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Whose heroes?!

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On Zimbabwe’s Heroes’ Day two weeks ago, I had the great embarrassment to be among some South African friends. As the news on SABC – South Africa’s national broadcaster – came on with a report on the event, everyone in the TV room hushed down and turned up the volume. Anyone who was still talking was given a glowering eye which meant, “Shut up!”

And so the report came on. And there he was – our 86-year-old president – telling everyone in the west to go to hell in a speech delivered at the hallowed Heroes’ Acre where all the ‘patriotic’ sons and daughters of the soil are laid to rest. There was even a shot of a few ardent supporters holding up a banner that read, “To hell, hell, hell, hell!”

I cringed.

My South African friends laughed.

And then the sadness came over me.

Zimbabwe is the joke of southern Africa – if not even the world! People everywhere tune up the volume on their televisions and radios to listen to the rantings of a man so uniquely obsessed with Britain and the US that it makes for what I can only describe as verbal masturbation. After all, he did once tell Tony Blair to keep his England while he kept his Zimbabwe!

Now, the reason I am writing about this all is because a good friend of mine, Delta Milayo Ndou, recently posted a quite fascinating commentary on her blog about the role that Zimbabwe’s youth has to play in rebuilding our woeful democracy.

Because, so often, Zimbabwe’s young people are excluded from discourse around reform, we remain clueless and disinterested. We flock to other nations with better infrastructure and opportunities for self-actualisation, thereby leaving our own nation barren and desolate. I remember quite vividly a television jingle – shot around 2003 when the land reform was still in its strength – that showed a group of young people in a twin cabĀ  dancing and singing about their future being “this land of ours, our Zimbabwe”. I was 19 years old then and believe me, no amount of propaganda could have ever made me interested in picking up a hoe and planting anything!

So as Delta questions, how can we ensure that Zimbabwe’s youth indentify with this nation’s future?

Well, since I began with the example of Heroes’ Day, let me continue with it. For as long as I can remember, Heroes’ Day has always been an event about honouring people who died in the liberation struggle; about guts and gore and guns and corpses.

Heroes Day has never been about ordinary people. Instead, it’s almost always been a guilt trip with people being made to feel like they should be eternally grateful because the ‘freedom’ that they now enjoy is founded upon the death of someone who heeded the liberation maxim that stated Tora pfuti uzvitonge (Take a gun and rule yourself).

Now, that was more than 30 years ago. And appreciative we are. But progressive we also are. When a hazy picture of some liberation hero competes with the hazy idea of success for a young person, trust me that the latter will win out.

You can’t keep Zimbabwe’s youth interested through guilt and propaganda that doesn’t speak to any of their aspirations! It will not work.

Why, I ask, is the definition of a hero so narrowly defined anyway? Should one have died for their nation to be defined as such? Should one get the 21 gun salute to simply qualify?

Heroes abound among us – living and dead. My heroes include people like Oliver Mutukudzi who have put Zimbabwe’s music on the global map; Haru Mutasa who has shown other young black female Zimbabwean journalists that they can make it onto the international media platform; sporting legends like Kirsty Coventry, Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwaru who have dazzled the world – all the while making us proud to say “Vana vedu ivavo!” (Those are our children!)

Other heroes are entrepreneurs like Strive Masiyiwa, Nigel Chinakire and the late Peter Pamire who have all shown that age should never be a deterrent to being financially successful and prosperous.

But Heroes’ Day doesn’t appreciate that. Its symbolism is too deeply entrenched in war and victory and what ZANU PF has done for Zimbabwe.

It is too much engrossed in the past to resonate with our youth who are flooding out of Zimbabwe’s border posts because of their disenchantment and disillusionment with the way this amazing nation called Zimbabwe is treating them, as well as everyone else.

Thirty years is a very long time to continue to laud past efforts.

And don’t get me wrong – the British and Americans still remember their war heroes too. But they also provide space for emerging leaders in different fields – look at the way living legends get knighted by the Queen of England or how getting a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is such a prestigious thing for Americans.

Do we have anything similar? Do we have well-recognised national accolades or awards that are instantly recognisable?

Of course not. If your remains aren’t interred into the Heroes’ Acre, you just aren’t really a hero of any kind.

New heroes have been born since 1980. And while we remember the old, let’s also celebrate the current ones.

If we don’t get Zimbabwe’s young people excited about Zimbabwe, then who will rebuild our stumbling nation?

The solution I offer is to do as a popular South African song instructs – make the circle bigger. Only by applauding the good works of heroes that our young people can actually identify with can we ever hope to get them interested in building on the legacies of so many great Zimbabweans.

I am not saying do away completely with the old. Absolutely not! I am just saying we need to increase the options – across all sectors and within all fields.

Zimbabwe urgently needs a redefinition of what a hero is. And for me – and many others – the real heroes of my time aren’t the people who lived and died before I was born. They are the people I see myself in; the people I stencil my future against because of their singular focus on an unsubstantiated dream that could only become real through self-belief and faith in the elements.

I therefore call loudly – and without inhibition – on the establishment to take the time to seriously ponder celebrating Zimbabwe’s new heroes.

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