The statue of Mbuya Nehanda that President Mnangagwa viewed this week has done two things: it took the Michelle “Moana” Amuli soap opera off the front pages of newspapers and also resurrected the debate around Mbuya Nehanda’s role in the Chimurenga War of the mid-1890s.
Many people think her role is over-dramatised as that war was hardly ever coordinated by a central command, but was made up of spontaneous uprisings in different places led by different local chiefs.
It had the character of a pandemic — prevalent in different places at the same time. Historian Julian Cobbing wrote in The Absent Priesthood: Another Look at the Rhodesian Risings of 1896–1897: “The pervasive coordinating role of the Mwari cult in the Rhodesian risings of 1896–7 is illusory . . .”
But if Mbuya Nehanda’s resurrection in a sculpture revived a historical debate, it was her looks as depicted in the statue that stole the thunder.
Immediately on social media a “Nehanda Challenge” commenced. This involved young Zimbabwean women dressing up in the garb similar to Nehanda’s and placing their pictures next to those of the statue.
The sculptor, in one meme that went viral is accused of disregarding instruction: instead of carving the likeness of Mbuya Nehanda did that of Maona.
But why the mockery? Zimbabweans are fed up of this concept of heroism that always emerges when the ruling party is in some kind of political fix.
The country is in economic doldrums and disillusionment in the new dispensation is rising.
The situation is almost revolutionary; so to stem any possible upheaval the Zanu PF outfit ruling the country always comes up with these heroes to appeal to citizens’ emotions on the war, whose leadership Nehanda is touted for.