Saturday, March 5, 2011

The symbolism of death and the case for Matebele renewal

by Dr Brilliant Sigabade Mhlanga

NOW is the time for us to reflect on the future by picking some anecdotal occurrences of 2010.
More importantly, for the region of Matebeleland, they came riding on the shoulders of death as seen through the passing-on of some of the illustrious founding fathers of our liberation struggle; Akim Ndlovu, Chief Khayisa Ndiweni and Welshman Mabhena.
I was spurred into writing this piece by a scribe who sent some very critical questions about the future of Matebeleland. Finding his questions very important, naturally, I found myself reflecting.
It is also my view that the time for deep-seated soul searching for the people of Matebeleland is now, especially with the rise of anti-nationalist irredentist calls for a separate state.
Organisations that are calling for this arrangement include uMhlahlo weSizwe SikaMthwakazi, which is operating within the Zimbabwean borders and had the likes of Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, Welshman Mabhena and Akim Ndlovu as its members.
Then there is Mthwakazi People’s Convention (MPC), mainly active in the diaspora, especially in South Africa and the West, of course, now enjoying a sizable constituency within Matebeleland.
Irredentist calls
The most recent one is Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF). Its entry into Matebeleland was quite dramatic and even characterised by the launch of a party at Stanley Hall, accompanied by radical speeches.
Furthermore, as they unrolled their political programmes they made it clear that theirs is a call for a return to the source; what they called the ‘pre-1923 arrangement’, thus automatically qualifying for an irredentist engagement.
However, for the short sighted it is much easier to dismiss these calls as mere dreams by those with a penchant for hallucination or by characters with fatalistic ideals. But the reality is that there is something that nudges them to act and behave that way.
It may be necessary for the progressives to reflect on these factors. After all, there is one thing that clearly unites these organisations – the call for a separate Mthwakazi state.
Some may want to debate the whole constitution of uMthwakazi, but let me say, now is not the time for that. I suppose they too have their own programmes. But the most important thing is to acknowledge the calls that are getting closer and closer home.


This moment of reflecting comes at a critical juncture of living in the end of times for our waning nationalism.
As we do so, we should acknowledge how nationalists fumbled on the way by operating within a limited spatial focus of the nation.
To them nationalism and the process of nation building, with all its trappings; including the vexatious questions of juridical statehood and sovereignty were the main agenda.
Ethnic diversity
Its major weakness, therefore, was the continued masking of ethnic diversity as seen through their single-minded quest for nationhood.
Furthermore, they recklessly sought to construct a national identity out of a plurality of competing ethnic groups – with the naïve mantra, ‘...for the nation to live the tribe must die...’
Never did they ever envisage a moment of resurrection for the tribe; instead they were quick to label it retrogressive but would hastily embrace it when it matters. This has continued to be Africa’s bane!
To them (nationalists), these identities were seen as discordant with their ethos. As a result, imagining plurality of ethnicities became taboo. This resulted in the construction of irrelevant rigid and centralized social structures, which stifled ethnic communities and thus spurred them into further entrenching their belonging.
In Zimbabwe, this manifested itself through the gukurahundi genocide as an attempt to annihilate and bury what was considered to be the ‘tribe’ – thus a tribal problem, not a national one.
Further, as we have seen, it created the fiction of a wise nationalist leadership presumed to be infallible and believed to be unquestionably supported by patriotic masses as we have often seen in Zimbabwe.
As a result everyone else, including the Pan-Africans who initially lit the fires of African nationalism, became enemies of the nation and, by that very fact, enemies of the people and of the revolution of nation building.
Under the guise of nationalism and the perceived fear of ill-defined external enemies, as seen in the case of Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF lately, everyone, including themselves is now an enemy of the state.
Nationalists have continued to encourage one-man-rule as a form of patronage, protected by an over centralized and unresponsive one party arrangement, masquerading as a democracy; typically led by a dominant personality who, while relying on a professionally incompetent yet suicidal and sycophantic bureaucracy which feeds on political patronage also continues to claim to possess all wisdom.
After all, it is now clear that when a fish starts to rot it usually begins with the head. It is on this note that I have chosen to peg my piece and challenge for a quick and robust engagement seeing that we now live in the end of times.
Furthermore, for the people of Matebeleland, past occurrences (the passing-on of revolutionary leaders mentioned earlier), especially those that took place in 2010 served to point to us the fact of our mortality as human beings and that we are made of flesh, after all we will all die - a fact which seems to have long eluded most people in ZANU PF.
Their death also left us with the stuck reality of the need to leave a legacy as we pass-on. Besides, graveside speeches also bordered on separatist talk which clearly is in tandem with calls by most organisations mentioned above. This is a reality we have always known, although death serves as a reminder from time to time that we should prepare to leave footprints of legends as a legacy for posterity.
Also, the fact of our humanity was made abundantly clear and confirmed by the passing-on of Matebeleland's gallant sons - Akim Ndlovu, Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, Gibson Sibanda, Welshman Mabhena & Qhubekani Dube.
Above all, the fact that death has a uniting force was made abundantly clear, especially during Qhubekani Dube’s burial with speaker after speaker literally reading from the same hymn book. A coalescence of ethos emerged. It even presented the spectacles with which people now have chosen to understand their situation.
It is on that note that I argue that people from Matebeleland have to accept 2010 as a very special year in which something quite anecdotal occurred, in particular, their losses and emergent coalescence of ideals. It should provide basis for reflection, as will be further outlined below.
Allow me to add that following lessons learnt from these occurrences, the people of Matebeleland must, therefore, embrace 2011 as a very important year.
First, it is a year which they enter with a wish not to have events of 2010 repeated or happening again, given the fact of death which they can not stop. And thus a time for reflecting and making very important decisions presents itself.
Second, it is the eleventh year, after the turn of the millennium, exactly, 50 years after the birth of ZAPU, 48 years after the birth of ZANU and 31 years after the attainment of independence, which independence was punctuated by more and more suffering and entrenched oppression and marginalisation of Matebeleland to the extent of the denial of its existence as seen through Nathaniel Manheru, including the negation of the 'gains of independence' and ultimately its repudiation. 2011, therefore, is a year of making very important decisions and taking stock of all that has happened.
2011 should be historical for both the oppressor and the oppressed, considering that the decisions made by the oppressed; their centrifugal tendencies, will definitely cause a ripple effect straight into the oppressor's space.
But for the oppressed it is a very important year, in which fundamental decisions have to be made in view of the dying nationalism and the fact of living on the verge of the end of times.
Decisions that are as difficult as understanding that the hardest road in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn have to be made.
Women and Men of great virtue and honour; so ennobled with selflessness are required to celebrate the very fact that ' takes a noble man/woman to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people s/he may never meet. That is how important the year 2011 is to the people of Matebeleland.
It should also be a year of generational renewal. It stands as a year of re-aligning of ethos and political engagement; especially with the young generation clearly taking a stand in politics and political positions while at the same time aligning with those of the generation of liberators and freedom fighters.
Its significance to us should be quite eschatological, in all respects.
And so, 2011 must be a year of critically unpacking and understanding liberation and freedom, in particular, the fact that the two do not mean, and never meant one and the same thing.
In essence the notion of independence has to be thoroughly engaged for us to know where we are heading. It will, as stated above, allow us to make very fundamental decisions based on the dictum that says, ‘...if you know that from whence you come, you are due to live in change…’
The anecdotal occurrences of 2010 (esp. the passing-on of our gallant sons), as stated earlier presented to us through the prism of death must not scare us to ramble on the need to attempt to understand death without appreciating its anecdotal instance.
Fateful challenge
For instance, despite the loss of our loved ones, they also provided us with an opportunity to begin to ask whether we do need to have our heroes interred at the Heroes Acre in Harare (esp. the death of Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, Akim Ndlovu, Gibson Sibanda & Welshman Mabhena)?
Second, it was a fateful challenge for us to imagine whether we do not have our own National Shrine? The answer to that one is clear. We do have our own national shrine which is Entumbane where King Mzilikazi, and all his descendants lie.
Afterall, that is where Cecil John Rhodes and Leander Star Jameson are buried. What we have lacked so far is a leadership that should have clearly articulated this need to change from a mindset that celebrates the centre at the expense of other regions.
As a people we are challenged to engage in the process of soul searching in order to understand who we are, where we are headed and what we may bequeath to our children in the event we do not act decisively.
For it is now known that the silences of people of today tend to be the problems for posterity.
Third, taken further to implying the total marginalisation of the region, through the death of our heroes, we could glean how issues of heroes as symbolism tally with the problems of resource distribution, which resources are often siphoned to develop other regions.
Also we can understand how it has caused a bad birthmark on the course of national belonging in terms of memory creation and celebration of people-hood which continues to be centralised in Harare, notwithstanding the fact that our people do not wish for that trend to continue and, of course, for our natural resources to continue being exploited.
Naturally, this would show the mindset and perspectives held by those who oppress us, when it comes to resource distribution and development of the region.
Allow me to further, unpack these situations/occurrences as they happened in succession through the death of our heroes, briefly though.
Following the death of Chief Khayisa Ndiweni, calls were heard from some quarters, in particular, Morgan Tsvangirai suggesting that he must be declared a National Hero and thus calling for him to be buried in Harare.
Of course, ZANU PF refused it. While to many it may have been understood as an insult, the stuck truth is that it was expected, let alone a 'good decision in disguise' not to have the traditional Chief buried in Harare.
It would appear for those clamouring for his burial in Harare, that he was an important symbol and what Chief Khayisa meant to the people of Matebeleland never crossed their minds; i.e., as our link with our memory, nation and its narration and a special cog that stands to remind us of who we are and were we are heading.
However, if at all they knew, then it serves to show how mischievous they have always been. Considering how Chief Khayisa Ndiweni's chieftaincy tied closely with the Ndebele Kindgom, that would have been worse than an insult. In fact, an abomination! It would have been as insulting and abominable as imagining King Mzilikazi's grave being desecrated and sullied with his remains being taken for burial in Harare.
From this it became clear that while the Morgan Tsvangirai group were calling for Chief Khayisa Ndiweni's remains to be buried in Harare and necessarily throwing a gauntlet at Mugabe, they were merely following an old ZANU PF script of choosing to deny the fact that the people of Matebeleland also have their history, memory of origin and sacred place; a National Heroes Acre at Entumbane.
Further, they naturally sought to use the case of Matebeleland for their own ends and to present to our people, at least the gullible ones with the impression of being aware of ZANU PF’s intransigence yet not realising that we are already aware of their double dipping.
Ndebele memory
It is this denial in favour of a recently constructed one in Harare with a view to destroy Ndebele memory, our narrative and, naturally, our sense of nationhood as a people that we should openly challenge.
This generally happens with all peoples of this world who are living in oppressive conditions. Even conditions for celebration are set by the oppressor, sons of the oppressor or at best those spoiling for more oppression under the guise of democracy and change.
Then came Gibson Sibanda's death and the subsequent calls for him to be declared a National Hero.
This time, even his colleagues, naturally, naively decided to call for his burial in Harare and even pleaded with the oppressor to recognise him as a humble slave, a thing which the oppressor ZANU PF, refused to accept.
And so, dutifully and rightfully denied him that 'oppressor conjured' hero status, thus preferring to leave him untainted by the evils of being buried side by side with thieves, murderers, those who maimed and raped his people over the years.
As a result, the denial to have Sibanda buried at Heroes Acre was not only befitting, but a loud proclamation that he was in fact, a Hero among his people - the downtrodden and thus deserving to be buried at the rightful place, Entumbane, our rightful National Shrine.
Again, this development gave the people of Matebeleland an opportunity to embark on a serious self-introspection, with a view to understand where they are going and which road to take now that they are at the cross-roads.
On the heels of Sibanda's death, came Welshman Mabhena's death.
Allow me to say, this one was most probably radically dramatised than all the other ones. In fact, through Mabhena's death and burial, his life was relived, and it epitomised the hopes and aspirations of the people of Matebeleland.
Narrating his wishes, actions (as the leader and one of the founders of uMhlahlo weSizwe sikaMthwakazi) and his words was like reading from the tablet of time on which the travails, trials and tribulations of the people of Matebeleland remain engraved.
Even more interesting was the fact that the Mabhena family actually did not even approach ZANU PF to request for him to be accorded the Hero Status. His status as a hero made it so. As a result ZANU PF approached them.
This was followed by an emphatic refusal to accept that his burial be in Harare, especially, the insult and symbolism of it. It set a lot of tongues wagging and a precedent.
Naturally, it made a lot of people to imagine what would befall the Mabhena family while on the one hand celebrating the heroic stunt of telling ZANU PF off.
But one thing remains clear; that on the pages of history no one will ever erase the script written by Welshman Mabhena, the one he wrote while walking and living among us, and the main one he wrote as a rite of passage to the abode of his departed ancestors by refusing to have his bones captured and interred in Harare.
I can assure you, if on arrival he was to be asked by our ancestors, what it is that he did for iSizwe sikaMthwakazi? Mabhena will have a story to tell. A story that will also accord him his righful slot among our true and genuine heroes. Mabhena rightfully deserved to be buried at Entumbane our true National Heroes Acre.
I must add that the same story should have been told about Akim Ndlovu, one of the Commanders of ZIPRA because it all started with him after-all; his death.
I recall how he emphasized to me in 2007 & 2008 that he does not wish to be buried at the Heroes Acre in Harare.
At one time, it was just after attending a meeting of uMhlahlo held at Amakhosi. It was one of those very animated discussions I often engage in with the elders, of course, the intention being to learn lessons for the future.
What mattered most was that on that day, I was setting grounds for filming him and have him narrate his story, in particular the untold story of his gallantry as a freedom fighter. He had agreed. Unfortunately, as in the case where fate and destiny usually tie a hard knot, that filming never took place. But I visited him at his house before leaving the country, and he showed me his feet that were then prone to swelling from time to time due to his failing health.
Special year
This remained a known fact even among all his comrades. Even those who decided against his will, knowing full well that he could not speak anymore, to have his body hurriedly carried to Harare to be sacrificed and added to the statistics of our heroes whose bones are already captured in Harare were not ashamed, especially, those leaders from Matebeleland.
While the oppressor celebrates this matter as another mark of victory, we will continue to mourn our loss and in silence reflect on possibilities for the future of renewal, especially, this symbolic loss until such a time when very important decisions are made. This explains why I stated earlier that 2011 will be a very special year.
But let me say, from all these we should be able to glean the direction of yearning for the people of Matebeleland. It is here that we should also continue to implore everyone to begin to understand that if it is true that Matebeleland is part of Zimbabwe, therefore, it is true that eNtumbane, for example, is part of our history and our National Heroes Acre. Not the one in Harare.
Further, it should serve to show that there is completely nothing national about Harare except the fact of it being the administrative city of the state. Other than that, people should be allowed to begin to imagine and celebrate their peoplehood without being coerced to do it with Harare in mind.
Put differently, those in Harare should celebrate and even bury their heroes in their own shrine while we do the same with ours. Of course, this should translate to making important decisions on regional development, formulation of policies, resource mobilisation, exploitation and distribution. We produce the highest grid of electricity and naturally we should be selling it to those in Harare and generating revenue for our development and for posterity.
Otherwise, the current actions clearly serve to show how much of a façade our nationalism is.
In the future it will also force the people of Matebeleland to begin to question the meaning of the name 'Zimbabwe', with a view to understanding whether it has any significance to them afterall, given that it is a Shona name. The day that will happen will mark the beginning of the end of times and history for that country. And that time is not far from now.
On that note and in view of these occurrences that came riding on the shoulders of death, and seen through the passing-on of our leaders, the time is now for everyone to start discussing proper ways of reconfiguring the state; through people's hopes, aspirations, memory (by acknowledging that the people of Matebeleland also do have their own Heroes and Heroes Acre), change of systems of governance as a way of harnessing local potential and resources.
The latter would naturally, include the discussion of an administrative issue like devolution of power and federal system of governance.
However, there is need for a fresh engagement of the subject of system of governance because, of late most people in Matebeleland, including those championing Devolution of power, tend to find themselves describing something completely tangential and yet claiming it is Devolution of power.
While it may happen, in some cases for devolution of power to lead to a federal project, these two are different, hence the need for our cadres to be alive to these realities.
Most probably, a conference on systems of governance and many other issues should have been organised by the people of Matebeleland.
It is also my belief that it is still not late for the people of Matebeleland to hold such a conference and probably to use it as a way of reflecting and presenting their case. In 2011, a conference for the people of Matebeleland organised in the form of an All Stakeholders' Conference will be very necessary.
Having said this, it may be prudent to acknowledge that Matebeleland badly needs a federal project.
However, if people wish to implement it in various stages, devolution might be the way for now, as a way of avoiding shocking the system by implementing a radical policy and facing post-traumatic subjects out of citizens.
This of course may be a challenge of living in the end of times. But it will have to be borne in mind that any delay in implementing a fully fledged federal project would, one day, cause people to call for total independence, arranged along irredentist lines and with South Sudan yet to provide very important lessons in the beginning of 2011.
This might mark the end of our lobotomised celebration of nationalism, first as tragedy, and as farce.
With voices of the disgruntled beginning to emerge at a distance, we are now living in the end of times. But the course for a radical renewal and rebirth of nationalism remains possible.

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