The death of three of Zimbabwe's prominent freedom fighters over the past few weeks, has re-ignited debate about how national heroes are chosen and who's mandate it is.
The decision by ZANU-PF to declare former journalist and ZANU-PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira a national hero, Friday, and a few weeks earlier, Brigadier General John Zingoni, was welcome news to many familiar with their backgrounds.
However, the Politburo’s resolve not to honor Wilfred Mhanda, known also by his guerilla name Dzinashe Machingura, set off an age old debate in about who is a hero, and how they are selected. London-based political analyst Bekithemba Mhlanga, told Studio 7, has long claimed that right.
“I think now we are getting closer to the realm, if we are not there already of seeing these individuals, not as national heroes but as ZANU-PF heroes.”
He said President Mugabe has made no apologies for this.
“Remember Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe stated at the Heroes Acre Shrine, that ZANU-PF build that acre and if anybody else wants to build their own heroes acre they should go ahead and build it."
Debate is rife over who is recognized as a Liberation War Hero, Provincial Hero, or National Hero status. While the determining body has always been understood to be the Zanu-PF politburo, political analyst Nixon Nyikadzino, said that became unclear with Brigadier General John Zingoni.
“Zingoni was accorded hero status a day before even the politburo met to the extent that we no longer know wether it’s the military that confers the hero status, or it is the politburo.”
I think Dzinashe Machingura still remains a hero even though he was not conferred the status of heroship by Zanu-PF, because of what he contributed during the liberation struggle"
But whether it’s the military or politburo who makes the call, many say the process is flawed, as decision makers pick heroes, not by their contribution to the nation's liberation, but their allegiance to the party and President Mugabe. Shakespear Hamauswa is a lecturer at a university in Zambia.
Zanu-PF politburo because by its very nature it is likely to be aligned to Zanu-PF thinking and also to confer hero status to those people who support Zanu-PF, not necessarily Zimbabweans. I think Dzinashe Machingura still remains a hero even though he was not conferred the status of heroship by Zanu-PF, because of what he contributed during the liberation struggle.
Nyikadzino, program manager for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said Zanu-PF’s intolerance for criticism is disadvantaged true heroes.
“Those who were thought to be heroes of Zimbabwe as ordinary citizens like Ndabaningi Sithole, may he so rest in peace, like Canaan Banana, may his sole rest in peace, like the late Machingura who passed away last week, those are our heroes, and they fought the liberation struggle and some of them were founding members of Zanu-PF, they were not accorded that status and they found themselves being buried in their rural homes."
Redressing the nation's process for selecting heroes was a bone of contention between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change, during their shared time in office. The MDC’s push to wrestle this control from Zanu-PF had many supporters who, like Bekhithema Mhlaga, who believe that responsibility should be given to an independent body.
I think one way of trying to initiate it is to go back to the Home Affairs Act, which I think is a statute that actually guides the preservation and maintenance of national monuments, where the National Heroes Acre resides.”
“It must be a people driven process. It must actually be removed from political parties, it must be removed from MDC, it must be removed from Zanu-PF, it must be removed from Mavambo/Kusile, and there should be a committee that is created and established just like any commission that we have as a result of a process whereby people are appointed based on their credibility and their knowledge of the history of Zimbabwe.
Non-constituency Member of Parliament for Manicaland, Fanny Chirisa, too endorsed this idea, saying the current process is flawed. She further called for more women to be included in the decision making process.
“If you also look at the composition of parliament, the composition of cabinet, and even in the public and private sector there are very few women who have been given top posts, not because they are not fit or educated, I think it’s just the men who decide without any women involved.”
Many have also called for an expansion of the term hero, saying not only those who fought for independence should be considered. Reverend Useni Sibanda who heads the Zimbabwe Institute for Social Transformation, says economics, sports, figures and anyone who has made significant contribution to the country, should be recognized.
“There are people who have contributed to the development of this nation that we call Zimbabwe.”
Meanwhile, Nathanial Ngulube Abu Basutu of ZAPU, considered a hero too by many for his role in the liberation movement, was quietly laid to rest this week, in his rural home in Gwanda, Matebeleland South.