Zimbabwe needs an apolitical National Heroes Commission

THE concept of heroism is as old as humanity itself. Throughout the history of the human race various men and women have distinguished themselves in various fields of endeavour such as sport, art, politics and business.


These distinguished members of the human race include, but are certainly not limited to, luminaries like Joshua Nkomo, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King Jr, Mbuya Nehanda, Lobengula, Sekuru Kaguvi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Thomas
Mapfumo, Strive Masiyiwa, Warren Buffett among others.
Thus, heroism cannot, and indeed should not, be a straiht-jacketed concept that is solely determined by the whims and fantasies of a small political group that nurses purely parochial and exclusionist nationalistic proclivities.
Heroism should be celebrated as the ultimate human achievement cutting across all political, racial, ethnic and religious divides. Heroism is a timeless celebration of human achievement that should have an exclusively national, and in some cases global, appeal. Put alternatively, heroism cannot be conferred on any person, dead or alive.
It is earned and not bestowed like an honorary degree.
Recent events in Zimbabwe have placed into focus the need to de-politicise the conferring of hero status on departed luminaries. By its very nature politics is a subjective and emotive subject. It is, therefore, impossible to obtain absolute political unanimity on any subject even within the same political party.
Such is the nature of
politics that some people choose to refer to it as a dirty game. It is a game with no defined rules and regulations. It is a game that anyone can play. More often than not, talent counts for nothing in the game of politics.
Since Independence in 1980 the conferment of national and even provincial hero status has been the sole preserve of only one political party; Zanu PF. Over the years, it has emerged that one can never be declared a national hero as long as you are not in good books with Zanu PF by the time that you meet your Maker. Needless to say, this is the main reason such pioneering political luminaries as James Chikerema, Ndabaningi Sithole, Chris Mandizvidza, Patrick Kombayi and Henry Hamadziripi are not interred at
Heroes’ Acre in Harare. According to the narrow, subjective and parochial criteria laid down by Zanu PF, these luminaries did not deserve to be considered national heroes.
However, one does not have to be a history student to know and appreciate the fact that Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema were there in the
colonial prisons together with Joshua Nkomo and Joseph Musikavanhu when some of today’s latter day heroes were pursuing purely private and personal advancement agendas. So, as singer Oliver Mtukudzi would ask “Who is a hero?”
Every decent nation should, and indeed must, honour its heroes and heroines. But then heroism should never be packaged solely as the ultimate political achievement as dictated by the ethos and standards of one political grouping. Once that is done, heroism is inevitably bastardised and you end up having thoroughly discredited and outrageous characters sneaking into the national and provincial heroes acres through the back door. This is an insult to the memory of those, otherwise, exemplary men and women whose remains lie interred at the various national shrines.
Heroism, as I have already alluded to above, is a timeless concept. Heroes and heroines will be encountered in every generation. You do not have to be a politician for you to be a hero. Jairos Jiri was a philanthropist and not a politician. But can any right-thinking Zimbabwean deny the fact
that Jiri is a national hero and that he deserves a grand reburial at the National Heroes’ Acre?
The formation of the inclusive government in February 2009 should necessarily give impetus to the need to completely overhaul the system of declaring national and provincial heroes in Zimbabwe. We should, going forward, begin to establish a new, dynamic, non-partisan and all-embracing concept of coming up with a list of our heroes and heroines. The ghost of politics should be completely exorcised from the conferment of hero status. Politicians have no monopoly of heroism.
The Movement for Democratic Change led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has come out very clearly on what should be done when it comes to the conferment of hero status in Zimbabwe. The MDC advocates a non-partisan method of conferring hero status on departed deserving Zimbabweans.
In this regard, therefore, the MDC envisages the
establishment of a National Heroes Board or Commission that will be solely mandated with the task of establishing who should be and who shouldn’t be declared a national hero when they pass on. I would go further and respectfully submit that the new constitution should specifically provide for the establishment of a constitutional body called the National Heroes Commission.
This body will then be responsible for all matters and issues relating to the conferment of
national, provincial and district hero and heroine status. That way we would have managed to remove this very sensitive aspect of our lives from manipulation by politicians and political parties. In fact, the proposed National Heroes Commission should also go further and establish, going back to our pre-colonial history, who should be and who shouldn’t have been declared a national hero.
Should it become necessary, the remains of some undeserving characters would have to be removed from our sacred national shrine; the National Heroes Acre in Harare. And those luminaries who were unjustifiably denied national hero status would be reburied at the national shrine if their families are in agreement with this arrangement. In fact, this will be a very good
and classic manifestation of national healing.
Zimbabwe is at the crossroads. We remain at the crossroads. This is the time for the nation to re-awaken; for some form of renaissance. There is no point in trying to hide behind a finger. A spade should be called a spade. It is not a shovel. Tear gas is tear gas; it is not and can never be perfume.
Similarly, fascism and dictatorship are precisely what they are, ie evils that should be peacefully fought against relentlessly. There should be no retreat; there should be no
surrender. As we seek to establish a new dispensation in Zimbabwe, we should learn from our previous mistakes and also from the mistakes that other countries in the world, particularly the developing world. Zimbabwe abounds with great potential. We should not be poor. In fact, we should refuse to be poor. Politics is not the only barometer of the success of human beings. Politics is not the alpha and omega of human achievement.
Zimbabwe deserves to bask in the success brought upon it by its celebrated sons and daughters in other fields of endeavour such as business, sport, academia and the arts. Why not name one of our major roads, Oliver Mtukudzi Avenue?
Why not rename the National University of Science and Technology (Nust), Jairos Jiri University of Science and Technology? We deserve to be proud of our own great achievers. The world over, that is how great nations are moulded. If we are not proud of our own outstanding achievers then no one else will. Have you noticed how both the print and electronic media in England go berserk praising their national football team when they are playing or about to play international games, even mere friendlies?
Zimbabwe has a lot to learn from the examples set by other countries. This is not an excuse for celebrating mediocrity. Where criticism is due, we should do so without fear or favour. But then, it is incumbent upon every patriotic Zimbabwean to be proud of what Zimbabwe has to offer and has offered the world before.
Why don’t we see an avalanche of T-shirts and other memorabilia written “Kirsty Coventry” all over? Surely, the proposed idea to re-brand Zimbabwe has a mammoth task before it. But it can be done. And it must be done.
Our heroes and heroines should be celebrated all the time. Once we successfully de-politicise the conferment of hero status, a lot of things will fall into place. All Zimbabweans will, once again, have a sense of pride and attachment to their heroes and heroines. Brand Zimbabwe can be the global talk sooner rather than later. But then, we should sort out our politics first.

 

Obert Gutu is an MDC-T senator.

By Obert Gutu