Heroes Day is upon us once again. A day meant to honour the men and women who died fighting for an independent Zimbabwe, it serves as one of the reminders of a long and painful liberation struggle.
I hear stories of young men and women, still in school uniforms, leaving their institutions of learning to run into the bushes and pick up arms. Of ordinary citizens, teachers and nurses and farmers, who sheltered guerrilla fighters on the run from Rhodesian forces. Of those who crossed the border into foreign countries to train and learn. The image of Heroes Acre comes to mind, the statue of three soldiers standing in proud defiance, weapons and flag in hand, ready to give it all to free their people.
It’s a powerful and captivating image. That they could find such bravery within themselves is awe-inspiring. Many of them weren’t different from their modern counterparts: they were ambitious, uncertain of the future, full of the vibrance and promise of youth. Then, as now, the youth represent the future of our country. And in their deaths, the heroes that we honour today secured independence and black majority rule.
For 36 years, their legacy has come to define what a hero in Zimbabwe entails in public imagination. Great sacrifice. Bravery. Overcoming fear. Most importantly, fierce love and loyalty to the people. Everything you do, you do it for them. Being a hero means a visible and drastic act of bravery and patriotism, a beacon for others to admire and respect.
The older I get, the more I see how politicised the liberation struggle history has become. Someone now must have political affiliations in order to be a true hero – the right political affiliations. Although politics in an integral part of society, that a vocal and strong political stance is needed to constitute a hero baffles me. I will never take for granted what those heroes did for me. Their sacrifice means that I can now do something as simple as walk down Harare’s First Street. But as I walk down that street, I can’t help but think that the shiny image of the Zimbabwean hero doesn’t match up the reality of the current situation.
“You must be brave. You must be strong.” Chiwoniso Maraire, Ancient Voices.
And so, 36 years after the first Heroes Day, what is a hero? Who is a hero? As I think of all the stories I’ve heard, the fellow Zimbabweans I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, a new idea of a hero emerges in my mind. Not just the freedom fighters with their weapons and their bravery, but the ordinary women and men who, through quiet acts of bravery and patriotism, have emerged as heroes in their own right.
The parent that plans and sweats and toils and hustles to make a life for their children.
The Zimbabwean outside the country’s borders working hard and sending money back home, never neglecting their family.
The student that pushes and surmounts great odds to pass and get good grades.
The good Samaritan that goes out of their way to help their compatriots, not expecting anything in return.
The woman’s rights activist campaigning to make a better, safer country for girls and women.
The demonstrator that picks up a placard and goes out to protest, ready to show their discontent and unhappiness.
The caregiver doing whatever they can to create a warm, friendly home for people often neglected or forgotten by the rest of society.
The Mighty Warriors who played with all their heart and made it all the way to the 2016 Olympics.
The dreamers, the artists, the creatives who dared to pursue their passion despite everything going against them.
“We are the heroes that we’ve been waiting for.” Pastor Evan Mawarire.
I admire, respect and honour all the people that played a part in the fight for independence. I admire, respect and honour all the people that have put their country before themselves. I admire, respect and honour the ordinary citizens who, day by day, have displayed their strength, their determination, and their bravery. Your heroism often goes unsung, and you may never have a monument in your name, but you are a hero. You are my hero.
Images sourced from Pinterest, Southern Eye, and Flickr.