By Charehwachaguma Chirombowe
WHEN the scales fell off the Biblical Saul’s eyes to enable him to see things anew, he was surprised to note how wrong he was in persecuting Christians.
>At the risk of sounding blasphemous, we have a confession emanating from a guilt engulfing the whole nation.
The late Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi was a hero of heroes, (gamba ramagamba, iqhawe lamaqhawe) and should be declared a soldier of the nation, the fist of the nation or alternately, the defender of the poor. Yes, Hunzvi of the jambanja (upheaval) fame.
We never thought we would live to agree, let alone commend the Zanu PF politburo for anything. We are forced to eat humble pie as we congratulate the party for recognising Hunzvi’s heroism. For those who may still need to be converted to “Hunzvionism” or “Chenjism” (followers of Hunzvi) we are glad to provide a synopsis into the man’s heroics.
Zanu PF may have recognised Hunzvi’s peripheral role during the struggle and his rise to fame during the controversial land reform exercise and the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2000 and 2002 respectively.
These to us would remain peripheral. Hunzvi’s achievements were recorded in the late nineties.
It is common knowledge that after demobilisation, the war veterans were discarded into oblivion. It was Hunzvi who retrieved them from the dustbin of history, dusted them off and gave them dignity.
He alerted them to the War Victims’ Compensation Fund which was accessed only by a privileged few. The fact that it ended up being looted was not his problem because his job was not to manage the fund.
He vetted and assessed war veterans for compensation. Indeed, some got seemingly generous assessments in excess of 100% physical disability and 90% mental disability.
The fact that some of these lunatics hold positions of power and responsibility in the party and government is not Hunzvi’s problem.
He did not elect them, neither did he appoint them to the lofty positions. We all know who did! But he was courageous to tell us the physical and mental state of our leaders.
When the independent media exposed massive looting of the fund, President Robert Mugabe suspended it in March 1997.
Hunzvi and his fellow war veterans reacted angrily to Mugabe’s suspension of the fund and led a series of demonstrations across the country to press him to reinstate the fund – an unprecedented move. Hitherto disgruntled Zimbabweans were singing the refrain: “Mugabe is surrounded by deadwood”.
Even the successful paralysing civil servants’ strike of 1996 had scapegoats in Mariyawanda Nzuwa whom they renamed Mariishoma!
Hunzvi was not evasive; he identified the source of his problem and dealt with the root cause – not wasting time and energy on symptoms!
In April, Mugabe responded by promising to pay deserving cases on a case-by-case basis. Because of the way Hunzvi and his troops had defied and exposed him, Mugabe, who is patron of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, refused to meet the veterans to discuss the issue.
This irked Hunzvi who believed that elected leaders are only there to serve and not dictate to the electorate!
In May the war veterans demanded “meaningful compensation” for their role in the liberation struggle and started violent street protests. They demanded that they be treated with respect.
Poor Florence Chitauro, then Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, faced their wrath . At one point she was only saved by the heroics of her alert and daring driver.
President Mugabe then deployed cabinet ministers to provinces to meet ex-combatants and discuss their grievances. This proved to be an unprofitable gamble as the ministers were held hostage for hours, abused and chased away because they had no answers.
The war veterans were not interested in sweet nothings and idle talk of patriotism and sovereignty from the fat cats. They wanted food, transport, healthcare and educational facilities for their children just like their overfed leaders!
Before the regime could respond, Hunzvi led a mob of war veterans in a march on Mugabe’s offices and residences, denouncing him as insensitive, saying they will fight for their rights.
One protest in July 1997 disrupted a Zimbabwean/African-American business conference. The demonstrations reached a crescendo when Hunzvi, wearing a sixties skin hat and brandishing a knobkerry, led drum-beating war veterans to disrupt President Mugabe’s Heroes’ Day speech.
Who will forget that day when the war veterans booed Mugabe, forcing him to make his shortest speech ever at a “political rally?” Needless to say, the nation witnessed this spectacle on ZTV. Ah those days!
Hunzvi’s “persistence and consistence” in the struggle for justice and equality for the war veterans, culminating in his Heroes’ Day victory, forced President Mugabe, who was in a tight corner, to give in and meet leaders of the war veterans at his State House offices in Harare where he promised each a $50 000 (then about US$5 000) one-off gratuity, and a monthly pension of $2 000 (then about US$200). Needless to say, this was unbudgeted for.
Critics are quick to point out that Hunzvi’s victory precipitated the collapse of the economy. Such thinking is unreasonable, for Hunzvi did not dictate the source of the funds.
Government could have taken the money from other sources like reducing the size of the cabinet and bureaucracy, privatisation or selling off parastatals haemorrhaging the fiscus.
In any case, Zimbabwe has had a fair share of unplanned and unbudgeted for expenditures. Our involvement in the Congo imbroglio, Operation Murambatsvina, galas and biras, the introduction of obscure and redundant ministries and metropolitan governors, come to mind. Hunzvi was not involved.
Hunzvi later dragged Mugabe, kicking and screaming, to land reform. Again critics will be quick to say that worsened our economic situation. But that is missing the point!
Hunzvi forced Mugabe to do what the whole nation expected, in fact demanded, but had hitherto failed to convince him to embrace – land reform.
The fact that Mugabe did not do it properly is not Hunzvi’s fault because he was not at any point president. Similarly, the violence that ensued and the bombing of the people’s paper – the Daily News – was in all fairness a result of the executive failing in its constitutional mandate.
But the point ought to be made that Hunzvi rose to challenge Mugabe and won. Lest we forget, Hunzvi chased the affable and powerful Retired General Solomon Mujuru from Chikomba constituency!
He also brought the inquiry into the fund to a stop when his colleagues stormed Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku’s courtroom.
Hunzvi did not subscribe to the one-sided justice that the authorities practise. Until his death, the man would take on anyone, anywhere, anytime. The association and its spirit died with him.
This would sound strange but do you remember that when Hunzvi died mourners had to gather at Jocelyn Chiwenga’s Heritage Trust offices because they could not perch on his government flat?
Similarly, when his body was taken to his rural home, dignitaries could not crawl into his falling huts. Despite allegations of fraud and extortion, there was no evidence to suggest that Hunzvi lived an opulent life. His was an ordinary life like many of us. We thus celebrate Hunzvi as a hero.
Unlike the pitiful lot of Zimbabweans, Hunzvi followed his conviction. He mobilised the common people around “their burning issues” and not the petty bourgeoisie.
He definitely would not have allowed Operation Murambatsvina.
* Charehwachaguma Chirombowe is a Harare-based social commentator.