LEGENDARY English playwright William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is often interred with their bones.” He went on to say, “so let it be with Caesar!”
Report by Herbert Moyo
One would expect that this is now conventional wisdom, given its unassailable logic.
However, this timeless truism evidently has no bearing in Zimbabwe where some people — regarded as more equal than others — are rewarded for the evils they would have done during their lives.
This week the Shakespearean axiom reverberated in the country when Zanu PF gave a national hero status to convicted Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) deputy director (internal), Elias Kanengoni, who was notorious for the attempted murder of the late Gweru businessman and political activist, Patrick Kombayi.
Of course, none of the graveside speakers, including Acting President Joice Mujuru, who reportedly put her foot down by ensuring Kanengoni was accorded national hero status, and Kanengoni’s daughter Tabetha, mentioned the Kombayi incident.
Their silence on the issue was deafening even though the event is still etched in the public’s minds.
Kanengoni, together with another CIO operative, Kizito Chivamba, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to seven years in prison after he shot Kombayi on March 24 1990 in an assassination attempt just three days before the general elections.
Kombayi was contesting the Gweru urban seat under the late Edgar Tekere-led Zimbabwe Unity Movement (Zum), against the late vice-president Simon Muzenda. Despite his defection, Tekere was declared a national hero. He however also had a dark past — shooting a white farmer after Independence.
Kombayi, who at the time was Zum national organising secretary, survived the shooting, but was severely injured.
However, President Robert Mugabe granted Kanengoni an amnesty shortly afterwards.
Kanengoni was subsequently restored to his duties in the CIO which of late, according to Mujuru, had come to consist of “deflecting multi-faceted regime change efforts aimed at destabilising our nation”.
Tabetha hailed Mugabe and the politburo for according her father national hero status, saying “we know we have a family in Zanu PF that loves us and that will always be with us”.
These eulogies fuelled growing fears among Zimbabweans that according someone national hero status by Zanu PF is a partisan exercise which has no public input and endorsement.
As more people of Kanengoni’s calibre are interred at the National Heroes Acre — where some of Zimbabwe’s illustrious liberation struggle icons are buried — it becomes a desecration of a national monument.
Kanengoni’s case is a hark back to the burial of former CIO director-general Mernard Muzariri whom critics protested was not a national hero if his role in the Gukurahundi massacres is taken into account.
Although Zanu PF claims those who qualify to be national heroes must have made serious contributions to the liberation struggle, remained consistent and led by example, some of those buried at the heroes acre do not qualify by the party’s own standards.
For instance, George Nyandoro was buried at the heroes acre even though he served in the transitional Zimbabwe-Rhodesia arrangement, while others like Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema, whom he worked with, were excluded.
While Sithole’s case is different after accusations he denounced the struggle and revelations by founder CIO director Ken Flower that he was sponsored by the Rhodesians and American intelligence to destabilise liberation movements through civil strife, Zanu PF’s inconsistencies are glaring as shown by the Lookout Masuku and Thenjiwe Lesabe cases.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said declaring Kanengoni a national hero was a travesty of heroism and such decisions turned the heroes acre into “a circus” while undermining the contributions of real heroes who lie there.
“The Kanengoni case shows that the true test of who is a hero or not is simply how much one has fought to defend the hegemonic interests of Zanu PF, not always to serve the country,” said Ruhanya. “The likes of Chenjerai Hunzvi, Border Gezi, Elliot Manyika and Cain Nkala are all interred at the shrine despite all the repression and violence associated with their activities in the post-Independence era.”
The selection of heroes has become increasingly controversial, especially after 2000, coinciding with the period that Zanu PF faced the biggest threat to its rule after the emergence of MDC.
At the burial of politburo member Ephraim Masawi in 2010, Mugabe spelt out the criteria for national hero status, saying: “Heroes acre ndeye varwi verusununguko haisi yevatsvene (the National Heroes Acre is for people who participated in the war of liberation, not for the holy).
Even then, Zanu PF has not been consistent as further shown by the Hunzvi, Gezi, Manyika and Gary Magadzire cases.
Magadzire was honoured for his contribution to farming after Independence, while some like Gezi and others were rewarded for fighting to keep Zanu PF in power.
Hunzvi faced allegations of corruption and spearheaded a campaign of violence against Zanu PF political opponents, worsening the country’s already grisly human rights record.
Like Hunzvi, Gezi and Manyika earned their places at the national shrine after spearheading a campaign of brutality through the National Youth Service.
Looking at the glowing pictures proudly displayed at his Gweru hotel, there is no doubt that Kombayi was a prominent figure during the liberation struggle, providing material support to Zanu PF and prominent nationalists. No wonder he went on to be rewarded by becoming the first black mayor of Gweru at Independence.
Analysts say he would have been a national hero had he remained in Zanu PF, but like many others who dared to fall out with Mugabe, he was denied that honour, confirming that to be declared a hero, one needs not only to have contributed to the liberation struggle, but also remained loyal to Mugabe and his party till the end.