By Takura Zhangazha
The Zimbabwean government unexpectedly announced that it is going to place a statue of liberation icon Mbuya Nehanda in central Harare. And that the work has already started on the same. I was pleasantly surprised at this move by the current government. Not only because it is important that we recognize more publicly the significance of the role that the spirit medium of Nehanda played in leading the First Chimurenga against colonialism but also how we should never seek to willfully forget our own national history. Even in the most troubling of Covid 19 pandemic times and with the array of economic challenges that the country faces.
The public reaction to the announcement has however been muted. Most likely because statues are probably not top of many Zimbabweans’ priority lists. In opposition circles this was even more apparent with opposition leaders and activists referring to the memorial statue as being the equivalent of ‘worshipping the dead’. Obviously they are entitled to their opinion on the matter even if it is said in the moment and probably only to oppose Zanu PF’s policies.
A few activists have also brought in the religious angle around the statue. In doing so they appear to be taunting the fervently religious to not understand the importance of Nehanda in history and acknowledge the role of, in this particular case, Christian religious institutions in not only Nehanda’s execution but also colonialism. All juxtaposed with their knowledge that the Christian faith generally denounces traditional African religious practices such as the recognition of spirit mediums and ancestors as intercessors of life with Mwari/Umlimu. As it relates to everyday lives of Zimbabweans.
Some friends and cdes I interact with have indicated their fear that such a statue may probably be an ‘easier’ option for the ruing establishment. Mainly because there are so many other female leaders and heroes of Zimbabwean liberation struggles that continue to go unrecognized. Others still are fearful of what the late historian Terrence Ranger called ‘patriotic history’ in which only the ruling Zanu PF party’s version and interpretation of history dominates official state narratives across the media, universities and the basic education curriculum.
What has not happened however is any outright protest at the idea of a Nehanda statue in central Harare. A development that is indicative of the general legitimacy of this act of recognition. To the extent that the only emerging issue would be the artistic creativity of the statue and where it is placed.
It is however also important to fully grasp the symbolism of this Nehanda statue. As it relates to not only our struggles against settler colonialism via the first and second Chimurenga/Umvukela but more importantly as to how the leadership example set by Nehanda applies in contemporary Zimbabwean society.
And these leadership examples are, in my view, threefold. The first being the fact that in leadership, as exemplified by Nehanda, we should strive to be organic and visionary. Or to put it much more simply, to anticipate what is probably coming. While preparing to mitigate or counter detrimental potential events with a firm belief in the values of your people. And this is not about prophecy or supernatural powers. It is about being able to understand events as they occur in your society and try as far as is organically possible to always struggle for social and economic justice of the many, not the few.
Secondly, is the fact of how female leaders, who are hardly given due recognition for their role in our national liberation struggles, have historically been important in defining Zimbabwe. Nehanda’s statue would essentially re-affirm that in a much more public way beyond either the name of a street or a hospital. While many adult Zimbabweans may not need the reminder based on what they were taught in high school history lessons, it would be imperative that subsequent young generations get reminded of this history outside of the exam class. And that they also understand the equal roles that men and women can play in revolutionary, progressive leadership to better Zimbabwean society. All in order to emphasise not only a gender equality national consciousness but also to keep progressive history in vogue even when contemplating the contemporary as it influences preferred futures.
Finally, the symbolism of Nehanda’s statue in central Harare, is one that would recognize history not only for what it means to the national consciousness but more importantly the necessity of never having to repeat it. To know the struggles Nehanda led and also helped foster in the Second Chimurenga/Umvukela, is not to desire that Zimbabwe relives these same said struggles. It is in order to recognize the values, the pain and sacrifices made in order to get Zimbabwe to its freedom. But not in order that we go back to those struggles. Instead Nehanda’s legacy tells us to hold fast to the values of liberation and move the people forward in fulfillment of the aspirations that led her and others to fight colonial and all other repressions in Zimbabwe.
So while I will not be among the first to be photographed at the Nehanda statue when completed, I understand its national importance and symbolism.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)