Business came to a standstill recently in Harare’s oldest suburb of Mbare, as residents celebrated the send-off of a criminal.
Sunday Opinion with Tafara Shumba
The funeral procession was held amid such pomp and fanfare one would be forgiven for mistaking it for a movie. Gunshots were a common sound, as the law enforcement agents tried to nab some of the wanted criminals who had come to bid farewell to one of their comrades-in-crime, Boris Mushonga.
Mushonga died in a car crash together with four accomplices.
The robbers had caused untold suffering to citizens. The day they met their fate, they had just robbed a woman in Avondale. According to media reports, the gang used to offer transport to unsuspecting passengers whom they would later robbed. A Nigerian fell into their trap and lost US$30 000.
With such a criminal record, it is natural that law abiding citizens would celebrate the elimination of such criminals from society. Although Shona culture dictates that afa anaka (respect the dead), the death of a criminal must come as a relief.
However, celebration of vice is increasingly being smuggled into our culture. The funerals of criminals are receiving unprecedented glorification that leaves our young children green with envy. In most cases, people at the funeral of a wayward character simulate his or her “trade”.
At one funeral of a prostitute in Mutare, the police had to be called in after the simulation of sex had gone out of bounds in full view of members of the family.
Those who still remember the late notorious criminals Stephen Chidhumo and Edgar Masendeke, might testify to the magnitude of idolisation of criminals by some members of society. Their names could be seen emblazoned on some buses that plied rural routes. Schoolchildren could be heard calling themselves by those names while playing street soccer.
In February this year, I had to tell off my 10-year-old son after I heard him calling himself Chidhumo in a mock athletics competition in the neighbourhood. I told him who Chidhumo was and eventually suggested to him the athletes he could idolise.
When I went to his school, on invitation of course, for the inter-house competitions, shockingly the teachers had nicknamed the houses Chidhumo, Masendeke and so on.
T-shirt manufacturers and printers also take advantage of this lunacy to make a killing. They inscribe portraits or names of these criminals. Some printers even go across the frontiers to celebrate international criminals.
For instance, T-shirts with Osama bin Laden’s portrait became the in-thing after his death.
Although I don’t condone the butchering of Osama bin Laden by the US, the way his funeral was handled left no room to gloss over criminals. The photos and videos of his burial were kept under lid. Even written information about his burial was kept a secret. His corpse was buried at sea, the main reason being to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine.
The late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi who was also ruthlessly butchered following accusations of dictatorship and gross human rights abuses, was also buried in an unmarked grave at a secret location. The National Transitional Council feared that the grave could be turned into a shrine by his supporters.
Of course we cannot slip criminals’ corpses into the sea or parade their bloodied bodies but, glamourising dead criminals must be stopped. The way some elements of society glorify criminals is tantamount to turning their graves into shrines.
What type of children do we bring up in a society where criminals are glorified? Children grow up with a wrong belief that vice pays. Naturally these children emulate the veneration being accorded to deceased criminals and would wish to be accorded the same upon their death.
Psychologists would tell you that the environment that a child grows up in has immense bearing on his personality in his adulthood. Something should be done so that children are not nurtured in such a precarious environment. Insofar as crime is concerned, society is its own worst enemy as it moulds its own criminals.
Those who glorify criminals should take a minute to think about the lives of innocent people these criminals took. Think about the children who became orphans because their parents were killed by these criminals.
What about widows and widowers whose dear spouses were killed by these criminals? They must consider the rape victims, some of whom were left with HIV. Is that not being insensitive to lionise criminals who pauperised some families?
Something must be done to stop this culture of celebrating vice.