Revisiting heroes and villains of First Chimurenga


I HAVE been reading the history of our country for a long time.
I enjoy doing so partly because I do not have to write an examination of some sort about that history as I used to do during my school days.
Now I read to understand where we are coming from as a people and I am pleased that we have a lot that was done by our ancestors that we should be proud of and about which we should tell our children.
However, one area of our history which has remained difficult to fathom, try as we might, is the national significance of what happened to some of our national heroes of the first Chimurenga.
It is important for us to revisit the day of Mbuya Nehanda’s execution in order for us to raise some questions which should be of interest to us and hopefully, to most of our historians as well.
Here is how the very last moments of Mbuya Nehanda on this earth of ours are narrated by Fr Richartz of the Roman Catholic Church.
At this point Richartz is trying to convert Mbuya Nehanda to Christianity.
He writes:
“When I saw that nothing could be done with her, the time for her execution having arrived, I left Nehanda and went to Kaguvi who received me in good dispositions.
Whilst I was conversing with him, Nehanda was taken out to the scaffold.
Her cries and resistance when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming and yelling on the scaffold disturbed my conversation with Kaguvi very much, till the noisy opening of the trap door upon which she stood, followed by a heavy thud of her body as it fell made an end to the interruption.”
From this description, it is obvious Mbuya Nehanda resists conversion to Christianity right up to the bitter end, just as she has physically resisted the colonial invasion itself.
It is also obvious the actual grim business of executing Mbuya Nehanda is being used by Richartz to intimidate and blackmail Sekuru Kaguvi to give in to his exhortations for him to abandon his traditional belief system and embrace Christianity just a few minutes before his execution.
The question which arises here is: Why does Richartz become such an unwelcome and crudely intrusive busy body who tries by fair means and foul to convert Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi to his faith?
Could it be Christian love for and compassion about the fate of Mbuya Nehanda’s soul which bothers him?
A kind of everlasting brotherly love for the likes of Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda who are avowed enemies of the colonials.
What has not been said openly and with conviction is that Richartz, as a representative of the Catholic Church, is a supreme and accomplished opportunist fishing in troubled waters.
Just as the colonial state is keen to see Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi dead and buried, so that it can establish complete control over Zimbabwean territory, the Catholic Church is equally keen to see the African belief system dead and buried too.
And one way of achieving this cultural annihilation is to urge leaders of the uprising to turn their backs on their culture, however tenuously symbolic this might be, so that they can be seen to have abandoned it at the last moment in favour of Christianity.
It is therefore the symbolism of conversion, the apparent defection of these leaders from their worldview to that of whites which Richartz is after.
In doing so, the Catholic Church earns the bragging rights to have triumphed over a supposedly backward and superstitious African belief system.
In brief, the Catholic Church is determined to ride on the back of the military victory of the colonial state in order to achieve its own spiritual conquest of the so-called native.
Both the state and the church work together here and complement each other very well at the expense of the African worldview.
In other words, the awkward and unwelcome solicitations by Richartz to both Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi are designed to score a major moral and spiritual victory against Africans themselves, this time using some of their own leaders as examples of people who see the light toward the very end of their lives and turn to Jesus Christ for their salvation.
One can imagine the one thousand and one sermons which the likes of Richartz and his cohorts had planned along the lines of the famous conversion of Saul to Paul as he travels on the road to Damascus.
Put differently, Richartz is determined to use African leaders as tools to achieve his ends.
In doing so, he has the support of almost all white missionaries, some of whom had laboured in the country since 1859, but had very little to show for it by way of conversions.
In contrast to the resistance which Mbuya Nehanda made right up to the end, Sekuru Kaguvi ultimately succumbs to solicitations by Richartz and here is how:
“As Dziribi, Kaguvi’s daughter, a pupil at Chishawasha, wanted to see her father before his death, Richartz asked for permission for her.
She arrived in the afternoon with her sister, Likande.
Richartz went with them and a Christian boy, Victor, to the prison and talked with Kaguvi.
The conversation with Kaguvi, during which Victor and Dziribi did their best to induce him to yield to my instructions and receive baptism had the good result that Kaguvi promised to do as they had asked.”
Noticeable is the divide-and-rule tactic which Richartz uses here, just like the colonial state, to achieve his ambition.
To signify his success, he baptises Sekuru Kaguvi and renames him ‘Dismas’, in honour of the good biblical thief who, as legend has it, ‘enjoyed the great blessings of forgiveness’ during his hour of death.
The great irony here is that it is the missionaries and the settlers who steal Sekuru Kaguvi’s land; they are the real thieves who, by a strange twist of logic, project their thievery onto their victims.
It is breathtaking to witness the level of self-deception and moral self-exoneration practised by a man who is supposed to be honest, even with himself.
It is Richartz and his white folks who should beg for forgiveness not Sekuru Kaguvi!
Just before his execution Richartz promises to look after Kagubi’s children.
In return Sekuru Kaguvi promises to ‘die well’, whatever that means.
Richartz explains: “He died as he had been told the evening before…quiet and resigned,and I hope in good dispositions.”
In this context, it is fascinating to note the ironies of the situation.
It requires the death of Kaguvi first, literally, that is, for Richartz to begin to act as a ‘Father’ to Sekuru Kaguvi’s children.
Further, Sekuru Kaguvi has to hand over, apart from Dziribi his daughter, the rest of his children and others of his family members to the very person who seeks to dispose of everything that he has stood for in his whole life.
It is a total surrender that Richartz goes for and this is designed to re-make and re-define the African in the image of the whiteman.
And it does not take long before the same white men re-define the concept of heroism for us.
Those of us who supported white people during the uprising of 1896-8 become the new heroes; people such as Molimile Molele who is instantly proclaimed as a martyr by the Methodist Church soon after his death.
The same applies to Bernard Mizeki, again proclaimed a martyr by the Anglicans.
These are now supposed to be our new heroes during the colonial period, not Mbuya Nehanda, not Sekuru Kaguvi.
What a shame!


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