On April 18 1980, Rhodesia gained its independence from Britain and became Zimbabwe. To celebrate the occasion, Bob Marley and The Wailers were invited to perform at the official ceremony at Rufaro Stadium in Harare. Bob had inspired Zimbabwe. During the years of Chimurenga (chiShona for uprising), Bob Marley’s music had been adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front; indeed, there were stories of ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) troops playing Marley cassettes in the bush. Thus, he was the only outside artist asked to participate in Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations.
Bob, not only accepted the invitation, but also spent tens of thousands of dollars to fly in his band and its equipment to take part in the festivities that started on the evening of April 17. Bob rejected a performance fee as he felt it was the greatest honor of his career.
The day before the concert Bob and his crew arrived at Salisbury Airport (now Harare International). The police struggled to control a swarming crowd who came to see the arrival of the Jamaican dreadlocked band. The airport had not seen so many people for years as sanctions had kept the world away.
By the time the band arrived, a chartered Boeing 707 was on its way from London to Salisbury with 21 tons of equipment; a full 35,000-watt PA system plus backline equipment. It was one of the most extraordinary logistics operations as the road crew had less than a day to construct a stage and find sufficient power for the PA system.
Bob and his crew spent the night, carousing with many former guerrilla fighters, at the run-down Skyline Hotel on the outskirts of Harare as foreign journalists had booked all the big hotels. Bob spent the morning day of the concert meeting with local marijuana farmers and sampling their herb.
Among the 40,000-crowd at Rufaro Stadium were heads of government and dignitaries from around the world, including Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As the Union flag was lowered and Zimbabwe’s flag was raised, the first official words uttered were: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Marley and The Wailers!”
As soon as Bob took to the stage, crowds that could not fit in the stadium and had congregated outside, broke through the gates to join the festivities. The police panicked and fired teargas into the crowd. Some of the performers and musicians vacated the stage but Bob, seemingly oblivious, continued to sing. Rita Marley said: “Bob was still in his element. He didn’t realize what was happening around him. So when we got back on stage, this is what Bob said to us – ‘Now I know who are the true revolutionaries.’”
It was decided that he would play another concert next day, to give ordinary Zimbabweans the opportunity to see the Bob perform. Over 100,000 people attended that concert.