INTERROGATING THE MEANING OF HEROES DAY

Between 1940 and 1945, Winston Churchill was the most popular Prime Minister ever. After the second World War in 1945, his approval rating was 83%. Many politicians and commentators were convinced that he would win the 1945 elections and continue as Prime Minister. He was a hero who had mobilised countries and resources to defeat Hitler.

What materialised is that he led the conservatives to their worst defeat ever. He was blamed for the defeat on the grounds that the very qualities that made him a great war leader were not suited to domestic politics in peacetime. After the herculean task of winning a World War, he became redundant.

Imagine if Churchill had refused to accept the results on account of his achievements in the second World War? Imagine if he had conjured up some bizarre idea that he should be allowed to rebuild the country before another leader could replace him? Imagine if he had instructed the army to intervene and make the elections of no effect so that he could carry on as Prime Minister?

Judging by standards in failed countries, Churchill would have been justified in causing havoc on the basis that the people were not appreciative of his sacrifices in the World War. This is what separates functional democracies and failed states. The people who voted him out of power in 1945 after the World War victory, were grateful for his efforts. However, they felt he was not the right leader to take the country forward after the war.

Heroes Day

Almost every country in the world has a special day dedicated to honouring all those who sacrificed their lives while fighting in wars and conflicts. The freedoms enjoyed by many countries today came at a price. A blood price.

Today, Zimbabwe is remembering its heroes who fought in the liberation war against colonisation. The fighters who survived this war, tell us every day about how they suffered in pursuit of our freedoms. Some spent more than a decade in prison. Some were tortured badly. Some were hanged. Many fighters who could have contributed positively to a free Zimbabwe paid the ultimate price. It’s right that they should be remembered and honoured.

Fighting Oppression

Josiah Tongogara, one of the heroes who died during the liberation war said, “the fight was to remove the oppressive system so that everyone could enjoy the new Zimbabwe.” Unfortunately, the opposite is true. 42 years after independence, people don’t feel liberated. The new government meant to be for the people continued with the oppression of its people.

There is a class system in Zimbabwe in which those who claim to have fought for the country are at the top while majority are in the lower class. The ruling class monopolised all the resources and opportunities in the country while majority of people struggled to make ends meet. This ruling class has more rights than most people.

There are Zimbabweans who are questioning whether the sacrifices made by those who fought in the war have done them any good at all. This may seem like an offensive inquiry, but Zimbabweans are referencing the state of the country after 42 years while considering reasons submitted for fighting colonisation.   

What Does Heroes Day Mean To You?

Zimbabweans were asked to respond to the above question and none of the responses were positive. One submitted that “Majority of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty while millions left the country in search of better opportunities. So, when there is a call to celebrate Heroes and Independence Day, what exactly are we celebrating?” The same person went further and said “if you live in Zim with no access to clean fresh water every day, no decent wage/income, no access to a well equipped public health facility, or you left Zim in search of better opportunities, just park for now celebrating anything associated with liberation struggle.”

A reference point was made about heroes in other countries and how they fought for something tangible while Zimbabweans find the benefits of freedom elusive. Another added that “if the fighters who died during the war were to come back, they would be hugely disappointed that their sacrifices are only benefiting just a handful of thieves”

Romeo Romulus was of the view that “independence connotes absence of rule of law, systemic corruption, dysfunctional governance, and infrastructure.” There are no fruits of a free country he added. 

Bruce Dormice submitted that Heroes Day means nothing to him. He said “I feel angry on behalf of those who made ultimate sacrifices, The Chinhoyi 7, Tongogara, Chitepo. He went further and said, many who fought and are alive today have lost the ethos of liberation war. He added greed and looting is the order of the day and the liberation war has been personalised in a bad way.”

Most people highlighted that Heroes Day used to mean something but not anymore. They see it as another day they don’t have to go to work. Proud-africa weighed in and said “our heroes must be turning in their graves, their hard-earned efforts to liberate the country have turned into a murdering and looting spree by monsters in Zanu PF. There is a general feeling that the country must be liberated from its own liberators.

One man, one vote

The first President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe said repeatedly that he went to war for “one man one vote.” If one man, one vote was real in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai would have been president in 2002, 2008 and 2013 but the ruling party would not let power transfer peacefully.

The humiliation and utter powerlessness of the people to choose a governing party or president of their choice must be the worst betrayal of the ethos of liberation war. The leaders who fought the Rhodesian government for their dignity are now refusing to extend the same dignity to their own people. The country is effectively governed like someone’s private property.

When people demonstrate or highlight how difficult life is, those in authority respond by deploying the police or army as if the people are trespassing. There is a disconnection between the people and the leaders, and it is pushing the country backwards. When leaders refuse to observe straight forward principles like fair play and rising on merit, they choke the country from making the essential progress it needs. Refusing people their rights is not only detrimental to them, but it affects the country in lost investments and opportunities.

Betrayal of the Liberation War Legacy

The two worst events that our heroes gave the country were the Gukurahundi genocide and the 2017 coup which kicked the former President Robert Mugabe out of power.

The Gukurahundi genocide massacred more than 20 000 people and no one has been held accountable for it. The idea that the government could deploy the army on its people a few years after independence is unacceptable in all the circumstances. This was an early warning that the leadership was operating contrary to the interest of the people. This event makes it impossible for people who lost loved ones to celebrate Heroes Day. No leader has uttered a word about it or how it should be addressed.

Another event that shook the world and potentially brought more problems for the country is the coup that was carried out by the army in 2017. In this coup, President Mugabe was forcefully removed from power which brought in the current President Emerson Mnangagwa. In response to his critics, President Mnangagwa once said, “we are the prisons, we are the judiciary, we are the army, we are the armed forces and no one can do anything to us.” This statement shows that his faith in governing is not in his leadership skills but in using force to govern. Again, this is contrary to the reasons given by Tongogara on why they went to war.

All the sons and daughters who died for Zimbabwe would be horrified by the lack of discipline in government. Leaders who should know better and lead by example behave in the most reckless and irresponsible way. The late Vice President Joshua Nkomo once said “what Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love, respect, justice, equality, not the opposite and one of the worst evils we see today is corruption. The country bleeds today because of corruption.”

Conclusion

Heroes Day is a very important day, but it has been rendered meaningless by leaders who lead contrary to values expected of leaders running a country. Not all leaders who fought in the liberation war have the credentials to lead in domestic politics. As Churchill found out at his expense that his war time leadership qualities were not suited to domestic politics.

Zimbabwe needs a new political system so that common sense can prevail in government. Liberation war politics cannot address matters that require different expertise and technical skills. The world is constantly changing that holding on to one strategy on modern challenges is a futile exercise. There should be room to accommodate fresh blood and new ideas. That is the way of the world. Holding on to a system that manifest as an obstacle to political and economic transformation shows leaders are out of touch with modern realities.

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