Zimbabwe will celebrate its heroes of the liberation struggle who fought gallantly and selflessly to bring about independence from colonial rule. This is an important date as it reminds us why men and women took up arms and sacrificed their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.
This two part article is food for thought as we commemorate Heroes’ Day on 13thAugust; it is inspired by political developments in the country including comments attributed to the Prime Minister during a memorial service of the late nationalist Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole.
“Leadership is very unique; it must inspire future generations and shape where the country is going and what you are leaving for the children”. Morgan Tsvangirai
The Prime Minister’s comment is profound and I want to believe this principle inspired the vision of the nationalists to take up arms and fight colonialism, even though the odds were against them. No doubt the Rhodesian Forces were superior and well trained compared to the young guerrillas who in most cases had to do on the job training. Thousands joined the throngs of men and women crossing the borders of the country to receive military training to equal the ‘enemy’, a lot of university students, even secondary school boys and girls both willingly and forcibly abandoned their studies to go and fight for what they believed was the future they deserved. Many stayed behind and chose to provide moral and logistical backing in support of the liberation struggle.
But what really inspired these young men and women? Their vision was a free Zimbabwe, where all men and women were treated equally, where the black majority would assert themselves as free citizens enjoying every facet of this God given nation. It was the spirit of self-determination, also inspired by events in other African countries that had liberated themselves. Many people were frustrated and wanted to get rid of the discrimination of the majority by a white minority. It was not uncommon for white police officers to stop blacks and carry out embarrassing body searches, even to the extent of stripping them naked. It was not uncommon for blacks to be beaten in the streets and barred from places that were exclusive for whites. So it was this desire to end human rights violations and enjoy the freedoms that also contributed to men and women joining the struggle.
In many cases, blacks were evicted from productive land in areas such as Govo, Jiri in Bikita, Chirumhanzu, Chiundura and dumped in tsetse fly infested and semi-arid, unproductive and uninhabitable areas such as Zhombe and Gokwe. These grievances and many others put together inspired a people to change the system of government represented by a white minority, and in its place put a government that shared its vision of a free Zimbabwe, free from the human rights abuses, free to pursue personal interests protected by the state, and to enjoy the many resources available.
The brave men and women who crossed borders were ably supported by the unarmed rural folk who were at the forefront, shielding their ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ whilst they were fighting to liberate the country. They did so because they shared the same vision of a free Zimbabwe with better opportunities for all to enjoy. It was risky for many, especially given that they had no weapons or skills to fight the Rhodesian forces and sometimes the guerilla forces. Often women were raped or abused in the process, but unfortunate as it was, they believed it was for the greater good – a free Zimbabwe. So the notion that those who took up arms and did the actual fighting are the heroes falls away. The liberation struggle was a vision shared by men and women, youth included, playing their part.
The second part of the article will explore the vision of the liberation struggle in post independent Zimbabwe.