The question lingering on many minds is whether the National Heroes’ Acre is still a national asset or a Zanu PF shrine.
Mugabe’s recent outburst at the burial of the late Zanu PF national deputy commissar Ephraim Masawi that the national heroes acre was solely for Zanu PF members who participated in the liberation struggle has angered many Zimbabweans and those who fought in the liberation struggle.
For the first time ever, the family of national hero, the late former Matabeleland North governor, Welshman Mabhena, rejected Zanu PF’s honour to bury him at the national shrine preferring instead to lay him to rest at Lady Stanley Cemetery in Bulawayo.
Political analysts pointed out that the rejection by the Mabhena family shows that the honour, credibility and respect, which was once attached to the national hero’s status, is now gone.
Sapes Trust executive director Ibbo Mandaza said the Mabhena issue has exposed Mugabe’s reckless statement regarding the importance of the shrine. He said Mugabe should not equate the national heroes’ acre to a Zanu PF shrine.
“The mistake was made by Mugabe after saying the shrine was a Zanu PF place. It’s embarrassing because now they have egg on their face following Mabhena’s rejection to be buried at the acre,” he said.
Matabeleland Civic Society Consortium (MCSC) applauded the Mabhena family for resisting Zanu PF’s attempts to bury the former PF-Zapu secretary-general at the National Heroes Acre.
“A hero’s status is not conferred by a party but it’s supposed to be an individual earning and it doesn’t matter where someone is buried,” said MCSC spokesman Dumisani Nkomo. “Mugabe said it’s a Zanu PF shrine, so people should not be worried about that anymore. It has lost its meaning, credibility, and status because we have some people without proper credentials who were buried at the heroes’ acre.”
Nkomo said the heroes’ acre was maintained by tax-payers’ money, therefore Mugabe should be accountable to the masses instead of privatising the state property. The department of National Museums and Monuments manages the heroes’ acres around the country.
Other analysts said Mabhena did not decline to be a national hero but he declined to be chosen by Zanu PF which has turned the heroes’ acre into a burial place for Mugabe’s clique.
London-based lawyer Julius Mutyambizi-Dewa said: “He refused to share his final resting place with people whose own lifetime careers were defined by the extent to which they persecuted defenceless citizens and stole from them.”
“The status quo with regards to the conferring of hero status just reflects victor justice and the power of political hegemony in Zimbabwe which is not only wrong, unjust and unfair but is also dangerous as it creates a cyclic spiral of politically defined heroes and villains depending on the existing political hegemony at a given time.”
Mutyambizi-Dewa said Zanu PF has failed to live above politics when entrusted with issues of national importance and has caused widespread cynicism on national day celebrations.
He noted that most of the people currently in Zanu PF fail to be heroes because they cannot pass the consistency test.
“The problem in Zimbabwe has always been of a ruling party that failed to redefine itself as a governing party and this also explains why people opposed to them are not heroes. However there comes a time when people must disregard them and declare their own heroes with or without Zanu PF,” said Mutyambizi-Dewa.
Analysts said they believed the depiction of national heroes is lop-sided in favour of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, neglecting other pivotal players in the liberation struggle, who criticised the President.
There are a number of luminaries including former Zipra commander Lookout Masuku, Zanu founder Ndabaningi Sithole, and veteran nationalist James Chikerema who were denied the national hero’s status after crossing Mugabe.
But the mention of national heroes like Cain Nkala, Border Gezi and Sabina Mugabe, analysts say let-slip Mugabe’s intentional manipulation and distortion of the country’s history.
This week, Zanu PF blundered after declaring the wife of late national hero Air Chief Marshal Josiah Tungamirai, Pamela, a liberation war heroine. The party’s women’s league and Harare province led fierce criticism against Zanu PF, saying she deserved to be buried at the National Heroes Acre.
Trevor Maisiri, the executive director of a Harare based politics think-tank, African Reform Institute (AR), said Mugabe’s party was diverting from the principles of the liberation struggle in honouring national icons.
“Many (Zanu PF officials) are embroiled in activities for self economic empowerment even through unbecoming means. Some have lost the morality that the liberation struggle principles sought to promote. Others have lost the service to the people, yet others have lost their own foundational identity that motivated them to go out there and be liberators of the nation,” he said.
“Such disparities will cause many potential heroes-acre-destined comrades to turn down the accord. This will all be because the fundamentals of the liberation struggle have been lost and some of the people at the shrine may really not be reflective of the virginity of the original intention, motivation, principles, values and integrity of the liberation war.”
Maisiri criticised Zanu PF for claiming ownership of the history of Zimbabwe’s struggle when it is known that a group of people do not define the history of a nation. He said Mugabe and his allies have created notions that the liberation struggle has been privatised, excluding the rest of Zimbabweans.
Even political parties to the inclusive government, MDC-T and MDC-M have attacked Mugabe for monopolising the selection of national heroes when it is underpinned in the Global Political Agreement that the parties should consult. In protest, MDC-T and MDC-M boycotted the burial of Masawi last month but attended the burial of Mabhena at Lady Stanley Cemetery in Bulawayo on Saturday.
The MDC formations were angered by Mugabe’s refusal to confer the hero’s status on the late National Healing co-Minister Gibson Sibanda.
Other political parties say council should be given powers to build national heroes’ acres where icons will be buried without involving Zanu PF.
Zapu spokesman Methuseli Moyo, said it was embarrassing for Mugabe to declare Mabhena a national hero, when he fired him as governor in 2000.