, HARARE, Apr 18 – Zimbabwe commemorates 30 years of independence from British colonial rule on Sunday as its power-sharing government battles to revive an economy ravaged by years of hyperinflation.
Traffic jams clogged the streets at Harare\’s National Sports Stadium on Sunday morning as thousands of Zimbabweans gathered for the main celebrations, including members of the fragile unity government formed last year in a bid to fix the country\’s collapsing economy.
Brian Kasunzumuma, a 27-year-old vendor, said he attends the independence celebrations every year.
"(I come) to celebrate independence my last heroes fought for," he told AFP.
"I come here every year to celebrate independence as a Zimbabwean."
Veteran President Robert Mugabe is scheduled to give the keynote speech with his rival in the power-sharing government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, looking on.
The stadium was decked out in Zimbabwean flags, but people attending the celebrations wore their normal street clothes after a warning earlier in the week that political posters and party gear would not be allowed at what has been billed as a national event.
It is the second year running that Zimbabweans across the political divide have joined in the commemorations, which in previous years had turned into rallies for Mugabe\’s ZANU-PF party.
"It\’s a good thing that people were encouraged to come in plain clothing, because the day is for everyone," Kasunzumuma said.
Mugabe, a former guerrilla leader, was hailed as a hero when he led Zimbabwe to independence from the white-minority Rhodesian regime in 1980.
He invested in clinics and schools and made Zimbabwe a regional model of economic stability.
Today, the country requires food aid for the majority of its rural population, the result of a spectacular economic collapse through which Mugabe, Africa\’s oldest leader at 86, has retained a stranglehold on the presidency.
Mugabe fell out with his Western allies when he launched controversial land reforms in 2000.
The programme allowed militant ZANU-PF members to seize land from white commercial farmers in what Mugabe later said was a "correction of historical imbalances".
The ensuing chaos undermined the agriculture-backed economy, which shrank to half its 1980 size.
The Zimbabwean dollar went into free-fall, with hyperinflation spiralling to the point that prices doubled every day.
Western sanctions, including an asset freeze on Mugabe and his circle, were imposed after 2002 elections that observers said were rigged.
The government put itself in isolation, expelling foreign journalists, demonising the former colonial power and straining an already touchy relationship with the West.
In 2008, the end seemed near for Mugabe as the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a majority in parliament.
But MDC leader Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential run-off election, citing violence against supporters. Mugabe hung on through months of talks to remain president in a power-sharing deal.
The unity government with Tsvangirai has restored some stability to the economy by ditching the former currency.
But the on-again, off-again partnership has also been bogged down in haggling over the allocation of key political posts.
The unity government is supposed to pave the way to fresh elections, but a date for new polls has not been set.