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Letter from America: Honoring Mbuya Nehanda was a coup for Mnangagwa!

We, from the Zipra side of the Zimbabwe nationalist movement do not agree with President E.D. Mnangagwa on many issues but on the issue of honoring Mbuya Nehanda, reclaiming our history and re-writing it to suit ourselves, we are in complete agreement.

Ken Mufuka
Ken Mufuka

Allow me to declare my credentials. I joined ZAPU in Kwe Kwe at the age of 14 and became an active member when I went to the University of Rhodesia.

After many trials and tribulations, I represented that movement in the West Indies, and was responsible for chaperoning Patriotic Front delegates at the Commonwealth Conference, 1973.

If I had not written about this issue in the May 23, Standard issue, I would have been accused of jumping on the bandwagon of ZANU-PF after the event. The inspiration behind the Chimurenga definitely came from African ancestral spirit base rather than from Christian ideology.

The early nationalists, founding father the Reverend J. Samkange, Joshua Nkomo, Josiah Chinamano and Didymus Mutasa were devout Christians. Prime Minister the Reverend Sir Garfield Todd (1953-1958) had given hope that Africans would be assimilated into the European economy through fast track education system. When he was overthrown, for being sympathetic to the African desire for advancement, it dawned on us that co-operation with whites was a nonstarter.

It was Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole’s genius, or his realization that: “We are our own liberators,” that brought ZANU ahead of ZAPU.

Joshua Nkomo, on the advice of Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda believed that the British would guide Zimbabwe to independence in the same way they had done to other colonies. “You did it in Zambia, you did it in Malawi, why did you did (sic) in Rhodesia?” Kaunda said.

On the other hand, Herbert Chitepo, taking the advice of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, realized that Zimbabweans could not depend on British sense of fair play as Kaunda had advised, but on their own resources. Nor could Zimbabweans depend on Christian ideology of the oppressors as a basis of our struggle. What then was to be done?

Mbuya Nehanda Nyakasikana and the great liberation veterans of the First Chimurenga was the answer. Their brave words and resistance histories were dug up from the archives, and some were made up.

Their brave deeds were awesome.

Nehanda, Gutsa and Hwata were accused of rebellion and insurrection against the British Queen, and the murder of a scoundrel Native Commissioner Henry Pollard.  In order to emphasize the point that he was serious about chibharo (forced labor) he tied Chief Mashayamombe to a tree before his 12 wives and children and gave him a whipping.

Another misguided Christian, the Reverend Father Richert was very concerned about Nehanda going to hell if she did not adopt the white man’s religion.

“There comes a time when a leader should stand with his people, and die with them if need be and appeal to his ancestors.” She said.

Asked if she was not afraid to die, the words of her reply, as indeed are her other words, are immortal.

“My bones will rise to finish what we started.” She replied. She wasn’t scared of nothing (American Black English).

Later on liberation war veterans made up a story that she had added these words. “My children, take up your Sigidis (guns) and liberate your country.”

Even their names were heroic. Kaguvi’s other names were Gumboreshumba Chimurenga. Chimurenga has been translated to mean war of jambanja (chaos). Gutsa, son of Nyashanu,  was nicknamed musoro wegudo. Historians often ignore the Ndebele fighters were hanged at the same time with Nehanda.

They too had some cool names (US English).  One was called Siginyamatshe, another Sigidi (Big Gun) and another was Queen Lozikeyi who was joined by Brother Mkwati the keeper of the earth’s secrets and guardian of the Rain bird.

Mkwati was the coolest guy in the group. Unlike the other veterans, Mkwati, like Nehanda, was not a warrior, but a conduit and coordinator between the Shona spirit mediums and the Ndebele nation.

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The miracle of the 1896 Chimurenga was the coordination carried out through spirit mediums and runners between the Shona and Ndebele. The imperialists said so. The spirit mediums said so. It was time to rise against the knee-less invaders.

According to a submission by missionaries in the House of Lords, the Ndebele  lost over 600 000 cattle to the colonial cattle thieves. This figure comes from Aeneas Chigwedere’s research. As a result there was widespread infant malnutrition in Matebeleland.

These were cool guys and girls in the world. If our children are not inspired by such heroic figures, they do not deserve to be called Zimbabweans.

We in Zapu were late in realizing the inspirational effect such primitive stories could have on young liberation fighters.

Christian churches by and large were bystanders in this struggle. The official churches were strictly on the side of the oppressors.

President Mnangagwa, as I mentioned in my column last week, appealed to those spiritual forces that had felt long neglected, the indigenous forces.

Chief Zvimba, in his prayer, appears to have anointed Mnangagwa as the heir to the Chimurenga. I explained in last week’s column the yearning by Zanu-PF to gain some spiritual charisma for its leadership.

Whether this will satisfy his need for charisma depends on his future course of action. Nevertheless, he was right in reminding his audience that we are Africans and not British. We have our heroes, they have theirs.

It is right and proper that we honor our own.

“The statute (of Nehanda) is thus a bold and unapologetic statement of the fact that we are a people who know who we are and where we came from. It is a declaration that we stand proud of our identity.” Mnangagwa said.

Truer words have not come from his mouth.

The journey is not complete

While experts agree that the Great Chimurenga was a national event that was coordinated by spirit mediums in Mashonaland and Matabeleland, the role played by Ndebele stalwarts like like Sigidi and Queen Lozikeyi has not been emphasized.

The significance is that the Shona and Ndebele recognized the colonial invader as a greater threat to their polity to such an extent that they overcame their differences.

Zapu was based on that premise that the differences between the Ndebele and the Shona are insignificant compared to the threat posed by the knee-less people.

Unless Mnangagwa assumes the Zapu mantle, addresses the burning issues in Matebeleland such as the Gukurahundi and the Zambezi Water Project, he will fall short of the charisma. Nehanda and her comrades were trans-tribal, the first true nationalists.

The journey is not complete until the statues of Mkwati and Queen Lozikeyi are erected in Matabeleland.

In their ceremonies, the ZANU-PF protocols looked and sounded ridiculous. If the master of ceremonies had mentioned the dignitaries by their names, there was no need for a second speaker to repeat the same list of names.

Some nomenclatures are plain silly and primitive. For instance, the president is referred to as the “President, His Excellency, the Honorable, Dr. E.D. Mnangagwa, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, First Secretary of ZANU-PF” and it goes on until the children go to sleep.

 The opposition members were mentioned in a contemptuous way. It is true that the MDC’s position is that the erection of monuments is a return to primitive worship of human beings. This is a mistaken view.

Of course the ceremony is pagan. So is the Rhodes and Founders Day ceremony. Every society has heroes and these heroes serve as inspirational figures in times of crises. If you do not revere your own, your children will revere foreign heroes.


Ken Mufuka is a Zimbabwean patriot. He writes from the US. This article was originally published by the Standard newspaper in Zimbabwe.