Zimbabweans know their real national heroes.

Robert Mugabe said former Rhodesian and late Prime Minister, Ian Smith, killed Msika. Msika was declared a national hero and was buried at the notorious Heroes Acre in Harare.

The second was a debate on whether a series of pictures proved whether or not Zimbabwe’s “Service Chiefs” had actually saluted Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

I was quite surprised that Zimbabweans spent so much time arguing about whether it was a salute or not because whether those military morons, who have prevented the flow of democracy in Zimbabwe saluted or not, is immaterial.

It was, of course, expected that Joseph Msika would be buried at the national shrine, igniting, once again, the debate on who is responsible for declaring or bestowing national hero status on citizens and what the criteria used is.

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, as I did several years ago, 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, which is supposed to be a national shrine, continues to slowly fill up with mediocrity as “entry requirements” are always altered for personal and 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.”

The MDC, which has now started their “attend this funeral and not that one”game, saysthat 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 75% of the “heroes” lying at the National Heroes Acre would be demoted, with most carted away to unknown places for reburial.

Once we hold the contributions made by these people up for the nation to see, most will run into credibility problems thick as caskets.

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. They 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 one 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.

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. All 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 and 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’s just what is called camaraderie; 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.

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.

Do we remember how Guy Clutton-Brock, the only Caucasian to be so honoured by ZANU-PF, came to rest at the Heroes Acre?

South Africa and the African National Congress’ Joe Slovo died on January 6, 1995. There was every indication that after less than a year in office, the new ANC government was going to acknowledge and honour a white son as a hero of their liberation struggle.

Zimbabwe was 15 years old at that time and ZANU-PF had never come across any white man to qualify for the honours.

Clutton-Brock died three weeks later on January 28th, 1995. Mugabe did the unusual thing of personally flying to the United Kingdom to beg for and bring back some of Clutton-Brock’s ashes which were then interred at our Heroes Acre on August 11, 1995, more than six months after his death.

I hope it was sincere because sacrifices made must be acknowledged. You think my suspicions are far-fetched? I do not think so.

Remember for most of the 80s, Zimbabwe was run under a state of emergency. When F W de Klerk initiated his reformist policies, he proposed and actually lifted the ban on political activity in South Africa during the first quarter of 1990. South Africans were poised to enjoy more political freedom under the white minority government than Zimbabweans did under Mugabe.
ZANU-PF urgently summoned its MPs who were on recess back to Harare to officially lift our state of emergency, which they did but only hours before de Klerk unbanned the ANC and other political parties in South Africa.
The heart of the matter is that the government, and this now includes the MDC, 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 otherwise deserving people.

What do you think?

(SW Radio Africa)