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Waiting for a new day

A paradigm for national healing and reconciliation

10/11/2016 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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SATURDAY the 5th of November was Guy Fawkes Day here in the United Kingdom. For those whose history might be a little shaky and those who have grown up on a different history curriculum, Guy Fawkes is the man who was part of a plot to blow up parliament and assassinate King James 1 of England in 1605.

Robert Catesby was the leader of the conspiracy into which Fawkes was recruited by Thomas Wintour, principally because he was an explosives expert. However, the plot was foiled by Robert Cell, the King’s spymaster on the night of 4 November 1605 and Guy Fawkes was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for two days. In the end he confessed, wrote a confession and signed. He was sentenced to be hanged like a traitor. That meant being hanged, drawn (corpse drawn around) and quartered.

Accordingly, his body was cut into four pieces and taken to the four corners of the Kingdom as a warning to others. Thereafter, century after century, Guy Fawkes’ Day became an important part of the calendar and is commemorated to this day, four hundred years later. The occasion is commemorated with spectacular fireworks that light up the evening sky. As music plays in background an effigy of Guy Fawkes is burned on a bonfire.

You can imagine my fascination and, I daresay, a bit of nostalgia as well, when I heard that there was to be a fireworks display nearby. My companions and I went along to the venue. The crowds were phenomenal. It was almost as if the whole town was there. There was movement and colour everywhere and the take-away stalls were doing roaring business. The flare of the bonfire was wide and bright.

I am still pondering why a villain is thus honoured centuries after his death. I suppose it could be that people here do not take kindly to insurrection. The reason might also be less dramatic. Just a bit of introspection perhaps. What is striking is the manner in which all and sundry seem to embrace the day and would not miss it for the world. Even old timers dressed up warmly attend the forty to forty-five-minute display after which they go back home feeling that they have played their part.

I could not help thinking about home and wondering what occasion we could use to mount our own fireworks. It would be great fun and certainly very unifying. Entrepreneurs would also come in and do roaring business. We just need a bit of innovation. Incidents in our history and from the various armed conflicts Zimbabwe has had since 1890 when the Pioneer Column snaked its way into the country to make the British South Africa Company Charter operational, can come in.



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Arguably the first of such incidents could be the Shangani Battle where King Lobengula’s impis decimated the Allan Wilson patrol to a man. Regrettably hardly anyone ever talks about it. But the colonists never forgot it. The incident was part of the history taught in schools before independence. The settlers built a stone monument in honour of Allan Wilson and his men. That takes the initiative away and makes King Lobengula’s story less significant by comparison. We need to tell some of these landmark incidents from a people’s point of view.

The Chinhoyi Battle of 1965 signalled the start of the second war of liberation that culminated in Zimbabwe coming of age in April of 1980. There is a monument in honour of the seven heroes who perished in the battle, but I find myself thinking around the possibility of annual fireworks around the memory of the brave seven. It’s something to think about and even try.

We need to keep all the big things on the national radar regardless of whether or not they extol us. What would be vital is how our collective national memory preserves important events for posterity. Such occasions can be the glue that binds people together in continuity. My fear is that if nothing is done we might become victims of a ubiquitous national amnesia around the significant events of our history.

On a visit to the slave castle in the Cape Coast Province of Ghana I saw first-hand how this castle on a cliff on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean is cherished and preserved. The objective for this national monument is to keep alive memories of the horrors of the slave trade as a reminder that such a thing should never happen again. The slave castle also stands as a permanent warning of the tragedies that can befall the human race as a result of political bigotry, racism and other ills including defective theologies that assign a role of subservience to so-called people of colour. Thus, it would not be amiss to commemorate Gukurahundi in some way.

The project can easily become part of the on-going national healing and reconciliation efforts. Historians, villagers, architects, landscape designers, soldiers and politicians as well as representatives of families directly affected can come together on this until there is a concept of what is to be done. But for such a venture to be meaningful, acceptable and successful, proper research must be done and all accounts must be taken cognisance of including what Kevin Woods writes in his book about Apartheid South Africa’s hidden hand in the infamous conflict. Kevin Woods was a member of South Africa’s spy network and has made some telling revelations about this dark period of Zimbabwe’s history.

No doubt, there might be others who may want to raise the spectre of Entumbane. They should not be stifled and nothing should be sacrosanct. I am not a fan of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev but I have always felt that while some of his ideas and programmes were questionable, ‘glasnost’ certainly wasn’t a bad idea. We all need openness. After the openness, we need perestroika (restructuring). In our own situation in Zimbabwe, we need to say what happened in every instance and make it a compulsory part of the nation’s history syllabuses at various levels. That way we can achieve catharsis and move on together as one in working for a new day that must surely come.

The process may be painful and disconcerting but is definitely necessary. In the scheme of things, we might find that all of us are in some way culpable. The task requires us to be clear and resolute about catharsis, national healing and reconciliation. A book coordinated by the Midlands State University (MSU) on the conflicts from the year 2000 onwards has already been researched for and published. This was a continuation of GNU business on national healing and reconciliation. The idea can be used in a much more encompassing way.

If the issues are tackled boldly and honestly many questions would have to be addressed. It would also be necessary to agree on a cut-off point. People would have to agree how far back to go in the list of national problems and grievances. In many discourses on these things the whites or Europeans as they called themselves tend to escape scrutiny and become practically invisible.

We would need answers to a whole lot of questions such as the assassination of Paul Mushonga, the President of a party known as The Pan- Africanist Socialist Union (PASU) under mysterious circumstances in the 1960s as well the truth on Samuel Tichafa Parirenyatwa, Vice President of The Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) at the time of his death. When Benjamin Burombo died in Bulawayo in the late 1950s the common belief was that he had been ‘medically murdered’ if there is such a thing, on the operation table.

Answers would also be necessary regarding the demise of Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Alfred Nikita Mangena and several others. Edson Sithole too! That’s what a comprehensive national healing and reconciliation exercise should do. And if compensation is in order it should be exacted. There should be no sacred cows in all this. The former Europeans of Zimbabwe would have to explain what happened to the cattle that they confiscated from the Ndebele State and an accommodation would have to be reached regarding the cattle from Shona speaking polities raided by the Ndebele armies in the period preceding 1890.

The United Kingdom should be made liable for the excesses of the BSA Company. There is now a precedent in Kenya. When everything is out in the open and an agreement is in place we can then let the matter rest in our history books and in our archives. We can then light up our own skies in remembrance of all our heroes.

In my view, the idea of a Remembrance Day is a very noble one. In IsiNdebele they say induku enhle iganyulwa ezizweni (literal translation: a beautiful knobkerrie can only be harvested in foreign lands). In other words, we live and learn and there is much to learn from other lands.

October and November in the United Kingdom are about remembrance. The poppy flower, an international symbol of remembrance is everywhere in evidence with television presenters wearing a symbol of the red poppy flower in honour of the United Kingdom’s fallen heroes of World War 1 and World War 2. This is an annual thing to last forever. This is why there has been a bit of a furore over the ruling by FIFA banning the poppy symbol when England and Scotland clash in a qualifier for the 2018 Football World Cup.

It’s time we got our act together for a national vision pushed by all of us. That way we will definitely have begun to usher in a new day.


 
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