ZANU PFâ€™s politburo has been conferring national hero status on deceased Zimbabweans over the years in violation of the countryâ€™s laws, analysts have said.
The politburo, the analysts said, had also narrowed the definition of a hero to mean people who participated in the liberation struggle and continued to identify with the party after Independence.
The conferring of national hero status has since the 1980s been mired in controversy, with opposition political parties, civil society, the church and other stakeholders questioning the criterion used by the politburo.
Many would-be national heroes â€“â€“ among them â€“â€“ the late veteran nationalists Ndabaningi Sithole, James Chikerema, Michael Mawema, Canaan Banana and philanthropist Jairos Jiri â€“â€“ were not accorded the status despite their contribution to the liberation of the country and to nation building.
Instead, analysts observed, less deserving people were interred at the national shrine in Harare because of their loyalty to Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe in post-Independence Zimbabwe.
Political analysts said in terms of the National Heroes Act, the politburo has no power to confer any hero status. They said the Act states that the president was empowered to make the declaration.
The Act says: â€œWhere the president considers that any deceased person who was a citizen of Zimbabwe has deserved well of his country on account of his outstanding, distinctive and distinguished service to Zimbabwe, he may, by notice in the Gazette, designate such a person a national, provincial or district hero of Zimbabwe.â€ Â
This, the analysts said, rules out the involvement of the politburo in declaring nation heroesâ€™ status.
National hero status is the highest honour that can be conferred on an individual and the recipients are buried at the National Heroes Acre in the capital. The other status are liberation war hero (formerly provincial hero) and liberation hero (formerly district hero) and recipients are buried at provincial and district heroes acres throughout the country.
â€œThe law is clear on who should accord any hero status,â€ argued political scientist Michael Mhike. â€œWhat we have observed over the years is that Mugabe has been consulting the politburo, instead of solely conferring the status as outlined in the law. It could have been much better if he consulted the cabinet, which is the executive arm of government. The politburo is a party organ and cannot, therefore, interfere with government business.â€
Mhike said confining the declaration of the status to a party organ was problematic as it was bound to be partisan.
He suggested that there should be an independent body to confer the status.
â€œBut what is needed first is to define what a hero is,â€ Mhike said. â€œIn my view, heroes ought to be people who have a concept of nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nationâ€™s freedom and sovereignty.
Individuals who through their life define and contribute to a system or life of freedom, justice and equality and more importantly add value to the kind of social contract that advances national progress and order for a nation.â€
Equally, he argued, heroes are individuals who contribute to the quality of life and destiny of a nation. Â
â€œSuch individuals are generally part of the peopleâ€™s expression and transcend the limitations imposed by race, ethnicity, class, religion and any other variable that tends to segregate people.Â A hero or heroine must be someone who thinks about the future rather than dwelling on the past,â€ Mhike added.
Zimbabwean-born South African businessman Mutumwa Mawere agreed with Mhike adding that heroes should appreciate that in as much as the past cannot be excused it should not imprison the future.
Â â€œThe choice of such a person (hero) must necessarily not involve the recounting of an episode or events in history, but of the entire process that made this particular person a hero,â€ Mawere said.
He said in the case of a national hero, the countryâ€™s custodians in the form of an â€œelected and accountable executive ought to be the vehicle through which the people can express their appreciation of the personâ€™s contribution to nation buildingâ€.
Mawere said it was inappropriate for Zanu PF to confer the hero status, especially based on oneâ€™s contribution to the liberation struggle and loyalty to the party and Mugabe after independence.
â€œThe liberation struggle was a time-specific event that responded to the challenges of the time.Â As such, one cannot assume or jump to a conclusion that participating in the struggle is a necessary and sufficient condition for one to be accorded the status of a hero,â€ Mawere argued.Â â€œBuilding a nation is far more complex, it requires key foundational values, beliefs and principles.Â
It also requires that people live up to such foundational variables.Â It must be accepted that in the not too distant future, the stock of liberators will vanish and what will come of the heroesâ€™ acre when that time arrives.Â Should it be closed?Â If so, what will the country have to say about the post-colonial construction of its superstars, heroes and legends?â€
The Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC said the conferment of hero status could not be an exclusive prerogative of any political party.
â€œThere must be an inclusive national policy and an independent body with set parameters and clearly defined yardsticks which determines who qualifies to be a national hero or heroine. The same panel must define the meaning of a hero,â€ the party said in a statement to mark Mondayâ€™s Heroes Day. â€œHero status is an important status which cannot be conferred by a subjective organisation or political party which will most certainly discriminate against deserving individuals.â€
The party added that it is not politicians alone who have â€œlifted the Zimbabwean flag highâ€.
â€œWe have many sons and daughters who have served and continue to serve this country with pride and distinction,â€ the party said. â€œThese people are found in business, in sports, in music, in the army and in the police; the unsung heroes of our country. They deserve their place of honour in the national hall of fame regardless of the fact that they are not politicians.â€.
â€œThe Zanu PF politburo cannot be an objective substitute of an independent panel. The MDC believes that we need a panel of respected and eminent persons to come up with set criteria for the conferment of hero status.â€
BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE