Latest News Editor's Choice

Opinion / Columnist

Heroes day: Another reminiscent episode of ZANU-PF triumphalism

13 Aug 2015 at 09:48hrs | Views

As we venerate our heroes and defence forces we need to sharpen our analytical mind functions regarding the contested political landscape of our motherland. We need to flashback to 1999, which marked the rise of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It's a public truth that since then the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) suffered severe existential insecurity, hence its paranoid regime change clamouring since then. Thanks to its belonging to the past that gave life to our present nationhood. As a result, ZANU-PF has not only used the past to gain political expedience, but it has exploited it to express its historic earned triumphalism. Through its partisan framed national memory lane it has created a protagonist image of President Mugabe and his loyalists (liberation heroes) who  part of the hyped nationalist moments of yesterday we celebrate today.  Therefore, the purpose of this review of Zimbabwe's recent political climate is to assess how such commemorations highlight the propagandised attachment of ZANU-PF to the past. There is further elaboration on how ZANU-PF uses the past to confront the emerging political constraints for its support construction and opponent demonisation. I also attempt to unpack how the opposition has failed to sustain its legacy since its early founding days. Moreover, reflecting on why ZANU-PF has out-shinned its opposition comrades as far as ideological consistence and institutional loyalty is concerned basing on its historical propaganda using holidays of this kind. ZANU-PF and MDC represent two nationalist models namely; Chimurenga-nationalism which is ZANU-PF inclined and neo-nationalism which speaks of the forces of change and continuity while offering an alternative narrative to the ZANU-PF patronized Chimurenga-nationalism. However, the latter is a failed model of nationalism as a result of handicapped culture of opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

Roots of Zimbabwe's nationalism
The present state of African Nationalism is loaded with controversies unique from one country to another. Be it in Ghana, Nigeria, South-Africa, Tanzania and here at home it can be understood if its emergence, sequences and behaviour is independently assessed. What is of uniformity with course of nationalism is its profound premise of mass enlightenment of the indigenes on the evils of the colonial condition. The second character of nationalism is its role of constructing self-consciousness of the indigenes as means of eradicating the prejudices of the colony. Nationalist awakening forged identities and proffered an imagined identity uniformity which made Africans strive to debunk institutionalised socio-political and economic oppression.  This self-realisation became the decolonisation social contract. From there symbols of "being" against the establishment "other" were drawn. Then the blooded liberation wars all over Africa buttressed that sense of awakening. With these armed confrontations, total rehumanisation of the native populace in the face of colonial denigration was to be achieved. As a result, Ghana's independence in 1957 offered a warning to the rest of the colonial regimes especially Ian Smith's Rhodesia that ‘the end was near'. The final and last stage of African nationalism was the fall of the erstwhile regimes replaced by new "Black" governments.

 In our Zimbabwean case nationalism can be understood from that scope as well. The liberation war outcome made ZANU-PF to assume control of the new nation. The ascendance of ZANU-PF to power still remains a contested matter as the party was fingered for being aligned to Western dictates during the Lancaster negotiations. The fruition of the party's loyalty to the West became its source of power and thus vesting it with the mandate of building the "nation" and inviting its insubordinates to be part of the "new nation." ZANU-PF's state power capturing phase marked the customisation of the entire nationalist narrative in Zimbabwe. Thus the attainment of independence and its heroic figures were appropriated by this political party. From that background, ZANU-PF became the broader picture of the pre-independence nationalist moment.

The Chimurenga-nationalism and the emergence of Mugabeism as Nationalism
Apart from its "real" members ZANU-PF has appropriated Shona icons of the country's early mass nationalism namely Sekuru Kaguvi, Mapondera, Chaminuka and Nyakasikana Nehanda to name a few. This has given authenticity and perhaps some kind of logic and coherence to the Shona liberation perspective, the "Chimurenga." To its critics, the Chimurenga has offered a Shona linearisation of the armed liberations war fronts fought to give birth to Zimbabwe. In what is known as the "Second-Chimurenga" which forms the premise of this article as the final ‘nationalist moment' saw a divided African confrontation with the colonial regime. This was largely influenced by selfish interests of nationalist leaders namely Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa. While it is true that they had taken it upon themselves to liberate the country from colonial captivity, it is also true that they also eyed personal interests in the scheme of national awakening. When Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF assumed power his political victory transformed nationalism to a party-centred and personal phenomenon. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2011) supports this claim as he views "Mugabeism as Nationalism." All the symbols of the nation including its heroes helped to frame and facilitate ZANU-PF hegemony. Those who were loyal to Mugabe in the liberation struggle and after independence assumed the status of being ‘national heroes'. This explains why the contribution independence icons like Ndabaningi Sithole, Edgar Tekere, and Margret Dongo was invalidated when they started to interrogate "Mugabeism as Nationalism" soon after independence. Maybe this is one reason why Joshua Nkomo signed the problematised Unity Accord of 1987. Is it because he knew that if he failed to make peace with Mugabeism as Nationalism after Gukurahundi he was not going to be a ‘hero' as part of his rightful credit for his immense contribution to the growth of our nationalism?

 However, with or without making peace with "Mugabeism as Nationalism" Nkomo's legacy is celebrated by everyone who knows the real history of this nation. Likewise, Nkomo might have been part the country's first "Government of National Unity" since independence to clean the record for all his loyalists dubbed the ‘dissidents'. Possibly this was the only way he could make them sanctified heroes of the new nation. This moves offers a striking element of Nkomo's humility which further justifies his iconic attribute as far as Chimurenga-nationalism is concerned.
In his biography, Nkomo is clear on his position about ZANU-PF's hegemony and its existence through brutish means to maintain a firm grip to power. From the life of Joshua Nkomo we see, a man opposed to a system which he becomes part of in order to achieve a common good for the public and his counterparts (members of ZAPU incorporated into ZANU-PF). Nkomo signed the Unity Accord to show the degree of commitment to serve the public and his liberation allies regardless of the self-degradation brought by the Unity Accord. The same treaty compromised his rightful ascendance to power since he was the founding father of Chimurenga-nationalism. In these trying moments he proved not to be a power-glutton, as he preferred building a lasting memory to his contribution to this nation by giving last priority to his own interests alone.  At that point of his encounter with the pitfalls of nationalism (from being a master of nationalism where the rest were his apprentices) Nkomo remained ideologically consistent. He is not only a template of true nationalism, but a pedagogy challenging personalised nationalism in a way that champions public interest over personal aggrandisement.

The opposition and the lost plot
As we celebrate the "Heroes and Defence forces" we need to evaluate the contemporary phase of our nationalist path from Nkomo's character. At the same time, understand the role of these commemorations as moments of appreciating our forged nationhood. By so doing we will be able to understand that all imaginations of nationhood have their own figures and in this case we should also embrace these commemorations as help in appreciating the contribution of certain individuals in facilitating our independence. However, to a greater extent we also need to embrace that such national rituals also celebrate certain forms of partisan interests and reflect the ideological consistence of those political organisations. Therefore, in this case these celebrations serve as an annual reminder of ZANU-PF's triumphalism. At the same time the heroes and defence forces holiday offer a comparative analysis of a timeless culture of loyalty in ZANU-PF unlike in the opposition politics which never lived to see its own adulthood. Of course we may talk of the recent factional outbursts experienced by the party, but we need to consider that such chaos became more visible decades after independence and since time immemorial we have continued to help ZANU-PF to celebrate this kind of triumphalism. This will go on until we have sound opposition politics in Zimbabwe.  

This fate is courtesy of our handicapped opposition politics mainly from the MDC. Since 2008 it has failed to offer a lasting remembrance of its ability to challenge ZANU-PF in the early millennium. At first, MDC gave hope for total regime change as a post-independence opposition as it was viewed as the first vibrant alternative for the tired nationalist path which had been converted to a tool for Mugabe's hegemonic project. Later, its deficient ideological lodgment revision created its doom as it continued to stick to activism compared to real-politics of state control. MDC was not in touch with the Chimurenga political-culture which had been revived to create a partisan national consciousness through the past and its icons branded as party apologists (though ZANU-PF has no absolute claim of some iconic national figures). MDC went through several trials and failed to imitate the culture of loyalty from its ZANU-PF compatriots. Had the MDC copied both the genuine and rehearsed styles of partisan loyalty existing in ZANU-PF the final push for regime change in 2008 would have not been impossible. There was going to be no need for the Government of National Unity that further cemented "Mugabeism as Nation." As result, until this day we are celebrating yet another triumph of ZANU-PF we embrace as heroes and defence forces holiday.
Today we would not only be celebrating the heroic figures of the nationalist moment only, we would also be celebrating neo-nationalism. We would be formally celebrating both the living and the departed heroes who fought for regime change as well following the rise of Mugabeism as nationalism. However, the tragedy of our opposition parties was their benefit from the Zimbabwean crisis which diverted their interest from solving the crisis itself which had become the reason of the MDC's rise. The political instability of the country boosted the coffers of the opposition party as it acquired foreign aid intended for what appeared as rescuing Zimbabweans from Mugabe's ruthless regime. Ironically, the received funds were diverted from their intended use to boost the luxuries of the party and its leaders. Just like ZANU-PF which introduced distribution policies like the land reform programme for political patronage so was MDC's mishandling of foreign regime change donations to buy legitimacy through extravagance of the party's top brass and their civic society allies.

Instead of creating a lasting legacy out of those donations, they prioritised self-interest. That alone is the tragedy of our opposition compared to the men and women we celebrate as heroes of yesterday whose efforts are a walking testimony our nationhood today regardless of its pitfalls of course. These donations became the reason for the scramble for power in MDC, hence an explanation of the "open factionalism" suffered by the opposition as it did not achieve its real goal of displacing ZANU-PF triumphalism through Mugabeism as nationalism. Tsvangirai's successors namely Welshman Ncube, Arthur Mutambara and later Tendai Biti factions substantiate the party lack of loyalty to its cause. Now out of Zimbabwe's political equation, the MDC has nothing to hold for future generations to see that there once lived a political party that challenged "Mugabeism as Nationalism" and as we remember our heroes many of whom have been appropriated by ZANU-PF we need to remember those who have failed the masses of this land namely MDC.

Today as we both celebrate the merits of ZANU-PF nationalism because political realism has left us with no option we need to remember how opposition leaders in Zimbabwe exchanged the golden edge of neo-nationalism for personal interests. Had they all followed the attributes of Nkomo today we would be celebrating the triumph of a public driven alternative to the Chimurenga-nationalism personalised by ZANU-PF for its political mileage. As a result of the failed alternative to nationalism the institutionalised immiseration of the povo will never end and for that opposition politics is to blame. Today we meet at the same cross-roads, but forced into some kind of "one-way." This year's heroes and defence forces celebrations another reminiscent episode of ZANU-PF triumphalism and the tragic reflection of opposition politics in Zimbabwe.

Gore rino tichatidzidza zvakawanda!

Richard Mahomva is an independent academic researcher, Founder of Leaders for Africa Network-LAN. Convener of the Back to Pan-Africanism Conference and the Reading Pan-Africa Symposium (REPS) and can be contacted on

Source - Richard Runyararo Mahomva
All articles and letters published on Bulawayo24 have been independently written by members of Bulawayo24's community. The views of users published on Bulawayo24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bulawayo24. Bulawayo24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.
More on: #Heroes_day