August – darkest month in Namibia, Zim

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

August is one of the most revered months on Zimbabwe and Namibia’s annual calendars.

It is during this month the two nations mark Heroes and Defence Forces days.

It is a month that the two countries remember those that gave their lives for something much bigger than themselves.

August is thus the month the two nations celebrate the valour of both the living and the departed heroes, including honouring the armed forces that continue to safeguard the countries security and territorial integrity.

Poignantly, this year, the month of August gave the two nations something more to reflect upon.

Namibia lost one of its gallant fighters and evolutionary icon, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, in June, a few weeks before it celebrated its Heroes Day on August 26 while Zimbabwe lost three of its illustrious citizens in August due to different ailments.

Ya Toivo, who was buried at the country’s national Heroes Acre in Windhoek, was a Namibian independence leader whose struggle against apartheid South African rulers landed him in the notorious Robben Island prison for 16 years, where his resoluteness earned him the admiration of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

He was described as a man of freedom and justice who would therefore be remembered and celebrated for his love and loyalty for Namibia.

Zimbabwe commemorates its heroes on the Monday that follows the first weekend of August each year, with the Defence Forces slated for the following day, making it one of the longest public holidays on the country’s calendar.

The country was plunged into morning during the month following the deaths of Shuvai Ben Mahofa, George Rutanhire and Mai Maud Muzenda who were all declared national hero and heroines in recognition of the selfless service rendered to the nation before and after independence.

While death is a certainty to all mortals, the manner in which loved ones are lost makes it all haunting and something that one can never be accustomed to.

But even as mere mortals, there are moments when human beings wrestle with God’s rationale in taking away dearest friends, relatives and fellow comrades at a time when they are needed the most.

It is generally given that in African culture, death is neither natural nor an accident. Questions always arise and answers are always preferred to explain the cause of death.

And in the case of the three departed Zimbabwean souls, questions abound as to how Mahofa, Rutanhire and Mai Muzenda who came from different backgrounds with each contributing differently to the cause of the majority could die in the same month separated by just a few days.

One can therefore be forgiven for interpreting that maybe the Almighty in his infinity wisdom wanted the nation of Zimbabwe to derive something from the varying deeds of the uniquely different departed souls.

While a lot has been written about ya Toivo and his contribution to the liberation struggles not only in Namibia, but in the Southern Africa region, questions abound as to who exactly where the three Zimbabwean cadres who were interred at the revered National Heroes Acre in Harare?

At early age, Mahofa exhibited a certain level of consciousness that made her stand out among her peers.

A nurse by profession, the young girl from Gutu, in south-central Zimbabwe, became a member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 1959. And when the NDP was banned by the Rhodesian settler regime, she found a political home in Zapu in 1961 before joining Zanu.

In her resolve to serve the nation after independence in 1980, Mahofa became a councillor for Gutu Rural District Council Ward 4 in 1981 before becoming the first female chairperson of the same rural district council.

In 1985, she won the Gutu South parliamentary seat and in recognition of her sterling public service, she was appointed Deputy Minister of Youths and Women Affairs in 1987. Between 1992-1997, Mahofa was the deputy minister in the then Ministry of Political Affairs.

She was to become a senator after the 2013 harmonised elections and was subsequently appointed the Minister of State for Masvingo Province, a position she held until her untimely death.

At the time of her death, Cde Mahofa was a Zanu-PF Politburo member and the Secretary for Security in the revolutionary party’s Women’s League national executive.

Barely a few days after the burial of Mahofa, the nation suffered what President Mugabe described as a double tragedy as it lost Rutanhire and Maud Muzenda.

Rutanhire was a former freedom fighter who together with his wife left their rural home in Mt Darwin for the Mapaipai Base in Mozambique fearing for their lives after being labelled guerilla sympathisers.

Born Jackson Clever Musanhu on April 15, 1949 at St Albert’s Hospital, Cde Rutanhire joined the Second Chimurenga in the early 1970s after encountering Zanla fighters at St Albert’s Mission where he was a catechist.

He and his wife left for Mapapai Base, Mozambique, in 1972 after having been sold out to Rhodesian operatives.

Rutanhire went for military training in Tanzania, becoming one of the foremost prosecutors of the armed struggle.

He was among the signatories of the famous Mgagao Declaration, which pronounced Robert  Mugabe as the new Zanu leader.

At independence, Rutanhire held several posts in government and Zanu-PF, and was elevated to the Politburo in 2010, a position he held until the time of his death.

He was head of the Chitepo Ideological College, and chair of the Fallen Heroes Trust of Zimbabwe.

As chair of the Fallen Heroes Trust, Rutanhire spearheaded the identification of mass graves of people butchered by the colonial regime prior to independence and deservedly accorded them decent burials.

Rutanhire epitomised humbleness and selflessness and never allowed his valorised prominent role in the struggle to separate him from the ordinary people.

He remained committed to the liberation ideals until he succumbed to renal failure at Karanda Mission Hospital.

Not given to much talk, Rutanhire expressed his thoughts through action, very principled, very respectful, humble, friendly and never talked ill of anyone.

He was at one point a representative of Zanu in Sweden where he met fellow cadres Dr Sydney Sekeramayi, Mayor Urimbo and Sally Mugabe.

In 1975, General Josiah Tongogara recalled Rutanhire to help re-organise the war after the death of Herbert Chitepo.

At Independence in 1980, he was elected MP for Mashonaland Central and in 1981 was appointed Youth, Sport and Recreation Deputy Minister. In 1981 he was elected to Zanu’s Central Committee and in 1985 became Government Chief Whip.

He participated in the talks that led to the signing of the Unity Accord between Zanu-PF and Zapu in 1987.

While Rutanhire and Mahofa both once held public offices, Mai Muzenda remained in the background in the post-liberation era.

Unassuming in character, Mai Muzenda, the widow of the late Zimbabwe Vice President Simon Muzenda, is valorised for standing strong in the in face of adversatives as a wife of a marked nationalist.

Mai Muzenda endured being a widow twice — firstly when her husband was jailed during the struggle, and again when Simon Muzenda died.

Even during her time of illness, the late Mai Muzenda remained committed to serving the ruling Zanu-PF.

Mai Muzenda was described by many as a true symbol of motherhood.

One who was full of love for her children and one who was committed to working with others committed to working with others in the associations she found herself.

The consolation for the loss of the three illustrious citizens maybe that God wanted Zimbabweans to learn something from their individual attributes.

In Mahofa, women derive inspirational reference in fighting for equal recognition. She was a champion of women emancipation and despite her humble upbringing rose to become one of the most powerful politicians of her generation.

A lot can also be learnt from Mai Muzenda’s resolve to remain steadfast in fighting the colonial regime despite constant harassment from the colonial regime. Her motherly love and care even at family unit transcended to all those who interacted with her in different circles.

In Rutanhire, youths have so much to emulate in terms of adhering to the ideological maxim that puts people at the centre of all development initiatives.

Ya Toivo was described as a man who epitomised the courage and steadfast resolve in the fight for justice and human dignity, more defined by where he stood in times of great challenges.

Equally, he exemplified the very best of the generation that endured hardships to ensure that no generation of Namibians would again experience hardship.

Namibia President Hage Geingob probably summed up the contributions by heroes of the struggle when, during his speech to mark the country’s Heroes Day in the northern town of Oshakati last week, said:

“We remember the bravery of these heroic patriots whose blood waters our freedom. …we remember the casspirs, the helicopters, the racism and we say: ‘never again’!”

September 2017
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