a clear sky. The president told the gathering that Zimbabwe is looking east toward Asia for new allies, turning its back on the west.
Mr. Mugabe spoke with emotion of the anti colonial era that preceded Zimbabwe's independence on April 18, 1980.
"This birth followed bitter struggles and wars of resistance waged by a people for nearly a century, struggles meant to dislodge British settler colonialism, which in 1890 had planted itself on our soil through force of arms," he said. "When this day finally arrived, we had paid the price of British bondage, for 90 long and arduous years of systematic assault and injury to our body and soul as a nation under occupation."
Nevertheless, Mr. Mugabe said that at independence he offered the hand of reconciliation to whites, as a gesture of African humanity. He defended the eviction of 4,000 white commercial farmers and the turning over of the land to black Zimbabweans. The nation's economy slumped badly in the aftermath. Agricultural exports by white farmers produced more than 40 percent of Zimbabwe's foreign currency. Today there are countrywide shortages of staple foods and Zimbabwe needs to import hundreds of thousands of tons of maize from South Africa before the next harvest, a year away.
Mr. Mugabe strongly defended last month's general election in which his Zanu PF party won a landslide victory over the opposition MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change. While the March 31 election was declared the will of the people by South African observer groups, the Movement for Democratic Change said the results were fraudulent and that the political climate of repression and intimidation was heavily weighted against the party. Traditional observers from the west were barred from monitoring the election and the British, United States and other western governments said the poll was neither free nor fair. Mr. Mugabe rejected the criticism.
"Our polls have not needed Anglo American validation, they are validated by fellow Africans and friendly countries from the third world," said Mr. Mugabe. "That is our humane universe, that's where we get justice. Not from Europe, neither is it from America."
Several leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change were also part of the anti-colonial war. They commented that Mr. Mugabe has betrayed what people fought for: democracy and free and fair elections.
Monday's independence celebration honored African leaders from neighboring countries which supported Zimbabwe's war against minority white rule. Leaders from several African nations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique attended the ceremony.
One of the guests of honor was former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, who played a central role among what were known at the time as the Frontline States during the last stages of the struggle against apartheid.