The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
The global outrage for the fall of statues of those who symbolise racial injustice, fascism and imperialism gives unwavering merit for Zimbabwe to celebrate Nehanda — Zimbabwe’s liberation martyr in the founding stage of our decolonisation agenda.
The idea not only solicits memorisation of Nehanda, but it evokes an introspective turning point to audit the extent to which the status quo is underpinned in the perennial ideas of decolonisation. Rejecting the statue of Nehanda is rejecting the very foundational essence of our national question which is unequivocally predicated on the moral premise of our anti-colonial struggle. Many questions are arising from the government’s decision to erect her statue. Others are asking; who is Mbuya Nehanda anyway? Some are even questioning; why 40 years after independence? But the question which also arises is, if not now and then when? Of the three questions, I think the first one is the most important.
Who is Mbuya Nehanda?
She was born Charwe Nyakasikana in the Mazowe administrative district near Harare and was the spirit medium of a famous Mhondoro (Higher Guardian Spirit) called Nehanda. By virtue of being a medium of a female Shona Mhondoro, to this day we call her Mbuya Nehanda. Charwe Nyakasikana was falsely accused of murdering the native commissioner of her district, Henry Howlin Polland, who had been killed in battle. She was a victim of thin justice which saw her trial not even lasting for a month. The South-Africa based British High Commissioner ordered Nehanda to be executed with no room for further trial. The order was clear:
“The Queen orders Nehanda in custody under sentence of death for murder. I do hereby certify that a report of all the proceedings upon the trial of the said Nehanda for murder in and before the High Court held at Salisbury on March 1898, hath been transmitted to and laid before me as High Commissioner for South Africa by His Honourable the judge Watermeyer when sentence of death was there and then pronounced upon the said prisoner. I hereby duly authorise and approve of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda,” read part of the judgement.
Charwe Nyakasikana Nehanda and Sekuru Gumboreshumba who was the medium of the Kaguvi spirit also known as Murenga were executed by the colonial regime for fighting colonial repression. Kaguvi was alternatively known as Murenga (war spirit). The word Chimurenga is derived from Gumbochuma’s other name, Murenga. The two were hung to death on April 27, 1898. Charwe Nyakasikana and Gumbochuma/Murenga were executed alongside three others namely Zindoga, Hwata and Gutsa.
Nehanda: A symbol of resistance
Father Richertz, a Catholic Cleric was assigned to convert Mbuya Nehanda. Nehanda resisted the conversion to Christianity, while Father Richertz only managed to convert Sekuru Gumboreshumba, and baptised him as Dismas, the ‘‘good’’ thief. The other falsely alleged trio (Sekuru Kaguvi, Hwata and Zindoga) was also baptised into being Christians before meeting death. As such, Nehanda posed as a symbol of resistance — her spirit became the foundational premise of the African resistance in waiting to culminate in the Second-Chimurenga.
The clerical murderer of these heroes of our struggle recalls that:
“Mbuya Nehanda . . . called for her people and wanted to go back to her own country Mazoe and die there . . . When I saw that nothing could be done with her, the time of the execution having arrived, I left Nehanda and went to Kaguvi who received me in good dispositions. While I was conversing with him, Nehanda was taken to the scaffold. Her cries and resistance, when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming and yelling disturbed my conversation with Kaguvi very much, till the noisy opening of the trap door upon which she stood, followed by the heavy thud of her body as it fell, made an end to the interruption,” he wrote.
Nehanda remained ideologically grounded in all forms of imperialist resistance. She was not ideologically compromised. Her virtue of total loyalty to anti-colonial resistance is what is lacking in some of our politics which is entangled in neo-colonial rhetorical devices of policy priorities, democracy and good governance. According to vanguards of the anti-colonial alternative thought, putting up the statue of Nehanda is a misdirection of funds which could be otherwise channelled towards other service delivery needs of the country. This rationale characterises the depth of our national politics misplaced ideological locus of enunciation.
Celebrating Nehanda this way only allows us to question the national question from a more organic ideological standpoint which is inspired by norms and values of the African liberation tradition and not the superficial metanarrative of democracy and human rights which the West has been trying to teach us through neo-liberal grounded scholars, Civic Society Organisations and opposition parties. The proposition to give priority to other “important things’’ instead of erecting Mbuya Nehanda’s statue is not philosophically estranged from the imperialist historiography memoricide and epistimicide misgivings and methodologies perennially inclined to discrediting the symbols of African liberation and their cosmological impetus not only to our present generation but to future generations.
I hear the president of the MDC-Alliance, Advocate Nelson Chamisa and others have been dismissing Nehanda’s public monumentalisation as paganism. For me, I think that only exposes some misguided ideological (petty religious) intolerance especially for someone who claims to be a democrat and should be embracing dissent. However, I am shocked by the way Chamisa is using primordial colonial disparaging utterances to invalidate symbols of African liberation and spirituality which Nehanda epitomises to any modern progressive decolonised intellectual.
For me, immortalising Nehanda should transcend simplistic notions of cosmetic restitution, but it must underscore a patriotic desire and a sincere political commitment to resurrecting the cause of justice and socio-economic equality which Nehanda was persecuted for culminating in the progressive fully-fledged anti-colonial struggle whose continuity must be substantiated by the fight against corruption, poverty eradication and widening democracy in independent Zimbabwe.
Nehanda is not a mere symbol of commemorative nationalism as what some may narrowly want to believe. Beyond the simplistic reactionary claims of Zanu-PF’s search for validation through Nehanda, we perhaps need to see this as a deserved gesture to retrace the founding ideological locus of Zimbabwe personified in Mbuya Nehanda’s heroism. She is an iconic anti-imperialist stalwart who must be celebrated across the institutional and ideological divide in Zimbabwe.
From the fall of Rhodes in South-Africa at the University of Cape Town to the dismantling of the statue to Edward Colston in Bristol recently this exclaims the worldwide call of the disenfranchised for political and historiography justice. Let the rise of Nehanda (the statue) evoke the moral consciousness of our nationhood to rise above the trivial polarisation which has sustained cross-cutting corruption, poverty, polarisation, inter-party violence and lobbies for sanctions by our very own citizens all in pursuit of a regime change agenda which denigrates the virtues of patriots like Nehanda, Kaguvi, Nkomo, Mugabe and other unnamed heroes of our liberation.
Richard Runyararo Mahomva is a Political-Scientist with an avid interest in political theory, liberation memory and architecture of governance in Africa. He is also a creative literature aficionado. Feedback: [email protected]