Debate on hero status revived

IMMEDIATELY after the passing on of former cabinet minister and Zanu PF founder member Enos Nkala in Harare last week, President Robert Mugabe quickly moved in to dispel any doubts about his hero status by declaring: “I am sure he will be buried at the National Heroes Acre.

HERBERT MOYO

“If a person like Enos Nkala is not buried there, then no one else should.”

Mugabe’s pronouncements paved the way for the politburo to rubber-stamp his remarks and declare him a national hero despite widespread condemnation of the man considered as one of the architects of the infamous Gukurahundi disturbances in which thousands were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the 1980s.

The once powerful Nkala spent his twilight years a disillusioned, bitter critic of Mugabe (see his statement below) after unceremoniously leaving government and Zanu PF following the Willowvale motor scandal in 1988 during which ministers used their influence to acquire cars from the assembly plant at knockdown prices for resale at exorbitant prices.

Considering the anti-Mugabe vitriolic of his last years, including his off-the-mark prediction of a Morgan Tsvangirai election victory, Nkala is one of the few lucky Zanu PF cadres to fall out with Mugabe and still be accorded hero status. There are, however, still many who believe Nkala should not have been accorded hero status because of corruption scandals and Gukurahundi massacres.

Controversial Zanu PF characters like Border Gezi, Chenjerai Hunzvi and former spies Elias Kanengoni and Mernard Muzariri, also involved in Gukurahundi, are all buried at the National Heroes Acre, confirming the perception that the conferring of national hero status is a partisan exercise.

As usual, there was certainly no public input in declaring Nkala a hero and there certainly will be little, if any, public endorsement of the decision, especially from Matabeleland where Nkala hails from, because of his role in Gukurahundi killings.

Bulawayo-based political commentator Dumisani Nkomo summed up the feeling of many people in the province when he scathingly said Nkala died with “blood on his hands” and left unanswered questions about his role in Gukurahundi.

“Considering the type of people buried there, there isn’t much to say about Heroes Acre,” said Nkomo. “It is becoming an honour not to be buried there because the place has lost its value.”

Even veteran nationalist Dumiso Dabengwa decried Nkala’s hero status, saying although he had contributed to the liberation of the country, “after Independence there is nothing, all (his good work was) wiped out by Gukurahundi and the Willowvale scandal”.

Nkala, who was scheduled to be buried yesterday, is not the only one to be declared a hero this week under controversial circumstances.

Like Nkala, the late former cabinet minister Kumbirai Kangai who died last Saturday and will be buried at the shrine tomorrow, also contributed to the Independence of this country.

He was part of Zanu PF’s Dare ReChimurenga formed in the 1970s to spearhead the liberation struggle, along with the late Herbert Chitepo and Josiah Tongogara, as well as the party’s current spokesperson Rugare Gumbo, among others.

However, Kangai’s post-Independence record was severely — some would say irreparably — dented by allegations of corruption at the Grain Marketing Board when he was Agriculture minister, although he was later acquitted of the charges.

Little is known about the late retired Air Commodore Mike Karakadzai’s liberation war credentials as he became prominent after being appointed to head ailing parastatal, the National Railways of Zimbabwe, where workers have gone for about 11 months without salaries.

He was buried last Sunday at the national shrine.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said such controversial characters’ hero status taints the concept of national heroism and undermines contributions of genuine heroes who lie at the shrine.

“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.

“(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 after Independence.”

Hunzvi was accused of allegedly defrauding the war victims compensation fund, and spearheaded a campaign of violence against Zanu PF political opponents.

Like Hunzvi, Gezi and Manyika earned their places at the national shrine after spearheading a campaign of brutality through the National Youth Service.

Mugabe and Zanu PF’s double standards over the selection of heroes are glaring, especially considering the cases of Thenjiwe Lesabe, Lookout Masuku, James Chikerema and Zimbabwe’s first president, Canaan Banana.

Lesabe, the one-time boss of the party’s women’s league, was denied hero status fuelling speculation that this was because she fell out with Mugabe after ditching Zanu PF to re-form Zapu alongside Dabengwa.

Chikerema was similarly denied while Masuku was only granted the status after the Unity Accord of 1987, having been earlier denied and kept in prison along with Dabengwa and other Zapu officials despite court orders for their release in the 1980s. If Banana was rightly denied because of his post-Independence criminal conviction for sodomy, the question is why was Nkala, found guilty of corruption, declared a hero?

Mugabe’s double standards are even clearer in the case of the Central Intelligence Organisation senior officer Elias Kanengoni who was declared hero earlier this year despite being convicted of the attempted murder of the late Patrick Kombayi in 1990.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said: “The departure of Nkala last week and that of Kumbirai Kangai this week, should prompt the nation towards a more consistent policy on the subject of heroes and heroines of our struggle; in the hope that those so recklessly ignored and sacrificed on the altar of political expediency or self-indulgent partisanship, will one day be re-buried at the national shrine.”