There was a temporary break in the performance when security forces over-zealously quelled throngs of fans who were trying to force their way into the stadium with tear gas and batons. It was an incident Marley reportedly described as “Madness” in the acclaimed biography Catch A Fire, though subsequent interviews after his death with Rita Marley downplayed the level of disillusionment he apparently experienced as a result of this.

Marley recognized the Independence Day concert had not been accessible to the masses and typically, he therefore played a subsequent show the next day to an audience of over 100,000 almost exclusively black people.

Bob Marley
Bob Marley
Image: AP Photo

Bob Marley died of skin cancer just 13 months later on May 11, 1981. Forty years on from that iconic concert, it is difficult to know what he would have made of the show in the light of Zimbabwe’s later struggles. Subsequent events have demonstrated the older generation of Zimbabweans have auto-mythologized the event.  The internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean actor Lucian Msamati described this as a “misdirected nostalgia at odds with the current reality that somehow still has a grip on core policy and culture and is choking and stunting it”.

High quality footage of this remarkable musical apotheosis of pan-Africanism isn’t widely available though there are grainy videos with weak audio on YouTube. But even Zimbabweans born long afterwards have seen clips on national television.

It is evident that the fervor that was generated by Marley as part of the independence celebration propelled the revolutionary zeal of many Pan-Africanists at the time and since. Bob Marley’s performance in Harare 40 years ago is indicative of the hope of an Africa that was promised, and is hopefully, becoming.

As he hoped in the song, Zimbabwe.

No more internal power struggle
We come together to overcome the little trouble
Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary
‘Cause I don’t want my people to be contrary

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