The heroes missing on our billboards

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I AM driving along Lomagundi Road into town (Harare) and I notice the word ‘Heroes’ on a billboard.
I was a shade too late to capture the whole message, but I felt quite happy at the possibility of a corporate body remembering our heroes in this manner.
I made it a point to capture the full message the following day.
The opportunity came and it was quite a big disappointment.
The billboard was an advertisement for a flour brand.
It was celebrating, mothers ‘everyday heroes’ who use the brand.
In August, heroes have a special meaning.
A war song reminds me of this special meaning: ‘Amai nababa musandicheme kana ndafa nehondo, ndini ndakazvida kufira Zimbabwe.’
I remember staring at mukoma Donald Chapungu as he belted it out with steely conviction at a pungwe in the village.
He meant it.
He was prepared to give up his life for our cause.
My teary eyes remained fixed at this handsome young man who had selflessly put himself at death’s frontline.
I don’t know if mukoma Chapungu ever made it to a free Zimbabwe.
I am sure that mattered little to him.
He had already been at peace with the possibility of dying in the struggle.
The struggle had many Chapungus.
Some had left behind promising careers, young families and aged parents.
Many died in the trenches.
They lost out in terms of individual recognition as war heroes.
We collectively remember them and their supreme sacrifice through the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Perhaps mukoma Chapungu’s father never understood what drove his son to offer his life for country.
Many did not.
My own father never reconciled with the fact that our cousin, Never, had skipped a promising academic career to join ZANLA in Mozambique.
Never was a bursary student at St Augustine’s Mission in Penhalonga and expected to sail through his math, physics and chemistry (MPC) at ‘A’-Level.
He and others skipped the border weeks before sitting for their ‘A’-Level examinations in 1975.
Father, who was working in Mutare, had acted as Never’s guardian.
When father brought the news to the village, he wore a bereaved face.
He kept shaking his head in disapproval.
Never had betrayed a family that so much looked to the fruits from the genius they were investing in.
Never was the family’s academic standard.
Father wished the sacrifice had come from Munaro, a Grade Seven drop-out from the village or ‘home defender’ as we called them.
“Never should have left people like Munaro to join the war,” my father reasoned loudly and angrily.
As fate would have it, Munaro joined the war in 1978.
Both survived the war.
Never joined the army and had a successful career.
Munaro was demobilised and rejoined the village where he died an outcast.
Munaro died before the war victim compensation and other payouts.
He died before the Land Reform Programme, but while his widow and children may have misgivings, I am sure he died with inner satisfaction at having helped liberate Zimbabwe.
The war was full of many Chapungus, Nevers and Munaros.
These are the many heroes we should be remembering every August, if not everyday.
These are the heroes missing from our many billboards.
They made the ultimate sacrifice, untied to a monetary promise.
Today we have types of heroes who will not hesitate to throw away national colours unless there is a firm promise for monetary reward.
Heroism, as in paying the ultimate prize, was abundant among the ancestors of the Chapungus, Nevers and Munaros. Chinengundu Mashayamombe, a Chikonamombe, was arguably the First Chimurenga’s foremost military strategist.
It is common knowledge among Chikonamombe people that the great Chief Chinengundu Mashayamombe was killed in action in 1897 and his head decapitated as part of colonial conquest rituals.
To this day, attempts to locate the head in local and British museums have not yielded any positive results.
The name Chinengundu was taboo during the Rhodesia era.
It was a name that aroused fear and hatred among Rhodesians.
During the time of Rhodesia, members of the Chinengundu family, for fear of retribution, dropped the name, preferring second and third-generation surnames instead.
In their own words, whites admitted to Chinengundu’s military might: “At Mashayamombe we have not been able to take real control of the witchdoctor’s kopje (Kaguvi’s stronghold; and we probably had more casualties than the natives.
I do not propose to attack any strongholds, but to establish forts, harass him (Chinengundu) and threaten his crops.”
The first Chimurenga essentially collapsed in west-central Mashonaland with the fall of Chinengundu.
Today, Chinengundu is forgotten.
His name struggles for recognition in our national historical chronicles.
Conflicting accounts about his death and what became of his head have been reduced to Mhondoro pub-talk.
Yet in reality, we are hard-pressed to identify a mightier military hero.
Chinengundu Mashayamombe is not without company in our rubbish dumps of history.
His sad fate is shared with Chingaira Makoni, another legendary chief and hero during the First Chimurenga.
My great grandmother, VaMakoni, always swore, like many others across the country: “NaChingaira akafa achidamburwa musoro navarungu.”
Chingaira’s war against Rhodesian pioneers ended with his capture.
He was summarily tried and shot as whites feared his escape if he was to be taken to proper courts for trial.
What annoyed Chingaira most was the pegging-out of the whole of his territory for farms or gold claims.
Chingaira Makoni had also been incensed by the arrogance and cruelty of colonialists who grabbed his cattle and drove men into forced labour (chibharo).
Chingaira Makoni and a few dozen of his supporters were besieged from the end of August 1896 in a cave and forced out after several days by dynamite and pledges of safe conduct.
Chingaira Makoni emerged into capture in the dark of night of September 3-4 and initial plans for some trial were hastily discarded upon the escape of some of his followers.
Oral traditions are unanimous his head was subsequently decapitated and presented to Rhodes as a war trophy.
As with Chinengundu, attempts to identify and repatriate his remains are stalled.
When we talk of heroes, let us remember the ultimate sacrifice that Chapungu, Never, Munaro, Chinengundu, Felix Muchemwa and thousands others paid for you and me to be in Zimbabwe.
This story was first published in The Patriot of August 11 2016.

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