The country gained official independence as Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. The government held independence celebrations in Rufaro stadium in Salisbury, the capital. Lord Christopher Soames, the last Governor of Southern Rhodesia, watched as Charles, Prince of Wales, gave a farewell salute and the Rhodesian Signal Corps played “God Save the Queen“. Many foreign dignitaries also attended, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, President Seretse Khama of Botswana, and Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser of Australia, representing the Commonwealth of Nations. Bob Marley sang ‘Zimbabwe’, a song he wrote, at the government’s invitation in a concert at the country’s independence festivities.
President Shagari pledged $15 million at the celebration to train Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe and expatriates in Nigeria. Mugabe’s government used part of the money to buy newspaper companies owned by South Africans, increasing the government’s control over the media. The rest went to training students in Nigerian universities, government workers in the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria in Badagry, and soldiers in the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna. Later that year Mugabe commissioned a report by the BBC on press freedom in Zimbabwe. The BBC issued its report on 26 June, recommending the privatisation of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and its independence from political interests. See also: Foreign relations of Zimbabwe
Mugabe’s government changed the capital’s name from Salisbury to Harare on 18 April 1982 in celebration of the second anniversary of independence. The government renamed the main street in the capital, Jameson Avenue, in honour of Samora Machel, President of Mozambique.
The new Constitution provided for an executive President as Head of State with a Prime Minister as Head of Government. Reverend Canaan Banana served as the first President. In government amended the Constitution in 1987 to provide for an Executive President and abolished the office of Prime Minister. The constitutional changes came into effect on 1 January 1988 with Robert Mugabe as President. The bicameral Parliament of Zimbabwe had a directly elected House of Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate, partly made up of tribal chiefs. The Constitution established two separate voters rolls, one for the black majority, who had 80% of the seats in Parliament, and the other for whites and other ethnic minorities, such as Coloureds, people of mixed race, and Asians, who held 20%. The government amended the Constitution in 1986, eliminating the voter rolls and replacing the white seats with seats filled by nominated members. Many white MPs joined ZANU which then reappointed them. In 1990 the government abolished the Senate and increased the House of Assembly’s membership to include members nominated by the President.
Prime Minister Mugabe kept Peter Walls, the head of the army, in his government and put him in charge of integrating the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and the Rhodesian Army. While Western media outlets praised Mugabe’s efforts at reconciliation with the white minority, tension soon developed. On 17 March 1980, after several unsuccessful assassination attempts Mugabe asked Walls, “Why are your men trying to kill me?” Walls replied, “If they were my men you would be dead.” BBC news interviewed Walls on 11 August 1980. He told the BBC that he had asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to annul the 1980 election prior to the official announcement of the result on the grounds that Mugabe used intimidation to win the election. Walls said Thatcher had not replied to his request. On 12 August British government officials denied that they had not responded, saying Antony Duff, Deputy Governor of Salisbury, told Walls on 3 March that Thatcher would not annul the election.
Minister of Information Nathan Shamuyarira said the government would not be “held ransom by racial misfits” and told “all those Europeans who do not accept the new order to pack their bags.” He also said the government continued to consider taking “legal or administrative action” against Walls. Mugabe, returning from a visit with United States President Jimmy Carter in New York City, said, “One thing is quite clear—we are not going to have disloyal characters in our society.” Walls returned to Zimbabwe after the interview, telling Peter Hawthorne of Time magazine, “To stay away at this time would have appeared like an admission of guilt.” Mugabe drafted legislation that would exile Walls from Zimbabwe for life and Walls moved to South Africa.
Ethnic divisions soon came back to the forefront of national politics. Tension between ZAPU and ZANU erupted with guerrilla activity starting again in Matabeleland in south-western Zimbabwe. Nkomo (ZAPU) left for exile in Britain and did not return until Mugabe guaranteed his safety. In 1982 government security officials discovered large caches of arms and ammunition on properties owned by ZAPU, accusing Nkomo and his followers of plotting to overthrow the government. Mugabe fired Nkomo and his closest aides from the cabinet. Seven MPs, members of the Rhodesian Front, left Smith’s party to sit as “independents” on 4 March 1982, signifying their dissatisfaction with his policies. As a result of what they saw as persecution of Nkomo and his party, PF-ZAPU supporters, army deserters began a campaign of dissidence against the government. Centring primarily in Matabeleland, home of the Ndebeles who were at the time PF-ZAPU’s main followers, this dissidence continued through 1987. It involved attacks on government personnel and installations, armed banditry aimed at disrupting security and economic life in the rural areas, and harassment of ZANU-PF members.
Because of the unsettled security situation immediately after independence and democratic sentiments, the government kept in force a “state of emergency”. This gave the government widespread powers under the “Law and Order Maintenance Act,” including the right to detain persons without charge which it used quite widely. In 1983 to 1984 the government declared a curfew in areas of Matabeleland and sent in the army in an attempt to suppress members of the Ndebele tribe. The pacification campaign, known as the Gukuruhundi, or strong wind, resulted in at least 20,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by an elite, North Korean-trained brigade, known in Zimbabwe as the Gukurahundi.
ZANU-PF increased its majority in the 1985 elections, winning 67 of the 100 seats. The majority gave Mugabe the opportunity to start making changes to the constitution, including those with regard to land restoration. Fighting did not cease until Mugabe and Nkomo reached an agreement in December 1987 whereby ZAPU became part of ZANU-PF and the government changed the constitution to make Mugabe the country’s first executive president and Nkomo one of two vice-presidents.