Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
There is a flame that eternally flickers at a tower atop a hill adjacent to a rich valley about 7km to the west of the city centre of Harare.
Catching the eye of the wayfarer at night, with its persistent glow from a 40-metre obelisk, the flame not only succours the traveller, but consumes him with its spirit of distend recourse, which pulls him towards the hill.
Consuming him with its silent imploration of persistence, love and determination, the flame compels the wayfarer to take heed, and be part of the hill and its environs, without really forcing him to lose himself.
It is the spirit of Independence; the spirit of love, sacrifice, determination, collective unity and gallantry. The spirit of freedom; an eternal passion for patriotism born of selflessness and the desire to unshackle a whole people from the clutches of colonialism and its attendant machinations.
This is the Eternal Flame at the National Heroes Acre in Harare where gallantry is celebrated through recollection of the gory experiences of the liberation struggle to which thousands of gallant sons and daughters of the soil were lost.
Theirs was a struggle spurred on by the desire to ignite an eternal flame that would outlive them as mortals. It is this Flame that was lit on Independence Day in April 1980; and, indeed, it is this same Flame that burns eternally at the National Heroes Acre.
When it was kindled on April 18, 1980 at Rufaro Stadium in Harare, the Eternal Flame was taken to Harare Hill where the Pioneer Column hoisted the Union Jack on September 12, 1890, thus marking the end of colonialism. Now, the Eternal Flame is perched on a towering 40-metre pillar, where it continues to flick to remind us of the many sacrifices that brought us the freedom we enjoy today.
It is the call for unity; an embodiment of the spirit of Independence that emboldens us to forget our differences and join hands as a people to celebrate the legacy of sacrifice, hard work and resilience.
As we celebrate Heroes Day, we should desist from letting that spirit of oneness dissipate, for it is that Flame within us that keeps us together and spells out who we are.
We are a nation together, regardless of political or religious affiliation. Our heroes, whose spirits are resplendent in the Eternal Flame, fought for the politics of love; the religion of love and the culture of love.
They didn’t die in vain.
Zimbabwe is the only country we have. It is our Motherland, notwithstanding the challenges we face together. We should be inspired by George William Curtis who said: “A man’s country is not a certain piece of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.”
Yes, nationhood is built on principle and patriotism, and loyalty to that which makes us principled and patriotic. The heroes, our heroes, whose loyalty we celebrate every second Monday of August, knew that freedom could never be offered on a silver platter, hence, they took up arms to fight, because they could not remain caged. They believed in freedom. They believed in love, even beyond the grave. It takes more than sacrifice to put one’s life on the block for the love of others. It is like planting a fruit tree that may come to fruition long after the death of the planter. It is the essence of love. Indeed, it is the nature of selfless love to remain loyal to a principle that may leave one dead; physically. Heroes, true heroes of the soil do not die, for they are the seed of life and the passion that glows in the Eternal Flame of freedom.
As in the words of anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela, “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
He becomes an outlaw in search of justice; the justice that recognises him as a man and not a “half-child” and “half-devil”, requiring the guidance of a warped racialist and imperialistic gang of aliens purporting to be God’s emissaries.
It is such a man or woman, whose never-say-die spirit is depicted in the Eternal Flame, termed a “terrorist” for refusing to remain caged, that we celebrate each year on Heroes Day.
He/she is the kind of bird that Stephen King writes about thus: “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild.
“So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them, they somehow fly out past you” (“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A story from different seasons”).
There are some among us, who would rather take us back in time, believing that colonialism, perchance, was better; because they are forgetful, or never experienced it first-hand. Wisdom informs us that he who is chained cherishes the gift of freedom, but he who is free fantasises of the thrill of being fettered. Freedom means a lot to those whose forefathers lost arms and limbs, and breathed their last in the trenches in a quest to wade away from the sinking ships of their dreams, yet remaining ensconced in the same aspirations that shape their destiny. Such is the nature of loyalty, such is the nature of principle; and such is patriotism.
When people talk of freedom, they misconstrue it to other such flimsy variations that appear to be delusional; for the ultimate freedom is that which gives one access to a humane existence; the freedom to claim ownership of the means of production and all that makes it possible to live without merely existing.
It is the land that can only make all our dreams tenable, for it is the essence of life and prosperity, without which all our dreams are doomed. And, it was the contentious issue of the land that led to the First Chimurenga of 1896 and the Second Chimurenga of the 1960s and 70s.
The glow in the Eternal Flame is symbolic of that spirit of freedom to be masters of our destiny as a people. We may be struggling, but we struggle together conscious of the reality of our land; the reality that only we, as Zimbabweans understand and share.
Together we can conquer, that is the spirit that drove the liberation struggle; the same spirit can take us to that Promised Land.
The land, yes: “The land is sacred! These words are at the core of our being. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood. Take away our land and we die. That is, the Indian in us dies. We’d become just the sun-tanned white men, the jetsam and flotsam of your great melting point,” so reasons Mary Brave Bird.
If we believe we can, then surely nothing can stop us. Our heroes were cognisant of that fact. They had so much faith in the new country, the new Zimbabwe. They so much believed in its existence that they put their lives on the block for the realisation of that nation where everyone would be a brother’s keeper, and a responsible citizen to book.
At a gathering in commemoration of our fallen heroes on August 12, 1986, ZAPU MP for Beitbridge Kembo Mohadi said: “Those heroes who died during the struggle are sharing the same blanket, which is the soil covering them, and so they are united. What is stopping us from uniting too?” (The Herald, 13 August 1986).
Such inspirational words, such words of wisdom. Indeed, if our heroes are united in death, die fighting for unity and equality, and believe in the sacredness of the land, our land, why should we drift apart along conflicting streams?
In remembrance of our dearly departed selfless countrymen, let us keep the Eternal Flame burning, and find it within us to reflect on the meaning of heroism. It is more than sacrifice; it is the spirit to share a dream that may come to fruition even in our absence.
We are because all of us are!