Zimbabwe: Freedom, the Glow in the Independence Flame

17 April 2021

Situated about 7km to the west of the city centre of Harare is a rich valley. In this vale lies a hill at the summit of which is a tower that bears an eternally flickering flame.

Persistently glowing from a 40-metre obelisk, the flame catches the traveller's eye at night. Not only does it guide the lone rover, but it also engulfs him with its spirit of recourse, which draws him towards the hill.

The radiant flame compels the voyager to take heed with its silent imploration of persistence, fortitude and love; calling him to be part of the knoll and its environs, without really obliging him to lose himself.

This, fellow countryman, friend and kinsman, is the spirit of Independence.

It is the spirit of love, determination, collective unity and bravery.

That also, is the spirit of freedom; an everlasting desire for patriotism, which comes with selflessness and the quest to free a whole people from colonial subjugation.

This spirit of Independence and all that makes Zimbabwe a sovereign nation are symbolically captured in the Eternal Flame kindled on Independence Day on April 18, 1980 at Rufaro Stadium.

It will be 41 years tomorrow since the Flame was lit, and taken to Harare Hill where the Pioneer Column hoisted the Union Jack on September 12, 1890, thus marking the end of colonialism.

It is this same Flame that eternally burns at the National Heroes Acre, where it is perched on a towering 40-metre pylon. It continues to flicker to remind us of the many sacrifices that brought us the freedom we enjoy today.

The Eternal Flame is an embodiment of the spirit of Independence which emboldens us to set aside our differences and join hands as a people to celebrate the essence of sacrifice, hard work and resilience.

With our 41st Independence Day commemoration drawing closer, as a nation we should guard against letting the spirit of oneness dissipate, because it is that Flame within us which unites us, and spells out who we are.

Notwithstanding our political or religious calling, we are one nation, one people and one dream.

Our gallant freedom fighters, whose spirits are resplendent in the Eternal Flame, laid their lives on the block for the politics of love, the religion of love and the culture of love.

They did not die in vain.

Indeed, nationhood is a product of principle and patriotism adding up to loyalty to that which makes us principled and patriotic.

The heroes, our heroes of the liberation struggle, whose selfless efforts to free us from colonial clutches, were alive to the fact that freedom could never be offered on a silver platter.

FREEDOM is not Santa's gift.

Therefore, they took up arms against a system that created second class citizens out of them. They could not remain caged, because it was not in their nature to be imprisoned birds.

It is worth noting that he who is chained cherishes the gift of freedom, but he who is free fantasises the thrill of being fettered.

The concept of freedom usually finds base in the hearts of those whose progenies lost arms and limbs in an attempt to wade away from the sinking ships of their dreams, yet remaining ensconced in the same aspirations that shape their destiny.

One may scream for all the other freedoms, real or imagined; but the ultimate freedom is that which gives one access to a humane livelihood.

The freedom to claim ownership of the means of production and all that makes it possible to live without merely existing.

Only the land can make all our dreams tenable, for it is the essence of life and prosperity without which all our aspirations are doomed.

Yes, gentle citizen, friend, countryman, freedom is not worth having if it does not translate to ownership of the land.

The issue of the land was central to the protracted liberation struggle which gave us independence as a sovereign country. It is this same thorny issue that has led to the imposition of illegal economic sanctions by some Western countries on the Motherland.

This Independence Day, let us celebrate the coming of age of an African ideology and sensibility; an ideology that is steeped in our nationhood, regardless of political or religious affiliation.

Zimbabwe is our Motherland. We know no other for: "A man's country is not a certain piece of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle," (George William Curtis).

However, as we celebrate as a nation, we should take time to reflect on the fact that the freedom we enjoy today did not come as a gift.

There are sons and daughters of an impoverished peasantry who sacrificed limps, eyes and mental well-being for this beauty of a country formerly known as Southern Rhodesia.

Zimbabwean literature is a battlefield where individual biographies are pitted against the national discourse, especially when it comes to the liberation struggle and its aftermaths.

A perusal through our literary cache will expose the different ways in which the revolutionary zeal and ideology is depicted.

Writers in Generation Two, as categorised by Viet-Wild (1993), like Alexander Kanengoni, Freedom Nyamubaya and Thomas Sukutai Bvuma, because of their experience in the liberation struggle, demystify the notion of the guerilla fighter as an untouchable genius, who could disappear from the enemy's canons and author his own epic.

Although the three artists exploit different genres in their depiction of the war of liberation as dehumanising, disillusioning; psychologically and morally degrading, the way they vividly bring the horrendous nuances of the phenomenon to the fore evokes sadness, ire and frustration.

In "Echoing Silences" (1997), Kanengoni, like Nyamubaya in "That special Place" (2003), and Bvuma in "Every Stone That Turns" (1999), uses characters drawn from the war-time and post war-time zones.

But unlike Bvuma, he employs the metaphor of madness and the symbol of ghosts to express his disgust at the phenomenon known as war.

Using the protagonist, Munashe, who abandons his university studies for the higher calling, the writer depicts war as dehumanising and deplorable.

In his eyes, war in any context; be it for liberation or otherwise, can never produce victors. Instead, only victims are strewn in its wake, for it "is the greatest scourge of mankind".

Like others of his ilk, Munashe suffers psychological breakdown during and after the war. The traumatic experiences of the war burden his psyche, which disengages his mental frame.

"Echoing Silences" highlights the profound suffering that the guerillas face at the architect of both the enemy's and their own ranks.

The sense of hopelessness pervading the novel is explored through Munashe, Sly, Kudzai, Bazooka and the section commander who was once a teacher. All the other characters save for Munashe, could not survive the torture, hunger, killings and brutalities.

Munashe survives probably because he "had died at Chimanda. What survived through the war was (his) ghost".

Like all the others, he is a victim of circumstantial consequences as he finds himself embedded in a labyrinthine snare which he cannot undo. His only vent of escape becomes hallucination through drugs which reduces his life to a mere reverie.

Throughout the gory war, "the routine killings, the unabated savagery and the dying", he had always yearned for an opportunity to tell the Section Commander how "disillusioned he had become"

Female combatants like Kudzai, as is also evident in Nyamubaya's "That Special Place", are at the mercy of the vagaries of war and the sadistic nature of Man.

Their desires and dreams are set ablaze as their fellow comrades, who are supposed to protect them, decide to think in carnal terms. Psychologically unhinged, what is left of them are fragmented souls and empty shells.

Hopelessly reduced to a sex machine by the sex perverts in their midst, Kudzai laments: "Three abortions in one year. My life in the war. What sort of credentials are these?

"I don't want to be considered anything. I am nobody. I am nothing. . . I no longer menstruate and I am not pregnant. Menopause at twenty".

Because of the travesty that has become her life, Kudzai yearns for death, and Munashe who is in love with her wilts inside.

Sadly or may be fortunately, she yields to the madness of it all. Thus, to Kudzai, death becomes the elixir from suffering.

Another freedom fighter, Bazooka, is followed by "phantom witches that possessed his mind". Eventually he dies vainly attempting to escape from the ghosts of his imagination.

Bazooka's level of disorientation is only equal to Sly's. Sly believes that he could slip into civilian life easily when he decides that he is "tired of the endless killings . . . tired of everything", and that he is "not a hero. . . (But) just a poor ordinary person who wants to live".

This dark side of the war is also depicted in Bvuma's "Every Stone That Turns", especially in the poems "Survivors", "Private Affair" and "Mafaiti-He loved to pluck a plump louse".

Whereas Kanengoni examines the brutalities of the war, which manifests in psychological chaos and frustration using the metaphor of madness and the motif of ghosts, Bvuma uses crude vulgarity and comic rhetoric to lay bare the dehumanising effect of war.

Bvuma, like Kanengoni, debunks the notion of war as a vehicle that hoists the honey bird to a rich bee-hive by exposing how it creates victims, not only in the combatants, but the families left behind.

Munashe's family suffers when he brings the ghosts of war to their doorsteps and subsequently dies; and Mafaiti "fell somewhere at the front", leaving behind a young family that he so much adored.

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