NEXT Monday and Tuesday the nation is expected to mark the Heroes and Defence Forces holidays, very important dates on our national calendar.
“Expected”, in that for many of those supposed to celebrate the lives of our heroes and heroines, dead or alive, will use the days for totally different activities for reasons ranging from indifference to strong antipathy. The reason is not hard to find: instead of being a national rallying point the issue of national heroes has needlessly become emotive and deeply divisive. Much of the blame lies squarely with Zanu PF which has arrogated itself the exclusive authority to define the term “national hero”, and declare who should be bestowed such status.
Zanu PF’s parochial insistence that fundamentally only those that contributed to the national liberation struggle of the 1960s and 1970s, and who have remained consistent servants of the party qualify relegates the concept of national hero to a party charade. That is why Zanu PF’s intransigent unilateralism on the issue remains an outstanding GPA issue, and national commemorations and burials at the National Heroes Acre — now something of a misnomer — have occasionally been boycotted by parties in the unity government, creating needless polarisation.
It is hardly surprising we will be having parallel commemorations over the heroes holidays. Only last weekend, the MDC-T and Zanu Ndonga joined hands to honour the late Zanu founder Ndabaningi Sithole in Chipinge, while other such events are planned to honour those deemed heroes but have been given short shrift by Zanu PF.
For the record, Sithole was founding leader of Zanu in 1963 when the party was formed in Highfield, Harare, but fell out of favour with President Robert Mugabe and others. After Independence, Sithole, like Joshua Nkomo, went into self-imposed exile fearing for his life.
Sithole is by no means alone in getting the Zanu PF cold shoulder. Several others widely considered to be national hero material, among whose ranks are the country’s first president Canaan Banana, prominent academic and lawyer Walter Kamba, and Thenjiwe Lesabe, have met similar fate.
The politburo denied Lesabe — a former Zapu stalwart, Zanu PF Women’s League chairperson and cabinet minister — national heroine status, her unpardonable sin being “she was no longer a member of Zanu PF; she had crossed over to Zapu”, according to Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo.
Zanu PF’s duplicity and double standards, presided over by the ‘politburo club’, have seen some denied national hero status on the basis of, for instance, sexual orientation while those accused of corruption, looting of war victims funds and orchestrating deadly political violence were granted hero status.
Contrary to the self-serving, romantic and sanitised impression of a hero created by Zanu PF mainly through the state media, heroes are no saints and have their peculiar weaknesses. What sets them apart are their courageous and noble qualities. Thus heroes are not heroic all of the time — except maybe in Hollywood!
Fortunately, Zimbabweans do not need Zanu PF’s communist-style politburo say-so on who their genuine heroes are. Which is why in 2010 the bitter family of former governor for Matabeleland North Welshman Mabhena rebuffed efforts by Mugabe’s emissary to persuade them to release the body of Mabhena for burial at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare. A family spokesperson said then: “My brother told us before he died that he did not want to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre. He was very clear that he would not want to be buried alongside thieves and crooks!”
In fact, Mugabe confirmed last year that Heroes Acre was a members-only club, when in an address at the shrine he bluntly told other political parties to build their own shrines.
But other parties need not build their own club shrines. What is required is to revisit the national hero concept with a view to emerging with an all-encompassing and unifying concept of national heroes far divorced from political party affiliation, loyalty and bigotry. Only then will a truly national roll of heroes emerge.