What would Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi have done?

The spirit of this nation is female. Yes, Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana. If you ask me, I’d say Nehanda Nyakasikana was Zimbaremambwe’s ultimate feminist. She remains undying and immortalized in history and legend. To her name we now add the respectful title of “Mbuya” – the real “machembere”, as Zimbabwe’s urban youth would glorify anything magnificent. The maternity section of Harare’s Parirenyatwa Hospital is now named after her – such a life-giving name in this now wretched place where our women give birth. The College of Health Sciences of the once great University of Zimbabwe is also located there.

The story is told that when subjugation and humiliation came, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, they not having attended law school or any manner of school, and they not having read the Bill of Rights or anything of that sort, knew that their dignity and humanity had been stripped. That this was fundamentally wrong did not escape them, and they knew they needed to act. And they did.

They rose, with blood, sweat and tears to set themselves free in the land of their forefathers, their heritage. They could not fathom the idea of being slum-dwellers, squatters in their own land, begging for bread and butter. They needed their land, freedom and dignity back.

But there was a problem: the white settler from overseas had guns and cannons. Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi didn’t. They had bows and arrows and spears blacksmithed from whatever little iron they could gather through the yet-to-be developed extraction mechanisms. They were under no illusion: from the start, they knew they would be defeated; the weaponry was just not equal to the task. Yet they went ahead and fought. For them, what they were fighting for was an ideal they could not let go and fold hands on. Like Steve Biko would say, they believed it was better to die for an idea that would live, than live for an idea that would die. So, they fought. And yes, they were defeated. They were killed. They were hanged. That is how we lost Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi. They put themselves on the line for us. A master class on sacrifice, right? But then here is the phenomenal thing: they lost that First Chimurenga battle but they started a revolution which continued beyond their deaths. “My bones will rise again,” she said under that tree where she was hanged. And they rose. Those who remained regrouped, re-strategized and fought on, and the Second Chimurenga was fire! The rest is history. Nehanda’s heroism became a significant source of inspiration in the nationalist struggle for liberation in the 1960s and 1970s. The result: white minority oppressive rule was defeated and the black majority took their country back. And Ian Smith and his unholy “not in a 1000 years” declaration? Egg-faced and later self-exiled to the Cape where he met his demise! Down south across the Limpopo, young Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu would later walk and die in true Mbuya Nehanda fashion: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight”, he said.

In those days, young boys and girls risked and left everything and they went to fight; they believed in their nation. They were true patriots. On their own volition they left school, left their villages, husbands and wives, and they crossed the angry rivers and skipped the treacherous mountains into camps in Mozambique and Zambia. They were fearless. Without smartphones and internet, they organized and they mobilized. They brought home independence.

Fast-forward 37 years after independence. Today, we face a situation that faced Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi. Some of those who took over and fought for this country are now good boys and girls gone bad. The dreams Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi rose up for, are the same we yearn for today; same land, same people. Those who claim intellectual property rights over the struggle our parents and grandparents fought now behave like they have title deeds to our country. Is there any difference between them and the likes of Cecil Rhodes who claimed title to whole heritages and even named nations after them? Remember Rhodesia? Is that not what was being fought against? Those erstwhile liberators now play the hopes of the people – those dusky imitators or petit bourgeois Europe; far worse that they learnt the oppressors’ way and now behave more fierce than they. Chinua Achebe must be telling Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi: “I warned these people before I left!”

Question: if Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi were here today, what would they have done? Fold hands and watch? Make social media jokes out of their suffering and laugh at themselves? Throw stones at those who dare rise and speak out? Nah! Those two were allergic to indignity, exploitation, suffering without action, disenfranchisement and subjugation. Certainly, they would not have suffered in silence and then congratulate each other for being “resilient” as they suffer some more!

Yes, the forms of struggle now take different shapes. But the point remains: there is a struggle and a decision to be made. You decide what you want to do about it and how you would want to wage your struggle: vote; run as a candidate; conscientise the masses; support progressive running candidates – you decide, as long as it’s positive action to contribute to your liberation and economic freedom against the former liberator-turned oppressor. Nehanda and Kaguvi fought guns and cannons with bows and arrows out of love for their dignity and their country. And today? Today we are dead scared of the Great One’s army, police, CIOs and party militias, so much so that very few ever speak or act in the face of injustice and disenfranchisement. Nehanda and Kaguvi knew they could die by speaking out and acting, but they also knew they could and would die if they remained silent and inert!

You decide. But true patriots act: “the duty of a true patriot is to protect his country from his government”, and the true patriots and heirs and heiresses of the liberation struggle are those who seek and work for freedom, justice, human dignity, equal opportunity, development and progress. Let’s see who’s more sophisticated now: us the 21st century Apple generation with PhDs (forget those who make calls to get them and those who write PhDs for each other only to threaten to expose each other when the milk turns sour!), or Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi who stood, worked and died for those values above. I choose to be like Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi. As Bob (the lucid one) said, “None but ourselves can free our minds”! And I have further bad news for you Zimbos: Superman is not coming. He is busy in his own country and with his own people. Don’t shoot the messenger.

About the author
Musa Kika is a PhD student in Public Law at the University of Cape Town. He recently completed a Masters in Law (LLM) at Harvard Law School and currently works with the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit in Cape Town. He previously worked for the Supreme Courts of South Africa and Namibia.