Facing down the monster that he created with great optimism and expectations, Malawi’s late Henry Chipembere, a real honest-to-goodness young independence pioneer, made his last speech as Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament on September 9th, 1964. Malawi had become independent on July 6th, 1964.
Mindful of their tender ages, Chipembere, Kanyama Chiume, along with the Chisiza brothers, Dunduzu and Yatuta, had invited Dr Kamuzu Banda, then a practicing physician in Ghana, to come home and take over the leadership for the fight for Malawi’s independence. He obliged.
But, hardly three months into independence, Kamuzu Banda turned tyrant, arresting and sending into exile the young men and women who had co-opted him into the leadership of the fight for independence.
Now, the Animal Farm script was unfolding right before their eyes. It was time to run.
“History takes long to declare its verdict,” Chipembere said that September day in Parliament. “The villains of today may be declared saints tomorrow; it may be after their death.”
It is no exaggeration to say that Zimbabwe has not only pioneered doom but has actually given the entire world an actual political suicide ÔÇô the fact that we still see it kicking a leg once in a while is nothing but a persistence to live, something we find in tree branches.
We do not want to die; we want to continue living well after we are dead and that causes serious problems for those who are still living a natural life.
The fact that Zimbabwe fought one of Africa’s most brutal wars for independence is testimony to the bravery and belief in self of the people of Zimbabwe.
To this day, evidence of such bravery and national single purpose is scattered around the country.
Zimbabwe was liberated by young volunteers; young adults who believed in life after colonialism ÔÇô it sounds archaic but is true.
The youngsters, boys and girls, left their homes, school and family and went forward, travelling hundreds of miles into forests to reach unknown destinations where clearly nothing but the worst was expected. They were young, with no hope in their past, present and in their future; they were experienced in nothing but desire to be free. They were connoisseurs in hope and they liberated Zimbabwe.
The euphoria of liberating the country and eventual independence in 1980 caught everyone wrong footed.
On return home after the war of liberation, there were ‘shefs’ ÔÇô high ranking political leaders; and there were the ‘povo’ ÔÇô the so-called ordinary people. These words are of Portuguese origin but they set the parameters of class long before independence was achieved.
The freedom fighters, who were basically uneducated owing to them having left school early to join the war effort, were first awarded a demobilization cash amount as they were released from active duty since soldiering was a totally different affair from guerrilla warfare.
That was far from enough for people so severely traumatized by killing and escaping death. They witnessed their comrades being shredded to nothing and saw children burned alive. They spent their young lives killing or trying to kill while they had to stay alert to avoid being killed.
On return home, there were no special hospitals to cater for their special needs. To this day, Zimbabwe does not have a single Veterans Hospital to handle the peculiar issues that those who saw combat need addressed.
Even the traditional cleansing ceremonies were held in the National Sports Stadium instead of them being undertaken individually.
There was no meaningful jobs training or simple preparation for them to transition from a life of war to civilian life governed by acceptable norms and societal laws and expectations.
They, therefore, became outcasts in their existence and did not even fit in well within their own families.
Uneducated. Untrained. Hungry, Unemployed. Unemployable. Angry. A recipe for disaster.
They went on a rampage and violently took over farms only to hand those farms to the ‘shefs’. They threatened judges, beat up people, murdered people ÔÇô all in the name of having fought for the country’s liberation and in support for Mugabe.
That is not how war veterans behave. They became mercenaries the moment they demanded and accepted payment. They supported and stood by Mugabe; they manhandled people, killed their own people, oppressed their own kin, and intimidated people into submission.
Now their organization, led by violent, loud-mouthed, self-serving, publicity-seeking idiots is divided and humiliated.
They have been abused. Neglected. Used. They lost direction and now sing hymns of praise to Grace Mugabe, of all people! Yet the real war veterans are there, watching silently. They have been shunted aside. They saw combat. They killed and survived many near deaths. They are physically, emotionally and psychologically maimed.
No one knows sacrifices made by villagers during the entire war of liberation than war veterans ÔÇô not the charlatans we read about in the papers everyday but the real war veterans who don’t wish to see anymore conflicts yet are powerless to stop the rot. In their understandable silence, they too are to blame.
Yet, amongst us the real war veterans mingle silently because they too are victims of a good process they started in good faith but which has now been hijacked. They watch helplessly as their ultimate efforts are soiled. They have been robbed of their sacrifices, of their dignity and of their country. Their dreams lie in ruins as fake war veterans benefit at their expense.
On the other side of the same coin sit national heroes who continue to lose their shine because of the way they are hand-picked. Like war veterans, national heroes must have remained loyal to Mugabe – the one man who decides who a hero to the nation is.
It is so stupid, it is embarrassing.
At first, the Heroes Acre appeared like a good idea, especially for people who were in dire need of heroes to praise for liberating the country. But it turned out that Mugabe was mixing real heroes with charlatans whose greatest qualification was simply being liked by Mugabe.
The acrimony between war veterans and Mugabe is very unsettling yet not many people care for either because both have abused the nation and both have killed innocent people.
War veterans and national heroes are selfless people who were abused and used by Mugabe and whose statuses are tainted by the same masters they created, supported and served.
Henry Chipembere died in exile in the United States in 1975. His prophetic words in his last parliamentary contribution predicted how African leaders behave. From Zimbabwe to Uganda to his homeland of Malawi, we see clearly what Chipembere meant.
Wherever we are, whatever we are, we are our own liberators, our own heroes.