The Importance of Memorials 

One of my great Uncles, 2nd Lt. Havelock Cross was killed in 1916 in the first World War. I am sure that somewhere in Europe is a blank white cross placed by a grateful nation in his memory.

Source: The Importance of Memorials – The Zimbabwean


Eddie Cross

Today it is 77 years since the Allied Forces landed in Normandy to start the process of liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny. On plain white stone are 22 000 names engraved with the dates on which they were killed and their age. So many young people, the world lost a whole generation in that conflict. Many of the names are from this and other Commonwealth nations.

In 1989 I travelled to Germany with our Minister of Home Affairs, Dumiso Dabengwa; Germany, just recently united after decades under the divided state administration that the Second World War left behind. The highlights of that trip for me was meeting a young Christian Democrat in the East called Angela Merkel and buying a hot dog from the former East German Ambassador to Zimbabwe, who was now working in a fast food outlet in Berlin. The other Memory which will stay with me until I die, was a plain white marble Memorial to the German Soldiers who fought in the Second World War in what had been East Berlin.

This Memorial is virtually unknown outside of Germany, but there can be no doubt, that whatever you think of the Nazi Party and its leadership and the way Hitler dominated Germany and led the country into suicidal conflict on the basis of racial supremacy, the one outstanding feature of the War, was the German Soldier. All those young Germans who carried out amazing military feats in obedience to their leadership. Every day, a large truck had to be brought to this Memorial to take away the flowers and memorabilia that visitors left behind.

I lived through the Vietnam War when America tried to halt the tide of Communist expansion in the Far East. It divided the US like no other war after the Civil War. Veterans came home in coffins and in wheel chairs many deeply troubled by the horrors they had experienced and found that they were not regarded as heroes. Despite this, the US leadership decided that a Memorial should be created in Washington in the memory of the more than 50 000 men and women who died in this failed war.

An Architect was appointed and the result, when it was unveiled, was very controversial – just a deep trench in the ground lined by black stone, on which every name of those who died was inscribed. At one end a simple statue of ordinary GI’s in a fight. As I walked through that trench I was struck by how real the sacrifice of every name was made clear. In the same place were dozens of families, parents with small children, looking for the names of a relative who was there. Toys, flowers and tears were all over the place. It felt like sacred ground, no different to the German Memorial to the millions of young Germans who died in the Second World War.

Here in Zimbabwe, just two weeks ago, our President unveiled a Memorial to a Nanga who had been executed in 1896 by my forefathers for her role as one of the leaders of the first revolt against white, colonial settlement. Known here as Mbuya (Grandmother) Nehanda. This was very controversial in what is a predominately a Christian country today and many criticized the action because Nehanda had been a Nanga or Witchdoctor. I watched the ceremony carefully and noted that the President had asked a Christian Pastor to open with a prayer and then a selection of Chiefs from the Provinces pariticipated. In his speech he highlighted that they were celebrating those who had fought and died in what has become known as the first Chimurenga (or Peoples struggle or war).

What many may not know, the Presidents own family was affected by this early struggle against colonial occupation in that his Great Grandfather had led a military unit against the settlers and was killed in the attack. I just hope it does not become a shrine to Animistic Religion.

That brings us back to the need for Memorials to the men and women who died in our own internal struggle for Independence, democracy and freedom. In South Africa, the Afrikaner people built a Memorial to those who died in their own history in Pretoria in the form of the Voortrekker Memorial. I have visited this and seen for myself how Afrikaner families bring their children to the Monument and show them the murals depicting their history.

In Zimbabwe we have War Memorials to those who died in the two World Wars and their graves are looked after by a Trust. We also have a Memorial in the Matobo Hills to Rhodes as well as the men who died in the attempt to capture Lobengula during the occupation. There is no memorial to the men who died in that same battle protecting their King. The Rhodesian Memorials are protected and respected as is the Voortrekker Memorial in South Africa.

But, 41 years after the end of the Second Chimurenga or Liberation War, there are no memorials to the men and women who died in what had really been a civil war. I think this is a serious oversight.

What I would like to see is a Commission to oversee this process and to undertake the creation of memorials to the Zipra, Zanla and Rhodesian Army soldiers who lost their lives in the struggle. Such a Commission should run a competition to select a suitable design for each Memorial. Then to raise the funds for construction from the public and oversee construction at selected sites. Families should be invited to submit the names of those whom they want remembered.

These sites should be open to the public and to the families of these men and women and be open to each, to visit and remember. It gives us as a people and a country a place where we can remember the people who made what is the ultimate sacrifice which is to “give up his life for others”. Young Zimbabweans need to know and understand that what they enjoy today in terms of freedom, democracy and dignity with opportunity was won by sacrifice.

That is exactly what the British are doing today at Normandy, overlooking the beaches where thousands died for the freedom of Europe. As the Germans and the Americans have shown it does not need to recognise or even celebrate victory – just courage and sacrifice. Whatever cause is involved it is cathartic and healing and allows us all to remember the sacrifice of others who did not come home.

COMMENTS

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    J. Matabeleland 1 week ago

    Eddie, you had done so well until you got to this sentence. “Young Zimbabweans need to know and understand that what they enjoy today in terms of freedom, democracy and dignity with opportunity was won by sacrifice”. By,”What they enjoy today”? I presume ZANU Spin Doctors are referring to something other than the desolate societal, political and economic wasteland we the masses have been led to by the Liberators. No doubt these Liberators see themselves as being worthy of monumental display.
    Have any of the G. 20000 – plus thousands more – been asked for their picks as national heroes.
    Mr. Cross, the young people of our country have NO shining beacon of example and hope to strive toward.