By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
Zimbabwe today remembers its national heroes and heroines who selflessly contributed their lives, limbs or properties for the liberation of their fatherland, which is now in the hands of the African people like all other African countries.
The occasion is held annually and appropriate Government officials organise public meetings at selected venues to honour known and unknown, officially recognised as well as what we may term less publicised heroes and heroines of Zimbabwe.
Heroes and heroines are men and women, boys and girls admired for their courage. The words also mean people of outstanding achievements, some of which may be scientific, educational or cultural.
Zimbabwe’s Heroes’ Day is, however, associated exclusively with politico-military achievements associated with the struggle to free the country from colonial oppression.
What we call Zimbabwe today is an African land that according to the 1884- 85 Berlin Conference fell within the British sphere of influence and colonisation. That decision was not based on any moral consideration, historic, ethnic or any other anthropological factor whatsoever.
It was motivated by sheer avarice and racialism to the exclusion of everything that is decent and humane. It was meant to achieve the passionate aspirations of imperialists at their highest level.
That was what the British South Africa Company (BSAC) of Cecil John Rhodes did when it hoisted the Union Jack on Harari Hill on September 12, 1890.
Restoring this land to its rightful owners, the Africans, required mammoth courage coupled with unyielding commitment and massive organisational skills.
Having met military setbacks on two occasions, first in 1893 when Rhodes and his British allies defeated King Lobengula by means of better military weapons rather than courage, and, second, in 1896-97, by means of mainly hunger that faced the black people, it became vital for them to employ military tactics that would enable them to choose the best type of weapons to use in a terrain best suited for a war that could be won in their social, cultural, economic and political environment.
That meant a guerrilla war, that is a war whose terrain, battle ground, weaponry, time of conflict are chosen virtually by the guerrilla forces. A guerrilla can pose as a peasant or a pastor at a time of his or her choice, and a deadly armed combatant at some other time that is suitable to him or her.
That is how the country was liberated, by a concerted guerrilla war by both Zipra and Zanla. Zipra was a Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) military wing, and Zanla that of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).
It is usually the former guerrilla members of those two political party conflicts that we refer to as heroes or heroines.
We tend to forget at times that a guerrilla army operates successfully only when it is in a supportive community that gives it information about the enemy, shelter from the enemy and inclement weather conditions, gives it food, medicines, clothing, transport, guides it through dangerous geographical localities, advises guerrilla fighters about community members who should not be trusted.
That is what prominent guerrilla warfare experts such as Mao Tse-tung meant when they said ordinary people are to guerrillas what water is to fish.
Guerrillas are the fish and the people are the water.
Many of those ordinary people paid the ultimate price, and deserve public recognition by the nation for which they died. We owe them immeasurable thanks especially because they were not militarily trained and were thus much more vulnerable than trained guerrillas.
While we honour and celebrate the lives of heroes and heroines, particularly those whose remains are buried at various shrines, we should also remember and honour the peasants and workers who were killed in reprisals by the Rhodesian regime.
Meanwhile, it is all right to be arranging about the repatriation of skulls of 19th century victims of colonial forces. However, we should be actively doing something about the decent reburial of those who were massacred by the Rhodesian forces.
A national holiday could be proclaimed for the burial. We really owe it to the Smith regime’s victims to give them decent burials publicly.
Another aspect of today’s national occasion that needs consideration is that there are heroes and heroines in other fields, who deserve national recognition.
The educational field comes to one’s mind in this regard, and pioneer educationists at district and provincial level can be identified. Zhisho Moyo (uSekaJoanna Moyo) could be identified for the Insiza District, and Professor Stanlake Samkange, the founder of Nyatsime College, for the Seke area.
Other fields have their own heroes or heroines such as the cultural where Augustine Musarurwa, the composer of the globally acclaimed “Skokiaan”; Dorothy Masuka, the composer of the unforgettable “Hamba Nontsokolo”, plus a number of other musical artistes some of whose creations featured prominently during the liberation struggle.
While heroes and heroines of political military or civil administration achievement are interned at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare, those recognised for other achievements could be immortalised by statues in the districts of their birth.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a war veteran and retired, Bulawayo-based journalist.