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Zimbabwe Marks Independence Day - 2003-04-18

Zimbabwe marked its Independence Day Friday. But, because of the hard economic times, not everybody is celebrating.

23 years ago, the nation of Zimbabwe came into being after a bloody 16-year armed struggle.

The current president, Robert Mugabe, became the first prime minister of the newly independent nation.

For years after independence, Zimbabwe was held up as an example of a former colony that made the transition to independence successfully. Mr. Mugabe preached reconciliation. Zimbabwe made tremendous strides in the delivery of health care, and to this day boasts the highest literacy rate on the African continent.

But in the 1990s the country's economy faced hard times, and President Mugabe launched his sometimes violent land reform program in 2000.

The program was intended to give white-owned farms to landless blacks. But much of the land went to Mr. Mugabe's supporters. Lack of experience and financing left much of the land uncultivated, causing an unprecedented food shortage in a country that used to be a food exporter. The severe regional drought further hurt agricultural output.

Resulting shortages of basic commodities, including the staple maize meal, have made life difficult for most Zimbabweans. There are long lines for scarce, expensive gasoline, and inflation is at a high of 228 percent.

On the streets of Harare Friday, ordinary Zimbabweans expressed mixed feelings about this Independence Day.

"I need to celebrate for the independence because I am a Zimbabwean," said one citizen. "It's something we should celebrate about. We should celebrate our independence. Independence means sovereignty, self-determination and working for our own country not for the foreigners. I will be celebrating but I will be thinking of the hardships we are facing."

There are also those who feel strongly that there is nothing to celebrate.

"We are not going to celebrate just because we can't afford anything," said another. "Nothing to celebrate when people are starving all over. I am 18 and I don't know what it was like before independence. I don't think there is much to celebrate. There are so many petrol queues. Food is too expensive. What do you want to celebrate about? Independence for me doesn't mean anything. The majority of Zimbabweans are starving. It has lost its meaning. We are retrogressing. I think we got independent from the colonialists but we are now under oppression by our own people. So maybe if we are independent of those people maybe then we might start celebrating."

Strong sentiments from ordinary Zimbabweans, some of whom blame President Mugabe's government for the harsh economic times the country is experiencing.

But the president says the blame for Zimbabwe's problems lies elsewhere. On Friday, he addressed thousands of people at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. "We abhor imperialistic machinations and iniquitous efforts by Britain and its ally the United States to re-colonize us, and we stand ready to resist such attempts," said Robert Mugabe. "Africa is for Africans and Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. Our dear Zimbabwe will never again fall into foreign hands never, never, never, never again will Zimbabwe be a colony."

Mr. Mugabe's 23-year rule is coming under increasing pressure from the opposition, which attracted widespread support for a general strike last month to protest his economic policies and political repression. The opposition has threatened more strikes soon, but on Friday Mr. Mugabe again vowed to crush any such "mass action."