Chains shackling African minds

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1935

By Professor Sheunesu Mpepereki

WHEN the Pioneer Column reached Harare, their first act was to raise the Union Jack on September 13 1890.
Commander of the Column Colonel Pennefather, Sir John Willoughby, Lieutenant Sidney Shepstone, Lieutenant Edward Tyndale-Biscoe and Canon Balfour, one of the Column’s chaplains, were there to celebrate the birth of a new colony.
The place named ‘Suoguru’ by local people was a religious shrine for the people of Zvimba, Seke and Chinamhora.
But it was christened Cecil Square after the then Prime Minister of Britain, Lord Salisbury, Robert Cecil, not Cecil John Rhodes as many believe.
The square, resembling the Union Jack with the alignment of trees, paths and a central fountain, was renamed after the former Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
The square was re-named Africa Unity Square in 1987, in commemoration of the unity of Africans in fighting colonisation.
But the square’s design has remained the same.
The area is still marked with footpaths that represent the British flag with the cross of St George intersecting with that of St Patrick’s.
The Africa Unity Square is quite visible, even from satellite images, as the British Union Jack.
The law-abiding Africans still come in hordes to relax on the Union Jack, but rarely do they reflect that the square and surrounding buildings remain a clear sign of colonial power by their architecture and ownership.
The close relationship between church and state in the British system is demonstrated by the closeness of our own Anglican Cathedral, Parliament and the Supreme Court – all on Anglican Church land.
The flag hoisted by the so-called pioneers, was to symbolise that the British had occupied and taken over the land.
The second thing the pioneers did was to name the place Fort Salisbury.
The white settlers commemorated September 12 as a public holiday which they called Pioneers’ Day throughout the period of their 90-year rule over our country.
Pioneers’ Day was also known as Occupation Day, replacing the former Shangani Day.
Shangani Day had been used by colonial regimes to celebrate Allan Wilson and 34 pioneers who were wiped out by King Lobengula’s troops during the First Chimurenga
Even today, the hard-core Rhodesians still do privately.
Subsequently, they gave the country the name Rhodesia in honour of the sponsor of the invading Pioneer Column, Rhodes, as part of his imperialist vision to see Britain colonise Africa from Cape to Cairo.
The immediate target was to access the gold believed to be plentiful in Mwenemutapa’s country (Zimbabwe).
This series of articles are inspired by the arrival of the anniversary of the rape of our land by white invaders, September 12.
In colonial days, this day was a public holiday, Pioneers’ Day.
The unrepentant Rhodies, no doubt, celebrated this ominous day, which for us Africans marked the beginning of almost a century of political, social and economic misery under the domination of British invaders and their uninvited white kith and kin.
Do black Zimbabweans join the Rhodies to celebrate the Pioneers’ Day on September 12?
Could our endorsement of this cruel anniversary be inferred from our docile acceptance of the naming of our farms, suburbs and schools after those pioneers whose heroism was marked by the degree of cruelty they meted out to the Africans as they looted land and livestock!
The pioneers’ first act was to raise the Union Jack and the second to name the place of arrival Salisbury in place of Chikomo chaHarari, the Hill of Harare.
The Kingdom of Mwenemutapa was named Rhodesia.
You only name what is yours; your children, your property.
Naming is like putting a label.
First, the Union Jack they raised was a visual symbol announcing boldly that: ‘We the British, have taken over this land and we dare anyone to challenge us’.
Once the Union Jack was up, the British were ready to defend it with their very lives.
They were ready to establish a government and enforce their own laws, rules and regulations.
The hoisting of the flag symbolised that Africans had been dispossessed of their land and that the owners of the flag, the British, were now the new rulers.
Thus the flag has ominous significance in the affairs of nations.
The British successfully defended their flag in the First Chimurenga after killing our heroes such as Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Mkwati and many others.
Against fierce resistance from Africans, the British had to bring in heavy artillery and machine guns (zvigwagwagwa/inganunu), dynamite (majaratini) and troop reinforcements from Britain, which they used to bomb the caves (ninga) where our forebearers strategically took cover.
The British took the country by force, and true to the Biblical statement: ‘Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’, freedom fighters took back the land by force.
Although later the then Prime Minister, Ian Smith, unilaterally declared independence (UDI) from mother Britain in 1965, for all intents and purposes, the British Union Jack remained flying over our stolen land for almost 100 years of settler-colonial rule.
The flag was only lowered by Prince Charles of England, on the orders of the Queen of England, at Zimbabwe’s independence on April 18 1980, symbolising the surrender of the British colonialists to the liberation forces of Zimbabwe.
The significance of the flag as a symbol of authority and sovereign power is clearly demonstrated by the hand-over take-
over ceremonies involving the flags of Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom at independence on April 18 1980.
General Chimombe, whose Chimurenga name was Cde Agnew Kambeu, was assigned the duty to raise our own beautiful multi-coloured flag symbolising the advent of a new Nation, Zimbabwe.
Prince Charles, the son of the Queen of England, pulled down his country’s flag, The Union Jack.
We Africans of Zimbabwe, by flying our flag high, also dare anyone to challenge us.
As we stand beneath the flag, we solemnly pledge to die defending it.
The flag symbolises the independence and sovereignty of our country.
The importance of symbols like the national flag cannot be over-emphasised.
When Zimbabweans walk around donning clothing and memorabilia printed with British and American flags.
The flag carries the whole weight of our national being, identity and pride; our independence and self-esteem.
Now can any of you readers envisage a situation where, after winning our liberation struggle, we would have left the Union Jack or the Rhodesia flag flying from the mast at every government office, school, business premise or even military barracks?
Most of you would likely respond that never could such a thing happen.
Such an act would insult our national pride!
And that is why we see the Zimbabwean flag flying high everywhere, alone or side by side with that of a local institution or business.
At international meetings our flag stands shoulder to shoulder with those of other nations.
So we can appreciate the significance of the pioneers raising their country’s flag on our territory.
It was a declaration of war and the First and Second Chimurenga came to pass.
The second powerful symbol is the name of a country or place.
At attainment of independence, countries dropped colonial names and assumed national ones.
Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Nyasaland became Malawi and Northern Rhodesia became Zambia.
The country’s name is even more significant than the flag.
Then came the towns and other place names.
The British named ‘Harare’, ‘Salisbury’ and when we took back our land we restored the local name ‘Harare’.
Throughout its colonial history, Zimbabwe could have been mistaken for a part of the British Isles on account of the place names across the whole country.
Only in a few cases were African names retained, but with severe distortion through efforts to Anglicise the names.
The British brought with them their personal names, names of their cities, local authorities and whatever else could be named.
The names were largely British and proclaimed the British were in charge.
When the Africans attained their independence in 1980, there was little appetite by Zimbabwean authorities or ordinary citizens for changing and adopting African place names.
Strangely, except for a few streets and some major towns, Zimbabweans have largely left the colonial names untouched.
The failure to change place names is surprising for a people who fought a protracted liberation struggle against colonialism.
You would have thought Africans fought to restore their dignity and that names of people and places would be changed overnight to reflect the new reality: Africans in charge in an African country!
This did not happen, certainly not with the pace and zeal that had marked the struggle to throw off the colonial yoke.
One must wonder why after 36 years of independence, we are still stuck with colonial names!
What went wrong!

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