Memorial Day: Why can’t Africa honour her fallen heroes?


AMERICA celebrates her war veterans, Africans are taught to look down upon them with disdain and cartoon them as illiterates who are living in the past.
On May 26, America remembered the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces.
Known as ‘Memorial Day’, the last Monday of May is used to honour all Americans who have died in military service for their country.
Many Americans visit cemeteries and memorials, they place American flags on each grave in national cemeteries.
There are 147 cemeteries in the US which are designated as national cemeteries. These cemeteries contain the graves of US military personnel, veterans and their spouses.
The best known national cemetery is Arlington national Cemetery in Virginia, just outside of Washington DC.
Arlington contains the graves of important civilian leaders and other important national figures.
The first widely publicised observance of a Memorial Day – type observance was after the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1 1865.
During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war that had been held at the Charleston Race Course, of those 257 died and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.
Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organised May Day ceremony in 1865.
The freedmen (free blacks) cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labelled, ‘Martyrs of the Race Course’.
Nearly 10 000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead.
The event was covered by many national newspapers of that time including the New York Tribune.
David W. Blight, the director of the Gilder-Lehrman Centre for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition — a Professor of American History at Yale University — described the day.
“This was the first Memorial Day.
“African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. “What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet and their songs what the war had been about.
“What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.”
Sacrificing oneself for the American way of life is something that Americans are taught earlier in life to honour.
The notion of patriotism is embedded in American children during their first ventures into the world as they attend nursery school.
You will find that as a child is learning to read and write, that child can proudly stand at attention, and recite the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’.
While the child might not at that moment and time understand what he or she is saying, what they know is that they are doing and saying something very important that they must honour for the rest of their life.
I look at my fellow Zimbabweans and I ponder at times.
If we had been instructed as these American children, our direction as a people might have been different.
I have attended official functions here and abroad and I am amazed at just how Zimbabweans lack the basic knowledge about their country, symbols and insignia representing the State.
What is even more appalling is that most Zimbabwean adults cannot sing the national anthem.
Is it any wonder that as Zimbabweans we fail to come up with a common vision?
Patriotism is something that we do not encourage in our children.
The push for Zimbabweans to seek a national vision, to embrace their history should not be driven by political parties, but should be institutionalised.
Taking a page from the Americans, while many up to this day do not agree with America’s military expeditions into Latin America, into Vietnam, into Iraq, into Afghanistan, but that does not deter them from standing in solidarity with their servicemen and servicewomen.
It does not stop Americans from celebrating the men and women who gave up their lives in America’s wars.
The Democrats or the Republicans do not boycott Memorial Day commemorations because it was a Republican President or Democrat President who sent the military to war and they were not in agreement with that action. American politicians put their individual beliefs and value systems aside for the good of the nation.
A sizeable number of American Congressmen and women have served in the military, many are veterans of the various wars America has fought in the past decades, and some lost limbs, some lost brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and children.
In all this they can stand up in one voice to remember their fallen heroes.
Coming back to Charleston and the commemoration by the freedmen in 1865; these freed black slaves paid tribute to Union soldiers who died fighting for their freedom.
Even the Good Book says there is no greater honour than that of a man who gives his life up for another.
The freedmen could have chosen to ignore the unmarked graves of the fallen Union soldiers, but they showed their humanity and gave them the honour they deserved.


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