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National heroes: Mugabe’s word must not be the criteria

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF politburo met on Wednesday to decide whether the late nationalist Welshman Mabhena should be designated a hero or not, reigniting the debate about heroes in the country.

The politburo eventually resolved Mabhena was a hero. The issue was fraught with controversy. Although he contributed immensely to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle and had a watertight record, Mabhena was a fierce critic of Mugabe and had abandoned Zanu PF. All the same he was declared a national hero although his family rejected the honour.
But the main question still remains: Who is a hero and who is not and what criteria is used to determine that?
The selection of heroes by Mugabe and his party is riddled with controversy. Some dubious characters who should not be at the National Heroes Acre lie there, while others who deserve to, do not. Under pressure to justify his party’s partisan and inconsistent approach, Mugabe recently claimed the criteria used to select heroes is based on “consistency and persistence” during and after the liberation struggle.
“The Heroes’ Acre is a place for those who fought for the liberation of the country,” Mugabe said.
Therein lies the problem. There are many people who distinguished themselves during the struggle in different ways. The trouble is that there is no public criteria to judge who is a hero and who is not. Mugabe’s word is the criteria. The Zanu PF politburo only comes in to endorse his word. Although lobbying happens, Mugabe is the final authority.
We recently had an insight into this when Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, writing under a nom de plume in the Herald, revealed a heated debate which once exploded between Mugabe and the late Vice-President Joseph Msika over whether James Chikerema was a hero or not. According to Charamba, Msika, a founding nationalist who pioneered the struggle before Mugabe and others joined, thought Chikerema was a hero. Mugabe thought he wasn’t. Msika’s argument was that Chikerema was a pioneer of the struggle. Mugabe said while that was true, Chikerema faltered and ended up joining Ian Smith in the ill-fated Zimbabwe-Rhodesia experiment between 1978-79. Mugabe said that government dropped bombs and smothered liberation struggle fighters and their supporters in Mozambique and Zambia.  
However, Mugabe’s flawed argument lacks consistency, which is what Msika should have told him point blank.
The George Nyandoro case is always the obvious example. Nyandoro served as a cabinet minister in the 1979 internal settlement government (Zimbabwe-Rhodesia) but was declared a national hero when he died in 1994. Ndabaningi Sithole and Chikerema who also served in the same government were left out. So Mugabe’s argument collapses on its own. Of course, Mugabe may want to dig out other issues about Sithole and Chikerema to justify his argument, but the problem is lack of criteria to judge who is a hero and who is not.
Take the case of Lookout Masuku, former Zipra commander, whose record as a fighter was unimpeachable. Compare that with the cases of Cain Nkala and Chenjerai Hunzvi, let alone Border Gezi. What is to be made of this?
It’s pretty clear there is no consistency here. And that’s what happens when there are no guidelines to determine such things. We need a public body and guidelines to select national heroes.



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