15/02/2018 16:08 SAST | Updated 15/02/2018 16:08 SAST

Morgan Tsvangirai And The Making Of A National Hero

Do the right thing, and honour the great man.

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters
Morgan Tsvangirai, former leader of Zimbabwe's opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has died.

When Elliot Manyika – with the help of Bryn Muteki – sang and danced his way to national hero status in Zimbabwe, conferred on him by the Zanu-PF politburo in December 2008, I oscillated between alarm and disbelief, before inevitably finding myself denouncing the dubious distinction, and strongly disagreeing with the restrictive and biased manner in which national heroes have been chosen since 1980.

If Manyika made it to the Heroes Acres in Warren Park on the strength of his track "Nora", will Oliver Mtukudzi be accorded hero status for singing "Dzoka Uyamwe" and "Bvuma"? Will Thomas Mapfumo become a national hero for summing up African struggles on "Corruption" and "Mamvemve"? Will Leonard Zhakata be recognised for calling for economic reform and economic classlessness in the timeless 1990s classic "Mugove"?

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
Zimbabwe's former opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai addresses a news conference in Harare September 18, 2013.

The making of a hero should never be reduced to ethnic, factional, individual, party or racial considerations and wartime vendettas...

I would rather celebrate Safirio "Mukadota" Madzikatire, and Stella Chiweshe, ahead of a glorified militia chief whose actions wounded innocent voters. I would rather honour Peter Ndlovu running circles around Doctor Khumalo, John "Shoes" Moshoeu and breathless South African defenders at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday, August 16, 1992, and recognise the impressive Kirsty Coventry inspiring black, white, Indian and coloured communities by winning three gold medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, than honour a man who divided the nation and bequeathed to all a demented legacy of extreme, unmitigated violence.

Sadly, our exceedingly conservative, insensitive and aloof leaders seem convinced that political endeavour is the only ability worthy of everlasting acclaim – and then, only the right kind of political endeavour.

That Gezi and Manyika were laid to rest at the national Heroes Acres when John Chibadura, James Chimombe, Tongai Moyo and Biggie Tembo have never been adequately rewarded for their wonderful achievements in the entertainment industry, reveals a flawed, narrow and outdated selection process that erroneously reduces each and every conceivable consideration to whether or not they served Zanu-PF.

Because Sally Mugabe was declared a national hero, presumably for her pre-independence activities and philanthropic contributions after 1980, will Grace Mugabe be lavished with similar praise for her "charitable" works and her turbulent times guiding the Zanu-PF Women's League? And if Enos Nkala, a man implicated in the Gukurahundi massacres, was declared a national hero, must the nation revisit all of its national values?

Nkala, together with "heroes" such as Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, played an instrumental role in disrupting, and not advancing, the immediate post-independence dispensation through violent actions in Matabeleland and Midlands.

The making of a hero should never be reduced to ethnic, factional, individual, party or racial considerations and wartime vendettas, especially since national recognition forms a crucial connection between past successes and future determinations, and nourishes the soul of the nation.

Save was a man of the people who must be declared a national hero.

So refusing Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole and Bishop Abel Muzorewa national hero status, for example, and then unashamedly burying Gezi and Manyika at the national shrine, remains extraordinarily vindictive, cowardly and selfish.

Such rash and unforgiving determination to appropriate our vast and colourful history and diminish divergent political experiences should not be repeated in the aftermath of Morgan Tsvangirai losing a lengthy battle with colon cancer on February 14, 2017.

Save, a giant of a union leader and the ultimate trailblazer in the post-unity accord era of national politics, a man who almost lost his life at the hands of rogue police officers controlled by the slippery Augustine Chihuri, was a brave hero to many.

Save was the symbolic representation of murdered MDC activists like Tichaona Chiminya, Talent Mabika and Tonderai Ndira, and the the living soul of every political activist, like Itai Dzamara, who went missing under suspicious circumstances.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
Morgan Tsvangirai reacts after arriving at a rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 5, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulwayo

Save was to half of the electorate what Mugabe, untainted by power, was to the liberated masses on April 18, 1980. Save was the epitome of the thirst for social and economic renewal.

And while he made mistakes and missed his "Nelson Mandela" moment to resign (several times), Save succeeded where Edgar Tekere and ZUM failed, through establishing a robust opposition movement that eschewed civil conflict when they were pummelled mercilessly in the run-up to the presidential election run-off in 2008.

Save was a man of the people who must be declared a national hero.

Save was a real hero.

Do the right thing.

Honour the great man.