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Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
The just-ended ZANU-PF conference saw an unprecedented spectacle through an exhibition chronicling President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s journey from the liberation struggle to the present day.
What made the exhibition memorable was that instead of being a collection of plain photographs as is the custom at many events, there was a deliberate effort to give a tangible presentation of how life was back then for the country’s first citizen.
Put together by the Friends of Joshua Nkomo Trust, an organisation which focuses on restoring and reconstructing liberation history sites, the exhibition titled “Trabablas: Aluta Continua”, took President Mnangagwa and thousands of delegates who were in Esigodini down memory lane.
The man whose hands and brains brought the mini-museum to life, Dr Rayban Sengwayo, said he had been patiently waiting to tell the President’s story for close to 15 years.
Equally, the man who sponsored the exhibition, businessman, philanthropist and church leader Cde Jimayi Muduvuri, said the story of President Mnangagwa, who started politics at a tender age, filled a critical gap in the historiography of Zimbabwe.
Dr Sengwayo said this year’s conference was a perfect opportunity to chronicle the life of the Zanu-PF First Secretary and Head of State.
“President Mnangagwa is one of the founding trustees of the Friends of Joshua Nkomo Trust. A couple of years before he was President, we wanted to do something to honour him and he said we should wait. In his exact words, he said ‘the time will come for you to honour me’. We saw the just ended ZANU-PF as the perfect time to honour a man whose time has come,” Dr Sengwayo said.
When the refurbishment of Simon Muzenda’s homestead in Masvingo’s Mucheke suburb was done, it was agreed that the city had more history than many acknowledged.
“We then collaborated with the ZANU- PF Department of Environment and Tourism, National Museums and Monuments to work on building the Trabablas Trail which was a monument commemorating the President’s brave effort in Masvingo during the war. It was during the process that we realised that the President has a deeper history and began pursuing it,” said Dr Sengwayo said.
Laid in phases, the exhibition took people through the many emotive stages that characterised President Mnangagwa’s interaction with the Rhodesian prison system.
“The exhibition started with a brief introduction of President Mnangagwa arriving at a cell. This is where we placed original copies of his cell register and warrant of arrest. It explored the life of an 18-year-old in Cell 44 at Khami Ruins, an environment suited for hardcore criminals,” Dr Sengwayo explained.
Part of President Mnangagwa’s prison stay saw him being moved into a more punitive space and the exhibition gave a visual representation of the place he spent in solitude.
“The second phase of the exhibition was set in the solitary confinement where President Mnangagwa was put at some point as he served his time. To us, this was a way of showing how badly black people were treated in their own country. The place had leg irons which were used at the time. We wanted to evoke clear messages of the cruelty that was in the Rhodesian justice system at the time,” Dr Sengwayo said.
Many have heard Trabablas (the President’s nom de guerre during the liberation war) but had not encountered his exploits visually, especially with the famed Crocodile Gang.
“The third part of the exhibition was exploring Trabablas. We brought in a statement of how he bombed the locomotive and some of the activities the Crocodile Gang were involved in, as they fought for the country’s liberation,” said Dr Sengwayo.
It was in this phase of the exhibition that other inspirational African revolutionaries like Thomas Sankara and Winnie Mandela were honoured pictorially.
All the prison cells were reconstructed to give a feel beyond the aesthetic.
According to attendees, when the President took a walk through the mini-museum where it was set, he was taking time to absorb the priceless pieces of history which was laid before him.
“We had a passage which spoke of his lifestyle as a nationalist. It was in this passage that we listed the names of liberation war heroes from his era. The President saw his friend’s name, Matthew Malowa, and spoke about the days they used to work together,” said Dr Sengwayo.
The exhibition also included contemporary elements which brought the conversation to the present. There was a tree planting ceremony which ensured that the future is included in the narrative.
According to Dr Sengwayo, there is going to be a bigger exhibition of a similar nature in Harare’s First Street next year.
The growth of the idea will be implemented using knowledge from consultations and interviews from credible sources like ZANU-PF, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, National Museums and Monuments, war veterans as well as other constituencies.
The Friends of Joshua Nkomo Trust is determined to continue using creative methods to tell the country’s liberation story. And with the emergence of digital tools, they are contemplating introducing ideas like holograms which provide for more accurate reconstruction of past events.
Cde Muduvuri said working with Dr Sengwayo was a worthy effort to bring to life the history of President Mnangagwa.
“I recall at events like these, the former president (Mugabe) had his way of telling the history of the country as he would be central to the story himself and others would come later — the likes of former Vice President Joshua Nkomo, Zanu- chairman Herbert Chitepo, etc.
“The way he described President Mnangagwa at his last rally in Mashonaland Central was, ‘I called Emmerson and said where are you? And he said, ‘I’m here in Zambia’ and I said, ‘Please come here (Mozambique).
“That narrative is not complete and doesn’t show us where President Mnangagwa came from,” said Cde Muduvuri.
He explained that President Mnangagwa’s history showed that he had started politics at the age of 13, spurred on by the injustices that he saw his parents being subjected to by the colonial settlers. His consciousness led him to participate in the liberation struggle.
Regarding the project, Cde Muduvuri said bringing such history to the fore would help inspire young Zimbabweans.
“We must help young Zimbabweans who must appreciate where he came from and how he had his ideas when he saw the injustices of the time and made the decision to fight . . . The youth must emulate his visionary leadership,” said Cde Muduvuri.
He said he would sponsor the history project so that it would be accessible in books, video and multimedia platforms.
Source : The Herald