Bring Back Our Heroes’ Bones

The wounds of the violent colonial encounter between many of our Zimbabwean ancestors who led the First Chimurenga, of the many unknown heads of families who were hanged and beheaded by colonial invaders for their part in leading the resistance to the colonial catastrophe, and those whose heads were decapitated and brought to the United Kingdom as trophies will forever remain a bone of contention as long as their remains have not been returned to their families and to Zimbabwe.

Writing and speaking as a voice of Zimbabweans who live where the bones of our ancestors have been kept as trophies we endorse wholeheartedly the view that the repatriation of these remains to be carried out with the utmost support and involvement of the families and our traditional leaders as lead players in the campaign for the repatriation of these remains including the determination of DNA samples.

Stakeholders in the repatriation of human remains from the United Kingdom to Zimbabwe are due to meet at ZANU-PF Headquarters today at the invitation of Chief Makoni. This follows an earlier meeting held at Mukwati Building on Thursday March 14 at the invitation of the Secretary for Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage.

The purpose of that meeting was to draw up a set of recommendations for the Government to take into account when pondering over how to go about bringing back to Zimbabwe the remains of the war heroes of the First Chimurenga.

Today’s meeting reflects a positive gear change. The fact that it is being called by Chief Makoni, rather than Government officials, is a step in the right direction. This is not to say that the Government and its officials have no role to play. They have and it is pleasing to see that the ruling party headquarters is the venue of the meeting suggesting full co-operation and engagement.

But this is primarily a matter for families represented by the chiefs who should rightly take a leading role in this supported by Government, political parties, war veterans, civil society organisations, churches and all members of the public.

Leaders of the First Chimurenga (1893-4 and 1896-97) were hanged by the British who went on to decapitate them and took their heads to United Kingdom as trophies. These included: VaCharwe, Mbuya Nehanda’s spirit medium, VaHwata, VaMakoni, VaChinengundu, to name but a few. We believe more than 11 human remains from Zimbabwe are here in the UK. If the chiefs as heads of their families have to take a leading role in this long overdue undertaking, it brings us full-square to the equally overdue appointment of Chief Hwata.

Chief Hwata of Mazowe was executed along with his sister, VaCharwe. These with others had taken a leading role in the war of resistance against the invaders. That, however, did not justify their heads being brought here where they have lain for more than 120 years.

The logical starting point, in any effort to bring back the remains of the fallen heroes, therefore, must be the appointment of Chief Hwata of Gomba, Mazowe. We are aware that since the demise of these gallant fighters of Zimbabwe, the invaders had a free reign in the rich and fertile Mazowe.

They began to give areas names of their own choosing, such as Concession in honour of the Charles Rudd who helped to trick King Lobengula into signing the Rudd Concession with him. This was to fulfil the well known adage that if you can name it then you have dominion over it.

This fascination with Mazowe did not end there because what we have found in the archives is that a colonial law exists putting Mazowe beyond the jurisdiction of a Chief. It is that colonial legal relic that may have delayed the appointment of Chief Hwata. Or is it?

If so, is it not ironic that those who decapitated the heads of the leaders of Mazowe should continue to dictate what happens in Gomba 39 years after independence? This anomaly rouses strong feelings as we found when we discussed this with Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UK. If the appointment of Chief Hwata is being delayed because of this legal relic, then we think it should not be beyond the wit of the new dispensation to change the law to make this happen.

The appointment of Chief Hwata is a necessary prerequisite for the whole repatriation project. Chief Hwata, who ever is appointed, will join forces with other families in leading the project supported by the State and the nation.

They will need support in ensuring that when they come to the UK, they will indeed collect the correct remains and not be given the wrong bones.

We are pleased to note that following today’s meeting, the plan is to hold the follow-up meeting rightly in Mazowe. Chief Makoni deserves commendation for doing the right thing at the right time.

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