“WHY are people buried at that nice place,” a precocious child asks its father as they drive from the National Heroes Acre in Harare back home.
“Is it a nice place?” the father asks instead of responding to the question.
“Yes it is very nice,” the child responds.
“Would you want to be buried there?” he asks.
“Yes, but when I am very, very old like you. I don’t want to die now,” the child responds with a qualified answer, almost pleadingly, which seems to betray its fears it can die immediately if it responds just “Yes”.
“Then you have to be a nice person too,” the father tells the child.
“I am already a nice person Daddy, they say so at church,” the child says looking at the father in the face as if pleading for confirmation.
“Yes you are a nice child. But you have to be a nice person for the rest of your life to be buried there,” the father answers thinking the matter had been settled.
But it was not.
“At church they say all good people go to Heaven, so did all those people buried at that place go to Heaven?” the innocent child asks, its inane mind thinking that in the Heroes Acre, it had finally found something around which its rainbow images of Heaven and angels could jell around into something more sensible.
“Well, I don’t know,” the father answers sensing that his chess game could be drifting towards an embarrassing checkmate.
“But you told us that Grandpa also went to Heaven, why was he not buried at this nice place?” came another punishing move on the chessboard.
“Yes Grandpa went to Heaven, but he however, could not be buried there.”
“Well, these people are heroes because they did great things for the country. Anyway, you will learn everything about heroes at school when you grow up. You will learn everything, just grow up first,” the father tells the child, the tone of his voice changing.
Obviously, the loving father had to find a way of escaping from this self-exposing interrogation, as it would have been doubly hard for a person like him — in his late 20s — to explain to the child things that he himself did not remotely comprehend.
If he had not rudely parked the conversation, the unlucky father would have ended up not just confusing the little mind, but also his as well as it would have involved explaining things about a war that ended more than a decade before he was born, the ruling ZANU-PF party and its all-powerful Politburo, the difference between the country and the ruling party as well as nebulous things such as patriotism among others, and in the end he would have found himself stuck when it comes to defining the actual criteria used to finally decide who qualifies to be a national hero and who does not.
As Zimbabweans this week celebrated Heroes’ holiday, it was not just in the nascent minds of children where a festival of confusion reigned supreme when it comes to understanding their heroes, heroism, patriotism, goodness among other things, as many an adult mind — including that of a historian trying to record the correct history of the country — can get itself dangerously contaminated if it were to try and work out the rough template on which a quintessential Zimbabwean hero should approximately look like.
The whole thing, it all seems, is like playing the Russian roulette, which simply depends on the mood of the gods, so either one wins or loses but no one can definitely explain why.
Asked to dutifully provide a standard yardstick that the ZANU-PF Politburo — which has curiously arrogated itself the princely role to handpick heroes — uses, War Veterans Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa this week opted to enjoy his right to remain silent, possibly for fear that what he may have said could be used against him in the merciless court of public opinion.
The Cabinet minister — who is also the deputy secretary for War Veterans in ZANU-PF’s Politburo as well as the national chairman of war veterans — did not respond to written questions from the Financial Gazette on the matter.
The same mute response came from ZANU-PF’s deputy spokesman, Psychology Maziwisa.
Maybe the duo finds themselves in the same predicament as the father referred to above.
The party’s chief secretary for information and publicity, Simon Khaya Moyo, has his roots in the former PF-ZAPU, whose members have for years been joining ordinary Zimbabweans in asking the same question about the formula that the ZANU-PF’s Politburo hires whenever the knotty question of national heroes rears its ugly head.
From his repeated public outbursts, it would appear Mutsvangwa has no qualms about measuring the patriotism of a bona fide Zimbabwean by the number of actual battles an individual fought during the war of liberation.
He was the first to openly make disparaging remarks against former vice president Joice Mujuru, former Security and Presidential Affairs minister Didymus Mutasa, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi together with the ministry’s permanent secretary Joey Bimha, when he literally accused some of them of being frauds that opportunistically benefited from the respect that they did not earn.
Mujuru, Mutasa and several others did not last in their positions both in the party and government for long after Mutsvangwa’s “exposé”.
However, in what appears to be a typical case of one eating their cake and still having it — his war contribution rantings not-with-standing — Mutsvangwa still enjoys his right to remain silent when it comes to individuals like Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Jonathan Moyo, who have confirmed that they made a conscious decision to flee from the unforgiving conditions that existed in the camps during the war, but have suddenly become some of ZANU-PF’s dearest darlings in an independent Zimbabwe.
President Robert Mugabe in the past rebuffed deafening clamourings from the opposition and the generality of Zimbabweans for the hero selection process to be made truly national via a court of public opinion saying those that were unhappy with his party Politburo’s almost always “unanimous” choices were more than free to establish their own heroes’ acre.
With the “basket” system now obtaining in ZANU-PF — which system is closely analogous to former United States president George Bush’s “either you are with us or against us” policy in his midnight darkness war against global terrorism — there remains hardly a flicker of hope that those members of the party’s Politburo like Mujuru Mutasa, Rugare Gumbo, Nicholas Goche and others who were part of the “unanimous” decisions to accord national hero status on the likes of Chenjerai Hunzvi, Cain Nkala, Border Gezi, Elias Kanengoni among others — would themselves enjoy that coveted status in the hereafter following the unforgivable allegations levelled against them that they were burning the mid-night candle plotting to topple President Mugabe from power.
This is judging by the past harsh treatment the seemingly flint-hearted Politburo gave to “unrepentant sell-outs” like Ndabaningi Sithole, Henry Hamadziripi, Patrick Kombayi, and Wilfred “Dzino” Mhanda among others.
Opposition members and ordinary Zimbabweans have been consistent in pointing out that the cemetery is misnamed a national shrine as — apart from those who died during the liberation war and shortly after — the elitist shrine now exist almost exclusively to reward those of ZANU-PF loyalists and punish those that have had the gall to disagree with ZANU-PF and its policies.
Last year opposition legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga moved a motion in the House of Assembly to challenge the ruling party’s monopoly on national heroes.
“We are cognisant that the National Heroes’ Act sets largely restrictive criteria of a hero, as one who has well deserved on account of his outstanding, distinctive and distinguished service to Zimbabwe,” the motion read, adding that but sadly in practice, hero status was exclusively decided by ZANU-PF politburo, and that President Mugabe is designated in the National Heroes’ Act with the conferment of hero status.
If all Zimbabweans had the privilege to select their heroes based on the true record of their lives, a good number of the around 100 people interred at the National Heroes Acre could have been buried at Chikurubi or Khami maximum prisons’ cemeteries, if only half the reportedly “heinous crimes” that Mujuru, Mutasa and everyone one else who, until late last year, were considered “automatic heroes”, are anything to go by.
When in 1949 celebrated Indian-British writer of largely dystopian literature, George Orwell, opened his essay Reflections on (Mahatma) Gandhi with the following pregnant statement: “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent”, many might have dismissed him as a spiteful kill-joy, but might have been right after all.
-Cyril Zenda: Financial Gazette