Magura Charumbira – A New, Unlikely Hero

Heroes are born, not made. We have heard that hackneyed phrase, many times. And who is a hero, anyway, many people ask, especially in Zimbabwe when hero status has always been associated with fighting in the liberation struggle that gave us Independence from Britain in 1980?

And remaining loyal to Zanu-PF, one could add. We have heard phrases like “straight-jacket”, oops, sorry, straitjacket, being used to describe the kind of people and attributes of those who should be celebrated as heroes.

The “straitjacket” approach has given us a certain kind of hero, and quite stridently refused to recognise other types of hero – heroes and heroines that never went to war – that have been crying out for inclusion. Yet things could be changing.

Zimbabwe has just had a “born-free” hero. A “born-free” is someone who was born after Independence in 1980 and, quite expectedly, did not participate in the war of liberation.

These “born-frees”, in other times and places, used to earn the derision and contempt of the ruling Zanu-PF party for abandoning the ethos and values of the liberation struggle and identifying with Western-sponsored opposition, which sought to undo the gains of the earlier generation.

But on January 9, 2018, Zanu-PF secretary for Administration Cde Obert Mpofu wrote a letter that could alter the practice of conferment of hero status forever. Cde Mpofu wrote to the party’s Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, conveying a message honouring a new breed of hero.

“His Excellency, the President and Secretary of Zanu-PF, Cde ED Mnangagwa has conferred a liberation hero status to the late Magura Magura Charumbira who died on 8 January, 2018 in Norton,” Cde Mpofu announced.

“We shall be most grateful if you would make the usual arrangements for his burial and payments of his benefits. He is from Masvingo Province.”

The boo boys

November 5, 2017. Zimbabwe is held in a political thrall around succession politics in the ruling party, Zanu-PF.

There are two camps known as the G40 and Lacoste, with the former being spearheaded by the First Lady Grace Mugabe, who works closely with Professor Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao. The quartet, which often draw comparison with the infamous Gang of Four during the last days of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong, has “captured” Zimbabwe’s leader Cde Mugabe, apparently taking advantage of his advanced age.

Mrs Mugabe leads a determined campaign for the ouster of Cde Mugabe’s Number Two, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom they accuse of leading the Lacoste faction and seeking to illegally replace his boss. The quartet and their faction profess love and fealty for the President, more than anyone else.

The “Presidential Youth Interface” rallies have provided a platform for attacking the Vice President, with Mrs Mugabe leading the ruthless charge, a familiar road for her after a similar campaign against Cde Mugabe’s previous deputy, Joice Mujuru. The second city of Bulawayo provides the setting for another public lynching of Cde Mnangagwa.

It is the ninth leg of the interface rallies and the crescendo has been rising, with Mrs Mugabe seeking to cause the “baby dumping” of Cde Mnangagwa, a man who professes loyalty to his boss and often points to more than four decades of working with the veteran leader. To Mrs Mugabe, it does not matter. She sees the opposite. She also sees signs: like how Cde Mnangagwa dances and twirl his fingers to music.

According to Mrs Mugabe, Cde Mnangagwa points to his chest when a popular song, “Mudhara Vachauya” is being played, indicating that he seeks to depose his boss. On this day, the script is very much the same: Mrs Mugabe’s role is to attack Cde Mnangagwa and defend her allies like Prof Moyo, who is accused of stealing State funds.

“I would like to talk about Professor Jonathan Moyo. It was said he has a number of crimes, President Mugabe set up a committee to investigate him. The committee had the findings and instructed Dr Chombo to write a letter to ZACC on the matter,” she says.

“This letter was meant to state how this money was used. If Jonathan has a crime, let the courts decide that. Please don’t use your positions to fight your wars. I am the First Lady, I have never used my position to gain unfair advantage.”

The First Lady is heckled and booed by a section of the crowd. The disruption is loud and clear.

“I don’t care whether you boo me or you were paid to boo me, but I will say it as it is even if you bring soldiers with guns, I will say the same thing,” retorts the garrulous Women’s League boss.

Known for her contemptuous ways, she seeks to rub it in on the dissenting crowd.

“Stop it whatever you are doing. There were demonstrations to fire Kasukuwere, but President Mugabe saw that there was no crime. He is not going anywhere!”

She then turns to Cde Mnangagwa, accusing him for being the cause of factionalism in the ruling party and calls for him to be disciplined.

“I am leading the calls. So many people have been fired,” she says – so should he.

And when he is fired, according to Mrs Mugabe’s scheme, women would be given “their” Vice President’s position back – something she was due to take herself. The heckling continues. Mrs Mugabe ends on a sour note.

“Bulawayo, those with ears have heard. The stubborn ones must remain so at their own peril. We have one leader, who is the centre of power.”

The die has been cast. The booing of the First Lady marks a critical turning point in the history of Zimbabwe. When the President takes to the stage, he is beside himself with rage. Many people have not seen him so incensed.

The booing of his wife by a gang allegedly bussed in from Kwekwe, Cde Mnangagwa’s home-town, has loosed anger uncharacteristic of him. He defends the First Lady for “She speaks her mind”. He then confronts the booing crowd and supporters of Cde Mnangagwa.

“I am told off daily in the name of Mnangagwa, did I make a mistake in appointing him my Vice President?” he asks.

“If I made a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa, tell me. I will remove him tomorrow surely. We are not afraid of anyone. We can decide even here. I will stand in front and have him do the same. Those who want to be with me, join me and those who want to be with Mnangagwa go to him.”

He keeps his word. Two days later, Cde Mnangagwa is dismissed from his position as Vice President of the Republic. He is accused of “disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability”.

Zimbabwe trembles, and a train of dramatic events that lead to the stepping down of Cde Mugabe follow.

Making a hero

Many people believe that the Bulawayo incident was the spark that led to extraordinary events of November 2017 and the historic transition in Zimbabwe. Magura Charumbira was at the centre of it all.

In the following days, he was hounded by police and he went into hiding. Acting provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Chipfunde Garikayi issued a statement appealing for information on the whereabouts of Charumbira.

“Police are anxious to interview Magura Magura Charumbira NR: 22-221801-F22, aged 34, in connection with an incident that occurred during the Presidential Youth Interface Rally at White City Stadium on the 4th of November 2017. The incident occurred while the First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe was addressing a gathering during the rally,” said the statement.

Charumbira’s last known residential address was Number 12304 Pumula South in Bulawayo and in the usual police-speak, anyone with information on the whereabouts of Charumbira was required “to contact Bulawayo CID Law and Order Section on (09)64232 or 0772 841 144 or visit any nearest police station”.

A week after, Charumbira handed himself to the police and was charged along a number of youths, with “undermining the authority of the President”. They were only freed on December 12, as the State dropped charges following the stepping down of Cde Mugabe on November 21 followed by the inauguration of President Mnangagwa three days later. Magura had made his name.

And when he died in a horrific car crash last month, many people looked back on the White City Stadium, venue of the ninth Presidential Youth Interface rally. A new hero had been made. His province wrote to the party requesting that Charumbira be granted “liberation hero” status.

The ruling party acceded. Bulawayo is convinced it did the right thing. Khumbulani Mpofu, Zanu-PF Youth League chairman in the province, told The Herald this week that Charumbira had distinguished himself. He noted that Charumbira was just a district member, but his stature had grown.

“Not every youth who died will be declared a hero,” he eulogised.

“During this period, people would hide and not show their positions because of the fear of the unknown, but he stood for what he believed in while some dithered. He was steadfast.

“Not everyone will be accorded hero status because it depends on the measure of your contribution. Some members of the national and provincial levels will not be accorded the status. Charumbira did not ask for the status; we accorded it to him,” said Mpofu.

Not all people would agree with Zanu-PF on the matter, least of all those who happened to be on the opposite side of the forceful and militant Charumbira. He was known to disrupt meetings of the rival G40 faction and did not spare the opposition and his rivals described him as a thug.

Chip off the old, old block

Charumbira was the eighth of a big family of 22. His father, Johannes, is a 64-year-old security guard in Bulawayo. The senior Charumbira was equally baffled – and sometimes awed – by the behaviour of his son, whom he said had abstained from continuing with education to concentrate on politics.

After the demise of the young man, University of Zimbabwe lecturer Prof Charity Manyeruke posted a picture of her with Charumbira, decrying the fall of the young man, saying she had wanted to recruit him to university. In Johannes’ household, Charumbira was the only one who was into political activism.

“In the last days, I grew so worried about him and would counsel him to cut down on politics. He would agree, but continue. After the White City incident, I was so afraid for him and I was pained so much when he was being hunted down by police,” said Johannes.

His sister, Vimbai, a year junior, said the courageous man was promising new things and a new political and economic dispensation.

“He was convinced of that and would promise us a lot of things. He promised that business would boom under a new Government,” said Vimbai, a cross border trader.

Like everyone else, Vimbai was mortified when Charumbira pulled off the boos. But their father reckons that he has an answer to his son’s bravery.

“He has taken after his great-grandfather, who was also named Magura, of the Charumbira clan, who was known for his bravery in fighting.”

Charumbira was a father with a couple of children.

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