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Writing history; Banana and Zimbabwe's heroes

Misanet / The Standard, 23 November - Last Wednesday's burial of Zimbabwe's first President Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana at the Banana family homestead in Esigodini, Matabeleland South Province instead of the national shrine has once again revived the debate about whether the Politburo of the ruling Zanu-PF party is the appropriate body to confer national hero status on distinguished Zimbabweans.

Zimbabweans owe a great debt of gratitude to Rev Canaan Banana. As speakers from across the political divide and those representing the Christian community said, Rev Banana was, despite his weaknesses, a good and patriotic Zimbabwean. He played a very crucial role in the liberation struggle and in the unification of the country following the early 1980s Matabeleland troubles. He did justice, he loved mercy, he walked humbly with his God.

His burial in his ancestral lands, though important culturally, does nothing to salute his national standing in pre and post independent Zimbabwe. And this is where things went badly wrong. It is a poor end to a man who did so much and in retrospect, testimony to and vindictiveness of a body of men and women who feel that they are ordained to rule Zimbabwe forever.

It happened to Rev Ndabaningi Sithole (1920-2000), one of Zimbabwe's major freedom fighters, who fell out of favour with the current government. And it will happen to many others in the future unless a stop is put to it. The brutal truth is that the country's ruling party, Zanu-PF, is not Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is not Zanu-PF.

The ruling party is entitled, of course, to choose its own party heroes but when it comes to national heroes, it must be the responsibility of a body representative of a wide spectrum of the Zimbabwean society.

Members of such a body must be distinguished Zimbabweans drawn from government, the opposition, the churches and civil society. Once selected, neither the ruling party nor the government should have any say. This is the only way that we can ensure the utmost impartiality, objectivity, fairness and transparency in the conferment of national hero status.

The present system is deeply flawed. Some so called national heroes laid at the national shrine do not deserve to be there. There are there simply by virtue of being members of the ruling party - nothing more. Examples abound of such people whose only claim to fame was their willingness to be used as tools of violence and repression by the ruling party.

It is most unfortunate that Zimbabweans have come to accept that a national hero only becomes a national hero when it suits the ruling party. History is history and it must not be abused or misused to suit the government of the day or a political party that happens to be in power at a particular point in time.

Heroes are heroes. For an independent Committee of eminent Zimbabweans, it will not be a difficult card to play. Heroes come naturally. They do not need godfathers like President Mugabe or any member of the Politburo.

National heroes must be authentic and nationally and universally acknowledged and accepted regardless of the party that is in power. And this will prevent chopping and changing in the future. In any event, attempts to draw up a balance sheet on individual Zimbabweans as currently being done can never be done by one political party alone.

No one in Zanu-PF including President Mugabe can speak from a high moral ground; from a position of moral superiority. Yes, we must maintain a certain level of public morality and behaviour but who indeed in Zanu-PF can throw the biblical first stone? No one.

Almost all members of Zanu-PF have skeletons in their cupboards. We can name and shame them but we prefer not to. In trying to expose the weaknesses and shortcomings of others, let us not forget about our own.

Nobody is faultless. The world is not that perfect. The pot must not call the kettle black. A sense of perspective is what was needed as far as both the cases of Rev Banana and Rev Ndabaningi Sithole were concerned.

Their blemishes and weaknesses pale into insignificance compared to the immense contribution they made in bringing about the independence of Zimbabwe. Rev Banana and Rev Sithole were neither saints nor paragons of virtue. But neither is President Mugabe and indeed any Zanu-PF man and woman sitting in judgment over others. This is the bottom line.

So it is that time has come to reflect on the whole system of declaring national heroes. Zanu-PF leaders must examine their own consciences and look at themselves in the mirror and see if what they are doing is the right thing.

Zimbabwe belongs to all who live in it. Abandon the situation in which you see your party being identical to Zimbabwe. It is not and it will never be. We ask Zanu-PF: What has happened to the vast web of generosity, magnanimity and selfless love manifested in our Zimbabwean way of life?

To Rev Canaan Banana and Rev Ndabaningi Sithole before him, we say: You are great Zimbabweans. You appear to have been forgotten as the Zanu-PF boots went into your groins. It is indeed a shame that the whole system of national heroes has been sullied by the folly and weakness of one political party. We, who are myopic, did not see as clearly but history will relate.

Our love, prayers and condolences go out to your families. Rest in peace comrades.

A 'The Standard' Comment

Original title: "Banana status: Case of the pot calling the kettle black"

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