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Editor’s Note: Revisiting Zimbabwe's national hero status

We bring to you here Vol 6, Issue 5 of our flagship publication, the Zimbabwe Briefing, focusing on Heroes Day.

As we commemorate Zimbabwe’s National Heroes Day, today, a day set aside to honour the departed fighters of our liberation struggle. Heroes' Day is a public holiday in Zimbabwe observed on the second Monday in August. This is a day of remembrance to commemorate the commitment of Zimbabweans to the struggle for Independence.

Thus, those individuals declared National Heroes by the ruling party’s Politburo are buried at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. The National Heroes Acre or simply Heroes Acre is a burial ground and national monument in Harare, Zimbabwe. The 57-acre (230,000 m2) site is situated on a ridge seven kilometres from Harare, towards Norton. Its stated purpose is to commemorate Patriotic Front guerrillas killed during the Rhodesian Bush War, and contemporary Zimbabweans whose dedication or commitment to their country justify their interment at the shrine. Persons buried there are considered heroes by the incumbent Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front regime, which has administered the country since independence in 1980. Indeed, most of the recipients of the 'hero status' were known to be ZANU-PF sympathisers.

The conferment of Heroes has been controversial as ZANU PF has made it clear that the place is only reserved for those who participated in the liberation struggle. The late president Robert Mugabe always reminded us that,: “The Heroes’ Acre is a place for those who fought for the liberation of the country. It’s not a place for everyone; there are a lot of people who did good things, including pastors but they can’t be buried here .’’ Thus over the years, the place has been losing its value because of the narrow mindedness of the selection criteria and the politicisation of the concept. This year’s Heroes Day comes a few days after the death and burial of one of the liberation fighters Perrence Shiri who was declared a National Hero and buried at the Heroes Acre. Shiri who is alleged to have succumbed to Covid19 was himself a controversial character, accused of perpetrating human rights abuses after he commandeered the infamous North Korean trained Fifth Brigade which led the Gukurahundi operation in the 80s. His life is aptly described by legendary author, William Shakespeare in his epic play Julius Caesar said: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

If there is one thing about history, it is the fact that often the evil acts of human beings are more easily remembered than the good deeds. Secondly, human beings have repeatedly failed to learn from history or use it as a mirror of correction, despite this obvious reality that human’s bad deeds are often judged harshly by history.

We bring to you this special edition, unpacking the concept, selection of our national heroes, what does it take to be a hero, why does one political party choose who is a hero, what is the role of citizens, parliament in selecting our heroes? These are some of the questions this edition attempts to answer as the debate goes on.

However, this edition comes after series of key political developments locally and regionally. Firstly, the Coalition's successfully hosting the 19th Anniversary virtual discussion with a powerful panel comprising the founders and the current generation of the leaders of the organisation. The discussion also marked the launch of the Coalition’s Vicennial (20 years) countdown until August 2021. In the countdown to the 20th Anniversary, the coalition will be doing a 12-month Lecture series with different topics to be presented by several eminent individuals who have been key over the years in anchoring the work of the coalition. The Public Lecture series will facilitate an engaged intellectual project to feed and guide the coalition’s broader agenda to marry ideas and civil society action in Zimbabwe.

Secondly, the #Zimbabwelivesmatter campaign which received a global response from solidarity partners, political parties, leading celebrities joining in calling out the government of Zimbabwe to end human rights violations and violence against citizens.

Thirdly, while we welcome efforts by president Cyril Ramaphosa's in appointing a special envoys comprised of Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete as the South African government attempts to intervene in an unfolding crisis. We are of the view that any dialogue process must involve all stakeholders. Relegating dialogue to political parties risks producing an elite pact that is in dissonance with the citizen’s interests. We do hope that such efforts are not in any way an attempt to sanitise ZANU PF factional fights but the beginning of a genuine roadmap to involve Zimbabweans from across societal cleavages (political, religious, civic, business and labour) to engage in collective dialogue on the fundamental challenges facing the country and fashion a shared vision that moves the country towards democratization and away from the twin crises of poor governance and illegitimacy.

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