‘Erection of historical statues should be holistic,inclusive’

By Dumisani Muleya

Since time immemorial, people and nations asserted their origin, history, race/ethnicity, religion and power through images, statues and symbols.Biblical reflections on monuments demonstrate the importance of these symbols during the Old and the New Testament times. The Holy Communion and the cross reflect that.Given the conflict and drama surrounding the removal of the Confederate monuments in the United States and colonial statues in the UK and South Africa of late,  it shows monuments certainly do continue to matter, particularly when they are removed or destroyed; or indeed built in the streetscape as in the case of the proposed Mbuya Nehanda statue in Harare.In cases such as those of Cecil John Rhodes in Oxford or University of Cape Town, their removal  reflects that they were no longer deemed worthy of occupying the public space of the nation.Not only do statues represent a particular version of history, they also represent the power of that history and how it is given prominence and authority. Problems arise when monuments seem to represent a nation or an ideology that is no longer acceptable, for instance in the cases of Rhodes (colonialists) or US slave traders.While there is nothing wrong with construction of the Mbuya Nehanda statue (she deserves the recognition and immortalisation for her sacrifices as a symbol of colonial resistance and spiritual leader) and indeed the concept of monumentalisation of heroes and heroines, the timing in the Nehanda project certainly seems to be opportunistic, and reflects skewed priorities and selective memoralisation of history, for political gain.Nehanda, like other heroes of the first anti-colonial struggle in Zim, deserves the recognition and honour, but it can’t be done opportunistically and selectively.If the Mnangagwa regime is well-meaning on this, it should have come up with a detailed and well-time programme to deal with this issue.It has to be holistic: deal with colonial statues, that is reflect on the fate of the Rhodes grave in Matopo, just outside Bulawayo, for instance; ironically positioned  next to the grave of Ndebele King Mzilikazi (Rhodes demanded to be buried next to Mzilikazi in admiration of military prowess and as a sign of conquer).Or the David Livingstone statue in Victoria Falls.And indeed the process has to include other heroes of the first anti-colonial battles and struggles, not least the main protagonist of the time Lobengula.In the case of Lobengula, a statue, built together with others at the right moment, would be critical given that he fought fiercely and simply more anyone else at the time given that he was the only one with an organised standing army and other militray structures to do so.Lobengula‚Äôs standing army was estimated at 15 000 men, divided into 40 regiments positioned all the way from Filabusi (the Godlwayo regiment) to the south to Kwekwe (uQweqwe, aMaveni and iMbizo regiments – Kwekwe (Qweqwe, hence Rhodesians said Queque)’s current townships derive their names from those garrisons).However, despite his immense scacrifices during the anti-colonial struggles, Lobengula has been subjected to colonial vilification, crass propaganda and lies even by some malicuous or ignorant blacks. Colonialists and racists always demonised him; so nothing really surprising, but when blacks join in that’s a problem. To honour him for his great sacrifices and also correct the clearly ignorant and unwarranted demonisation, Lobengula, like Nehanda, deserves a huge statue in Bulawayo, or wherever. There is already a Nehanda statue at Mzilikazi Arts craft centre in Bulawayo and a Lobengula painting at Zanu PF headquarters (of all places) in Harare.So these statues and other monuments are in principle necessary as they capture the history and the heroes/heroines of the time, yet timing and prioritisation is also equally important (can’t be building statues in the midst of an socio-economic crisis, which is an irony in itself given the how those heroes’ legacies are now defaced by misrule, corruption and incompetence).

Dumisani Muleya is the former editor of the Zimbabwe Independent.