HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsTime to break out of national hero straitjacket

Time to break out of national hero straitjacket

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Just a week after the Sadc Summit in Windhoek at which Zimbabwe’s political leaders agreed, among other issues, to open discussions on who deserves national hero status in this country, their sincerity was put to the test with the passing-on MDC-M vice-president Gibson Sibanda on Tuesday.
The tragedy gave Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara an opportunity to confront President Robert Mugabe on this critical issue, by trying to convince the ageing leader that Sibanda’s service to the country warranted him to be declared a national hero. They were disappointed because President Mugabe said Sibanda would only get a state-assisted funeral.
President Mugabe has not given any reason for the decision for not according Sibanda national hero status but the silence is a loud thumbs-down to the political standing of the veteran trade unionist. He does not fit into the realm of Mugabe’s aristocratic club of fawning nationalists who deify their “Great Leader”. Club members, no matter how trivial their contribution to the liberation struggle is, can always get their CVs upgraded at death so that they are elevated to fearless fighters or respected supporters from whose plates and pots liberation fighters ate their meals during the war.
This club does not include political opponents, critics and perceived agents of neo-colonialism. This is clear to many, especially those who were in the trenches with the president but fell foul along the way. So the rejection by Mugabe of Mutambara and Tsvangirai’s calls was expected and this is a position that is not likely to change soon. Opening up the Heroes’ Acre is perceived to be an infiltration of this venerated club.
What is disappointing about the Sibanda issue this week was the veiled attempt by the MDC formations and eulogisers to use the veteran trade unionist’s CV to justify his inclusion into the Heroes’ Acre club.
We were told of Sibanda’s illustrious career as a trade unionist, his detention at Wha Wha Prison and that he assisted in the liberation war effort by smuggling weapons to Zambia.
It is a fact that many with much lesser credentials have been interred at the National Heroes’ Acre and that Sibanda deserved better. But this is the sort of straitjacket that we have to free ourselves from. There is more to a national hero than liberation war scars and memories.
To his supporters, Sibanda deserved national hero status because of his contribution to the fight for democracy, his confronting of Zanu PF hegemony, his love for peace and selfless service to his country.
These are critical attributes that make a modern hero and issues which the nation should start to debate openly, if we are to break the current myth that only Zanu PF sympathisers or those with similar characteristics and backgrounds are national heroes.

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