Insight into National Heroes Acre


MANY people know the National Heroes Acre as a place where national heroes and heroines are buried. It is surprising that most Zimbabweans have not visited the place despite free transport being offered when a hero passes away or during public holidays like the Heroes Day and the Defence Forces Day. The question is whether there is any deliberate effort to provide people the opportunity to tour the shrine. Some people know the place from sitting on the terraces while others know it from reading about it in the newspapers and books. The National Heroes Acre is situated in Harare, close to the National Sports Stadium and Warren Park suburb. Apart from being a burial place, there are many things which should also be considered about the heroes acre. A recent tour of the shrine made me realise that there were a lot of things I did not know about the place and it crossed my mind that many Zimbabweans also needed to know more about the place. On either side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are murals with illustrations of the liberation struggle from colonisation to post-independence. The surfaces are hard, showing that Zimbabwe’s independence was hard-won. The first stage on the right mural shows when the Europeans first came to Zimbabwe, marking the beginning of colonisation. It also illustrates how colonialists brutalised the black people. The same mural also discloses how, when the whites came, took advantage of the modern weapons they had while the black people relied on inferior weapons, including bows and arrows. The murals also reveal that there were some black men who were incorporated into the white colonial system and were turned into sell-outs. The second stage on the same mural depicts young black students from college who decided to fight the white man. It also shows the young blacks crossing the borders on their way to countries like China, Mozambique, Tanzania and Russia to seek assistance. The third stage shows the blacks being given weapons and ideas to fight the colonialist by allies including China and Russia. The illustration of gourds of beer is a reminder of the rituals used in appeasing the ancestors. The Zimbabwe Bird symbolises the fish eagle carved out of the granite rock extracted from Mutoko. On the other mural are illustrations of the transition of the blacks from a people who were passive when the whites came, but later resorted to active resistance. There is an architectural depiction of people fighting vigorously for their children and land as well as for their freedom. Young men and women are seen giving assistance and providing food to freedom fighters earning them the names mujibha and chimbwido respectively. The later stages of the artwork on the mural depict happiness on the faces of the people when the ceasefire was announced after the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement. The thought of re-uniting with family members brought joy to Zimbabweans. And when 1980 came, Independence knocked at the doors of every Zimbabwean and the first black Prime Minister of Zimbabwe became Robert Gabriel Mugabe. The name Zimbabwe came from Masvingo where the Great Zimbabwe monuments was referred to as Masvingo edzimbahwe. The National Heroes Acre was therefore built to commemorate the fallen heroes of Zimbabwe. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is another important feature of the national shrine. It was designed to honour all the people who participated in the liberation war. The presence of a woman shows that women were an integral part of the liberation struggle as well. It is a symbol that also depicts the bravery, courage and unity of the liberation fighters. The colours on the national flag — green, yellow, red and black — depict the lush vegetation, minerals, and the blood shed by blacks to get back their heritage. The 40-metre high tower which holds the eternal flame is also of symbolic importance. It depicts the spirit of independence as its height dwarfs the colonial flag planted in Salisbury on September 12 1890 by the Pioneer Column. Behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a symbol of a cave reminding us that blacks used to be buried in caves. The star on the national court of arms represents the socialist ideals of the new majority-rule Government while the hoe depicts the transition from war to farming. The kudus depict the unification of the ethnic groups in Zimbabwe, for example, the unity between the Ndebele and the Shona. The maize, millet and cotton show the crops grown in Zimbabwe and the ground which is green shows the fertility of Zimbabwean soils. The most interesting thing about the Heroes Acre is that it has an aerial view of an AK47 split into two. The AK47 was the most effective gun used by the blacks during the liberation war. The terraces which people sit on resemble the butt of the gun. The murals resemble the handle and the terraced graves resemble the magazine. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands for the trigger, while the steps to the tower are the nozzle barrel. The tower is the bayonet or the knife. According to Emmanuel Kazowa, a tour guide at the shrine, it is the hope of the architecture that the aerial view, when complete, will resemble a machine gun.


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