ZIMBABWE’s Heroes’ Day commemorations — held on Monday this week — were low key and felt like a hollow, jingoistic exercise. This clearly indicated they have over the years shrunk in significance as the country’s citizens, weighed down by the harsh economic environment and human rights abuses, get increasingly disaffected with empty symbolic national events.
Bad governance, gross mismanagement and corruption of the economy have been identified by analysts as the antithesis of sacrifices made by those who took up arms and participated in different ways to liberate the country from colonial rule.
Analysts say Heroes’ Day has become a meaningless charade as the country’s leadership continues to trample on the ideals of the struggle, turning the country into a worse dungeon than it was under colonial rule.
Generals of the struggle like liberation war commanders Josiah Tongogara, Dumiso Dabengwa, Alfred Nikita Mangena, Solomon Mujuru and Lookout Masuku, as well as nationalists like the late former vice-president Joshua Nkomo, Herbert Chitepo, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, Leopold Takawira and Josiah Chinamano, among other brave men and women, should be turning in their graves, as Zimbabwe becomes living hell on earth for those who fought the war and other citizens, analysts say.
Instead of being a high-water mark of self-rule, Heroes’ Day has become a reminder of the ravages of misrule, brutality and corruption surrounding the nation.
Many Zimbabweans were stuck at home without electricity, water and fuel on the day.
In place of joy and expectations about the prospects of a better tomorrow, Zimbabweans are reeling from the effects of biting austerity measures which have made life increasingly difficult. Official year-on-year inflation, which is at a 10-year high of 175,6% and rising, has not made things any easier.
Zimbabweans, whose liberation-era dreams of a better life have been betrayed and shattered by their earstwhile liberators, have endured extended periods of poverty and suffering; hence today’s planned anti-government protests.
Compared to the air of jubilation and hope which gripped the country after President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF swept to victory in 1980, the situation in Zimbabwe speaks to disastrous failure and a squandered liberation dividend.
Mugabe, ousted in a military coup in 2017 over misrule and internal power struggles over his succession, failed to live up to the ideals of the liberation struggle and his predecessor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, is following on his calamitous path.
Under Mnangagwa, nothing has changed except for the worse.
Political analyst Piers Pigou said the liberation dividend has eluded the toiling majority.
“The liberation war is increasingly intangible to the majority of Zimbabweans as it becomes a lived experience of a diminishing number. Unsurprisingly, in a context of political polarity and social and economic immiseration, questions will and should be asked about the objectives and values of struggle and how those issues relate to current realities,” Pigou said.
He said post-independence Zimbabwe is characterised by poor governance, a betrayal of the liberation ideals.
“The blame game of pointing at others and refusing to take responsibility is increasingly threadbare, but will continue to be employed as a comfort blanket of denial and avoidance. Whether this reflects betrayal of those ideals and or the inevitable consequences of the politics of survival and opportunism is for Zimbabweans to determine,” Pigou added.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than five million Zimbabweans are facing starvation this year following the El Niño-induced drought.
This is despite government having splashed US$3 billion on the command agriculture scheme, whose massive expenditure the Ministry of Agriculture has not fully accounted for.
Political commentator Ibbo Mandaza said those who purport to have liberated this country had failed. The significance of Heroes’ Day had diminished since 1980, he noted.
“In fact, the impression is that the narrative has faded. Over the last two years nothing has been said about the struggle, that is since the November 2017 coup,” Mandaza said.
“The purported reason for the coup was to restore legacy, but there is mute silence and nothing has been done to invoke the memories of the struggle . . . The post-independence era is an embarrassment.”
Mandaza added that last week’s revelation by the Zimbabwe Independent that Mugabe had refused to be buried at the Heroes Acre was again an indictment on the struggle, its leaders and what it represented.
Mugabe, one of the luminaries of the liberation struggle and the architect of the National Heroes Acre Monument, which was supposed to symbolise sacrifice, bravery and triumph of good over evil, has told his family members that he does not want to be buried at the North Korean-style shrine in Warren Hills in Harare, the Independent reported last week.
Family sources have said Mugabe (95) does not want the current Zanu PF government to preside over his funeral.
Professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, has said Heroes’ Day in Zimbabwe, like in many other countries, had become a jingoistic, yet futile exercise.
“Every country has something like a ‘Heroes’ Day’ in which great sacrifices for the national good are recognised. In all countries, these are often used as jingoistic exercises,” he said.
“After all, those who conduct the celebrations are those who survived and did not sacrifice themselves. In the case of Zimbabwe, I am reminded of Alexander Kanengoni’s moving novel, Echoing Silences, where the haunted hero finally reaches heaven and finds the true heroes like Herbert Chitepo and Jason Moyo giving great speeches denouncing those who lived and who became corrupt.”