The Crime Against Liberation Heroes and Sheroes
By Reverend Nicholas Mkaronda
As Zimbabweans, we celebrate our national heroes on the eve of, yet another national election slated for next year. The epitome of our celebrations is the national sacred shrine, the Heroes Acre, where lie rested mainly the men and women who took courage for the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals that project our collective imagination of the Zimbabwe we want.
The Liberation Promise – One Man One Vote
One of the cardinal motives for these men and women to dance with death was their exasperation with discriminatory policies that disqualified them from participating in the governance of their motherland as authentic real citizens. They were denied the fundamental right and principle to vote. In simple terms, they were denied the right to be political players in their own country. It didn’t matter how cosy the social and economic policies were, the politics of the country had to be set right. The basis for achieving this was and remains, the right of every citizen to participate in the political discourse and processes of the country. The foundation for such participation is the right and ability to vote.
It is important to recognise that while the use of the military and arms of war were an option for the men and women of Zimbabwe, they were used as last resort measures. The Zimbabwean nationalists did seek on many occasions a political solution, but when their efforts were constantly thwarted, the use of military force became the only best option. The early 1960s was a period of radical nationalism as peaceful non-violent protests of the preceding years did not yield the desired objectives of a just society. Zimbabwean nationalists sought to engage with the minority regime to open the space for political reforms undergirded by the principle of one person one vote in the hope of transforming the country into a more just society through the formation of organised political parties in the form of the United Democratic Party (UNDP), the Zimbabwe African National People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). The collapse of the Geneva Conference of 1976 saw the escalation of the armed struggle at levels unknown before. The success of the Lancaster House Conference in 1979 can be attributed to the concession by the minority regime and the English colonial master to free elections in Zimbabwe where all would be allowed to participate both as political parties and as voters.
Is the Gun Mightier than the pen?
There is no doubt that the gun was the means of last resort in the face of sustained repression and oppression by the majority indigenous people of the land. It is not a decision that was taken lightly. It should have weighed heavily on the shoulders of the nationalist leaders of the time.
It is for this reason that the men and women who took up arms, who gave their lives for a better, fairer, and just Zimbabwe must never be forgotten or belittled. They were brave, courageous, and selfless. It is befitting that a national monument and shrine was and continues to be dedicated to their memory. As the saying goes, ‘lest we forget’.
In the same vein, it must not be forgotten that they did so as a last resort, rather than a matter of course. Had the minority regime and the British colonial master conceded the higher moral ground of the right of each citizen to participate fully in the political affairs of this country, lives would not have been lost unnecessarily. Unnecessarily because at the end, Zimbabwe is ushered in 1980 by the vote and not the gun. That is what the gallant sons and daughters of Zimbabwe who gave their precious lives had asked and demanded for. Grant us the right to fully participate in the affairs of our country and all else shall come to shape.
The emphasis on the power of the gun as the means to achieve the goals for a just society is misplaced because it does not recognise that the use of the guns and the military began with the oppressor. When the oppressed with a just cause are militarily stifled, their resort to armed struggle is an expression that they have nothing more to lose. Hence when the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe took the difficult option of the gun, they recognised that there was nothing more to lose. They shed their blood as a sacrifice for the descendants of this land. The National Heroes Acre and its emblems is a sombre reminder not just about the selflessness of those who gave their lives for the greater good of our country, but that such should not happen again. Simply, there is no need for our people to die or be killed because they want to participate in the politics of their country. The greatest crime that can be committed in this country is to deny any Zimbabwean the right to participate in the political affairs of Zimbabwe. That, to some of us, is the sombre reminder about the immortal significance of the sheroes and heroes of the war of liberation.
Did our heroes and sheroes die in vain?
When a Christian begins to question God’s saving grace through the death and resurrection of Christ, then you know that they are in a seriously difficult situation – perhaps an untenable one. They have lost or are losing hope. Equally, when a Zimbabwean begins to ask whether our liberation heroes and sheroes died in vain, you know that they are in a seriously difficult situation – perhaps untenable too.
Could they have died in vain? The answer is a clear NO. They didn’t die in vain. The most glamorous evidence of this is the spirit that engulfed Zimbabwe in February 1980 when they went out to vote in their millions. Our heroes and sheroes opened the gates for all Zimbabweans to participate in the politics of their country. However, whether you like or dislike one political party, make your choice in the ballot box.
There are only two ways in which they would be said to have died in vain. Firstly, if those of us who are beneficiaries of their sacrifices fail to use our rights in participating in the politics of our country by going to vote. Secondly, if the most heinous crime in the land is committed by denying Zimbabweans the right to participate in the politics of this country.
As we remember our liberation war heroes and sheroes, particularly those who couldn’t make it back home alive, and commemorated by the statue of the Unknown Soldier at our sacred shrine, we need to look forward positively to the elections of 2023 and many others that will follow. Organising political parties, political spaces and activating our personal civic duty as voters, we rekindle the spirit of freedom ushered in 1980; offer our country new impetus to be a just and fairer society; and immortalise those that gave us what they couldn’t get themselves. Are they not the proverbial planters of the tree whose shade they never enjoyed?
Lest we forget!
Reverend Nicholas Mkaronda is a retired Anglican priest who served in the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. He has been involved in civic society through theatre arts, gender activism and currently working on climate change resilience with a focus on the urban areas. He writes in his personal capacity.