The musical performances which were free of charge used to rotate in all provinces and the showcases were screened live on national television for all Zimbabweans to see.
This year, not even ZBC radio and television stations were bothered.
In the past, State-controlled electronic media used to be awash with Unity Day jingles, but not anymore – possibly a sign that things have changed since the removal of former president Robert Mugabe.
Unity Day was born out of the 1987 Unity Accord signed between Mugabe and the late vice president Joshua Nkomo after violent tribal disturbances rocked Matabeleland and the Midlands.
In Bulawayo, a pressure group — Ibhetshu Likazulu — instead held its annual commemoration yesterday to mark the end of the Gukurahundi genocide in the country.
“It is a fact that over 20 000 people were killed forcing Nkomo to sign an agreement with Mugabe to stop the genocide,” Ibhetshu’s Mbuso Fuzwayo told our Bulawayo Bureau. “We want to build bridges with our killers and give the survivors an opportunity to reflect,” he said.
Zanu PF’s national spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo yesterday told The Daily News on Sunday that this year they could not hold the musical gala owing to economic constraints.
“This has to do with the economic situation, there are challenges as you know. It’s not easy to have a gala; cash is needed,” he said.
Moyo was adamant that Unity Day has not lost its essence, noting that people are free to gather and commemorate the day as they please.
“Unity brings peace, and peace brings development. The unity accord formed the basis for the entire unity of our people. It’s a day to reflect, take stock of what we have achieved in terms of values and ethos. Are we bringing people together? If we are not bringing people together then there is something wrong,” said Khaya Moyo.
Moyo said the signing of the Unity Accord goes beyond a ceasefire agreement between the two revolutionary parties, Zanu and Zapu.
Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs Pupurai Togarepi said Unity Day should server as a reminder to every Zimbabwean especially the new generation that they should value unity in the face of diversity.
“Never again shall we be divided on tribal lines or any other thing for that matter. As the youth take over this country and our revolution, they should embrace unity among the people of Zimbabwe in their diversity,” Togarepi told the Daily News on Sunday.
The ruling party’s head of youth affairs said the commemorations this year were particularly special since they were the second since Mugabe was deposed from power.
“We marked the day through various activities all over the country like assisting the elderly and disadvantaged members of the society.
“We will also conducted lectures on our founding principles and the history of our liberation struggle to date,” Togarepi said.
The Daily News on Sunday spoke to some analysts who are of the opinion that the day has lost its meaning.
Controversial playwright Cont Mhlanga said as always and everywhere the unity of a nation remains paramount.
“The unity of Zimbabweans will remain significant; it is however the political context of this Unity Day and celebrations that remains a huge challenge for the nation.
It will remain a challenge until someone sobers up and opens national dialogue to fix the political context of this day,” said Mhlanga.
He said while this unity has worked to some extent for Zanu PF and Zapu, it has failed to work for the development of country and nation.
“It is not possible to be a united nation that cannot address matters of its national development to such levels of poverty and economic shambles.
“It is not possible for a nation that is solidly united to have a pot of simmering tribal undertones and conflicts such as we have in Zimbabwe, a country that celebrates Unity Day every year,” said Mhlanga.
The playwright added that this confirms that this unity serves the political elite of Zanu PF and Zapu only and not the nation.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said Unity Day lost its meaning the very day it was set.
“It was a day Zanu PF and ZAPU united and morphed into a Zanu PF monster. It was never about unity of Zimbabweans but two political parties with the other being swallowed wholly.
“Now that you have a different ZAPU party and multiple Zanu PF fragments, the day has even lost its parochial meaning of unity of two political parties. If you are not Zanu PF, this is a useless holiday which means nothing,” said Saungweme.
Political analyst Piers Pigou said it is very clear that 31 years after the Unity Accord was signed, it is little more than a threadbare representation of reconciliation and a sharp reminder on the huge challenges facing the country at a time of profound polarisation and exclusion.
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga believes Unity Day should achieve new meaning with time because the act of political unity between Mugabe and Nkomo was not enough.
“Zimbabwe is currently extremely polarised and divided and very much in need of healing and unity. Unity Day must inspire and spur all Zimbabweans to seek and forge genuine national unity and identity above petty party politics,” said Mavhinga.
The main opposition, MDC however said the Zanu PF government has only reduced the unity accord to a ceasefire agreement between Zanu PF and Zapu, while it has continued to perpetuate rivalry and violence against the opposition parties.
“Unity Day should provide national healing, compensation to victims of atrocities, making them feel like they belong to the nation. This has not been done. Atrocities have been repeated during the food riots, Operation Murambatsvina, the 2008 elections and the recent August 1 killings after the July elections,” the party’s spokesperson Jacob Mafume said. Daily News.