Zimbabwe: Homecoming of Resistance Leaders' Heads Long Overdue

19 February 2020

On April 18 this year Zimbabwe turns 40.After independence celebrations, come Heroes and Defence Forces commemorations in August.

This year's Heroes' Day commemorations should be uniquely historical and cultural.

They should be a spectacle of phenomenal proportions.

The 27 heads of resistance heroes and heroines of the First Chimurenga, decapitated by invading colonial forces and shipped to Britain as trophies, are due for repatriation and should be home before August.

They were taken as trophies and displayed at the National Museum in London.

Preparations for the return of remains of the Chimurenga resistance fighters require the establishment of a committee comprising representatives of some of the direct descendants of the heroes and heroines.

Their inclusion in the committee will inform the process on what rituals need to be performed before a delegation leaves for London to accompany the remains back home.

The composition is critical because each descendant of the DNA-identified heroes and heroines will need to perform a cultural/spiritual interface with their forebears, advising them of the steps being taken and asking for safe passage.

The deference to a cultural/spiritual ceremony is important because at the time the resistance fighters were captured and beheaded, those were the beliefs that informed their resistance to settler colonialism.

Chief Makoni, chairman of the Repatriation Committee, explained that the heads will be repatriated and laid to rest in accordance with Zimbabwean culture, which suggests traditional processes of finally putting the remains to rest.

But, of course, times have moved on and with proselytisation, some families might have taken a deliberate decision to sever ties with cultural/traditional practices.

So, it may be advisable to adopt an approach embracing diversity.

Between 2011 and 2018, Namibia faced a similar predicament in repatriating the skulls and remains of its compatriots who were slaughtered, beheaded and taken to Germany as part of an experiment to promote racial superiority.

It is widely believed that these genocidal massacres, starvation, concentration camps and human experimentations prepared the Germans for the Nazi concentration camps and the Jewish Holocaust.

The skulls and remains were from Herero and Nama prisoners of the 1904-1908 uprising against German occupation of Namibia.

The response from the Germans was disproportionate; an estimated 125 to 150 German soldiers were killed, but the Germans retaliated by killing between 24 000 and 100 000 Hereros and 10 000 Namaqua.

Zimbabwe can, therefore, learn something from Namibia in the manner in which it went about finally burying its heroes and bringing closure to a traumatic and troubled past.

For Zimbabwe, "Bringing home the heroes/heroines" of the First Chimurenga resistance could be the theme of this year's Heroes' Day commemorations.

Speaking at a Press conference in Harare last Thursday, Chief Makoni called for the remains due to be repatriated to be given proper burial before this year's Heroes' Day commemorations.

Authorities from the UK and Zimbabwe are working out logistics for the repatriation.

The return of the heads is a continuation of a process that has in the past seen remains of fighters of the Second Chimurenga being brought home from neighbouring countries and being accorded befitting reburials.

The foundational building blocks for the liberation of Zimbabwe were laid by these gallant fighters.

For their resistance, they were beheaded.

It is important for the nation to hold the heroes and heroines in high regard for sacrificing their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.

Research has identified that 27 heads were taken to the UK as trophies.

Whether that is the actual number remains a matter of conjecture.

There is therefore need for further research to establish the actual number of heads of the early resistance fighters taken to the UK.

The heads were supposed to be repatriated soon after independence, but the British denied the existence of the heads at the time.

When they finally admitted to the existence of the heads, the next task was to institute a DNA-led process that identified the remains as those specifically from Zimbabwe and the region and the families they hailed from.

It has been a long 40 years of waiting. But it is the final homecoming.

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