Heroes Acre: National Shrine or mere Zanu PF Warren Park Cemetery?

Originally, the polished black granite shrine was meant to be the final resting place for those who led Zimbabwe’s liberation war against British rule in the 1970s. Over time, others who did not fight in that war, but were deemed to have contributed to the country’s post-independence development, were also declared national heroes and buried there.

Zanu-PF, the party of the president, Robert Mugabe, is the only body that can bestow national hero status and reserve for those conferred a place at the revered graveyard.

But not everyone whose remains are interred there deserves to be considered a hero, said Maureen Chimpanda, an official at the opposition Zimbabwe People’s Democratic Party.

She said some find themselves there because they were connected to Zanu-PF, she said, not necessarily because they were respected national servants.

“The National Heroes Acre is a Zanu-PF heroes’ acre; there is nothing national about it. I do not know if national heroes are only found in Zanu-PF,” Ms Chimpanda said.

She urged Zanu-PF to broaden its definition of national heroism and adopt a more transparent and representative system through which national heroes are vetted and declared. While there is no debating the status of legends such as Vitalis Zvinavashe, a liberation fighter, some Zimbabweans believe that other figures, including Susan Tsvangirai, the late wife of the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, Safirio Madzikatire, Jairos Jiri and Ndabaningi Sithole, who founded Zanu, now Zanu-PF, should be buried at Heroes Acre.

Moses Benhura a Warren Park resident who lost his relative during the aborted June Presidential election said, "the day Robert Mugabe goes, we will ask the new government to take those remains and bury them Kumbudzi and if they want manpower, we can do that for free."  

"There is a mob of thieves, murderers and rapists buried at this hill-top, and we cannot allow a situation whereby future generations will be asked to fund the maintenance of a party private gangsters’ cemetry with people who killed, tortured and maimed our brothers and sisters," he said with a show of anger.

For the large part of his 30 year rule, Robert Mugabe has used the Heores Acre funerals to pronounce his foreign and economic policies over a dead body, attacking Western countries, IMF, World Bank, the UN and their leaders with his legendary stage managed anger, frothing at the mouth, dangling a fist, and banging the podium, telling anyone who cares to listen that "we died for this country".

Then some of his naive supporters would say, "wamunzwa Mugabe". If you have the time to ask, "what has he said this time"? The answer would be, "atukamaBritish nemaAmericans, mudhara akawoma iyeye."

Come on, give us a break!

In the 80s, Robert Mugabe would command the whole fleet of ZUPCO buses to the Heores Acre, some dispatched to as far as, Mt Darwin, Chivi in Masvingo, etc, a train from Bulawayo, all loaded with unsophisticated party faithful for a one hour ranting by the Emperor taking advantage of the dead, preaching the same diatribe for a whole bloody 30 year period.

The abuse of public property went on for years resulting in the economic decline for which Robert Mugabe will not take responsibility but point fingers at others.

The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), a political party that fought against white rule and became a minority partner in a 1987 unity deal with Zanu-PF, says some of its deserving leaders are overlooked or are recognised late.

Samukele Hadebe, a columnist for Weekly Agenda, a pro-Zapu newspaper, accused Zanu-PF of stalling in giving national hero status to Akim Ndlovu, founding commander of the Zapu military wing in 1965, who died this month.

“One would have thought that the nation has had enough of this dilly-dally and reluctance to acknowledge hero status to Zapu,” Mr Hadebe wrote recently.

“How else can one explain the indifference and delays in declaring what is anyway a foregone?”

Zanu-PF took three days to declare Ndlovu a national hero, explaining that communication problems made it impossible for the decision to be made earlier. Normally, it takes a day for the decision to be made.

Methuseli Moyo, a Zapu spokesman, in a statement said Zanu-PF must give the role of conferring national heroes to a neutral and broad committee of eminent Zimbabweans.

Nelson Chamisa, the spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Mr Tsvangirai’s party, which formed a unity government with Zanu-PF in February, said Patrick Kombayi, one of its elected senators who died recently, had unquestionable war credentials, but was not even considered.

Since its formation in 1999, the MDC has boycotted national heroes’ funerals, saying attending them endorsed Zanu-PF’s narrow definition of heroism. However, Mr Tsvangirai attended Zvinavashe’s burial in March, the first at the site since the formation of the five-month-old unity government.

His presence was welcomed across the political divide as a sign that he respected national events, after years of being accused of being unpatriotic.

But as the debate continues, a respected nationalist and one-time defence minister, Enos Nkala, said he does not want to be buried at the controversial shrine. “I am not going to Heroes Acre. It is Mugabe’s shrine,” said Mr Nkala.

Now there is an inclusive government some Zimbabweans believe national honours like these must involve all. Others say the shrine must close. “My honest opinion is that it [Heroes Acre] should just be shut down,” an unnamed political analyst told the local Financial Gazette newspaper in March.

“It will cause problems. The future government will not accept it. Going forward, it is not sustainable. It is clouded by payback, factionalism and so on.”

Ephraim Masawi, a Zanu-PF spokesman, denied that the National Heroes Acre is a preserve of Zanu-PF members, saying some “professional soldiers” who served on the side of governments in civil wars in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s also lie there.

To suggestions that Zanu-PF must make way for a neutral body to designate national hero status, Mr Masawi said: “We will take that up with senior party members so that there is no impression that the National Heroes Acre is Zanu-PF property.”