By 5.30am, Bob and his family were already comfortably sheltered inside a virtually empty National Sports Stadium, patiently waiting for the proceedings to start five hours later.
Only a handful of security details and logistics officers went about their business, seemingly oblivious of the family of four perched inside bay 17 of the imposing multi-purpose stadium.
The early birds had strategically positioned themselves at a vantage point from where they would have unhindered view of the entertainment stage and the VIP dais from where the Guest of Honour would deliver his keynote address.
More importantly from this “front row seat”, they had virtually insulated themselves from the pounding torrential rains.
Mr Bob Meki and his young family will go down in history as the first people to arrive at the National Sports Stadium to partake in festivities of celebrating Zimbabwe’s 35th Independence Anniversary.
Perchance, history will probably not recognise the family’s atypical exploit of being the first to set foot into the celebrations’ venue yesterday.
But their feat only showed how anxious they were to celebrate the day.
“By 3am we had finished preparing for the long journey from Tafara to Warren Park. We wanted to beat long winding queues at the entrance. I want my children to learn all about the country’s history and know where we came from as Zimbabweans and grow into responsible citizens,” said Mr Meki.
“Independence is a very important day which I take very seriously. I remember growing up when my friends and family would go to the celebrations.
“Today, I want my children to learn from the message the President will deliver.”
As they sat, waiting for the festivities to kick off, scores of other jubilant Zimbabweans started pouring in, again seemingly oblivious to the pounding rains and low temperatures.
By mid-morning, the upper parts of the imposing structure — which provided a shield from the rains — had been filled to the rafters. The rains did not relent; so did the crowds that trooped into the stadium.
Outside the main entrance, queues of jubilant crowds threatened to overwhelm the clearly overworked security details who at times had to resort to tough crowd control tactics to quell any unfortunate crowd trouble. But this would not deter the steadfast.
“I have been in this queue for over 30 minutes, but that is no reason for me to lose hope and turn back home. I am prepared to wait my turn,” said a youngster who only identified himself as Tinkler.
Tinkler’s predicament probably vindicated the Meki family’s decision to arrive at the break of dawn.
The people came from far and wide.
Those who spoke to The Sunday Mail told of their winding journeys from different parts of the country.
They told of adventures worth retelling to generations that will follow.
They spoke of trouble — financial or otherwise — to ensure they joined the rest of the country in the historic celebration.
The unremitting and callous weather could not deter the sheer will power of the tens of thousands — who had by now filled the giant facility to near capacity.
They sang and danced in poetic unison. Their sheer force of will and unwillingness to budge to the ravages of mother nature’s fury carried the day, turning a potentially gloomy atmosphere into a vessel of pure bliss, ecstasy and rapture.
In the face of the unforgiving weather, Alick Macheso’s proficiency and mastery of the sungura beat kept the crowd on their feet.
Given the gloomy weather outlook, an equally lack of colour among the crowd would have been expected. But that was not to be.
The apparel donned by the crowd at the venue told a story of its own.
The dressing varied from the classy, the elegant, the urbane, the suave, the cultured, going down to the downright ridiculous.
It was an event where Zimbabweans from all social classes mixed and mingled without regard to status as the nation danced in unison to the tune “Unity, peace, prosperity and freedom”.
The day’s theme — “Zimbabwe@35: Consolidating Unity, Peace and Sovereignty” — appropriately encapsulated the crowd’s mood.
President Mugabe’s entry elicited a huge roar of approval from the crowd, affirming his undoubted immense popularity.
It was a blessed day, baptised in torrential rains.