Zimbabwe was plunged into mourning following the death of an undisputable hero Retired General Solomon Mujuru.
He is among the few people whose heroes credentials are beyond questioning. Convening a meeting to debate his status was surely a mockery to his contribution to the struggle.
He is a hero whose name was once on everyone’s lips as the spirit of freedom permeated the country soon after independence.
I was young to make sense of what was happening, but I still recall the mujibas and comrades wearing their belly-bottomed trousers and high-heeled shoes dancing to Hona mukoma Nhongo bereka sub tiende chauya chauya.
Little did I know that with all the praise and epical odes at the time of independence, including the mammoth task of integrating Rhodesian army into the new Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Mujuru was just 31 years old. Imagine how nice it could have been if 31-year-olds were allowed space to lead? General Mujuru did it and when are new heroes going to be born?
The great man that Zimbabwe is mourning died at only 62 years and at that age he had resigned from powerful positions twice, first as an army general and second from public political life.
Whispers have it that he was the silent voice of reason hence he remained in the politburo as a tranquilising factor. One would hope that his departure from both positions would see the injection of young blood, but alas.
Browsing through the papers two key narratives drew my attention. First, General Mujuru is a hero without questionable credentials and secondly, he has left a void too hard to fill. The first narrative is too sacrosanct to touch but the second one left me wondering.
How can a retired man be difficult to replace? It is easy to assume that when one retires he is replaced. So what void are people talking about?
As I pondered on the question, I realised that our political leadership arena has not moved with time.
If it had, today we would have many people in the government above 62 years retired, may be once or twice like Genaral Mujuru.
We would have different faces and voices in the political landscape and perhaps Zimbabwe would have been far much better than what it is today.
Many new heroes have suffered stillbirth. The war language and tactics that characterise our elections would have been left in the history books.
Sadly, another wave of guerrilla tactics may be on the offing in the next election.
Sadly too, it is only Solomon who saw sense in retiring with pride, and sadly we have lost such an example of a leader.
The void he left demonstrates the lack of space for young people to be heroes, a phenomenon common in Africa.
There is a generally expressed consensus that Africa lacks a dynamic and innovative political and economic leadership.
And those who sit in leadership positions lack power of knowledge because they are unable to mobilise resources to make Africa powerful.
The death of General Mujuru challenges the definition of a leader. Just what is a leader?
In the modern day context, a leader is one who identifies political and economic opportunities that can lead to the solutions of overwhelming social problems faced by the people and successfully persuades others to collaborate in implementing those solutions.
But today Africa is faced with regimes that inflict pain on their people instead of providing solutions.
Today’s world requires a different approach to leadership. Perhaps Mujuru retired because he realised that his liberation war aptitude was gradually becoming archaic in a free Zimbabwe hence the need to pass on the baton.
Moeletsi Mbeki in his new book, Advocates for Change: How to overcome Africa’s challenges, identifies at least three capabilities which include capacity to innovate, ability to implement by mobilising the required resources and capability to create followers.
In 1994 during his birthday speech, President Mugabe once said, “Leadership is not what a leader wants done but what people want done.”
And Nelson Mandela in his Long Walk to Freedom states that, “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.”
Mujuru led from retirement hence the void which many of us can only see after his death.
Acknowledgement of leadership weakness is actually not a weakness but strength. The Japan experience teaches us a number of lessons about overcoming leadership weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
When a leadership feels threatened by the ever changing world, there are a number of ways to survive such as to adapt by getting rid of old brains, acquiring new skills or inject new brains in the system in order to develop the country.
This is one of the ways Japan developed modern industry to become one of the strongest economies in the world.
To comrade Mujuru, rest in peace and you shall forever be remembered as a hero who successfully delivered Zimbabwe from Rhodesian rule.
But still, the country is waiting for the birth of new heroes who can rewrite the meaning of freedom and independence.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa