The passing-on of Honourable Senator Gibson Sibanda was indeed a sad occurrence for the country, not least because of his role in the formation of the strongest opposition to grace post-independent Zimbabwe — the MDC — but also because of his commitment to the principle of a people-centred and democratic Zimbabwe.
His differences with the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the main MDC have been debated elsewhere but suffice it to say, Honourable Sibanda was an outstanding national leader of his generation.
It is, however, unfortunate that his colleagues in the struggle and in his party have seen his death as an opportunity to challenge national hero status as pre-determined by Zanu PF.
This is sad because it is my firm conviction that Honourable Sibanda was a hero well before he died. And that he was not a hero by the narrow definition of Zanu PF’s central committee.
That his colleagues wrote a letter to President Robert Mugabe seeking to have him interred at the National Heroes’ Acre baffles the mind.
This is because that particular resting place — supposed to be for most of the leaders of the liberation struggle — has been appropriated by the Zanu PF cultural and political hegemonic project.
To be clearer, the Heroes’ Acre is an institution that serves the political and power narratives of Zanu PF and not the nation.
To have sought Honourable Sibanda’s interment there is the equivalent of asking him to join Zanu PF posthumously, a proposal that I am sure he would have politely but politically declined, were he alive.
And one can be certain that he would not have liked President Mugabe giving a customary vitriolic eulogy at that particular acre.
So the truth of the matter is that the MDCs erred in seeking to have Honourable Sibanda conferred national hero status by President Mugabe.
They may be correct to seek a redefinition of a national hero at law, but to use Sibanda’s passing-on as political instrument is to miss the point of proferring an alternative understanding of hero and heroine status in the country. And the points missed are many.
The first one being that a national hero does not have to be a political party hero.
Heroes and heroines in Zimbabwe span the broad spectrum of our society with or without the politics.
For the two MDCs in the inclusive government to seek the right to determine who is a hero is a perpetuation of the same partisan political mechanisms adopted by Zanu PF.
Secondly, a national hero does not have to be a hero by virtue of having passed on.
Heroes are heroes as they are alive, before they are heroes after their death.
Why the MDC formations do not have a framework to confer hero status on the living defeats me.
When Julius Nyerere was alive, he was a hero, inasmuch as he was a hero after his death.
Indeed heroes err while alive but it does not take away their particular service to their country at specific periods in history.
Where they are accused of crimes post their heroic life phases, it is for the people to decide and not, as is current, partisan political interests.
A third point is that heroes can be buried with dignity anywhere their surviving kith and kin wish.
Or even where, if they have a will, they individually insist they wish to be buried.
To seek to inter every person considered a national hero on common ground borders on abuse of the legacy of the assumed hero.
Even if one were to be buried in one’s rural home, the legacy that should live on is not the location of the grave, but that of the good work done for country.
A fourth and final point is that hero/heroine status is already legislated for through state awards of merit.
Examples include the Order of the Mapungubwe and the Order of the Munhumutapa among others.
Some may argue that these are normally accorded military personnel, which is fair enough.
The point, however, would be to ensure that these state service awards include civilians, and that these civilians, circumstances permitting, receive these while alive.
So as it is, Gibson Sibanda was a hero to me.
Moreso he was a hero while he lived.
He loved and served his country to the fullest of his capabilities.
Whether, after passing-on, he had been buried at Heroes’ Acre is neither here nor there to me. His legacy lives on regardless of where his remains are interred.
Zhangazha can be contacted on email@example.com