There is a rich valley situated about 7km to the west of the city centre of Harare. In this vale lies a hill at the summit of which is a tower that carries an eternally flickering flame.
The flame catches the eye of a traveller at night as it persistently glows from a 40-metre obelisk. Not only does the flame guide the rover, but it literally engulfs him with its spirit of recourse, which draws him towards the hill.
The incandescent flame compels the traveller to take heed with its silent imploration of persistence, determination and love, calling him to be part of the knoll and its environs, without really obliging him to lose himself.
This, fellow countryman, friend and kinsman, is the spirit of Independence. It is the spirit of love, determination, collective unity and bravery. That also, is the spirit of freedom; an everlasting desire for patriotism which comes with selflessness, and the quest to free a whole people from colonialism.
This spirit of Independence and all that makes Zimbabwe a sovereign nation, are symbolically captured in the Eternal Flame kindled on Independence Day on April 18, 1980 at Rufaro Stadium.
It will be 40 years this April 18 since the Flame was lit, and taken to Harare Hill where the Pioneer Column hoisted the Union Jack on September 12, 1890, thus marking the end of colonialism.
It is this same Flame that eternally burns at the National Heroes Acre, where it is perched on a towering 40-metre pylon. It continues to flicker to remind us of the many sacrifices that brought us the freedom we enjoy today.
Isn’t it also significant that 40 years on, the Flame continues to twinkle from a 40-metre tower?
The Eternal Flame is an embodiment of the spirit of Independence which emboldens us to set aside our differences and join hands as a people to celebrate the essence of sacrifice, hard work and resilience.
With our 40th Independence Day drawing closer, as a nation we should guard against letting the spirit of oneness dissipate, because it is that Flame within us which unites us, and spells out who we are. Notwithstanding our political or religious calling, we are one nation, one people and one dream.
Our gallant freedom fighters, whose spirits are resplendent in the Eternal Flame, laid their lives on the block for the politics of love, the religion of love and the culture of love.
They didn’t die in vain.
We may be facing challenges, but we face them together as a nation, and together we can conquer them, for, indeed, it is within our power to do so. Zimbabwe is the only country we have; it is our Motherland.
We should draw inspiration from George William Curtis who says: “A man’s country is not a certain piece of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.”
True, nationhood is a product of principle and patriotism, which add up to loyalty to that which makes us principled and patriotic. The heroes, our heroes of the liberation struggle, whose selfless efforts to free us from colonial clutches, were alive to the fact that Independence could never be offered on a silver platter, for FREEDOM is not Santa’s gift.
Therefore, they took up arms against a system that created second class citizens out of them. They could not remain caged, because it was not in their nature to be confined birds.
Their belief in the essence of freedom and the power of love, even beyond the grave, spurred them on. Indeed, it takes more than sacrifice to lay one’s life on the block for the love of others. Such kind of love equates to a fruit tree planter’s, who is not deterred by the reality that the tree may come to fruition long after his demise.
Such is the spirit of love. Indeed, it is the way of altruistic love to remain loyal to a principle that may leave one dead; physically, yes, for heroes, true heroes of the soil do not die. They are the seed of life and the passion that glows in the Eternal Flame of freedom.
Nelson Mandela, aptly points out: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice, but to become an outlaw.”
True, it is only appropriate for him to become an outlaw in search of justice; the justice that recognises him as a man and not a “half-child” and “half-devil”, requiring the guidance of a warped racialist and imperialistic gang of aliens purporting to be God’s emissaries.
It is such a principled individual, whose never-say-die spirit is depicted in the Eternal Flame, termed a “terrorist” for refusing to remain caged, that we celebrate each year on Independence Day, and will be celebrating for 40th time on April 18.
That woman, that man, that child of the soil (mwana wevhu) is the kind of bird that Stephen King writes about: “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild.
“So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them, they somehow fly out past you” (“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A Story from Different Seasons”).
Some among us would rather take us back in time, believing that colonialism, perhaps, was better, for they are forgetful, or never experienced it first-hand.
Collective wisdom apprises us that he who is shackled treasures the gift of freedom, but he who is free romanticises the thrill of being fettered. Freedom; indeed, Independence means a lot to those whose progenitors lost arms and limbs, and breathed their last in the dugouts seeking to wade away from the sinking vessels of their dreams, yet remaining ingrained in the same aspirations that shape their destiny.
Such is the nature of loyalty, such is the nature of principle and such, also, is patriotism.
The ultimate freedom is that which gives one access to a humane existence not those misconstrued and flimsy variations that are largely delusional. Freedom means being able to claim ownership of the means of production, and all that makes it possible to live without merely existing.
Only the land, our ancestral heritage, can make all our dreams tenable, for it is the quintessence of life and prosperity, without which all our hopes are doomed. It is because of our land that the First Chimurenga of 1896 and the Second Chimurenga of the 1960s and 70s became realities. It is, indeed, the return of our land that we celebrate on April 18.
The persistent glow in the Eternal Flame, symbolises that spirit of freedom to be masters of our destiny as a people. We may be burdened, but we carry the weight together conscious of the reality of our land, the reality that only we, as Zimbabweans understand and share.
United we can conquer, that is the spirit that drove the liberation struggle. Surely, the same spirit can take us to that Golden Future Time.
Nothing can stop us really, if we believe we can separately contribute in our collective way as did our heroes who were cognisant of the power of faith. They had so much faith in the new country, the new Zimbabwe.
They so much believed in its existence that they sacrificed their lives for the realisation of that nation where everyone would be a brother’s keeper, and a responsible citizen to book.
On April 18, our Independence Day, let us keep the Eternal Flame burning, in remembrance of our dearly departed selfless countrymen, and reflect on the meaning of freedom and heroism.
When we think beyond the individual we ignite the spirit to share a dream that may be realised even in our absence. It is called sacrificial love!