By Wadzanai Mhombera
“What some of us are fighting for is to see that this oppressive system is crushed.
"We don’t care; I don’t even care whether I will be part of the top echelon… I’m not worried. But, I’m dying to see a change in the system, that’s all. I would like to see young people enjoying together - black, white - enjoying together, in a new Zimbabwe. That’s all.”
These are the words of the late ZANLA Commander, General Josiah Tongogara. On 18 April, 1980, the oppressive system was indeed crushed, so hail the freedom fighters!
It’s that time again when the nation commemorates Heroes Day. This is the time when we remember and celebrate the lives of the departed gallant sons and daughters of the soil, some of whom paid the supreme sacrifice for the emancipation of our beloved Zimbabwe.
All they wanted was a free Zimbabwe for all. Tongogara’s famous quote clearly shows that these men and women were not doing it for themselves alone, but for the entire Zimbabwe and generations to come. He talks about ‘children - black or white enjoying together’ in a free Zimbabwe, showing no discrimination against colour or race.
And as if the General was prophetic, when he died in a car crash on Christmas Day in 1979, a free Zimbabwe had been born; the country was now in ceasefire period and obviously moving towards the holding of its first democratic elections (1980) and the integration of the ZIPRA, ZANLA and Rhodesian Forces into one united Zimbabwe National Army.
Sadly, the likes of Tongogara did not live to see and enjoy the freedom they fought for. It is such sacrifice which is touching and worth commending, 32 years after independence.
Tongogara is among many of this country’s departed liberation icons and these include Joshua Nkomo, Josiah Tungamirai, Herbert Chitepo, Simon Muzenda, Lookout Masuku, Alfred Nikita Mangena, Jason Ziyapapa Moyo, Rekayi Tangwena, George Nyandoro, Johanna Mafuyana Nkomo, Joseph Msika, Andrew Sikajaya Muntanga, Edson Sithole, Maurice Nyagumbo, Benjamin Burombo, Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Edson Mudadirwa Zvobgo, Sabina Mugabe, Julia Zvobgo, Sally Mugabe, Stephen Jeqe Nkomo, Edgar Tekere, Herbert Ushewokunze, Simon Parirenyatwa, Josiah Chinamano, Solomon Mujuru - the list is endless.
Some are buried in valley, curves, mines, rivers, mountains and in neighbouring countries such as Zambia and Mozambique. Those fortunate to get a decent burial lie at the Natioal Heroes Acre and provincial heroes acres in the country's 10 provinces. Some are still living and continuing to serve this great nation called Zimbabwe.
We remember those who were massacred by the brutal Ian Smith regime at Chimoio and Nyadzonya. How can we forget those hundreds of defenceless women and children who lost innocent lives in those ambushes by the Rhodesian forces?
When the white man came through the Pioneer Column and set up the then Salisbury city, he raised up the Union Jack flag and took the land from our forefathers. The late Herbert Chitepo says the land issue was at the centre of the struggle: “…Suddenly, you woke to be told by a white man that you are now a tenant, you now work for me and you must now pay rent to me if you want to continue living on this land…”
Chitepo and other freedom fighters should be commended for not taking such day light robbery lightly.
Even today, if you talk to living freedom fighters and nationalists, they concur that the liberation struggle was meant to get back the land which had been stolen by the colonialists. They all agree that land was at the centre of the conflict with the white settlers. They would vividly go on about how our forefathers were removed from fertile lands and pushed to arid, stony, rocky and thorny areas where no crop would germinate. They would tell you that the idea was for you to then go back to your former land (taken away from you forcibly) and ask to work for the whites in order to survive.
What a dehuminising situation our forefathers had to go through? Being made a tenant in on your own land, having to pay rent for your land and the sjambok was always raised up for you while working for the white man on your land?
These are some of the painful experiences which drove the freedom fighters to forget about everything else and take to the bush and fight to restore the dignity of the Zimbabwean. Surely, is this not worth lauding?
The freedom fighters left school at tender ages; some left their jobs, homes and parents after coming face-to-face with the exploitation of the black person by the colonial settler regime. We have every reason to applaud the self-lessness of the freedom fighters.
Today some of us say the are uneducated, forgetting that they chose to fight for the freedom we enjoy today rather that attend colonial education where you were taught to be a good servant for the white man; where after attaining that education you were still paid less than a white man with the same qualifications or even without any school at all.
Dear reader, the likes of Menard ‘Negidi’ Muzariri left school at Form Two level for you to be as free as you are today. They too wanted to go to school at that time, but redeeming Zimbabwe from the clutches of oppression was their priority number one then. Without their sacrifice, without them losing lives, and some limbs, Zimbabwe would not be free today.
This was not any easy kind of sacrifice. Sometimes they would go for days without water and food. They would be stung by mosquitoes, tsetse flies, spiders, dangerous snakes and other harmful bugs. Scars of the struggle are visible in some of the freedom fighters.
In his 1980 speech, President Robert Mugabe alluded to this fact: “The march to our national independence has been a long, arduous and hazardous one. On this march, countless lives have been lost and many sacrifices made. Death and suffering have been the prize we have been called upon to pay for the final priceless reward of freedom and national independence. May I thank all of you who have had to suffer and sacrifice for the reward we are now getting.”
Joshua Nkomo worked for the Rhodesian railways, but when political consciousness got to him, he left his job and joined nationalism, pioneering the freedom for emancipation in the process. Herbert Chitepo was the first black lawyer in the then Rhodesia, but this was not enough for him if he had no voting rights. President Robert Mugabe was a teacher by profession and went as far as Ghana in that field, but the situation back home then made him abandon teaching and join the struggle for independence. Rekayi Tangwena was a chief, but to him his chieftainship meant nothing if his people, himself included, were under the yoke of colonial oppression.
I am sure this is why today were learn and read of how the good chief assisted our current President, Cde Robert Mugabe and the late Edgar Tekere to cross into Mozambique to go and lead the struggle there in 1975.
Clearly, you can see for yourself that some our national heroes and heroines were professionals who could have stuck to their professions and ignored politics. Imagine where Zimbabwe would be right now, if these men and women had been selfish and had not thought about future generations?
Those who have travelled far and wide in Africa would tell you that there is no country on the continent which is as free and as peaceful as our Zimbabwe.
As we countdown to our Heroes Day celebrations, let us salute the country’s freedom fighters for their sacrifices which ensured a free Zimbabwe.
Let us turn out in our huge numbers at various Heroes Day commemorations in all the country’s 10 provinces and give enough respect to our gallant sons and daughters of the soil, both living and departed.
Let every Zimbabwean cherish the sacrifices made by fellow Zimbabweans, sacrifices which have got us this far.
Indeed, hail the country’s freedom fighters!
Long live our Freedom! Long live our Sovereignty!
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Contact the writer on