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Luke-ing the Beast in the Eye: Even Tsvangirai regarded Ndabaningi Sithole as a national hero

Early this week on Heroes Day, the Zanu PF regime through its leader Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the late Ndabaningi Sithole a national hero, the same man they had vilified and shamed during his tenuous lifetime. But as usual, Zanu PF has come to the party far too late.

Many Zimbabweans had always known Sithole to be a national hero, including my former boss and former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai whom I accompanied on 4 August 2012 to Ndabaningi’s memorial at his Freedom farm in Chipinge exactly 10 years ago.

Yes, in the same month of heroes in August 2012, long before Zanu PF had woken up to Ndabaningi Sithole’s iconic status, I travelled with Dr Tsvangirai to a memorial function in Chipinge; a function that Dr Tsvangirai and his MDC party had assisted the Sithole family to organise for this national icon whose name stands tall in the country’s history. The gargantuan political crowd that I saw that day in Chipinge told its own unique story that in the court of public opinion, Sithole was always a national hero.

For Zanu PF, their flippancy over Sithole’s hero status confirms their aptitude for political revisionism. Dear reader, do not be shocked by Zanu PF’s inconsistency and the volte face over Sithole’s status. For this analogue party, everything is always inconsistent.

This is the same party where Mugabe was at one time a hero deserving a million-man-march by the war veterans in support of his continued stay in office because of his unquestionable liberation war credentials, only for the same war veterans to lead a similarly strident march to oust him from office for betraying the same values for which they had earlier acclaimed him for upholding.

Later, the same crowd would lead yet another spirited campaign after Mugabe’s death to exhume his remains so as to inter them at the National Heroes Acre where they now claimed other patriotic sons of the soil like him are buried!

Yes, this is the same party whose organs supported Mugabe in expelling Mnangagwa from the party, branding him a traitor; only for the same organs weeks later to expel Mugabe for betraying the liberation war ethos and to readmit Mnangagwa back in Zanu PF not only as a hero, a committed liberation war stalwart and a party leader but as State President as well.

That’s vintage Zanu PF for you—a political party with an unmatched chameleonic aptitude.

For Zanu PF, revisionism is a culture, nay a religion. Yet heroism is supposed to be a consistent tenet. Either one is a hero or they are not. Simple. But for Zanu PF, national heroism has become a bane for subjective constructivism, a status determined only by the convenience of an ephemeral political moment. Yes, its about the considerations of the political moment and one could surmise that the accommodative image that the party wants to create for itself ahead of a watershed election has dictated that Ndabaningi Sithole be declared a national hero today!

But, as I stated earlier, Zanu PF has come to the party far too late. The citizens had earlier moved far ahead of them as confirmed by the huge crowd that we saw in Chipinge celebrating the life of a national hero, long before Zanu PF had woken up from their slumber.

After accompanying President Tsvangirai to the Sithole memorial on Saturday, 4 August 2012, I wrote the following piece in which I noted that Zanu PF was a party caught up in a time warp, like a paper kite among drones.

Or maybe, as captured in the headline to that piece which was published on nehandaradio.com on 8 August 2012, Zanu PF with its its archaic and vengeful politics, had now found itself forlorn and out of place, like a Remmington typewriter in an internet cafe.

Zanu PF — a typewriter in an internet café ’

The long, narrow and winding road to Freedom farm in Chipinge is almost reminiscent of the painful and pedantic journey traversed by the late Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole as he fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe.

From Chipinge town, this snaky road weaves its way southwards, past desolate schools, hard-working women selling madhumbe , potholed curves and a beaming sign directing you eastwards to the popular Mt Selinda Mission.

A turn to the right brings you to Chako business centre, itself a barely throbbing heart for humble economic activity compared to the hubbub and razzmatazz of glitzy Harare some 500km away.

Last Saturday, 4 August 2012 at around 12pm, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s humble three-car motorcade turned left at this business centre, a cloud of dust billowing in its wake as it manoeuvred its way along a poor dusty road, past a narrow bridge before turning left into the late Reverend Sithole’s property.

Welcome to the loamy soils of Freedom farm in Chipinge West where one of Zimbabwe’s liberation icons lies in the dark rictus of death. There was tumultuous applause as the Prime Minister joined the thousands of people who had turned up at the memorial of the late Ndabaningi, or “ Magigwana ”, as his Ndau community fondly called him.

It was to be a hectic four hours of poetry, music, dance and speeches as people from across the political, tribal and religious divide paid tribute to the late Ndabaningi, an undisputed national hero.

His children and members of his Zanu Ndonga party thanked the MDC and its leadership for assisting in arranging the memorial of this illustrious son of the soil.The big message coming from that kaleidoscopic crowd of many political colours was that hero status is not conferred by individuals. Hero status is conferred by one’s legacy; indeed by one’s contribution to the country of their birth.

Zanu PF may think otherwise, living in the delusion that its motley group called the Politburo has the power and authority to confer hero status, but the message from Chipinge was that Ndabaningi is a national hero, whether the Poliburo likes it or not.

The people of Zimbabwe are slowly rewriting their history. They are beginning to correct the warped narrative of our national story as depicted by Chenjerai Hunzvi’s interment at the national shrine while Ndabaningi lies in the soft requiem of death at a hillside in the loamy and parched soils of Chipinge.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai told the crowd that Ndabaningi was a true national hero who had played his part in liberating the country. He urged the family to derive comfort in the fact that theirs was a shared loss as the whole country had lost a liberation icon. Prime Minister Tsvangirai said some of the former liberators had betrayed the values of our collective struggle and had turned into tormentors of their own people.

A few years after independence, the Prime Minister said, Zimbabweans had woken up to the reality that independence and freedom were two different things. African nations had painfully realised that independence could come without freedoms, leaving it hollow and meaningless.

Tsvangirai said the challenge lay with the new crop of African emerging leaders to wage a third liberation that would result in true freedoms, food and jobs. True leadership must inspire, the Prime Minister said, as exemplified by real leaders such as the late Ndabaningi. True leadership comes from the people who reserve the right to elect leaders.

“The people must feel free to remove their leaders from office. Even I as Morgan Tsvangirai must be removed from office if I fail to deliver on promises to the people,” the Premier said to thunderous applause.

He concluded by saying that when the time comes, true heroes such as the late Magigwana would be buried at places befitting their status. The gathering at the burial shrine of the late Rev. Sithole was a major testament of his national appeal.

It was clear that the Ndau community felt that Tsvangirai was an embodiment of the new African leadership that cares; a leadership that puts national interest above petty partisan politics. Here he was eulogising at Magigwana’s memorial while those that had fought alongside him during the war of liberation had failed to recognise the significance of his national contribution.

As a man of the cloth and a former chairman of Zanu PF, Musharuka’s record in the fight against colonialism will always be indelible. The then MDC leader’s participation at this memorial stamped his unstinting respect to the true heroes of our national struggle. And it is no coincidence that he did so a week before the commemoration of the Heroes’ Day, which has now been privatised by a political party.

Ndabaningi suffered at the hands of his former comrades and at one time had to seek asylum in the United States, away from those with whom he had waged a brutal struggle against injustice. He was vilified and faced trumped up treason charges in a desperate attempt to erase his legacy.

The fact that he lies buried at the family farm and not at the Heroes’ Acre will neither dampen nor obliterate his contribution to the Zimbabwean narrative.

It was important to pay tribute to Rev. Sithole and the Ndau community for leading the way in the democratic struggle against a one party State. The Ndau have always believed in asserting their quest for freedom as evidenced by their consistent rejection of the Zanu PF politics of patronage since the early 80s.

Like Binga, Chipinge remains a marginalised enclave that continues to be punished for its consistency in rejecting Zanu PF at the ballot box. The skewed development levels across the country make a compelling case for the need for a devolved State.

As we drove away from Freedom farm, the Ndau dance and song still reverberating in our minds, it became evident that a people will always know who its heroes are. The people will not wait for the Politburo to pronounce or confer heroes on their behalf; they will continue to tell their own story and to carve out their own narrative.

Zanu PF is clearly living out of its time. Like the dinosaur, the signs are there that Zanu PF is slowly failing to adapt to the dictates of the brave 21st century. Yes, the party is clearly out of place in today’s world. It has become a typewriter in an internet café.

Luke Tamborinyoka , a citizen from Domboshava , is a journalist and an ardent political scientist . He is the interim deputy champion for Presidential Affairs in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his facebook page or via his twitter handle @ luke_tambo .

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