BY TATENDA CHITAGU
A LOCAL historian has said government erected Mbuya Nehanda’s statue for political expediency, distorting history since the heroine of the first war of resistance against colonial rule was not a national, but a regional figure.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday unveiled a statue of Charwe Nyakasikana in central Harare, saying his government was seeking to tell the correct history of the country and was “setting the record straight”.
But academic Takavafira Zhou, who is also president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said glorifying Mbuya Nehanda, who had “mythical influence in the second, not first, Chimurenga”, was “a dangerous historical misnomer”.
“This epistle must be understood as an accurate historical narrative and nothing more. The truth is that Nehanda was not a national figure, but local figure as a spirit medium whose influence was restricted to Mazoe area,” Zhou said.
“Her advantage was her nearness to the locus of power and white misconception of 1896-97 uprisings. She has been wrongly elevated to national status because of totalising Zezuru hegemonic power.
“To assume only Zezuru had national spirit mediums like Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi and Chaminuka is a dangerous historical misnomer.”
He added: “Pre-colonial Zimbabwe was more organised along clans with all clans having their own spirit mediums.
“Many areas had their own spirit mediums with the Mazarire spirit medium in Masvingo, Muendamberi spirit medium in Chegutu, VaChifedza spirit medium in Chivi and Mazvihwa, with the Lemba resorting to Ngoma Lungundu and Gona Magumbate that also had spirit mediums or special handlers.
“Various other areas had their own spirit mediums and never knew of a Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi.
“She was merely an innocent woman wrongly killed on false assumption that religious leaders were behind the 1896-97 uprisings.
“In fact, there was no Chimurenga in 1896-97, but Zvimurenga with individual chiefs entering the war alone, fighting alone and being defeated alone.
“Local politics was more important than feelings of nationality, with many local chiefs joining the war against fellow African chiefs.
“It is surprising how our politics has continued to be divorced from academic reality for political expediency. It is also interesting to note how Mugabeism has continued beyond (the late former President Robert) Mugabe’s reign. Deflated by failure to turn around the economy of Zimbabwe, the so-called new dispensation turned 360 degrees to Mugabeism and liberation struggle rhetoric with the current preoccupation with Nehanda statue,” he
Contrary to Mnangagwa’s claims that Mbuya Nehanda’s skull was in a United Kingdom museum and that Zimbabwe would pursue its repatriation for proper reburial, Zhou claimed that the cranium in question was that of Chief Makoni Chingaira.
“If we need the real heroes of the First Chimurenga, one wonders why we are silent about Chief Makoni Chingaira who was the first victim of the First Chimurenga, executed by a firing squad,” Zhou added.
“It is undisputable that his head is in United Kingdom and not that of Mbuya Nehanda as erroneously claimed by some people. Mugabe would not have claimed the bottom of Great Zimbabwe birds and left the heads of his Zezuru kith and kin in the UK,” Zhou said.
“Put simply, Zimbabwe needs to move from political rhetoric by leaving a legacy of accurate history for future generations. We must celebrate our unity in diversity and desist from imposing a diet of historical falsehoods for political expediency.
“As much as it is important to remember the dead, Zimbabwe would do better if leaders were preoccupied with improvement of the livelihoods of the generality of Zimbabwean people.”