Zimbabwe was marking its 27th anniversary of independence from Britain yesterday amid an economic meltdown and spiraling political tensions that have taken the shine out of this year's event.
Veteran President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, was due to deliver a keynote speech at the Harare soccer stadium where the inaugural independence celebrations were held while smaller gatherings will be held at provincial capitals across the country.
In a speech on the eve of independence, Mugabe fired a now familiar broadside against the former colonial power and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he accused of being behind a push to topple him from power.
"The man is about to retire and wants a last push in Zimbabwe," Mugabe told hundreds of schoolchildren and teachers drawn from selected schools.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader at 83, also branded his domestic opponents as "evil-doers who act as his [Blair's] representatives here" who were party to a campaign "to make Zimbabwe a colony again."
A recent crackdown on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, including the arrest and assault of its leader Morgan Tsvangirai, led to renewed criticism from the West which imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his immediate coterie over allegations that he rigged his 2002 re-election.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has been tasked by his regional peers with mediating between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the MDC amid fears about the fallout of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe where 80 percent of people are out of work and inflation is zooming toward 2,000 percent.
Harare-based economist Victor Zirebgwa said few people were likely to celebrate given the scale of the problems they were now confronted with.
"What is there to celebrate for? People are hard pressed by the economic and political crisis," he said. "We just hope for a miracle to be seen, but we do not know when it will come."
However government chief whip Rugare Gumbo said independence day should still be a source of pride and serve as an opportunity to recall the days of whites-only rule during the regime of then Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith.
"We are now masters of our own destiny. It's a pity that some people politicize independence day," Gumbo said.
"Now we have freedom of association, worship, movement among other things," Gumbo told reporters.
"In the past blacks were not even allowed to walk within the city center," Gumbo said.