A popular dancehall artist, Soul Musaka, known to many as Soul Jah Love, passed on just under two weeks ago. What happened subsequently sparked the now fickle and feeble debate on the conferment of hero status in Zimbabwe.
You will remember that it was Obert Mpofu, the Zanu PF heavyweight (pun intended) who now has to contend with merely running—more like ruining—the ruling party’s administration department, who announced that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had made Soul Jah Love a provincial hero. Under the same breath, he also said the young chanter would get a state-assisted funeral.
Of course, most cynics were wondering if the assistance would include a very cool mortuary. Like the one President Mnangagwa boasted about once upon a time. But then, just forget it. The state hardly did anything to assist with the funeral besides providing the coffin and trumpet-puffing soldiers, plus a free hole in the ground at the Warren Hills cemetery.
Relatives and friends who gathered in Msasa Park during the funeral were almost starving. Government brought a few crumbs of bread and little things that looked like drinks on the first day. It was the close relatives of the late singer who had to run around on their own to raise funds to feed the mourners until everyone dispersed.
They were told by some vague characters to keep the receipts of whatever they bought so that they would be reimbursed later. But no-one is untying the purse strings yet. In other words, the so-called state has abandoned its promise.
That’s the kind of thing that happens when you conflate a political party and the state. You surely must have batted an eyelid when Zanu PF announced a national decision, a presidential position, on the musician’s hero status. Put otherwise, it was Zanu PF that got the duty to proclaim to the world what was happening in government—often confused for the state here in Zimbabwe.
But then, who gets surprised? It has always been like that. Its Zanu PF that defines, describes and confers the status of heroes. The ruling party does that out of habit and seems not to see anything wrong with it. But Zanu PF grabs the account to name heroes because the party gains—or thinks it gains—political capital out of it.
Back to Soul Jah Love on this. Well, the singer could have been a Zanu PF cardholder or sympathiser or both. But how many such singers have received provincial or even district hero status? The point is, the ruling party knows of the huge political currency that resides in the youth, going forward. It knows that the current youth bulge in our population will be determining who gets the votes in 2023 and beyond.
Zanu PF knew/knows that Soul Jah Love was/is loved so much by the youths. Well, not exactly like Bobi Wine, but someone on who voting perceptions could be shaped. By giving him hero status, the thinking seems to have gone, his followers, particularly the urban Zimdancehall fanatics, would start loving Zanu PF. This is electoral fraud, if you didn’t know. You are buying votes without looking obvious about it.
One thing is hugely interesting about the way in which Zanu PF has always manipulated the hero status debate. The Zimbabwean opposition, among other terrace critics, has been emotional about this manipulation. It has been attacking Zanu PF for holding onto the baton, for anointing itself the hero-maker. This has happened all the time a so-called national hero—especially—has been announced.
But the opposition must save itself and us that useless noise. On numerous occasions, it has been ambivalent on Zanu PF’s self-anointment. The I-want-to go-with-Jane-but-I want to-go-with-Jeena kind of thing. Morgan Tsvangirai, MHSRIEP, when he was Prime Minister in that fake set-up they called a national unity government, attended several funerals of national heroes declared by and for Zanu PF for but chose not to attend others at other times. Same with Nelson Chamisa.
Frankly speaking, you can’t blame Zanu PF and claim the moral high ground when the ruling party capitalises on the opportunities that arise. Politics and opportunism, at least as we know it here, are the same thing, and Zanu PF is good at making use of opportunities, never mind that the results have invariably been disastrous for the people.
The point is, all those that blame Zanu PF for monopolising the national hero debate and decisions are missing the point, either stupidly or deliberately. The former is more likely. It’s quite unflattering—disappointing too—that even the much-vaunted lawyers in the opposition can’t see that the real problem lies in the law.
There is this law called the National Heroes Act, Chapter 10:16. This law is probably the biggest fraud that this country has ever known since the Ruud Concession. Don’t let the title of the statute fool you. It hardly says anything about national heroes. Only one hurried section is dedicated to national heroes per se. This is when it talks about how the president designates heroes, under Part II.
This section says: “Where the President considers that any deceased person who was a citizen of Zimbabwe has deserved well of his country on account of his outstanding, distinctive and distinguished service to Zimbabwe, he may, by notice in the Gazette, designate such person as a national, provincial or district hero of Zimbabwe.”
Do you notice what’s happening here? The section pretends to be defining a hero and, at the same time, the procedure involved when a person of note dies. Yet the whole thing is a yawning farce. A hero, going by this section, is someone who has served the country in an “outstanding, distinctive and distinguished” manner. That’s the best and only definition of a hero that you will ever find in our books of law.
But then, that’s a very empty definition of a hero. “Outstanding”, “distinctive” and “distinguished” are what they call synonyms. They are words that mean the same thing. So you were never going to get anything out of this meaningless compilation of words. And, by the way, this is the first and last paragraph you get in direct reference to a hero. The rest of the statute is talking about assistance to dependents of heroes.
For the what? It’s clear that those in real power are fully aware of the shameful shortcomings in the law, and they want to keep things that way, to their own advantage. The law doesn’t give us a useful definition of “hero”. It hurriedly mumbles about someone who has served the country with distinction. What is distinction? That is sourly vague, and vague laws are universally not permissible. The whole thing gives room to subjective and often biased interpretations and decisions. And this is one of the major reasons why Zanu PF is still naming heroes on its own, using its power incumbency, of course.
The National Heroes Act completely ignores giving a precise definition of a hero, yes, but it also omits doing other crucial things. It doesn’t lay out the protocol for the choice of heroes. Ironically, it spends lots of lazy time defining, describing and prescribing an entity, the Heroes Dependents Assistance Board, that’s not exactly about the heroes themselves. It’s a mystery that it completely skips doing the same thing about the agency or agencies that must preside over the designation of heroes and how their funerals and related processes are handled. It doesn’t even attempt to specify what assistance must be given, and by who, when someone who then gets the hero status passes on. Just about everything is left to conjecture.
So, before the motor mouths in the opposition start thinking of whimpering about Zanu PF manipulating the hero issue, they must tell us what they have done or are doing to ensure there is a law, for once, to deal with this. Has any of the opposition legislators ever tried to do anything about it in parliament?
You can’t expect Zanu PF to initiate legislation relating to national and other heroes. Things are cozy for them as things stand. Mosquitoes will never cure you of malaria!
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org