Heroes: Remembering the combatant and the peasant

TOGETHER AS ONE . . . There are those who relegate the role of the peasant in the war of liberation but the one with the gun and the one with a cooking pot both played a significant role

TOGETHER AS ONE . . . There are those who relegate the role of the peasant in the war of liberation but the one with the gun and the one with a cooking pot both played a significant role

Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
When this piece was started it had been titled “Truth be Told” but truth is always told in this column. So the title was changed to bring what it is all about in one line.

The month of August is dedicated to our heroes. When one commemorates the departed there is always a sombre and honest reflection that has to accompany it.

Reality has to be checked against principles, intentions and actions to see how honourable these have remained. When this columnist celebrates the life of his father who passed on 23 years ago, it is the same.

There is always a moment of reflection of what he stood for, there is some questioning whether as a parent he achieved the objectives he set out to.

There is also the question of whether those that remain represent that which he fought to achieve through them in his whole life. It is a moment of reckoning.

The same template is applied when we mark the lives of those that lost theirs to bring us independence. Have we achieved the ideals they lost it for? Are we still on the course they set so many decades ago?

The objective is not to make it comfortable for the editor, reader or the establishment. It is a “look where we are today” moment. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we are insulting the dead and their memory. It is better to take off the holiday from the calendar than to lie to them and their legacy. We shall tell the truth and the truth shall set us free.

The stated primary objective of the war for the liberation of Zimbabwe was to attain black majority rule and build an independent, multiracial country with equitable distribution of wealth among its people. One might ask, “What about the land?”.

Well, the land is the basis of the wealth. Controlling the land meant controlling the minerals in its belly, the farming activities as well as the interesting sites on top of it that attracted tourists. So, yes, the land was at the heart of the national grievance as it embodied both a social and economic cause.

If we are embarking on some kind of African context scientific socialism, how can we live with ourselves when we have people that are hoarding 10 000 hectares of land they did not pay for and yet we have a half a million people seeking land they can’t even get a square metre of it?

The only reason the war gained legitimacy and appeal among the peasant was because at the heart of it was the “land issue” and the mere mention of it made the objectives make sense.

The Fast Track Land Redistribution Programme should be celebrated for providing land to 300 000 families, that is great achievement. But it also provided the nation with oligarchs and land hoarders, that cannot be ignored.

The replacement of the cruel Boer with an equally worker insensitive “black Boer” cannot be ignored either. Besides the absence of insensitive and condescending racial slur, the rest of the treatment of the worker is the same, if not worse. This is not what the peasant fought for. This is certainly not what most of the combatants fought for.

There are those who relegate the role of the peasant in all this but the one with the gun and the one with a cooking pot both played a significant role.

Guerrilla tactics were hit and run. So landmines would be set, some calculated skirmishes to hurt the enemy, some sabotage of infrastructure and the combatants would then disappear. But there was someone who could not just “disappear” because this was their home.

This was their life. It was the peasant. They bore the brunt of the vengeful Rhodesian backlash. They became collateral damage and proxies for punishment. They only absorbed this suffering because they believed in the cause.

The guerrilla tactics also worked because once there was peasant consciousness, there was no longer a need to carry some cumbersome dry rations. The population became the source of not only succour but a decent hot meal when time permitted. The local businessman opened their grocery stores for rations and others for clothes.

Our war was not won by the gun only. In fact, it was won because it was both a military and a political contest. The actual theatre for this was the village and the player at the heart of it was the peasant.

The only thing the village population did not provide to the fighter was the weapon. Villagers gave their cattle, cooked the meals, provided their crops, clothes and moral support. Young men drove some Boers’ cattle from neighbouring farms at risk to life and limb.

This was everyone’s war. As we commemorate Heroes’ Day we also mark their heroic efforts and commitment to the cause. It is their participation which turned the whole liberation effort from being a mere political parties issue into a “movement”.

The Rhodesian response to the concordance between the combatant and the villager was to put the villager in concentration camps also known as “keeps”. Once there, the villager was not fed but ordered to grow own food.

The combatant’s response was to fight to liberate the villager from these concentration camps. This was because it was everyone’s war and everyone fought it.

So today everyone is relieved that we got the country which everyone fought for. The rural population has never lost its consciousness. Its affinity to the politics that was with the gun is seen today by the continued relationship between the villager and the Party of Liberty.

The villager continues to appreciate the sacrifice of the combatant because they saw it, first hand. The combatant who has also become a villager appreciates the role the rural population played to provide him/her with intel, food and other support.

During the “pungwes” there was a lot of political education and exchange of information. This is when a social contract was arrived at between the parties.

So, today if one says this is not what we promised the people, let us all stop and listen. And if the villager says this is not what we were offered and we in turn offered our all including limbs, they know what they are talking about.

But there is a time the two sit under a tree and roll up some tobacco and talk, sharing a calabash or some brew. They look at where we are and compare it with the congruent vision they had mutually held. They then see a billow of dust rising from a dirty road, which eventually reveals an out of place brand new Ford Ranger truck. Out of it emerges an equally out of place, neckless, podgy man in his late 40s who addresses them condescendingly.

They look at each other with unasked questions of whether this is what they fought for. Surely, nothing is well. Their minds go back to the war, after all they won it together but few are enjoying the caviar with all the trimmings.

Let us now commemorate our heroes acknowledging that the Rhodesian had superior military hardware and technology, but lost the war because they did not have the people on their side. They also lacked the moral superiority which the liberators had.

Today let us not lose the same moral superiority and the goodwill of the people. We will do that if we don’t stop those who impugn the good name of the liberation party through self-serving corrupt activities.

When their quest for primitive accumulation of wealth leaves the rest of the population in awe at the inordinate human capacity for selfishness and greed. When the ideals of the liberation struggle are contemptuously trampled upon, let us all remember; we were all in it together.

Heroes among us were and are still created by difficult times. Heroes are the ones who showed a nobility of character and selfless sacrifice for the good of others. If today everyone wants to be rewarded for what they did, do they remain heroes, seeing that they did it for a reward?

Does an investor who makes a sacrifice for future profits become a hero? If not, then our heroes are the ones who sacrificed all for the common good and don’t become a millstone around the necks of the Zimbabwean people for it. The dividends should be for everyone and not a few.

The masses joined the struggle and immensely contributed because they were asked to state their grievances. On doing so the combatant created a congruency between the national grievance and the objectives of the war.

The peasant saw their plight coming to an end, this is why they bought into the war. Today they continue to back the liberating party in polls, but do they see the realisation of their dreams and fulfilment of the liberation war objectives?

They see a black political leadership where they used to see a white one. They both see a propensity to accumulate but never to give back. An elite class with a corruptly vulgar appetite for material goods and a patronising attitude. Is what the heroes fought for?

Let us honour their memory by trying to meet the objectives of the villager and the combatant.

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  • Taneta

    I read the piece with a sneer thinking it was the usual Zanu PF propaganda drivel only to be surprised that it’s a well balanced article. As Zimbabweans we just want ‘hupenyu huri nani’ not our current hopeless existence and asking for such doesn’t make us stooges of the west but just real people.

  • mpengo

    The peasant and the peasant’s children were betrayed by the combatant.

    Who is suffering today?

    Who, in turn, is living selfishly and lavishly off the country’s wealth?