Zimbabwe: Bob Marley’s Whiff of Tear Gas

Bob Marley performs in concert in Zurich on May 30, 1980. [Source: Wikimedia Commons]President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe marked the anniversary of his nation’s independence with a speech to 60,000 supporters in a sports stadium near Harare. ‘Zimbabwe will never be a colony again — never, ever, ever,” he said. ”We will not compromise our principles of freedom and national sovereignty, no matter who gets upset.” Mugabe didn’t mention that those who are upset include a majority of Zimbabwe’s people, and he said nothing about disputed presidential election results kept secret for three weeks.

After 28 years of despotic rule, it’s hard to remember how Mugabe was hailed as a freedom fighter in the 1970s. One of the radical chic who championed his cause was Bob Marley. His song Zimbabwe became an anthem for the anti-colonial liberation movement. He was invited to perform it in the same sports stadium to celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence on April 18, 1980. Robert Mugabe was there, of course. So was Prince Charles and Stevie wonder. As Marley sang that night, a crowd tried to climb into the stadium filled with freedom fighters and dignitaries. What Marley witnessed then was an ominous portent of Mugabe’s future reign. Timothy White describes the scene in Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley:

The wind suddenly shifted and billows of tear gas being used by police outside the arena to control the throng had blown across the grounds to inflame the eyes of the man performing on the small stage in the center of the arena. Momentarily disoriented, he darted about, eventually stumbling through an opening in the stinging fog…Marley pushed the thick ropy strands of his dreadlocks away from his swollen eyes, peering into the darkness beyond the blinding lights onstage.)) There were shouts, screams and the muffled thuds of police batons against bodies as what looked from a distance like a swirling tide of people was beaten back from the crest of the stadium’s parapets…”Madness,” Marley muttered…The scene he had witnessed…had shattered the vision of black African solidarity he had brought with him to Zimbabwe.

Read more on Zimbabwe Beat – PRI’s The World.

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One Response to Zimbabwe: Bob Marley’s Whiff of Tear Gas

  1. Mark Willis says:

    See a clip from the 1980 Zimbabwe concert. Marley sings, “There’s a natural mystic blowing through the air…” It turned out to be tear gas.

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