Heroes need not be declared; we know who they are

Tanonoka Joseph Whande
Thursday, August 16th, 2012

For the last 32 years, we have been celebrating Heroes’ Day as more and more people died and were declared heroes.

The Harare Heroes’ Acre does not know what to do with the number of heroes accumulating at the shrine so often. Although we were warned that in war, heroes outnumber soldiers 10 to 1, “we” continue to declare only those affiliated with the war of independence as heroes.

To make matters worse, all the people who lie at the Heroes’ Acre are so honoured by one man at the exclusion of all others.

Zimbabwe does not have a definition of what a hero is.

I agree that it is easy to recognise heroic acts and the actions of a true hero but it remains difficult to define a hero or heroine.

Regardless of what we define a hero as, ZANU-PF’s method of nominating heroes is faulty and has caused the verbal abuse of otherwise deserving heroes and heroines lying at the national shrine.

All the people who lie there are politicians and most are of dubious credentials.
My sense of moral imperative, coupled with the exclusion and absence of alternatives, prompt me, once again, to address the issue of national heroes.
Because of our pious tradition, people feel uncomfortable and reluctant to question “the decency” of a deceased.
And, in the case of our Zimbabwean heroes, the situation is made worse by the fact that ZANU-PF’s so-called Politburo, a party appendage composed of Mugabe’s hand-picked stooges from his political party, decides who is and who is not a national hero.
The result is that the Heroes Acre has slowly filled up with mediocrity as “entry requirements” are always altered for political expediency.
ZANU-PF says that heroes are those who “subordinated their personal interests to the collective interest of Zimbabwe. They accepted and endured pain, suffering and brutality with fortitude even unto death”.

What kind of nonsense is this?

Even if we take ZANU-PF’s warped definition, how many of those at the national shrine today “subordinated their personal interests to the collective interest of Zimbabwe” and how many “accepted and endured pain, suffering and brutality with fortitude even unto death?”
The MDC, which has now abandoned its “attend this funeral and not that one” game, says that hero status must be conferred by an all-stakeholders’ body with no single subjective interest in the conferment of such national status on any individual.
But, I do say, and I submit for your judgment, the fact that if Zimbabweans can be allowed to offer a binding definition of a national hero, about 80 percent of the “heroes” lying at the National Heroes Acre would be demoted, with most carted away for reburial elsewhere.

Many are not even heroes to ZANU-PF itself.
If we hold the contributions made by these people up for the nation to see, most will run into credibility problems.
Initially, the Heroes Acre was a shrine that ZANU-PF and PF ZAPU concurred to erect in honour of fallen distinguished participants in the war of liberation.
Having won the war and living with civilians, they noticed that there were other people in civil society who had made equally important contributions to the war effort or to society without having left Zimbabwe.
Commendably, the two parties made amendments to consider and include such people.
They did not, however, amend, alter or add the requirement to invite civil society and the generality of the citizens to also recommend individuals for the honour. In the end, ZANU-PF reserved the right to pick, choose, accept or deny national hero status to anyone.
So now, we have a situation where a group of hand-picked men and women from a political party sit down to consider and deliberate on such status.
Keep in mind that this politburo only considers awarding such status after its party’s district or provincial committees or structures have recommended to them that the deceased be considered for such an honour. Meaning you have to be ZANU-PF.
Then the Politburo members, reminiscent of Catholic bishops entering the Conclave to elect a new Pope, stream into ZANU-PF Headquarters to take tea as they deliberate on a citizen’s status.
Mercifully, on electing their hero, the Politburo does not send a smoke signal like the Catholic Bishops do, but they issue a statement announcing the arrival, in a coffin, of a new hero.
The Politburo is really a non-essential group that is not even a government body, is not national and is not adequately representative of Zimbabwean society. It has no constituency, but it decides who is a hero as if heroism is negotiable.
So far, they have only granted heroism to politicians of a certain persuasion; those strongly aligned to Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s heroes at the national shrine are politicians.
Mugabe finds no heroes outside his party. Most people at the heroes Acre are lucky to be there.
I don’t believe in luck myself. I believe people make their own luck.
Josiah Tongogara, Joshua Nkomo, Herbert Chitepo, Jason Moyo, Leopold Takawira, Jairos Jiri, Nikita Mangena and a host of others made their own luck.
They did not need to be declared national heroes by ZANU-PF because they were heroes even before they fell; their heroism is self-evident. Their heroism need not be explained or deliberated upon.
And now, here we are and we see that the presence of some people at the national shrine highlights the unjust omission of others.
Conversely, the absence of some well-deserving people at the Heroes Acre mocks the presence of many people buried there.
The heart of the matter is that the manner in which Zimbabwe’s national heroes are identified and declared is fraudulent in intent, in design and in execution.
Most of the people there are Mugabe’s former allies and cabinet ministers. Keep in mind that one is not elected but is appointed to a cabinet post. And this is done to reward an individual for loyalty, ability or such qualities. That is quite normal.
But then, when a ZANU-PF appointed cabinet minister dies, he is declared a national hero. In short, therefore, ZANU-PF cabinet ministers have national hero status bestowed upon them as a reward for having accepted an earlier reward.
It is simply bogus.

I predict that many families will one day be asked to reclaim the remains of their sons and daughters from the Heroes Acre for reburial elsewhere.

If a nation has no say in the identification of its own heroes, it is folly to believe that those who are literally appointed to heroism will be regarded as heroes by the people.
Attending the National Heroes’ commemoration last week, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said that it is his view that we must now begin as a nation to broaden the spectrum of our national heroes.
“There are patriotic Zimbabweans in the arts, in business, in sport and in other spheres who have equally served their country with distinction and who deserve recognition,” said Tsvangirai.

He also misses the point and is fighting for inclusion.
Heroism is not bestowed; heroism is earned and cannot be denied. It is born from the selfless yielding of one’s own self to one’s people.
We should forget about declaring people heroes because we know who our heroes are. The government has no business declaring national heroes. Not ZANU-PF; not the MDC-T. They can not choose national heroes for us. They must simply refer the declaration of national heroes to the people.
The practice has been nauseatingly politicized and is clearly being abused.
There are, of course, a few people we hold in the highest esteem at the Heroes Acre. But Mugabe’s conceited manner of anointing heroism takes away the reverence from these deserving people.
Our heroes are being mocked by the unjustified elevation of charlatans at that shrine.

We ought to be reminded that “the legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example”.
I am Tanonoka Joseph Whande and that, my compatriots, is the way it is today, Thursday, August 16th, 2012.

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