By Hopewell Chin’ono
There is an emerging uniform pattern about how Zimbabweans view and feel about the national Heroes Acre, and I must confess that I love how people are now dealing with the issue too and feel the same way about the place.
Many families are deciding to bury their loved ones at the village or at cemeteries elsewhere other than the National Heroes Acre after they are conferred with this honor by the ZANUPF politburo.
When the veteran nationalist politician Cephas Msipa died in 2016, his children wanted to bury him next to his wife as per his wishes, but however ZANUPF and Robert Mugabe would have none of it.
Mugabe saw it as a slap on his political leadership and Presidency and also to ZANUPF as a political party, that a person of Msipa’s stature would have been buried elsewhere, he insisted that Msipa would be buried at the National Heroes Acre.
Reluctantly his family agreed, I am sure cognizant of the undefined consequences for saying NO to Mugabe, but we all know that Mugabe had to bend their hand to the extend of invoking his personal relationship with the affable Msipa in order to get his way.
When the former and founding Vice Chancellor of the National University of Science and Technology Professor Phineas Makhurane died, he was declared a national hero too, again his family chose to bury him at his village in Gungwe in Gwanda.
Yesterday Oliver Mtukudzi was also correctly recognized as a national hero, but again his family has also chosen to bury the veteran lyricist and music legend at his village in Madziva in Mashonaland Central.
I too would have loved Tuku to be buried elsewhere other than the National Heroes Acre, many people that I spoke to expressed the same sentiment because Tuku was not partisan and he was above petty party political squabbles.
I expressed the same view last night in a phone conversation with my friend and colleague, the award winning photojournalist Tsvangirai Mukwazhi.
When the Zimbabwean intellectual giant and Agrarian Studies scholar Professor Sam Moyo died in a car accident in India in 2016, ZANUPF sent Sithembiso Nyoni to ask the family to give them his Curriculum Vitae in order for him to be declared a hero.
Professor Moyo’s family flatly refused the consideration and when a driver was sent the next day from ZANUPF to pick up the Curriculum Vitae, he was politely told to go away.
Ordinarily in a government and a political party with thinkers who care about the legacy of their liberation struggle credentials, and how it will be remembered, they would start introspecting and asking questions particularly why families are refusing to take their loved ones to the National Heroes Acre.
But will ZANUPF do that, will they sit around the table and ask themselves those logical questions or they will simply dismiss an issue that has now become part of our national discourse and dialogue?
There is a reason why these families are avoiding their loved ones being buried at the National Heroes Acre, it is because it was captured and personalized by a political party using state resources.
There is nothing national and uniting about the Heroes Acre anymore, it has become divisive and a ZANUPF affair, that is why non-partisan folk are not interested in having anything to do with the process or the cemetery.
At some point in the journey of our nation when things become normal again, a new way of honoring genuine national heroes will have to be formulated.
The current partisan nature of honoring heroes is not sustainable and the way people are avoiding burying their loved ones at the Heroes Acre should be a wake up call for the ruling party if it cares about this country’s institutions.
If the President wants to be remembered as a listening man as he always tells us, this is one area he needs to sort out by dismantling Mugabe’s attitude and legacy towards how national heroes are defined and how the process of naming one a National Hero is done.
Mugabe had unmistakable clarity on this issue, he explicitly articulated his view when he implored on us to find our own hills to bury our own heroes.
But here is the problem, nobody is begrudging ZANUPF the right to have their own Heroes Acre, the only issue is that they are using state resources to fund what has now become a party Heroes Acre and they are also refusing to recognize people who have contributed immensely towards the nationhood of Zimbabwe.
National hero status should not be conferred by ZANUPF as a political party, but by a non-partisan government commission using a set and agreed criterion that is clearly known to every citizen of this country.
The process is currently broken and it has pushed competing political polarities to the fore, honoring our National Heroes should never have been politicized.
When talking about Tuku yesterday, a government minister said to me that there is too much criticism of the government and ZANUPF after the election, I asked him why he thought they were being criticized that much?
“We are not listening, our advisors are also not listening, we as a government are not listening to the people’s pleas and views,” he answered.
I told him the fact that he understood what the problem was is a good starting point, he now needed to summon the courage to say the same thing on their cabinet table and party structures.
Maybe one day we will have a nationally respected Heroes selection process that is underpinned by what an individual would have done in pursuit of goals that promote our nation, and not whether he was in good books with politicians in ZANUPF.
Heroes should come from all walks of life and not just from politics and ZANUPF, recognizing Oliver Mtukudzi is a first step in the right direction, we should now deconstruct how the process is done and maybe you never know, we might once more redeem our nation from a party political process.
Heroes are people who would have positively contributed to the quality of life and destiny of their nation and country, they are part of a people’s expression.
How many of those lying at the National Heroes Acre fit that universal description?
More importantly, how many of our dead who fit that description and yet have been denied what should have been naturally theirs by ZANUPF?
As I have said often, a hero is defined by their works, when Lookout Masuku was denied that recognition when he died, he didn’t stop being a hero because of that irrational denial, he remained a hero, the denial only made the other side look comical and petty.
Oliver Mtukudzi has once more showed us in death that you do not have to be buried at the National Heroes Acre to become a hero, it is your works that will determine your standing in the hearts of your people.
What is a Hero Tuku asked? You are a Hero Samanyanga!
Your painful death has settled that question, heroes should be loved by their people and not despised.
You can’t force people to love you, you can’t force people to respect and admire you, those are things that come naturally to human beings.
You also can’t force people to hate the people that they love and that they consider heroes, love can’t be determined by a politburo.
Watungamira usina kuoneka mudhara, tichasangana kudenga.
Gashirai mwana wenyu uyu mwari, mugare naye nemufaro.
Tino tevera sezvo ndido nzira yedu tose.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.
He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mentalx illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France. You can watch the documentary trailer below.