By Dr Rino Zhuwarara
ONE of the key lessons that we should learn from the life and works of Cde Alexander Kanengoni is that our sense of nationhood is not something which happens on its own, just like that!
It is not something which we discover or stumble upon one morning and then embrace it like a trophy and live happily ever after!
In many of our conversations, he would always refer to the liberation struggle in which he participated as an example.
How long it had taken our fighters to forge a strong sense of solidarity and common purpose, how much all these aspects demanded time and sharing of a common vision and commitment before a formidable liberation force comprising both ZANLA and ZIPRA could emerge to dislodge the white settler regime which ran this country as a dictatorship!
Similarly, Cde Kanengoni argued, it was going to take some time before a strong sense of nationhood would emerge in Zimbabwe, where we would come to regard the success of any one of us in any field of human endeavour as the success of our nation as a whole and be proud of it.
What was critical, according to Cde Kanengoni, was that all of us played our part in establishing that deep and durable sense of nationhood which would not break up easily in relation to challenges which often confront most of our countries in Africa!
As far as Cde Kanengoni was concerned, he was simply playing his part in creating certain levels of national consciousness when he wrote several short stories and his novel titled Echoing Silences.
And the fact that these are being studied in most of our colleges and universities is an indication of their significance in the on-going larger discourse about our identity as a people since 1980.
Similarly, when Cde Kanengoni joined the Zimbabwe Heritage Trust and helped to establish The Patriot newspaper which he edited till his death, he was simply playing his part in establishing that sense of nationhood.
Most of us recall that when The Patriot came on the scene, it was at a time when Zimbabwe people were polarised mostly according to their loyalties to specific political parties and sometimes according to their stance towards the Land Reform Programme.
Most of us supported the reform, while others opposed it mainly because they believed land belonged to colonialists.
Others opposed land reform simply because that land reform was vehemently opposed by almost all Western countries!
According to Cde Kanengoni, the social and political divisions generated by our successful efforts to democratise the ownership of land in Zimbabwe were an indication of the still fragile character of our sense of nationhood, an indication that quite a large chunk of our people did not believe in themselves.
The fact that some of us still crave for the support and approval of the West first before undertaking anything as groundbreaking and significant as the land reform speaks volumes about the colonial mindset which still dominates our thinking.
Put simply, it seemed as if all those national celebrations for our independence which we had held since 1980 had not meant much to some of us.
The fact that we were a sovereign people remained more of a figure of speech whose significance did not mean much beyond the usual rhetoric; all these shortcomings became a revelation to Cde Kanengoni that our sense of nationhood lacked something at its core, something that would define us and hold us together in good times and in bad times!
According to Cde Kanengoni, one way of defining ourselves is to foreground those experiences which our forebears went through during the First Chimurenga, what our parents endured during the Second Chimurenga and what we have gone through during the Land Reform Programme or Third Chimurenga.
He felt strongly that if we took our time and resources to master these key phases of our national experience and to teach our youths about them from every conceivable angle we can think of, we would have done almost half the work we are supposed to do to define our sense of nationhood.
Complementing such work is the task of mastering our situation as a country located in a specific region and continent and in a global context that is as promising as it is treacherous!
As a country we have no other choice, but to master this terrain to ensure our survival as a nation across many generations to come.
Call this experience, history, call it heritage of resistance or whatever, the point is we all need to be aware of where we are coming from, of what has happened to us along the way and of how at critical moments in our history, we have surmounted the odds and acquired our independence.
The key, according to Cde Kanengoni, lay in the way we handled the legacies of our liberation struggles as the foundation of modern Zimbabwe.
These struggles should remain as the source of our shared values, shared national vision and a guide to the future.
He felt strongly that we needed to understand our past, especially the liberation war, not for the sake of sounding learned and being pedantic about this tragic story, but for the simple reason that our understanding of that past would guide us and empower us to create a better future.
One of the key challenges which Cde Kanengoni faced as deputy editor of The Patriot was how to make our past, be it from a sociological, economic, cultural or historical sense etc inform the present; how to make our past, with all its achievements as well as its imperfections, relevant to our present and our future without allowing that past to imprison our imagination either.
He felt that understanding our past would indirectly create for us a point of view, or a kind of platform from which we could look at the whole world and relate to it meaningfully without losing the integrity of our soul as a people!
He would repeat something to the effect that ‘a people without a good grasp of their history are a people without memory and as good as lost, always wandering in the dark and bound to misread who their real friends are and who their real enemies are’!
In light of the above stated approach that Cde Kanengoni adopted, it is not surprising that he managed to nurture the kind of journalism which is not only anti-imperialist, but also pan-African in outlook, a kind of journalism which dwells insightfully on our heritage of resistance as a people, a heritage which he regarded as a common denominator which belongs to us all and which is meant to unite us as a nation which belongs to the African continent.