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What credentials does a hero need?

Ray Matikinye

VERY few events have such stunning emotional similarities as the burial of Henry Hamadziripi on Monday at Glen Forest Cemetery and the interment of Sheba Tavarwisa at a remote village in rural


Both were icons of the Zimbabwe war for national independence. Coincidentally, both came from the same rural area and both were inexplicably denied national hero status although they deserved burial at the national Heroes’ Acre.

Both too were from the majority Karanga tribe.

Tavarwisa was the only woman ever to sit on the Zanu Dare Rechimurenga (War Council).

Hamadziripi took the credit of recruiting the late guerilla war General Josiah Magama Tongogara, Vice-President Simon Muzenda, and the country’s post-Independence Zimbabwe Defence Forces supremo Vitalis Zvinavashe into the liberation war.

For Mapiye Hwekete, burying Hamadziripi away from his comrades-in-arms entombed at Heroes’ Acre most probably evoked sad memories of his graveside eulogy at Tavarwisa’s burial some years ago when he asked the late Vice-President Muzenda: “What unforgivable crime did she commit not to be buried at Heroes’ Acre? And what criteria is used by the government to award national hero status among its pioneer war veterans?”

Mapiye’s remarks could best be answered by President Mugabe’s condolence message to the bereaved family.

It set pointers to the reason why the Zanu PF Politburo did not even bother to sit and deliberate on what status to award as it normally does when a request is made.

The timid request by the Masvingo provincial executive pleading for provincial status, particularly statements by Dzikamayi Mavhaire that Hamadziripi was not a card-carrying member, provides an insight into widely-held views that national hero status is an exclusive preserve of Zanu PF members.

And for the umpteenth time, Zimbabwe’s political mandarins have redefined all known interpretation of heroism, expediently forgetting that all protracted liberation struggles like the one Zimbabwe endured, generate powerful, yet potentially divisive political reactions.

Hamadziripi’s death has revived debate on what constitutes a national hero. It begs the question whether one’s past mistakes or blunders wipe out one’s sacrifices and achievements.

Were one’s past mistakes a major determinant of national hero status, then some of the politicians and Zanu PF stalwarts who were incarcerated in Mozambique for non-conformist views such as the current Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri, risk forfeiting prospects of burial at the shrine.

Hamadziripi and Tavarwisa join a long list of veteran nationalists that hail from Masvingo province like Fibion Shoniwa, Davies Mugabe, Michael Mawema, Samuel Munodawafa and others whose contribution towards national Independence has failed to jolt the conscience of the politburo.

If consistency is one of the tenets considered, veteran nationalists such as James Chikerema, Nathan Shamuyarira and clansmen stand to lose their places at the national shrine for forming Frolizi in 1971.

In sharp contrast to consistency as the criteria, George Nyandoro was buried at the national shrine.

Together with Chikerema, Nyandoro easily identified with the origins of the nationalist struggle in the 1950s but joined Bishop Abel Muzorewa’s Zimbabwe-Rhodesia regime.

Apparently, only the stay-the-course Zanu PF adherents stand to benefit.

Until the Unity Agreement, Lookout Masuku lay buried at Lady Stanley Cemetery despite the enormous popularity he enjoyed among Zipra cadres and the immense contribution he made, giving credence to public opinion that there is a discernible bias in the choice of heroes along ethnic lines.

Masuku’s status was posthumously re-classified.

Zimbabwe was a recipient of a Korean-built National Heroes’ Acre where heroes of the 16-year guerilla war for national Independence are buried.

And true to Norma Kriger’s observations about national monuments, these burial places have engendered vicious debate on who qualifies and who does not.

In The Politics of Creating National Heroes, Kriger says national monuments “expose the gap between political rhetoric of equity, participation and unity on the one hand and the realities of an enormous disparity between leaders and the masses (on the other).”

Instead of promoting national unity as President Mugabe has often exhorted mourners at the national shrine to do, the choice of heroes has tended to divide the nation over what criteria is employed to confer the honour.

A quick scan of the composition of heroes buried at the national shrine exposes ethnic disparities in the roll of national honours.

It took spirited protests from former Zapu members to get Albert Nxele, one of the pioneer guerrilla fighters, considered for national hero status. Some Zanu members did not even know who he was.

Political status-seeker Border Gezi, famed for inventing the notorious Green Bombers party militia, and Chenjerai Hunzvi who engineered the plunder of the War Victims’ Compensation Fund are eternally rested at the shrine ahead of founder leader of Zanu Ndabaningi Sithole and the first titular president in post-Independent Zimbabwe, the Reverend Canaan Banana.

If participation stands the dead in good stead for national hero status, Noel Mukono dedicated most of his life to the liberation struggle. At some point he was Zanla defence secretary. But apparently being a Manyika spoiled his credentials, as did his remaining a Zanu (Ndonga) member.

People of no known role other than nominated Cabinet ministers have found their places at the national shrine. People still question what role Chris Ushewokunze, Swithun Mombeshora, and Joseph Culverwell played in the liberation struggle to deserve national honours.

Perhaps surviving members of the Dare Rechimurenga, elected in 1973, will face an uphill task in getting their roles recognised.

In September of that year, the following were elected: Herbert Chitepo — chairman (Manyika); Mukudzei Mudzi — administrative secretary (Karanga); Noel Mukono — secretary for external affairs (Manyika); Kumbirai Kangai — secretary for labour, social services and welfare (Karanga); Rugare Gumbo — secretary for information and publicity (Karanga); John Mataure — political commissar (Manyika); Henry Hamadziripi — secretary for finance (Karanga); and Josiah Tongogara — chief of defence (Karanga).

Perhaps too, revelations contained in the Special International Commission on the Assassination of Herbert Wiltshire Chitepo report, commissioned by the Zambian government in 1976, that fingered Hamadziripi haunted him to his grave.

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