LONG-LIVE MUDHARA WEDU: A Shona re-imagination of the Mdala wethu legacy
By Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Last Wednesday was July 1, a very important day in the history of Zimbabwe, the day has been informally turned into a national Sabbath dedicated to celebrating the life of the founding icon of the second liberation war which gave us independent Zimbabwe. The day that followed poets from Bulawayo celebrated the life of the great Nkomo and all that was presented was monotonous praises of Nkomo’s role as a true Zimbabwean patriot and nation-maker.
My turn came, I read two poems and one of them was in Shona. This move was deliberate though such is not usually expected especially in Matebeleland. It is usually expected that all praises to uMdala wethu must be in Ndebele or in English. Thanks to poetic license, that evening I broke the rules and gave eulogised the liberation icon in Shona.
However, the response that I got from the audience compelled me to pen this article because that evening revealed that we need to transcend some dogmatic constructions of imagining the nation. Nevertheless, I hope it still makes sense for me to talk about Nkomo after 1 July because his life will continue to be a benchmark of our national identity. Anyway we are still in the month of July, which for the purpose of this instalment has been declared a uMdala wethu reminiscence month. Genuine patriotic convictions command us to do as such. 1 July alone is not enough to celebrate the life of this distinguished son of the soil.
For the purpose of the life celebrated by Zimbabwe on this month of July may I be saved the wrath of intellectual dismissal for using the term nation (hereafter) considering its forged character particularly in the context of Zimbabwe. The specific reference to Zimbabwe as a nation follows the conventional imaginations of communal homogeneity that defines people as a nation.
This was the Africans’ self-imagination in the colonial period which formed the liberation social-contract which laid the foundations of today’s Zimbabwe and Joshua Nkomo’s political career. My late grandfather Oliver Pedzisai Mahomva supported the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and as a way of paying homage I sent my fellow compatriots texts reminders of Joshua Nkomo’s legacy.
Likewise I got kind responses from fellow colleagues, however Sibongile Mnkandla a Bulawayo based writer replied “Siyamkhumbula umdala wethu! And today also marks the beginning of the second half of the year. Coincidence? …”
As such what I drew from the motherly wisdom of Sibongile Mnkandla is that at some point in the human life circle self-audits are imperative in tracking individual progress in relation to their broader contribution to humanity at large. That way we are able to assess our successes and failures. Hence the opening statement of the award winning novella titled Shards; “It is half-past failure and am still in bed. The date is 23 the same as my age” (Marangwanda, C 2014).
The wisdom of these two distinguished female writers emphasises on the need to reflect on one’s life experiences and in this case as a nation torn apart by ethnic hegemony we need to look deep within ourselves against the yardstick of nationalism set by Nkomo. The pages of his life story were a commitment to the freedom of Zimbabwe from colonial bondage.
Nkomo as an effigy of nationalism represents the obliteration of racism and tribalism. However, the post-colonial experience has left Zimbabwe in the doldrums of tribalism. Of course the source of this tribalism was the divided experience of the nationalist agenda since 1963 as a result of a ZAPU factional outgrowth which led to the formation of ZANU-PF. That marked the first fissure of nationalism and hence the ZANLA and ZIPRA fault lines in the second liberation war of this country. State –manufactured history has seen the continued imagination of a homogenous struggle for national belonging in the liberation struggle.
In the process this has presented a ZANU-PF protagonist perspective of Zimbabwe’s national memory. Due to that since independence the nation has experienced massive dosages of state hegemony which also places a sense of artificial importance to the Shona. As a result, certain social groups especially the Ndebele have assumed a confrontational relationship with the ruling party which they perceive as a Shona biased entity.
These feelings of Ndebele marginality which came as a result of state sanctioned violence on Matebeleland has made the President of the nation to be viewed as a pinnacle of Shona hegemony. On the other hand Joshua Nkomo has been epitomized as the binding force of the torn Ndebele nation within a Shona nation. Sixteen years after his death Nkomo has remained a fatherly figure to the Ndebele people and other marginalised groups of Matebeleland.
This is where the passion engrossed “Mdala wethu” title comes from Mdala wethu is a colloquial equivalent of a fatherly figure. Even before he passed on the responsibility of fathering the people of Matebeleland came from the Robert Mugabe who once called him the father of the dissident party (referring to suspected ZIPRA dissidents which the fifth Brigade was assigned to utterly destroy).
The outcome of the Fifth Brigade’s assignment was the elimination of 20-000 civilians in Matebeleland. This means that the “Mdala wethu” title is linked to the fatherly solace linked to the person of Nkomo and the afflictions of the people of Matebeleland.
Sixteen years after his death Nkomo is not only adored as the father of the wounded people of Matebeleland but he has become a source ethnic essentialism as well. Obviously this is both a making of the historical relations ZANU-PF has with the people of Matebeleland and the recent regime change agenda.
This has limited Nkomo’s national fatherly role as some radical elements of this counter Mthwakazi nationalism have appropriated the legacy of this great nation builder to provincial heroism. However, what needs to be made clear is that Nkomo’s role in the birth of nationalism goes beyond narrow ethnic consciousness influenced by regime change motives and nationalist pitfalls.
The danger of this narrow ethnic consciousness which in some cases is donor-fuelled helps erase the truth about Nkomo’s role as the pioneer of Zimbabwean nationalism. Therefore it remains a responsibility of all Zimbabweans to find their place in the national inclusive traits of Nkomo’s legacy and not to tribalise his contribution to Zimbabwe’s birth.
We need to look beyond the Ndebele appropriation of his legacy because Nkomo was not a tribalist. This is why he mentored many aspiring nationalists of his time regardless of their villages of origin. Today’s Shona political icons in Zimbabwe from the days of the liberation struggle who found themselves in positions of influence after independence were his apprentices.
This implies that if we are truthful as Zimbabweans (especially the current ruling elite) we need to confront the Shona-Ndebele historical divide from the nation-building teachings of derived from the life of Father Zimbabwe. As a way of neutralizing Shona patronage that has created an artificial Black on Black caste system we need to return to the source and that is Joshua Nkomo’s legacy.
He is the man who began all this and he is the modern source of national self-examination. It is the person of Nkomo which is an iniquity alter where our national sanctification and plague purging can be found. The process starts with dismantling self-invented prejudice and then rethinking the significance of Nkomo in the birth process and growth of our national consciousness.
By acknowledging the importance of Father Zimbabwe in the bloodline of our nation regardless of ethnic prejudices it is easy for Zimbabwe’s ruling class to find self-forgiveness for the historical atrocities it committed to the people of Matebeleland. Likewise it will be easy to obliterate the political alienation of the ruling class in Matebeleland. Once we are able to get a humble Shona re-imagination of uMdala wethu legacy we are able to stand tall and genuinely boast that were are not a forged nation.
Richard R. Mahomva is an independent academic researcher, Founder of Leaders of African Network – LAN. Convener of the Back to Pan Africanism Conference and the Reading Pan Africa Symposium (REPS) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.