AMH is an independent media house free from political ties or outside influence. We have four newspapers: The Zimbabwe Independent, a business weekly published every Friday, The Standard, a weekly published every Sunday, and Southern and NewsDay, our daily newspapers. Each has an online edition.

  • Marketing
  • Digital Marketing Manager: tmutambara@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Tel: (04) 771722/3
  • Online Advertising
  • Digital@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Web Development
  • jmanyenyere@alphamedia.co.zw

News in Depth: ‘It’s too little too late’: Mnangagwa’s Sithole, Chikerema gesture questioned

Mnangagwa on Heroes Day announced that Sithole and Chikerema had been conferred with national hero status years after their deaths for their roles in the liberation struggle.

BY PROBLEM MASAU & PRIVELEGE GUMBODETE President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to grant pioneering liberation struggle stalwarts Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema national hero status will do very little to restore the credibility of the accolades, which have been politicised by the ruling Zanu PF party, analysts have said.

Mnangagwa on Heroes Day announced that Sithole and Chikerema had been conferred with national hero status years after their deaths for their roles in the liberation struggle.

The duo were ostracised by the regime of the late Robert Mugabe for holding divergent views.

Mnangagwa was a close lieutenant of Mugabe from the time he assumed power in 1980 until he was ousted in a military coup in 2017.

The 79-year-old president took the reins after the coup and has tried to reverse some of the controversial decisions made  by his mentor during his iron-fisted rule.

Political analysts said Mnangagwa was now trying to re-write history and disassociate himself from the Mugabe legacy by seeking to honour Sithole and Chikerema, but the move will not work as the concept of national heroes had been bastardised by Zanu PF.

Ibbo Mandaza, a former top civil servant and academic, said the motive behind the conferment of the hero status to the two was “dubious”.

“Whatever the reasons for Robert Mugabe’s refusal unto death to be buried at Heroes’ Acre, it remains a poignant irony that it was he who, almost single-handedly, denied both Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema the honour they eminently and obviously deserve,” Mandaza wrote exclusively for The Standard.

“However, the decision last week by (President) Emmerson Mnangagwa, again almost single-handedly, to reverse his predecessor’s folly does not in any way redeem or restore the inherent esteem and honour that underpin the status of hero/heroine and indeed Heroes’ Acre it.

“That is quite apart from the question of why and how these two obvious heroes of Zimbabwe’s nationalist struggle for independence were so ignominiously dumped by their erstwhile comrades, including Mugabe and Mnangagwa himself (as member of the Zanu PF politburo).

“Not to mention the observation, by a fellow student of Zimbabwe’s liberation history, that Mnangagwa is so lacking ‘in the depth of perception to make (independently) the intervention in official history’, that the jury is still out there as to the identity of the people around him that drove him to attempt to right the wrongs of the narrative around heroes and Heroes’ Acre.”

He said there was an urgent need to revisit the concept of national heroes, which has been soiled by partisan decisions by the Mugabe and Mnangagwa regimes.

“Yes, it is a historical nonsense, full of dubious political motives, that Ndabaningi Sithole and James Chikerema have been so belatedly and even unceremoniously acknowledged and declared national heroes by Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Mandaza added.

“When, where and how was this surprising decision made? Which organs of Zanu PF (politburo) or the state (cabinet) were consulted as part of the process? Where is the founding document — and the principles that underpin it — for national hero status?

“Such a document, and national (process) as opposed to party, should be the basis for a systematic revisitation of the many heroes and heroines — and not just those confined to Zimbabwe’s history, but all who will have made their contribution to the history and development of Zimbabwe across all spheres of society — who have been denied of such status.”

He added: “Until Zimbabwe restores and publishes a national comprehensive policy on the issue of national heroes/heroines, we will not have begun as a nation to exorcise this terrible beauty, our history.”

A number of national heroes and heroines, including Mugabe, have in recent years refused to be buried at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare citing the fact that it has been politicised by Zanu PF.

Liberation war stalwart Rugare Gumbo said Zimbabwe’s history would not be complete without the mention of leaders such as Sithole, hence the conferment of the hero status was long overdue.

Gumbo said there were many people that were never accorded the hero status despite their contribution to the country’s liberation.

“The history of Zimbabwe will not be complete without the mention of Sithole,” he said.

“He was a towering figure and he deserved to be honoured.

“However, there are many national heroes such as Henry Hamadziripi, Noel Mukono, Mathias Gurira, Cletus Chigohwe, Joseph Chimurenga and Wilfred ‘Dzino’ Mhanda, among others, who have not been honoured.”

Phelekezela Gumbo, a senior researcher at the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said Mnangagwa was seeking to write his own liberation legacy.

“Mnangagwa is trying to create his own liberation legacy,” he said.

“It is a worthwhile political move for him to appease a disgruntled political constituency which was affected by former president Robert Mugabe.

“It has nothing to do with morals. This is a way to solidify his power base.”

Harare-based political analyst Blessing Vava said Mnangagwa likely made the decision for selfish reasons as he was eyeing re-election next year.

“The conferment [of hero status] to the two late nationalists was an obvious case and doesn’t even need Mnangagwa’s endorsement. What is, however, shocking is that Mnangagwa had to announce it himself as if he was doing the families a favour,” Vava said.

“It is just for political expediency because Mnangagwa was part of the gang that refused them hero status in the beginning.

“Mnangagwa is on record saying Sithole was a sell-out; one wonders what has changed. It’s just political expediency; remember they denied Mukudzei Mudzi hero status despite being one of the members of Dare ReChimurenga.”

Meanwhile, Sithole’s family on Friday said it was yet to be consulted about the hero status.

Sithole died in 2000 in the United States.

Mugabe denied Sithole the national hero status despite his contribution to the liberation struggle, a move that critics say was influenced by the disdain he had for the Zanu founding leader.

He was buried in his rural home in Chipinge.

Sithole was ousted by former allies in 1975 in favour of Mugabe as the leader of the liberation movement.

His family said they learnt about the decision on his hero status on social media.

“Concerning the development you are enquiring about, I am afraid that the family has not as yet been contacted.

“Perhaps they are still to get in touch with us,” family spokesperson Sifiso Sithole-Barrow told The Standard.

In August 1963, Sithole became the first Zanu president, a party he led for a decade before being deposed in a palace coup.

Sithole later formed another party, Zanu Ndonga, with a strong support base among his own Ndau people in Chipinge.

The overwhelming support which Sithole and Zanu Ndonga received from Chipinge made him a major opposition force against  Zanu PF and Mugabe.

Prominent liberation heroes were incensed by the Zanu PF-led government decision to deny Sithole national hero status.

In 2017, the late Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa implored government to honour Sithole, and Tekere as national icons.

Mugabe’s regime also denied several Zipra and Zapu liberation war veterans hero status for opposing his government after independence.

Stanley Masaiti’s moving send-off
By The Southern Eye Aug. 28, 2022
Chipinge suffers brunt of human wildlife conflict
By The Southern Eye Aug. 28, 2022
Rapist terrorises own family
By The Southern Eye Aug. 28, 2022
Human rights bodies  move to address xenophobia
By The Southern Eye Aug. 28, 2022