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Former ZPRA High Command speaks on Heroes' Day celebrations

24 Sep 2017 at 08:54hrs | Views
The surviving members of the former ZPRA High Command would like to give honour and praise to the Head of State, the President of this country for allowing special dispensation for Heroes and Defence Forces days celebrations.

Heroes' celebrations have come and gone. Bottles of champagne were popped and ululations and songs of praise were sung, all in the name of honouring and remembering those who fought and those who died for the liberation of Zimbabwe. Ironically for the former freedom fighters it was not only a time of celebration but also a time of reflection . . . Reflection in the spectrum of whether the former freedom fighters have lived to the expectations of our fellow fallen comrades who died for the independence of this country. These expectations should be guided by the goals of the liberation struggle. For the surviving members these reflections are premised on our contributions towards the peaceful and sustainable development of our motherland.

After the fanfare of the Heroes and Defence Force days, it is now time to reflect on the activities of our two important calendar days. While the two days are for all Zimbabweans irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation and persuasion and, however, special to the liberation freedom fighters, to some extent, we believe more can be done to improve teh days. These two days are very special to all those who genuinely participated in the liberation war as much as they are to the former freedom fighters! The two days are special because the celebrations should give them the opportunity to interact with the masses who gave them their unconditional support during the liberation struggle. More so, the two days are special because they are the channel to pass to the youth the spirit of patriotism, to pass to the next generations the pride of self-sacrifice, to help those relatives of the fallen heroes memorialise on the comrades who did not survive during the war and to close the chapter of mourning.

An irking point to ponder on is: how can the former freedom fighters connect and do these essential things if they are not made the stakeholders? Are they not the real stakeholders who bore the brunt of the struggle characterised by instant death sentences? On these two special days the former freedom fighters should be basking in glory, reminiscing on their sterling sacrifices! These are the days former freedom fighters should be holding their heads high, walking tall because they are the victors. They should feel proud to parade themselves for the whole nation to acknowledge. They should be the centre of attraction to Zimbabwe and the world and the region to remember the times of struggle through these celebrations. As a matter of fact, our generation is that of the Heroes of the Liberation Struggle. Yes, of course, there will be other heroes in other persuasions, and maybe creativity and innovations. But when we consider the liberation struggle we are the HEROES!! Due credit must be bestowed where it is deserved. This is the moment of reckoning.

We are however, of the opinion that the former freedom fighters must be the most visible players during the Heroes' Day celebrations. It cannot be justified as correct that the Heroes' celebrations are a dutiful event when the very heroes are alive but made to be on the back benches. What is presenting currently is that heroes' celebrations are presided over and organised by a select committee chaired by the Minister of Provincial Affairs at provincial level. This committee is composed of mainly civil servants without the participation of the very element that is being celebrated: that of the surviving and living legends of the liberations struggle. The committee is mandated to draw a programme to be followed at the Heroes Acres. That programme at the Heroes Acres is preamble by the Minister of Provincial Affairs, whose only duty is to read the Presidential speech and lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Meanwhile, on the podium the minister sits at the top table with representatives of State service branches. We believe it is upright and appropriate that the minister sits with those who commanded forces during our war of liberation. It makes a lot of sense because these are the people who know what took place and can be very interactive with the masses. Indeed this makes revolutionary sense. Some of them do not have an iota of what the war was like hence cannot be revolutionary interactive. Among them are some who never participated in the struggle because they were either in the ranks of the enemy or were not yet mature to remember anything about the war of liberation or were deserters. Unfortunately the arrangement is like "Who is who in government circles" than "who was who during the armed struggle." This is a confusing picture to the young generations. Our youths are completely bewildered.

Incidentally, a public address system manned by members of either Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) or the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) would help the public follow the proceedings. It would indeed make a lot of common sense to integrate them with some of the former commanders or fighters of the liberation war as part of the announcers and for interactivity. These former freedom fighters would be able to connect the celebrating crowds with the former fighters in the memorialisation. Through the public address, they would revive their wartime interactions with the masses, as it had happened during the days of the liberation struggle and in combat circumstances. Actually this would turn the mood of celebrations into a people's event.

On both the Heroes Day and Defence Force Day celebrations, the usual picture is that there is a tent erected for VIPs who sit with the Minister of Provincial Affairs and some political dignitaries, minus the surviving commanders of the liberation war. The former commanders are not invited to this exclusive group. They have been relegated to oblivion. They are made anonymous regardless of the role they performed in the war of liberation. The former commanders and their troops are not recognised. There is no special consideration even for the masses who among them are relatives of those who perished in the liberation war. For most of surviving members, many were not considered for heroic awards. They have no token to attach them to the struggle. They did not receive any medals for heroic sacrifice or bravery. They hold virtually nothing to show that they fought for our independence.

They are not invited as guests in government sponsored luncheons of the day celebrations. It is a clear snub. The whole celebration is about them without them!

The only other section of society which has in the past been considered is that of the widows of those few of our late comrades who were declared national heroes. Mothers of these national heroes are the ones who sacrificed their sons and daughters. Conspicuously, a tent for the serving uniformed forces and other non-former fighters is erected. Here in this tent surviving members are not welcome to freely mix with others.

According to the programme of events on the celebration day, the Minister of Provincial affairs tours the grave yard and mingles with the families attending to their relatives' graves. He/She is accompanied by those Government representatives who sit in the VIP tent, the bulk of which were not participants during the liberation struggle. What we have realised is that the families and especially the children of the fallen heroes want to be facilitated in the memorialisation and to go down the memory-lane of their deceased parent. In that demanding context, some of these so called leaders are found wanting or non-co-operative because they were not there in the struggle or were with enemy forces, hence they lack detail to assist with during memorialisation.

So is the confusion. Occupants of the so called top table are in most cases unable to assist and unable to provide with the deceased personal details or pre-mortem data. There is no way a tail can shake the dog! It therefore behooves the genuine commanders of the liberation war to feature prominently at the memorial celebrations on Heroes Day.

One other notable activity of the programme is laying a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier symbolises and represents the numerous graves in the swath of Zimbabwean terrain and abroad. These are unaccounted for freedom fighters whose remains remain scattered in the former battle fields. At this symbolic grave, anyone with a relative who went to join the liberation struggle and did not return and remains unaccounted for, has a right to lay wreaths on. It should not be a monopoly of Government officials only. This is very frustrating indeed! In the past celebrations, as former commanders of the fallen heroes we asked for permission to lay wreaths at this tomb and were vehemently denied.

The reason we were given was that we were not Government employees. Honestly this defies logic. When we asked how come the leadership of the National War Veterans Association was permitted, the response was that the National War Veterans Association was part of Government. Horrendous indeed! When we forced our way and laid the wreath after the State programme, it was confiscated by the police (ZRP) details that were present. Then we wonder; how are we supposed to honour our fallen comrades on this day? What is our role on this occasion as the surviving commanders of the liberation forces other than being spectators? Denying us to lay wreaths on the symbolic tomb in the memory of the troops we led is totally unfair. As it stands the only war veterans permitted to lay flowers on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the leadership of the National War Veterans Association present. The correct position is that they do not represent war veterans but paid-up members of an association.

Let's just digress a little on the National War Veterans Association and the role of the former commanders of troops in the liberation war. The leadership of the National War Veterans Association is pre-occupied with tussling and squabbling for political space than defending the revolutionary legacy. If laying the wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier was to be delegated to the surviving commanders, there would be no factionalism that rears its ugly culture at these celebrations. The former commanders could account for those who are symbolised by the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

As you will know, the association is led by elected individuals who could have landed on the leadership positions corruptly, or by popularity rather than their contribution in and during the liberation struggle, whereas the former commanders rose to prominence and earned their ranks due to their commitment and dedication to the cause of the armed struggle. If there are people who should be displayed to the nation at our Heroes celebrations, it is the commanders of our armed struggle.

On the contrary, representation by former commanders eliminates the cancer of factionalism among the body politic of freedom fighters. This would halt the sprouting of despicable war veterans who lack ideological bearing. Genuine leaders of both ZPRA and Zanla forces were tempered by the course of the liberation struggle and no other can be invented. Freedom fighters should not be led by warlords.

As a parting activity, a luncheon is hosted by the Minister of Provincial Affairs for both the Heroes Day and Defence Forces Day celebrations.

Characteristically they are always attended by civil servants and politicians. Hardly any former freedom fighters are allowed near this event, yet this should be the day to commemorate their contributions to the liberation struggle and to memorialise on their participation, remembering the departed comrades. Conspicuously, freedom fighters are excluded at this gathering. It is like not inviting a person to his or her birthday party.

It is disheartening and harrowing to hear people sing praise of freedom fighters while relegating them to the backyard. This should not be happening in Zimbabwe, a country that endured a gruelling armed struggle. This county's citizens should be proud of their former freedom fighters; those that died and the surviving others who live to tell the correct history not the reconstructed narrative created on the cultural turn. Living legends must be resolute and should be seen to defend the legacy of the liberation struggle by giving lectures, talks in schools, institutions of higher learning and in military establishments as an embodiment of history. By this action, the flames of patriotism will be kept burning alive!

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