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Letter from America with Ken Mufuka: I do not know that Shiri was a hero

By Ken Mufuka

In the good old times at the Zimbabwe Sunday Mail with editor Willie Musarurwa, if late news arrived when we were going to press, it would be typed in blue ink and labeled, Late News.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

So it was, when I was ready to go to press, the following sentence “walked” across my screen. “Perence Shiri declared national hero.” More was to come.

“We all know that Perence Shiri was a national hero. There is no need to deliberate on that.” So read a statement from ZANU-PF politburo member.

“No Sir, I Ken Mufuka do not know that Perence Shiri was a national hero.” I kept on saying those words to myself.

All leadership is about making bold decisions. Our president has lost many opportunities of moving away from the past, and in failing to do so, squandered the goodwill that greeted his ascension to power.

But, we must calm down, consider the issue before us. The passing away of Brother Shiri gives us an opportunity to introspect, repent of our past miscalculations, and go forward in unity. All great leaders have passed this test, break away from past miscalculations.

The beating of the late Congressman John Lewis (then 23) at Pettus Bridge in Alabama, which left him with hemorrhage in his brain, was videotaped, on the day that Americans were celebrating the end of Nuremberg trials in Germany (1963). This gave President Lyndon Johnson a new perspective.

“One cannot say that the Negro has a fair deal in this country.” He then adopted the Negro spiritual, “We shall overcome someday.” The civil rights, voting rights and fair housing laws came in quick succession after that.

Who was Perence Shiri?

Just say the truth, and the truth will make you free. Here I borrow from the Afro philosopher W.E.B. DuBois.

Tall and darkly handsome, Shiri had a presence which either cowed opponents or drove cowards to commit acts of unspeakable atrocities in the belief that they would court his favor.

His personal comeliness, his tall decorated presence, his military prowess even if this prowess was in the name of an evil cause, would have earned him the name, Commander, which distinguished Julius Caesar from others. He did not have to ask for obedience, men followed him, whether he went to heaven of hell, without question. Surely, that is the mark of a great man.

But eno singular fact militates against this, the inescapable truth that he led a bloody war to terminate a Ndebele nationality. Copperheads like the Herald will flood our ears and eyes with Shiri’s heroics, but we ask a simple question. What was his cause-the extermination of a nationality assumed to be loyal to an opposition leader?

Well, the Copperhead will continue, what about the dissidents? We ask, What about them? Did this include the 20 000 women, old men already a step away from their graves, and children?

That scoundrel, Jonathan Moyo, even if we are to believe half his story, says that his father, Melusi Mlevu, was murdered on January 23, 1983 after being tortured in front of his family. He was asked to dig his own grave, “bullets were pumped into his body,” Moyo’s own words and then buried.

Shiri may not have known all this was happening, but we know that many eye witnesses, including the Catholic fathers, brought these matters to his attention. There was no remorse on his part, or on the part of his superiors.

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And yet there is a simple solution. Some superior person can confess that the evil spirit of chimurenga-renga (an evil spirit that originated in the Congo region) played havoc with all of us and led us to do despicable things.

There will be no peace until somebody, somewhere, accepts responsibility and atones for past misdeeds. The truth will make us free.

There are numerous examples of this. At the Soviet Congress in 1955, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev confessed and atoned for the past misdeeds and the Gulag committed by Joseph Stalin.

It is a leap of faith, but such an act, by Zimbabwe’s leadership, would be the beginning of healing for the nation. Matabeleland has moved from one economic disaster to another since Gukurahundi (the rain that washes away the chaff.)

The destruction of Bulawayo, once the home of 16 000 railway workers, was the beginning of the destruction of the Zimbabwe economy. The fool fails to understand that if the eye were injured, the whole body cannot function.

To declare Brother Shiri a hero will make his mausoleum a memorial that spits in the eyes of the Ndebele nationality forever.

I offer a simple solution. We can say that due to his controversial life his tribesmen have decided that he be interned in his village where they can mourn his passing away in peace.

If there is any criticism of our president, it is that he has not followed his instinct, which was displayed during the coup, with bold actions which break away from the past.

Shiri’s life is an example of loyalty to the end, but to whom and to what end? Obviously, he was a decent man to his family and friends, but his name will forever be tainted by his acquaintance with a shameful period in our history. He led a tribal army (contrary to the march of time) which denied its opponents decency and dignity even in death. His cause was none other than pure.

If we have moral courage, his death should be used as a time to introspect, repent and heal our past wounds.

Connection with Hopewell Chin’ono

The protest marches on Friday 31 July have a direct connection with the rejection of policies that led to Gukurahundi.  Too many activists have been abducted and the malefactors are still roaming, considering who is next.

The next victim could very well be you, the reader. Joana Mamombe and two activists were abducted from a police station. Men in a white pick-up truck abducted Itai Dzamara in front of his barbershop. The trade unions have an interest in making sure that this is not allowed.

That is why Hopewell and Jacob Ngarivhume must be freed. This battle to break away from Gukurahundi tradition must be won.

We do not need to open new wounds. The destruction of Matebeleland came with the destruction of civic institutions such as hospitals and banks. The destruction of medical institutions has taken away the brother.

In their destruction of the country, they forgot that we are all in one boat.

I was traveling to Bulawayo in September 1983 on Shushine Bus 84 when we were stopped by a Gukurahundi platoon. All passengers with Ndebele names were asked to leave the bus while those with Shona names were allowed to proceed.

I shudder to this day, and can imagine that their lives and those of their families were impoverished (by the breadwinners’ imminent deaths), lives were cut short, in a nasty brutal way (for that was the killers’ trademark) and the country was impoverished by their loss.

I wrote a weak protest paragraph in the Sunday Mail as I quietly prepared to leave Zimbabwe for the US.

That is my memory of Shiri.


Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He can be reached at [email protected]