Who is a hero in Zim?

On Thursday President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the late music superstar, Oliver Mtukudzi, a national hero, making him the first artiste to receive such an honour.

Source: Who is a hero in Zim? – The Standard January 27, 2019

The National Heroes Acre in Harare

Mnangagwa told mourners that the decision to honour the musician with the hero status was unanimously made by Zanu PF and the government.

The issue of who qualifies for national hero status is shrouded in controversy and there have been calls for an overhaul of the national hero status system. Music critic and promoter as well as director of local entertainment hub Jive Zimbabwe, Benjamin Nyandoro, tries to unpack the debatable issue in an academic paper titled An analysis of the National Heroes Conferment in Zimbabwe.

Below is an extract from the paper.


With the expanding multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe, there has been increasing general scrutiny pertaining to national decision-making. After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, there were two main rivalry political parties, Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) led by Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) led by Joshua Nkomo. The December 22, 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu PF and Zapu, led to a de facto one-party State, Zimbabwe had virtually no significant political opposition. It is during this period that Zanu PF enjoyed unchecked national decisions, among them, the national heroes and heroines conferment. Cognisant of a significant shift to multi-party democracy, especially after the founding of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999, this paper seeks to study the advantages and disadvantages of the current conferment process against potential policy options

The primary discontentment by rivalry political players to Zanu PF, chiefly the MDC, is on the partisan approach taken by Zanu PF, where its Politburo exclusively decides whether to confer on not, in the event of a death. The discontent extends to whether the person in question deserves the decision made by Zanu PF. The recent expression of discontentment has been in form of pre-emptive boycott, where a prominent person chooses to be buried elsewhere regardless of the Politburo decision. With the mounting levels of discontentment and subsequent peril to total disregard by the greater majority, this paper recommends that government of Zimbabwe considers policy options below;

*Establish independent body with clearly laid out conferment procedures

*Parliament to have the powers to confer national hero status

*Proportional representation of political parties in the conferring body

*Ruling political party confers in consultation with relevant stakeholders

History of national heroes and heroines conferment in Zimbabwe

Subsequent to Zimbabwe attaining independence from colonial rule through an arms struggle, the first and second Chimurenga, heroes acres were built and dedicated to bury those who contributed to the war of liberation. In the sad event of passing on of a notable, Zanu PF Politburo meets to decide on a status to accord the deceased. The highest level is the national hero or heroine status, where the deceased is laid to rest at the National Heroes Acre in Harare. Second, is the provincial hero status, where the deceased is laid to rest at the provincial heroes acre in the deceased’s respective province. Lastly, is state-assisted burial, the deceased is buried at an ordinary cemetery, but with assistance from the State on associated costs. The issue paper shall put emphasis to national heroes and heroines conferment to the analysis of policy alternatives.

In the first two decades after Zimbabwe’s independence, Zanu PF enjoyed the unchecked monopoly to decide on who is and is not accorded hero status. With the growing significant opposition politics in Zimbabwe, especially after the founding of the MDC in 1999, hero conferment process has been among the issues that received stern criticism. Despite the changing political terrain, Zanu PF continues to accord hero status. Cases such as the passing on of MDC-T Senator Patrick Kombayi, MDC deputy president Gibson Sibanda and MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangurai came as a test to the sincerity of Zanu PF to the inclusive arrangement . The trio was not accorded hero status, thus compelling the other political players to up the drive to revisit the national heroes and heroines conferment process.

The MDC went on a protest trajectory through boycotting and castigating heroes acre burial ceremonies of persons who were prima facie perceived to be accorded hero status on basis of their loyalty to Zanu PF — the cases of Ephraim Masawi and Menard Muzariri. The boycotts were meant to put pressure on Zanu PF and send a message to Zimbabwe that the current conferment process is flawed. The boycott further sought to imply that the burial ceremonies were not national events, but merely a one political party private activity, in this case Zanu PF burying its own.

Another form of protest to the national heroes and heroines conferment process was witnessed on the cases of Welshman Mabhena and Thenjiwe Lesabe.
Mabhena, a notable, before passing on, declared that he would not want to be buried at the national shrine, regardless of being accorded hero status or not. In spite of Zanu PF accorded Mabhena hero status, his remains were laid to rest at Lady Stanley cemetery in Bulawayo, sending a strong protest message to Zanu PF and Zimbabwe at large. The passing on of another notable, Thenjiwe Lesabe, who before passing on expressed her unwillingness to be buried at the National Heroes Acre, sent a strong message of protest. Lesabe, who, however, was not accorded heroine status by Zanu PF, was at her well-attended burial in Bulawayo, said to be a heroine by the African National Congress (ANC). (The Standard, 2011, “ANC says Lesabe a heroine”)

The heavy denunciation of the Zanu PF-led hero and heroine conferment process threaten a total disregard to the respect and honour of the National Heroes Acre. Family members and political parties of person buried at the National Heroes Acre, once threatened to exhume remains of notables such as Joshua Nkomo. (The Zimbabwe Eye, 2011, “Plan to exhume Joshua Nkomo from National Heroes Acre”)

Policy analysis framework

The policy analysis framework proposed in this paper shall critique the proposed policy alternatives in a more systematic and standard approach. The paper, cognisant of the growing criticism to the national hero and heroine conferment process, seeks to provide policy alternatives looking into three perspectives, being, rational, political, and organisational. The rational perspective shall mainly look into policy implementability with respect to costs and benefits analysis. The political perspective looks at how politically acceptable and feasible each policy option is among the stakeholders involved. Lastly the organisational perspective is the consideration of standard operating practices, where the establishment would influence maintenance of preferred the standard norms and way of life.

Analysis of stakeholders

Zanu PF: It controls the executive and judiciary significantly. Zanu PF politburo confers heroes and heroines and draws legitimacy from its participation in the liberation war, through its army, Zanla. Zanu PF is more inclined to maintaining status quo, where it continues to accord hero status in Zimbabwe.

Zapu: It is the breakaway group from the unity accord of 1987. It heavily criticises the hero conferment process and has significant legitimacy to the liberation struggle since the party participated through its army Zipra.

MDC: It is a popular political party in Zimbabwe and heavily criticises the hero conferment process which is done solely by Zanu PF. MDC advocates for an inclusive process where all major political parties participate in the decision-making to accord a hero.

Family members: These are family members of the deceased notable, who have the legitimacy to speak on behalf of the deceased with respect to his/her aspirations. Family members have the final say in the event of the notable being accorded hero status. The role of family members was mainly witnessed at the passing on of Mabhena. (News Day, 2010, “Mabhena family refuse with body”)

War Veterans: These are the primary reason for the building of a National Heroes Acre. These are the people who fought the war of liberation. It is in their interest that Zimbabwe continues to honour and respect the National Heroes Acre. Not all war veterans subscribe to Zanu PF hero conferment process.

Zimbabweans: The taxpayer is the one who contribute to the national budget that is used at a state burial. Political parties’ stakeholders seek to appeal to Zimbabweans and solicit for popular support to their proposition on hero and heroine conferment.

Analysis of options

Option 1: Establishment of an autonomous body with all stakeholders’ representation that is governed by a set of well-defined principles and procedural guidelines.

Policy alternative/option 1 seeks to establish a permanent body that is governed by a set of well-defined principles and procedural guideli
nes. The body shall consist of representatives of all key stakeholders such as political parties, war veterans associations, professionals, and Ministry of Home Affairs, among others. Policy experts and related professionals shall research widely and extensively to come up with sufficient procedural guidelines and principles to be followed in according hero status. Nothing shall be left to chance for the body to start exercising discretions in the decision making.

Option 2: Parliament to have the powers to accord national hero and heroine status.

This is when Parliament is given the powers to accord hero status. Parliament shall through the advice of an established committee, sit to decide on whether the subject person in question deserves to be accorded hero status or not. Legislators, in the event of a heated debate, shall vote to decide whether should be accorded or otherwise.

Option 3: Proportional representation of all political parties in a conferring temporary body only set up to confer in the event of a death.

This alternative shall seek to establish a temporary body that is only constituted at the time of a death, with powers to accord hero status. The temporary body shall have representatives nominated by key stakeholders to participate in the decision making. A proportional representation approach shall be used.

Option 4: Zanu PF to accord hero status; maintain status quo.

This is when Zanu PF continues to accord hero status since the party has high moral ground through active participation in the war of liberation. Using the Unity Accord of 1987 between Zanu PF and Zapu, the status quo holds high even higher moral ground since the two political parties were the major participants to the war of liberation. Zanu PF, shall through the siting of the politburo, accord hero status.


The changing and dynamic political environment in Zimbabwe has been a major factor to consider in the analysis of policy alternatives in regard to the National Hero and Heroine conferment process. A suitable approach with continuity aspects policy alternative has to be chosen for it to remain acceptable in any prevailing political environment. Option 1 possesses such qualities, where such an autonomous body shall remain credible for as long members in the body continue to practice professionally without bias or favour to one political party. A shift to option 1 as a sustainable policy alternative will significantly restore the ethos, respect and honour to momentous contributions by Zimbabweans to the Zimbabwe liberation and attainment of independence.


  • comment-avatar
    Let truth be told 4 years ago

    The question to be asked is, “Is national heroism only with regards to the war of liberation?”

    Many of those buried at the “national” heroes’ shrine are in fact Zanu-of heroes, not national heroes.

  • comment-avatar
    Ndebele 4 years ago

    Rapists are heroes in the Zanu Rapist Regime of Zimbabwe. Rapist Regime Mthuli and Shiri, ED and Mohadi.